Don’t Believe Culture’s Lies about Men and Women

A Review of Rosaria Butterfield’s Five Lies of Our Anti-Christian Age

Rosaria Butterfield used to be a lesbian activist who lived with a woman partner while serving as a tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University in New York. Now she is a Christian who is married to a Presbyterian pastor and who invests her time as a homeschool mom and grandmother and as a hospitable neighbor in North Carolina. (When she wrote this book, her four adopted children spanned ages sixteen to thirty-four.) The title of her new book specifies what she is warning against: Five Lies of Our Anti-Christian Age (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2023).

Butterfield’s Thesis

Here is one way to summarize Butterfield’s thesis: Don’t believe our culture’s lies about God’s design for men and women. She presents five lies and explains, “What all these lies have in common is they don’t think that God had a plan and purpose when he created men and women” (p. 290). At the root of the lies is what she calls “our nation’s reigning idol, a formidable monolith represented by the letters LGBTQ and the symbol +” (p. xxi; cf. p. 91).

Lie #1: Homosexuality Is Normal

The lie: The way you feel defines who you are. For example, if you are a female who feels sexually attracted only to women, then you are a lesbian. You have a homosexual orientation that is immutable. That is your core truth. That is your identity. And it is an identity that is good and normal.

According to “gay Christians,” a person’s homosexual orientation is morally neutral—like being blind or deaf. It’s not a sin that you should repent of. The church should not just welcome but empathetically approve of “sexual minorities.” When people sin in heterosexual and homosexual ways, the nature of the sexual sin is equally fallen.

The truth: Our sinful feelings do not determine our core identity. Those with homosexual desires are responsible to mortify their sinful desires. “The normalization of homosexuality is the central controlling narrative of our anti-Christian age” (p. 33). “Sexual orientation, a secular concept, began in the nineteenth century. You will not find the concept of sexual orientation in the Bible” (p. 67). “It all comes down to this: Do you trust your feelings, or do you trust the word of God?” (p. 98). We should have sympathy for those enslaved to sexual sin, but we should not empathize with the sin itself.

The identity narrative makes sense in our culture because people have swallowed the lie of intersectionality—the idea that the world consists of power struggles between oppressors (e.g., white, male, heterosexual, Christian, fit, free) and the oppressed (e.g., person of color, female, LGBTQ+, non-Christian, overweight, incarcerated). “Today, failing to affirm LGBTQ+ rights is considered an act of harm. … Today, even in the church, it seems, accepting someone without approving her is to reject her” (p. 59). Harm is now psychological, not material. The way to accrue social status is to claim an intersection of victim statuses. This creates a community that is “fractured, victim-minded, angry, and inconsolable”; it is “identity politics on steroids” and devoid of “a biblical category of sin” (p. 61). “The victimized identities that emerge from intersectionality are perpetually immature and in constant need of therapy and affirmation” (p. 62).

When people sin in heterosexual and homosexual ways, the nature of the sexual sin is not equally fallen: “The heterosexual pattern is natural even if a particular practice is sinful, as in adultery. If a man and a woman are committing fornication but they come to Christ and repent of their sin, they could someday get married and live in God’s obedience and blessing. But if a man and a man in a homosexual relationship come to Christ, they would need to break up in order to live in obedience and blessing. … Homosexual sin is a violation against both God’s pattern of creation and the moral law of God, while heterosexual sin violates the moral law of God exclusively” (p. 304). The hermeneutic that justifies women pastors is the same hermeneutic that justifies LGBTQ+. “Egalitarianism is the highway to LGBTQ+ church leadership” (p. 75).

Lie #2: Being a Spiritual Person Is Kinder Than Being a Biblical Christian

The lie: A spiritual person finds true spirituality inside himself or herself. Everything shares in a single divine power. Distinctions and hierarchies are abusive and violent.

The truth: There are two realities—God and not-God (i.e., the Creator and creation). And there are two kinds of people—those who love the triune God and those who defy him. It is not kind to be a person who misleads others to defy the Creator by living contrary to reality.

Lie #3: Feminism Is Good for the World and the Church

The lie: The traditional biblical view about God’s design for men and women is wrong. Male headship is a result of the fall. The Bible does not require a wife to submit to her husband, nor does the Bible forbid women from serving as pastors or elders. The traditional view results in sexual abuse. Any male-female sexual relationship that rejects sameness (i.e., interchangeability) and calls a wife to submit to her husband is foundational to rape culture.

