Christianity,  Culture

Wheaton students protest Rosaria Butterfield

Over the weekend, I read the news of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s recent visit to Wheaton College. The reports I read focused on a demonstration led by Wheaton students who were concerned about Butterfield’s testimony. It’s no surprise when students on a secular university campus stage a public protest against Butterfield. But it is quite surprising when about a hundred students demonstrate at an evangelical bastion like Wheaton. The question is this: Why did these students feel the need to demonstrate?

It turns out that they did not like the message that Butterfield was bringing to the college. And the message they didn’t like was the story of her own conversion to Christ. As I have noted here before, Butterfield was formerly a tenured lesbian professor specializing in feminist studies at Syracuse University. But the Lord intersected her life and won her to Christ through the witness of a local minister and his wife. In her book, Butterfield is very clear that following Christ meant repenting of her lesbianism. And that’s the part that the Wheaton demonstrators didn’t like.

The students who demonstrated said that it was wrong for the university to give the impression that Butterfield’s “story” was the only valid story. According to the demonstrators, there are gay people who follow Christ and who see no need to repent of same-sex behavior. Their stories are just as valid as Butterfield’s, and Butterfield’d story of repentance from sin should not be held out as the norm on Wheaton’s campus. If you want to read about these student demonstrators you can do so here. You can read about Butterfield’s “talk back” session with the student demonstrators here.

Wheaton College’s “Community Covenant” reflects a very clear biblical understanding of sexuality. Every student on campus voluntarily agrees to this covenant as a condition for admission to the college. What does the covenant say? It requires students to “uphold chastity among the unmarried (1 Cor. 6:18) and the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman (Heb. 13:4).” It also condemns “sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography (Matt. 5:27-28), pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).”

As President Ryken pointed out in his recent statement, the college’s covenant is very clear. Students know up front that Wheaton has staked out a traditional biblical understanding of sexual norms and that they must volunteer to live within those norms in order to be students. The problem is not with the covenant. The problem is that these students are protesting the very terms of the covenant that they promised to uphold when they were admitted to the college.

I think there is a lesson here that goes beyond Wheaton College. We are witnessing a generational shift in attitudes about human sexuality—a shift that is touching the evangelical movement. The children of evangelicals are not nearly as committed to a biblical sexual ethic as their parents have been. If there are students at Wheaton who are confused about these things, you can be sure that there are students in evangelical youth groups across the country who are as well. This issue is a pressure-point in the culture, and many Christian students are standing strong. But other students are eager to see if they might relieve the pressure by combining their Christian faith with acceptance of homosexuality. What many of them fail to see is that such a compromise is a poison-pill for authentic Christian faith.

The challenge for Christian pastors, teachers, professors, and administrators will be to hold the line in the face of this challenge. Biblical clarity is a necessity in this context, and so are leaders who have the courage of their convictions to require real accountability to biblical teaching. Leaders must show the emerging generation that there is no need to be embarrassed by the truth of God. We must persuade them that holding firm to the biblical message is the only path to the good life—indeed the only path to eternal life—in spite of the culture’s message to the contrary.

This isn’t the last time we will hear stories like this one. I expect to hear more in coming days, and I suspect that they might also originate in unexpected places. They might even originate near you. Will you be ready when they do?


You can download Butterfield’s chapel message here or listen below. The video is here.



  • Ian Shaw

    Is Wheaton what some consider a “liberal” Christian college, or just one in name only (Baylor)?

    Rob Bell did attend there, so I guess if you start to pick up the pieces, it kind of fits doesnt’ it?

    Guess the Christian University I attended is unique for teaching repentance….

    Don’t worry denny., There are many of use Gen-Yers that hold to Biblical truth and what our parent’s generation held as truth as well.

    • Ralph W. Davis

      Wheaton has been considered for a very long time, the best evangelical college in the USA. It is not, historically anyway, what can be called an all too typical “liberal” Christian college. Unfortunately too, MOST of THE most liberal private colleges today (including the Ivy League) were once solid, orthodox Christian colleges–as there seems to be an inexorable force dragging colleges away….. My alma-mater, Messiah College, has become more liberal than Wheaton, but it still holds firm–at the administrative level, on biblical sexual ethics.

