Rosaria Butterfield talks gender identity at Southeastern

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Rosaria ButterfieldIn a special chapel service at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, author and speaker Rosaria Butterfield joined a panel of Southeastern faculty members for a discussion on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Vice President for Student Services and Dean of Students Mark Liederbach moderated the panel, which included Sam Williams, professor of counseling, and Dan Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics.

Together the panelists offered thoughts on current issues, specifically the redefinition of marriage and national focus on sexual orientation. Butterfield claimed that the real issue at stake is a redefinition of personhood, a categorical mistake as old as Freud.

Butterfield expounded on this idea during a luncheon with faculty and Ph.D. students. Reading from a chapter in her new book “Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,” Butterfield explained that the term “sexual orientation” should not be so easily accepted by Christians.

It was Freud who first used the concept of sexual orientation, and its effect, according to Butterfield, took sexuality away from a biblical context to the drive that determines human identity. “Nothing short of personhood was at stake,” she said. “By defining humanity according to its sexual desires and segregating it according to its gendered object, Freud was suppressing the Biblical idea and category of being made male and female in God’s image and replacing it with a psychoanalytic category of sexual identity.”

According to Butterfield, the 19th century “ushered in a new measure of man, one for whom sexuality and sexual pleasure became a defining marker.” Because the new definition of sexual orientation includes non-sexual affection, Butterfield said that this remaps personhood in a way God does not. 

“There is nothing sinful and gay about non-sexual same sex deep and abiding friendships,” Butterfield added. “It is an expression of our image bearing of a holy God, not our persistent pattern of desire or sexual orientation.”

Because of this, Butterfield said that including non-sexual affection in the category of sexual orientation, as the redefinition of sexual orientation by the American Psychological Association has done, is an attempt to produce a new meaning for what it is to be human.

“Everyone loses when we define ourselves using categories that God does not,” said Butterfield. “Sexual orientation defines selfhood as the sum total of our fallen human desires. Through it we get no glimpse of how the covenant of grace defends our real identity in Christ or why, say, biblical marriage is a God-designed creation ordinance and a living reflection of Christ and the church and not merely a man-made convenience.”

Butterfield is a former English professor who came to faith in Christ while researching for a book on the religious right from a lesbian perspective. Since becoming a Christian, she has developed a ministry to college students to share about her journey to faith and has written two books about her experiences. For more about Butterfield, visit her blog at

Southeastern regularly hosts “Casual Conversations” during chapel services for faculty and guest speakers to help students think about and discuss current issues from a biblical perspective.

Watch the panel discussion here.

Watch Butterfield’s discussion with faculty and Ph.D. students here.

View photos of these events here

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