The truth: The traditional biblical view about God’s design for men and women is true, good, and beautiful.

  • “A godly woman who is the wife of a godly man is receptive, teachable, and life-giving, her beauty increasing with her age because her Christian character is being more and more sanctified. … At its most basic distinction, God created men for strength, women for nurturance, and both for the other, her submission yielding to his headship creating the harmony of mutual work and worship of God. The simplicity, beauty, and perfection of the creation ordinance may be marred by sin but not by the designer’s perfect plan” (p. 158).
  • “A helpmate is not a doormat. She is smart and strong and knows how to think and advise her husband when called upon. While she may also have a job or career that contributes to the household, being a helpmate means that the husband’s vocation comes first” (p. 172).
  • “A godly woman is not called to universal submission. She is called to submit to her husband, elders, and civil authorities” (p. 161).
  • “A Christian’s best defense against abuse of all authority is membership in a biblically faithful church” (p. 162).
  • “When feminism is the interpretative tool for reading Scripture, the powerful, supernatural word of God shrinks into an easily manipulated tool of sociology, revealing power plays and oppressors and offering no hope beyond its creation of new possibilities and new words to express one’s never-ending hurt” (p. 177).
  • “Feminism’s war against patriarchy isn’t its only problem. By denying the centrality of the creation ordinance in defining woman and her glory, feminism insults women. Worse still, feminism can’t offer the protections against violence that it promises. In fact, feminism has become a place of such confusion that it cannot define what a woman is without offending the LGBTQ+ movement—especially the T part (transgenderism)” (p. 189).

Lie #4: Transgenderism Is Normal

The lie: Your sex is gender-fluid. The biological sex you are born as does not necessarily correspond to your gender. It is normal for a person recognized as a male at birth to later realize that he is actually a woman trapped in a man’s body. How you feel is the real you. There are more than just two sexes (the traditional gender binary is wrong), and there are even more genders. If your child is transitioning, you must comply or else you will be guilty of that child’s suicide: “Would you rather have a dead daughter or a living son?”

The truth: God created mankind as either male or female. There are only two sexes—male and female. God designed males to be masculine, and God designed females to be feminine. It is sinful for a man to be effeminate or for a woman to be masculine.

Tragically, transgenderism has become “the cool and cutting-edge expression of individuality” (p. 198). The question “Would you rather have a dead daughter or a living son?” is manipulative. The solution to a sinful desire—in this case, the sin of envy—is to put that sinful desire to death. The solution is not to enable your child’s sinful desires by pumping the body with hormones that do irreparable damage and by mutilating healthy body parts (“to lance off breasts and purge ovaries in the name of emancipation” [p. 199]).​​ “Love holds people to the impartial, objective, and safe standard of God’s truth, not the malleability of sinful desires and the posturing of sinful people” (p. 204).

Lie #5: Modesty Is an Outdated Burden That Serves Male Dominance and Holds Women Back

The lie: It is oppressive to call women to dress and act differently than men. If a woman dresses provocatively and entices a man to sinfully lust after her, then that is not the concern of the woman at all; it is solely the man’s problem. If a woman wants to exhibit her body or to express herself loudly and freely in an “unladylike” way, then male oppression shouldn’t hold her back.

The truth: “A godly woman is a modest woman” (p. 267). Butterfield approvingly quotes how Martha Peace and Kent Keller define modesty and immodesty:

  • modesty: “an inner attitude of the heart motivated by a love for God that seeks His glory through purity and humility; it often reveals itself in words, actions, expressions, and clothes”
  • immodesty: “an attitude of the heart that expresses itself with inappropriate words, actions, expressions and/or clothes that are flirtatious, manipulative, revealing, or suggestive of sensuality or pride”

Butterfield asserts, “No Christian woman wants to be seen in the eyes of God as a ‘provoking object.’ Women, don’t minimize the seriousness to your own soul if Satan uses you as a tool for any reason” (p. 278). “The fashion industry for girls sets them up to be tempters to young men. How many of you read that sentence and think I’m being unfair and ‘blaming the victim’?” (p. 269). Butterfield is not unfairly blaming the victim: “A scandal snares others into committing the same sin by normalizing it. … Modesty in dress, speech, and conduct are good practices, helping us safeguard against our own sin and against being a temptation for others. If a man sins, the sin is on him. But anything we can do to help prevent scandal in the church is a good work indeed” (p. 279).