  • Ian Shaw

    I guess I would have to dive into what Wheaton holds theologically as truth and what they are teaching their students.

    I would ask Wheaton if they affirm that gender is given to us by God. God makes men male in gender and women female in gender. If not, I would ask why are they affirming how the world defines masculinity and feminininity compared to how God defines it.

  • mvpcworshipblog

    You are correct to note that there is a generational shift about sexuality. I’m older than you are and it is even more striking to people of my generation.

    I think something else is going on as well that underlies the shift in sexual ethics (actually – the two are probably mutually reinforcing). Note the language of “Other people’s stories being just as valid.” The appeal is not to the external authority of God’s word but to the validity of our individual stories. This is postmodernism run amok. Worse, evangelical churches have been co-conspirators in this shift. “What does the Bible mean to you.” => “My interpretation is equally valid as your interpretation.” => “My story is as valid as your story.” Regretfully, 21st century evangelicalism is looking increasingly like early 20th century liberalism. We can miss this because we may wrongly imagine that the early 20th century liberals were all shouting how they disbelieved the Bible or denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus. A closer look will show that such voices were a small minority. The real problem were the squishy church leaders who protested that while they were evangelical they wanted to be tolerant of those who didn’t share their commitments. I’m not a prophet, but I fully expect more and more para-church organizations including “evangelical” colleges and seminaries trying to figure out ways to be more inclusive of those who stand against God’s word regarding sexual ethics.

    As a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church I am grateful for you and your colleagues at Southern Seminary and Boyce College and for you commitment to standing unapologetically upon the word of God.

    Keep the faith!


    • Lauren Bertrand

      “The children of evangelicals are not nearly as committed to a biblical sexual ethic as their parents have been.”

      Were the parents really THAT committed? After all, many of these kids come from households split by divorce. Can we really assume that all of these Wheaton students whose parents are divorced actually grew up under biblically condoned divorces?

      Perhaps more importantly, does anyone care? The nonchalance toward divorce may augur what appears to be the ever widening cultural shift on sexual ethics. But the seeds were planted 50 years ago. When the current batch of Wheaton students are middle-aged, they may end up shrugging their shoulders when their own kids start marrying someone of the same sex.

  • Brian Warshaw

    Let’s call the situation what it is, but let’s not throw Wheaton as an institution under the bus. Ryken’s response was as we should all hope it to be. If you don’t think something similar could happen at Boyce or any other faithful college, then you’re mistaken. Sin thrives where folks assume it can’t.

  • James Bradshaw

    I’m somewhat surprised, actually. There was a very brief point in my life where I would have agreed with Rosaria. No longer, but I would not have objected to listening to her story.

    Mvp writes: “The appeal is not to the external authority of God’s word but to the validity of our individual stories. This is postmodernism run amok. Worse, evangelical churches have been co-conspirators in this shift. “What does the Bible mean to you.” => “My interpretation is equally valid as your interpretation.”

    Okay … so who do we go to for the “right” interpretation? Calvin? Pope Benedict? Zane Hodges? Remember the “Lordship Controversy”?

    I’m not being sarcastic. I actually want to know who you think provides an authoritative interpretation of Scripture … and why.

  • David A Booth

    Hi James,

    First, let me apologize for logging in using my blog. I wasn’t trying to remain anonymous. My name is David A Booth and I’m a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Massachusetts.

    Thank you for your important question. First, in case anyone else is “listening in”, let me point out something that should be obvious: There is a world of difference between an authoritative interpretation and an infallible interpretation. If you are looking for the latter, I have nothing to offer you. That doesn’t mean, however, that there are no such thing as excellent interpretations that should command our respect.

