What does Rosaria Butterfield, an ex-lesbian, have to do with some so-called Muslim-followers of Jesus in various parts of the world? Both of them have to come to terms with their identity in Christ. Both have to ask the questions, as do everyone who claims to be in Christ, "Who am I", "What determines who I am?", and "Who am I in Christ?"
Rosaria Butterfield, in her book Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Crown and Covenant) helpfully teases apart the identity that she felt was "real" and her "true" identity. She states:
“I still felt like a lesbian in my body and heart. That was, I felt, my real identity. But what is my true identity? The Bible makes clear that the real and the true have a troubled relationship on this side of eternity.” (p. 25)
In a word, Butterfield makes it clear that the "real" or the reality she had to deal with was how she felt and still sometimes feels, namely that she has had homoerotic feelings for other women. What she is clear about, however, it that this is not her true identity. She asserts throughout her book that her true identity in Christ is being a member of His Body, an adopted and chosen and precious daughter of His. She is a part of the new people of God and a new creation, someone with a citizenship in heaven, a member of a royal priesthood and a holy nation, and someone who has come from darkness to light. She affirms that the road to becoming who she truly is in Christ is a process. It would not be putting words in her mouth to say that her reality is no longer dictated by the feelings that sometimes arise, but by who she actually is in Christ. A few direct quotes will illustrate the above:
“Why is sexual sin so hard to deal with? Because often sexual sin becomes a sin of identity.” (p. 4)
“There is another term, though, that competes for my allegiance. It is sola experiencia — my personal experience shaping and selecting those parts of the Bible I judge relevant for me.” (p. 44)
“The image of me and everyone I love suffering in hell crashed over me like shark-infested waves of a raging sea. Suffering in hell not because we were gay, but because we were proud. We wanted to be autonomous. ... I counted the costs and I did not like the math.” (p. 23)
“I want you to know from what country I emigrated, and in which country my citizenship permanently and eternally resides. I’m not a native speaker of this country. No real convert is. I will always speak in broken godliness, as new paradigms reread old feelings.” (p. 37)
How do we make an identity out of temptation? By collapsing what you desire with who you are. By collapsing what tempts you or what trips you up with who you will become ... God’s revealed purpose for my identity always nails me to his cross.” (p. 83)
“Christians are called ‘saints’ in the Bible. We who bear Christ’s spilled blood are a royal priesthood. Any category of personhood that reduces a saint to the sum total of his or her fallen sexual behavior is not a friend of Christ. Making an identity out of sin patterns is itself a sin.” (114, 123)
Elsewhere, Butterfield (an English professor who studies words and their functions in communication carefully, as well as being a former lesbian) makes no bones about joining the words "gay" and "Christian". She states: "The idea that one is simply the sum of one’s sexual identity is something that is psychologically harmful ultimately ..." and that this is in effect fusing together the ideas of her former "real" identity which was lost in a world of pride and autonomy as the old self, and the new creation with a new identity "in Christ."
[As an aside the majority report of the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-sex Marriage uses the term "same sex-oriented Christians" (p. 33, 38, 39, 42, 56); "gay Christians" (p. 41, 52, 53--6x, 58, 59--5x), "lesbian Christian" (p. 59), "queer Christians" (p. 59); "LGBT+ Christians" (p. 59). There are no such references in the minority report]
A Muslim-follower of Jesus
As one studies the above phrase, one must ask, as the phrases which link the identity of being due to someone's sexual identity above, just what is going on? In the movie "Half-Devil/Half Child" a person who said he was a Jesus follower and who yet attended the mosque, said the Muslim prayers and who still affirmed the prophethood of Muhammad, said in his own words:
"I am like someone wandering around in the dark woods. I do not know who I am."
The reason for this confusion is that missionaries told the Muslim man that he could have a dual identity. That is to say he could have the identity of being a Muslim and the identity of being a Christian all at once. His own words would tell the reader that this attempt at a dual identity, being part and parcel of the Body of Christ and part and parcel of the Islamic community of faith [or ummah] and at the same time affirming the final prophethood of Muhammad and affirming the final revelation in Jesus, simply meant that the man was neither fish nor fowl.
Sadly this title is being foisted on so-called Muslim followers of Jesus, and the deleterious effects are only coming to light as many of the children of such people revert completely back to Islam, or marry Islamic mates, or produce grandchildren for the Muslim follower of Jesus who only go to Islamic schools.
The subject of who one is in Christ is foundational. We know that "in Christ":
- one is new
... 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
- one is chosen
... Ephesians 1:4, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
- one is righteous
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- one has a new citizenship in heaven
Ephesians 2:6, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
... and more than 125 other references.
Why does our language either in missions [i.e. Muslim follower of Jesus] or in more local contexts [i.e. "gay Christian] reflect more of the reality of one's former identity, than their "true" identity? Has the old really gone? Is the former citizenship in this world really eclipsed? Is one truly living out the precious reality of having been chosen with all the responsibilities that go with that privilege? Is one truly living out the righteousness of Christ?