Three Small Ways I Think Butterfield’s Book Could Be Even Better

I don’t have a devastating critique of Butterfield’s book. I think it’s outstanding, and I highly commend it. But more about that in the next section. Here I suggest three small ways her book could be even better:

1. Include more on modesty. The section on modesty (Lie #5) is relatively short—only twenty-nine pages (the shortest of the five lies). I was hoping it’d be a go-to primer on modesty—something that I could recommend to young women, for example, as a starting point for thinking about modesty. It’s good, but it’s more motivational than practical. (For some additional reading on modesty that I recently read aloud to my four daughters, I recommend Doug Wilson’s Her Hand in Marriage: Biblical Courtship in the Modern World, pp. 47–58.)

2. Clarify what corporate repentance is. Butterfield includes this line but does not elaborate on it: “Like Nehemiah, we must take ownership of our nation’s sins and publicly repent of them” (p. 93).

If an individual Christian or a group of Christians are guilty of sexual sin of any kind, they should repent of that sin. But how do we repent of sexual sins that others in our nation commit as if we are guilty of those sins when we are not? I think it is more helpful and precise to distinguish between repenting and repudiating and lamenting:

  • Repent means to turn away from sin and to God. We should repent of our own sins but not the sins of others.
  • Repudiate means to refuse to accept or be associated with. We should repudiate our own sins and the sins of others.
  • Lament means to mourn, to express deep grief about. We should lament our own sins and the sins of others.

So I think we should repudiate and lament our nation’s sins but not “take ownership of” them or “publicly repent of them” unless we are guilty of them. (For more on corporate repentance, see a sermon I preached to my church on Daniel’s prayer of corporate repentance, which includes a test case: Should white people today repent for the ethnic partiality that white people committed in past generations? The resource that most helped me answer that question is Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer’s article “Do Whites Need Corporate Repentance for Historical Racial Sins?”)

3. Be careful about giving the impression that social media is all bad. Butterfield does qualify that it’s possible for a Christian to responsibly use social media: “My plea to Christian women is this: use social media for the sharing and gathering of information, not for grievances. If you are going to use social media, make sure that it is not using you” (p. 285). But of the twenty-seven times she refers to “social media” and the fifteen times she refers to Twitter, her references are exclusively negative. For example,

  • “Strong Christian women need to know what the Bible says on this matter rather than what some famous almost-Christian feminist blogger says on Twitter. In fact, being wise in Scripture and ignorant of Twitter may be the first step” (p. xx).
  • “I don’t reject social media for its information-gathering or -sharing aspects. But because information gathering is not how social media is predominantly used, I know its use can be addictive, sinful, ungodly, and damaging to one’s soul. Social media is a place where anger flares, context is nonexistent, and words and images are delivered that can never be taken back” (p. 281).

I agree with Butterfield that social media is filled with pitfalls and that we should warn people about them (especially young people). I also think that social media is not all bad. It depends how you use it. I think social media includes some benefits and that a Christian may strategically use the technology of social media in a God-glorifying way. To clarify, Butterfield would agree with what I just wrote, and I agree with what she wrote. I’m simply anticipating that some readers may get the wrong impression that social media is inherently and irredeemably bad.1

Ten Features I Appreciate about Butterfield’s Book

1. Butterfield addresses dragon-ideologies that are pervasive in our culture. Kevin DeYoung exhorts us in the book’s foreword, “Don’t follow the great dragon; that’s what this book is about” (p. xviii). As a theologian who has written a biblical theology of snakes and dragons, I agree that the dragon theme is a good framework for thinking about what we are doing when we warn against LGBTQ+ ideology.2

2. Butterfield weaves moving autobiographical stories throughout the book. Her story as a former lesbian activist is powerful and God-glorifying. And it pulls the rug out from those who would accuse her of not accurately or sympathetically understanding LGBTQ+ ideology.3

3. Butterfield’s confident humility saturates the book. Don’t mistake Butterfield’s confidence for pride. Her heart throughout the book proclaims this message (my paraphrase): “God the sovereign creator brilliantly and beautifully designed men and women. We should obey what he tells us. We should live according to his design. We shouldn’t believe lies.” That assertiveness may strike some people as arrogant since it goes against the grain of worldly thinking, but worldly thinking goes against the grain of reality. Christians should not be embarrassed of anything that is true, especially anything that God has revealed in Scripture: “This book is for Christians not embarrassed by the Bible and its teaching on women’s roles and callings. An unbreakable biblical logic connects God’s design for men and women, God’s standards for sexual behavior, and the Bible’s teaching on sex roles in the family, church, and world” (p. xx).