    Before I comment on this, though, let me point out that the articles I’ve seen on this the events at Wheaton don’t have the protesters presenting any interpretation of the Scriptures at all. What they seem to be doing is making personal experience an alternative authority. This is currently a widespread practice in the Church in the United States. For example, I have spoken with Elders in the so-called mainline denominations who told me that they would not vote against someone for ordination who felt God was leading him or her to be a pastor “because who am I to say that God isn’t calling them into pastoral ministry.” That is, they made the other person’s subjective sense of being called into an alternative authority that trumped, for example, comparing this person’s life to what the Pastoral Epistles say a minister is supposed to be.

    So what makes a Biblical interpretation excellent or authoritative? I’m just giving you a quick off the cuff response and perhaps Denny would like to elaborate with a more technical answer:

    1. First, an authoritative interpretation takes the Scriptures seriously as revelation both in the immediate context and in the broader context of the entire Bible. It doesn’t reach conclusions that would make no sense to the passages’ original audience nor does it pit one part of Scripture against another (God doesn’t contradict Himself).

    2. Second, an authoritative interpretation is public and engages the existing scholarship on the passage with sound reason.

    3. Third, an authoritative interpretation garners the acceptance of other Bible believing Christians (including Bible scholars and theologians). NB: An interpretation can be accurate when it is first introduced even though the majority of Bible-believing scholars disagree with it; but it can’t really be considered authoritative until it wins the assent of other Christians – particularly those with expertise in the subject matter.

    Someone might imagine that this would leave us adrift in a sea of uncertainty but that would simply reveal that such a person wasn’t particularly familiar with Bible-believing scholarship regarding OT and NT exegesis. Let me illustrate this point: Orthodox Presbyterians are happy to use D.A. Carson’s commentary on John and Tom Schreiner’s commentary on Romans. Right now I am preaching through Leviticus during morning worship and the most helpful commentary I have been using is by John Kleinig who is a Missouri Synod Lutheran. In spite of the publishing industry’s tendency to market Bibles for left-handed softball players – we really don’t need this sort of thing in commentaries so long as everyone is actually trying to discover what the passage is saying. This is why the second point is so important. Bad arguments when they are published tend to get refuted fairly quickly.

    BTW – The example you give of Zane Hodges and the Lordship controversy is an excellent illustration of what I’m saying above. I remember reading his book when it came out and wondering: “How is this guy a seminary professor?” The vast majority of Bible-believing exegetes and theologians agreed. Undoubtedly there are still people who hold views similar to those advocated by Prof. Hodges but it should be pretty obvious that his approach has not been considered authoritative by Bible-believing churches.

    Obviously a great deal more could be said but I am already in danger of hijacking Denny’s blog.

    Best wishes,


    • Don Johnson

      I think the idea of an authoritative interpretation is mostly a myth.

      What happens in practice is that people that agree form a tribe/denomination and then talk among themselves, giving the illusion of consistency. For example, Baptists hold to believer’s baptism while Presbyterians hold to infant baptism, even though so-called conservatives in each denomination agree on many other things. There are many books that give the various ways of understanding aspects of Scripture, such as 4 Views on X, where each author gives his reasons for their distinctive beliefs in the area under discussion. There are at least 3 views on Creation, for example, YEC, OEC and EC and a few on end times, as well as the relationship of faith and works, spiritual gifts, etc.

      Even what the gospel consists of is discussed along with views on salvation.

      • David A Booth

        Hi Don,

        I think that your example of the “4 views on X” books is a great illustration that the Church hasn’t reached unity in all truth. On the other hand, we tend to emphasize distinctives rather than the things we all agree on. It is also the areas where agreement has not been achieved that rightly garner the most scholarly attention for publication.

        The flip side of this is that I, as a Presbyterian, can still agree with virtually all of the Biblical interpretations offered by a Baptist like D.A. Carson. The Bible isn’t a wax nose [i.e. God knows how to communicate]. Even in those areas where we are still struggling to come to a common understanding – we can trace at the arguments that other Bible scholars are producing to see how plausible they might be.

