Responding to Rosaria Butterfield’s Claims about Preston Sprinkle and The Center

Responding to Rosaria Butterfield’s Claims about Preston Sprinkle and The Center
November 29, 2023

By Preston Sprinkle. Preston is the author of several books, including Embodied and Does the Bible Support Same-Sex Marriage?, and serves as President of The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender.


Over the last several months, Dr. Rosaria Butterfield has made claims about me and The Center (along with other great organizations like Cru and Revoice) that accuse us of heresy. I would like to respond to those claims, clarifying what I and The Center actually believe, especially at the points where Butterfield seems to have misunderstood or misrepresented our views.


I want to say up front that I’ve learned a lot from Butterfield over the years. Her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is outstanding in many ways. And the events surrounding her conversion to Jesus are breathtaking, evidence that the gospel really is true and powerful. I have no ill will toward Butterfield and have never, to my knowledge, said anything negative about her work or ministry. 


I also wish I could be having this conversation directly with Butterfield. In fact, I reached out her via email to invite her to have a private, good-faith conversation about these matters. (Not a debate; just a clarifying conversation.) Her husband, Kent, who is also one of her pastors, responded with an email he and his co-pastor had written, declining on her behalf. When I asked for permission to quote publicly from their reply, Kent requested that I not do so and provided me with this public statement: “Rosaria's pastors stated there is a difference in understanding of the gospel and therefore see no basis for discussion.”


Since Butterfield (and those speaking on her behalf) aren’t interested in public or private conversation with me, this blog post is my attempt to offer as much clarity as I can about why she believes I’m a heretic—and why I believe she’s wrong.


In her November 10, 2023, convocation address at Liberty University, Butterfield claimed that I and The Center hold four beliefs which she described as “lies” and “heresy.” Let me address her four claims about my and The Center’s supposed heretical beliefs one at a time:


Supposed Belief 1: "Same-sex attraction is a sinless temptation, and only a sin if you act on it."


I find the phrase “sinless temptation” a bit odd. The only person who has been sinless is Jesus, which means that everybody else who experiences sexual temptation can't accurately claim to have been "sinless" in their experience of and response to that temptation. With that caveat, though, I do indeed believe that all temptations are not themselves sinful unless we act on them. As we see in Hebrews 4:15, Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (NIV). As I read it, this means that while sexual temptation—both same-sex temptation and opposite-sex temptation—is something we should flee from (2 Tim. 2:22), being tempted is not itself a morally culpable sin.


To be clear, Butterfield and I agree that lust is a sin. And since the Greek word epithumia can be translated as both “lust” and “desire,” there’s a sense in which we can all agree that (lustful) same-sex desire and (lustful) opposite-sex desire are sinful. But if we’re talking about the unchosen experience of sexual attraction or sexual temptation, Butterfield is correct that I believe these things are not inherently sinful and only become sinful if they are acted on.


Butterfield, apparently, not only believes that sexual temptation is inherently sinful, but also believes that disagreeing with her about this point makes a person a heretic.


Supposed Belief 2: "People who experience same-sex attraction are actually gay Christians called to lifelong celibacy." 


I have never said, nor have I ever believed, that “people who experience same-sex attraction are… called to lifelong celibacy.” I’ve always said and believed that our Creator has one sexual ethic for all people who seek to follow him: abstaining from sex while single, and being faithful to your opposite-sex spouse in marriage. Many same-sex attracted Christians who hold a historically Christian view of marriage do commit to lifelong celibacy, while others pursue marriage to an opposite-sex spouse. The Center and I believe and teach that marriage and singleness are both beautiful and necessary vocations, and a person’s experience of sexual attraction doesn’t necessarily dictate which of these two vocations God will lead them into.


As far as my alleged belief that SSA people “are actually gay Christians,” this depends on how we’re defining the word “gay.” When I use the word “gay,” I’m almost always using it as a synonym for “same-sex attracted,” which would make the above statement true (though tautological). If Butterfield means, however, that I’m encouraging everyone who experiences same-sex attraction to call themselves “gay,” this is false. The Center and I have tried to consistently represent a variety of perspectives about how people identify their experiences, like we do in this blog dialogue between Greg Coles and Rachel Gilson


Supposed Belief 3: "People who experience same-sex attraction rarely, if ever, change and therefore should never pursue heterosexual marriage." 


Again, I have never said, nor have I ever believed, that “people who experience same-sex attraction… should never pursue heterosexual marriage.” Many of The Center’s resources, including all our video series, included stories of Christians attracted to the same sex who have chosen an opposite-sex marriage. In fact, one of The Center’s board members is in a marriage like this, and she and her husband wrote an incredible book sharing their story. The idea that I or The Center teach that same-sex attracted people should never marry an opposite-sex spouse is self-evidently false.