4. Butterfield repents of previously using preferred pronouns to be “hospitable,” using LGBTQ+ vocabulary such as homophobia, and calling reparative therapy a “heresy.” She wrote about this online earlier this year, and the book goes into more detail (pp. 17–24). Hats off to Butterfield for correcting her previous public positions.

5. Butterfield is an older woman who wisely and straightforwardly addresses younger women. She begins the book, “For young single women, I hope that you will aspire to be faithful and fruitful Christian wives, that is, to be helpers, wise counselors, and devoted homemakers to a godly man raising children to the glory of God. …. God created men and women in marriage to do different and complementary things: husbands lead, protect, and provide, and wives submit, nurture, and keep the home. … God’s design for women determines our roles and our priorities” (pp. xix–xx). That candor is refreshing, particularly at a time when Christians are gun-shy to say something like that without immediately qualifying it lest you might offend someone such as unmarried women or feminists.

6. Butterfield refers to the biblical view of men and women as patriarchy. She uses the word complementarian once (pp. 97–98), and she uses the word patriarchy twenty-seven times.

Patriarchy means father rule. For the past thirty years, complementarianism has been a common label that English-speaking conservative evangelicals have used for the biblical view of God’s design for men and women. It captures what God says in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”—that is, “corresponding to him” (ESV note, CSB) or “who corresponds to him” (NET).

But as self-identified complementarians have become less broad and more narrow4, some prefer the label patriarchy5. In contrast, some complementarians think the label patriarchy has insurmountably negative connotations.6

I think both labels are fitting. Complementarianism emphasizes that God designed men and women to complement each other; they are not interchangeable. Patriarchy emphasizes that God designed fathers to rule; God designed both complementarity and hierarchy. (The subtitle of the second edition of Discovering Biblical Equality—a prominent textbook defending evangelical feminism—is Complementarity without Hierarchy. Egalitarians reject hierarchy.) But what matters most is not the label but what we mean by it.

For Butterfield, patriarchy is a concept she hated as a lesbian and that she loves as a Christian: “Biblical patriarchy protects women by giving a wife a godly man as ‘head’ to love and protect her; a daughter, a godly father; and a single woman, a church to protect her” (p. 188; see also p. 54). “The belief that biblical headship or biblical patriarchy is sin is simply not biblically true. This position is an inaccurate reading of the Bible. Biblical patriarchy is a blessing, not a crime, and women who support biblical inerrancy and the fulfillment of biblical gender roles willingly and joyfully support and build up biblical patriarchy” (p. 177).

7. Butterfield repeatedly warns against government schools. As a general rule, in my view government schools in America are not a wise option for Christian parents to utilize. I used to think that public school vs. homeschool or private Christian school was a matter of conscience that you should be especially careful about opining on. But now I don’t think those are morally equivalent options. My wife and I do not send our children to government schools because public schools in a pluralistic society at best attempt to teach cold, hard facts apart from God’s existence, let alone acknowledging God’s supremacy. And government schools in America are increasingly indoctrinating children in woke ideologies of LGBTQ+ and critical race theory7. The way Butterfield addresses government schools is refreshingly sober:

  • She warns, “Transgenderism has erased parental authority in government schools” (p. 193).
  • “Bathrooms in government schools are coed by law so as not to infringe upon the civil rights of transgendered students. … In public schools, apparently bathrooms are the new brothels where all it takes to bamboozle school administrators is a boy in a skirt. Apparently, not even the #MeToo movement holds up against LGBTQ+ demands” (pp. 197–98).
  • “Parents cannot exempt children from antibullying programs for any reason, and this is how transgender activists have made children in government schools a captive audience” (p. 199).
  • We should protect manipulated kids “from false teachers and remove them from government schools whenever possible” (p. 200).
  • She advises what to do if your twelve-year-old daughter wants to take testosterone and become a man with the support of her public school: “The first thing you need to do is unplug your daughter from those deep wells of untruth. Take her out of government schools, take away her phone, and get her immediately into biblical counseling” (p. 302).

8. Butterfield insightfully describes transgenderism as a sin of envy (chap. 10). “People obsessed with having a sex and gender not rightly theirs, and people who are willing to mutilate themselves and manipulate others to get this, are under the control of the sin of envy” (p. 201). “Do not be taken hostage by your envy or by the envy of someone else. This is easier said than done because envy tells the story of victimhood, working through an appeal to pity” (p. 205).