        Your example of infant baptism vs. believers baptism may be helpful because both views depend upon drawing conclusions from numerous passages of Scripture rather than interpreting a single passage. In fact, that is what nearly all the “4 views of X” books are about. I agree with you that this is meaningful I just don’t think it warrants the degree of interpretative skepticism that you are suggesting.


        • Don Johnson

          My point was not interpretive skepticism, it is that sincere believers can have major differences in understanding, where often only one view or sometimes at most a few views can be correct, as the views mostly exclude the others. And the holders of some views then look at what other view holders do as sin, for example, cessationists take a dim view of someone claiming some of the spiritual gifts and even see them as equivalent to offering “strange fire”. Some evangelical leaders thought it was entirely appropriate to turn their chairs around when Anne Lotz spoke to them. My point is that it is not just theory, but these differences in understanding result in different actions that are seen as appropriate or as sin, depending on one’s tribe/denomination, this makes it a big deal.

  • Matthew Denney

    As a Wheaton student, I have thought deeply about this over the past few weeks and had numerous discussions with students and others. Like everywhere else, the issue of homosexuality here is divisive. People are confused. There has undoubtedly been a lack of grace on the part of conservatives evangelicals, and for that we must repent. A small but significant response by some has been to appeal to tolerance, affirmation, and love as grounds for shifting away from an orthodox position on homosexuality. So many feel stuck within the confines of this false dichotomy. I saw people I know sit down with the demonstrators because most of the signs talked about loving everyone, and, after all, what’s not to support about that? And this is where the confusion comes in. The organizers of the demonstration disagreed with Rosaria Butterfield’s presupposition that homosexuality is a sin, but they framed it as an appeal to hear everyone’s story and love them. The demonstration doesn’t mean that Wheaton’s liberal (see Ryken’s response). It means we are living in 2014 and facing the issues of our day. It means we need the gospel–just like everybody else. We need it to shape and define us as we seek greater clarity on this issue.

    • David A Booth

      Hi Matthew,

      It can be tough to be a college student. This is an age where we want to have the answers while we are still trying to think through the questions. Then, just when we think we have the right answer about something – someone shows us a new perspective that makes things messy again.

      May I offer a suggestion that may be helpful to you, not about homosexuality, but about a huge shift in our culture that took place before you were born? Our culture has largely redefined both love and tolerance to mean affirmation. But affirming someone in their sin is actually to hate them from a Biblical standpoint. Affirming people in their sin is based on three things: (1) First, calling someone to repentance frequently creates conflict; (2) Second, I hate conflict; (3) Third, I love myself therefore instead of calling another to repentance I will affirm them and enjoy being affirmed in return.

      What makes this so difficult, particularly for someone your age, is that if you do the hard and loving thing of calling a sinner to repentance our culture will often call that mean-spirited or hateful. While if you do the selfish thing of affirming someone in their sin our culture will bless you for being tolerant and loving. Nevertheless, the word of God still stands: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20 ESV).”

      Best wishes,


    • Ralph W. Davis

      Hi Matthew, I went to (and even graduated from!) an evangelical college too. The problem I have with the protesters is precisely that “the organizers of the demonstration disagreed with Rosaria Butterfield’s presupposition that homosexuality is a sin,” since, assuming they were all Wheaton students, they had signed the covenant before coming there, that they actually DID believe homosexuality is a sin. So, these students had either lied, and legally committed fraud actually, in signing the covenant….or, they have changed their minds since coming to Wheaton.

      Back in the ’80s when I was at Messiah college, if a student was caught doing something contrary to our covenant, they were generally given a chance to repent (say if they had gotten drunk….) –or if it was egregious enough (say repeated sexual activity, or cheating on exams), they were expelled.

      A private Christian college has rules–which students voluntarily agree to–and if those rules are broken, and they disagree with them, it’s only fair that they leave. Why are students at Wheaton allowed to openly call for defiance of the covenant….which they had freely agreed to uphold?

    • Alan Light

      I’m a graduate of Wheaton College, and am glad to see thoughtful discussion of this issue.