As to the idea that SSA people “rarely, if ever, change,” it depends what we mean by “change.” If “change” means a change in someone’s allegiance, behaviors, disposition, values, and how they view themselves in relationship to God (among a whole range of other things), then I think SSA people are changed all the time by the gospel and the Holy Spirit!


But if by “change,” Butterfield means change in a person’s sexual orientation from exclusively same-sex attracted to exclusively opposite sex-attracted (what some people might call “orientation change”), then I can affirm that I think SSA people rarely “change” in this regard. Greg Johnson’s book Still Time to Care does a powerful job of demonstrating what can go wrong when Christians insist that people’s sexual orientation must change if they follow Jesus. And if you’re interested in learning more about why The Center is skeptical of some recent claims of sexual orientation change, you can read this two-part critique of an essay discussing Reintegrative Therapy.


Again, though, I don’t believe that a lack of opposite-sex sexual attraction disqualifies a person from marriage. In fact, I think a robust theology of marriage goes far deeper and far beyond simply being sexually attracted to each other.  


Supposed Belief 4: "Sex and gender are different, and God doesn't care if men live as men or if women live as women, because all you need to do is grow in the fruit of the Spirit, as though the fruit of the Holy Spirit can grow from sin."


Let’s start with “sex and gender are different.” If we’re simply talking about linguistics, then sex and gender are by definition quite literally different; that is, if you look up "sex" and "gender" in any recent English dictionary, you’ll see that they’re defined differently. Even the fact that Butterfield made this statement, and the people listening to her understood what she meant, proves that the two words are different. In any case, whenever I discuss sex and gender, my main point is to help people understand how people use these terms to refer to different (though not unrelated) aspects of the human experience. I’m a big fan of understanding something before you refute it.  


But the more significant questions for Christians are, “Should the English language have words that distinguish between a person’s biological sex and their psychological and cultural experience of maleness and femaleness (which is one way people distinguish between sex and gender)? And are ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ the best words to describe those differences?” That’s a long and complex discussion for another day. The fact is, these words do exist in English today, and if we’re going to engage our culture well, we need to first understand what people are even talking about, before we jump in and say, “You’re wrong!” 


I have never said, nor have I ever believed, that “God doesn’t care if men live as men or if women live as women.” Of course, the phrases “live as men” and “live as women” are tricky, because Christians both today and throughout history have disagreed on what it means for a man to live like a godly man or a woman to live like a godly woman. Some Christians believe that “biblical womanhood” means getting married, doing all the cooking, homeschooling your kids, and not taking a job outside the home. If this is what Butterfield has in mind when she talks about “women liv[ing] as women,” then she’s right—I don’t think God places a moral mandate on women to live this way. 


But if Butterfield means that I believe “God doesn’t care if men” embrace their identity as males, and women embrace their identity as females, then her statement is not an accurate representation of my beliefs. 


If you would like to hear me dialogue about these four claims with someone who believes them to be an accurate representation of my views, you can hear that conversation on this Theology in the Raw episode.


Earlier in 2023, Butterfield critiqued my book Embodied in an interview (along with Christopher Yuan) on Becket Cook’s YouTube channel. Here is the 7-minute clip where she critiques my book, since on one occasion I put quotation marks around the phrase “the fall” (page 125 of Embodied). Please do watch the clip (and read page 125 of my book) for yourself; I’d rather have you draw your own conclusions. 


In short, it appears that she believes I’m denying the fall as a biblical and theological category. I want to publicly clarify that I very much believe in the fall. In fact, the very question I’m wrestling with in that section of the book—“Is intersex caused by the fall?”—presumes I believe in the fall; otherwise, the very question would be nonsensical. For instance, if I asked the question, “Are unicorns faster than horses?” this presumes I believe in unicorns; otherwise, the question wouldn’t make any sense. (By the way, I do not believe in unicorns.) 


In the rest of the 7-minute clip, Butterfield says regarding my book Embodied: “This is not a Christian book, and this is not Christian theology. It is part of a kind of new age understanding where Jesus becomes, you know, one of the names on the ‘Coexist’ bumper sticker…. Whenever you want to make Jesus part of a non-binary faith, that’s not Jesus.” She raises the question: “Do we think it’s good for Preston to lead others into a hell-bound bondage?... Do we think it’s good for our children? Do we think it’s good for our churches?”

I am still unable to identify the concrete reason for these latter concerns, other than my use of quotation marks around the phrase “the fall” on page 125, which she misinterpreted as a denial of the fall. 


If anyone has any questions about what I or The Center believe, please see our statement of faith and our statement of marriage, sexuality and gender. We are very aware that with such important topics, Christians will have differences of beliefs. I’m willing to live with these differences and, if able, to engage in good faith dialogues with people who hold to different beliefs.