She presents a brilliant analogy regarding those who are envious and those who enable the envious:

King Ahab : Queen Jezebel :: transgender people : those who support transgenderism

That is, transgender people are guilty of the sin of envy (like King Ahab in 1 Kings 21), and those who support transgenderism are guilty of enabling those who are guilty of the sin of envy (like Queen Jezebel). There is serious culpability for the crowds of people who are enthusiastically supporting transgender ideology and persecuting those who don’t. “Envy is a predatory longing for that which is not rightfully mine, often enlisting enablers to slander, lie, steal, and murder. When the sin of envy is bolstered by the additional sin of enablers, envy becomes a social sin of monstrous proportion. In plain speech, transgenderism is the sin of envy with a host of enablers, some of them calling themselves Christian” (p. 207). “Victimhood and pain conceal [envy] in robes of social-justice righteousness. And because of its intimate link with victimization, envy (like all sin) infantilizes a person. Instead of acting with maturity, the slave to envy acts like a spoiled toddler” (p. 211)—like King Ahab who wanted Naboth’s vineyard.

9. Butterfield calls false teaching what it is. She uses the phrase false teaching eighteen times and applies it to …

  • both Side A and Side B gay Christianity (pp. 77, 108, 110);
  • Wesley Hill’s teaching that “the celibate gay Christian is righteous in his gay ‘sexual orientation,’ which, he says, is fixed and morally neutral” (p. 80);
  • the extreme Side B gay Christianity of Revoice (p. 82);
  • teaching “about caring well for supposed sexual minorities” (p. 205);
  • and Preston Sprinkle’s argument that “the biblical first principle that sin, death, and illness entered the world with the sin of Adam is not at all clear because he wasn’t in the garden at the time of the fall” (p. 226).

Other modern authors she refutes include advocates of gay Christianity (Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, James Brownson, Greg Johnson, Nate Collins), Richard Bauckahm on reading the Bible to seek a universal woman’s voice, Carolyn Custis James on patriarchy, and Kristin Kobes Du Mez on feminism—“Books like Du Mez’s have a veneer of Christianity, but woe to the foolish reader who thinks there is genuine, saving faith to be found in their pages” (p. 187).

10. Butterfield is courageous like Puddleglum. “When the whole world seems to have gone mad, we need to cling to Christ with courage” (p. 31). In C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, there is a Marshwiggle named Puddleglum. (He is my favorite character in the entire Narnia series.) At the climax of the story, Puddleglum is in a room with his friends while a witch is enchanting them with the aroma from a magical fire. The aroma is ensnaring them, but Puddleglum comes to the rescue. He uses his bare foot to stamp out the spellbinding fire, and he replaces the aroma in the room with burnt Marshwiggle. That breaks the enchantment and snaps everyone back into their senses.

That’s what Butterfield does in this book. She cuts through our culture’s enchanting lies with straightforward, liberating, beautiful truth. Our culture has the aroma of Satanic enchantments, and Butterfield’s book has the aroma of burnt Marshwiggle.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Show 7 footnotes
  1. Cf. Andrew David Naselli, “Why and How I Use Social Media,” an appendix in How to Read a Book: Advice for Christian Readers (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, forthcoming in March 2024).
  2. Andrew David Naselli, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer, Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).
  3. See also Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant, 2014).
  4. See Andrew David Naselli. “Does Anyone Need to Recover from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? A Review Article of Aimee Byrd’s Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” Eikon: A Journal for Biblical Anthropology 2.1 (2020): 114–20.
  5. See Michael Foster and Bnonn Tennant, “The Compromise in Complementarianism,” Discipleship and Dominion, 26 November 2019; Zachary M. Garris, Masculine Christianity, 2nd ed. (Ann Arbor, MI: Reformation Zion, 2021), 55–102.
  6. Cf. Denny Burk, “Mere Complementarianism,” Eikon: A Journal for Biblical Anthropology 1.2 (2019): 32.
  7.  Cf. Christopher F. Rufo, America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything (New York: Broadside, 2023).
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Andy Naselli

Andy Naselli is professor of systematic theology and New Testament for Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis and one of the pastors of The North Church. He and his wife, Jenni, have four daughters. He is a 2023 Cotton Mather Fellow at American Reformer.

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