      I think it is pretty clear now that homosexuality is a sexual orientation which individuals do not choose (though a few people may have more than one sexual orientation, and can choose which orientation, if any, they should act on). We should not shame anyone for being who they are. This is, of course, a separate issue from an individual’s *actions* – which may be harmful.

      We should also recognize that the last century has seen significant technological changes that alter the calculus of harm. The availability of birth control has changed societal attitudes considerably: before this, the question of support for children was intrinsically connected to the question of sexual behavior, and now – it is not … but all things considered I have considerable doubts about how secular society has handled this issue.

      Paul wrote that it is better to marry than to burn, which indicates that Paul understood the value of a healthy sexual outlet – yet both church and secular society have handled this issue poorly. The church would deny exclusive homosexuals any sexual outlet at all, secular society would prefer not to pay any attention to consequences, and both have pushed up the age at which such outlets are allowed. In Paul’s day, marriage was often early – yet the church today claims that it is better to burn for ten or twenty years than to marry. Modern society requires an extended education, yet no one seems to have attempted to find a healthy way to address the needs for both more education and a healthy sexual outlet.

  • Don Johnson

    Divorce is the termination of a marriage covenant. God allows the termination of a covenant for cause, in order to mitigate the possibility of something worse; for a marriage covenant, such causes include adultery, abuse and neglect. The idea of a divorce certificate was an example of God’s blessing when it was first instituted, because the existing alternative was much worse for the woman. Jesus spoke against the Pharisees’ Hillelite “Any Matter” divorce that allowed a husband to divorce his wife for any specious cause, such as burning his meal and claimed that such divorces were invalid.

  • Jon Taylor

    The principle of charity towards someone else’s subjective understanding of truth is quite biblical, but only in cases where someone else’s conscience requires them to place unnecessary restrictions on their behavior. (see 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols). The Bible teaches that when the weak in conscience call sin what is not sin, to protect the weak in conscience, we freely restrict our liberty.

    The issue here however is that these students apply the principle of charity not to the weak in conscience, but to those with a seared conscience. The seared in conscience, rather than unnecessarily restricting themselves, do the opposite. They unfetter themselves and call holy what is sinful.

    In the first case, love requires that we restrict our own liberty. In the second, to protect the flock, love requires the elders to denounce lawlessness. Lest, in tolerating the students’ charitableness, we find that we too have become charitable towards the lawlessness.

  • Nate Collins

    Dr. Butterfield’s story is truly miraculous, and I’m glad Wheaton gave her the opportunity to share it with the students during her chapel message and the talk-back session afterwards. I hope and pray that the students who heard her there were impacted by the gospel, and its claim on their lives. Being gay is a burden that virtually nobody would choose for themselves, and being Christian and gay, in some ways, seems even harder.

  • Esther O'Reilly

    Pffffft, yeah, I’m actually not that surprised. What a waste of a great college. Butterfield’s message is sound, but she gave these people much more attention than they deserved.

  • Sally Eaves

    I do not normally post on these issues but: From a recent Wheaton graduate who has friends who were present at this demonstration, they did not necessarily object to her story. In actuality (as this article does not mention) every student in demonstration went in and listened to her story and met with the administration and Rosaria afterward. From my understanding having seen the statement the Wheaton students posted, they were concerned that every student who is trying to live their sexuality in faithfulness to God would see her story as the only way God works. What if someone has same-sex attraction but their sexuality does not change when they become a Christian (or if they already are?)? Does that mean that Christ is not working in their lives? I found this article misleading and uninformed according to firsthand knowledge of the situation.

  • Andrew Huggins

    Thank you for this blog. I am currently reading Dr. Butterfield’s book and am fascinated by her story (or, God’s story in and through her). My heart longs to engage and accept and love and disciple those who may be open to it – for the long haul. If God can reconcile this former boozing, fornicating, lying faker, He is able to bring anyone to Him. May the church lovingly move forward in grace and Truth!

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