Let’s start with the very first sentence in this terrific book: “When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian.” Did you feel heroic in doing so? I felt I was simply telling the truth.
How did you get to that point? I was in graduate school and cared deeply about relationships. I even authored at least one article on the subject of morality and moral living. I was steeped in worldviews that buttressed a sense of equality and the high value of personal experience. I had wonderful relationships with many of my female colleagues—deeper, resonating relationships. For me, coming out as a lesbian, was the same way I might come out as someone who loves her dog or feeds her cat in the morning. It was bold in that it provided an edge for me in the world, but I like edges. It didn’t seem spectacular. It didn’t seem very extraordinary. It just was.
At age 36 and well-established at Syracuse, you wrote a critique of the Promise Keepers movement in the local newspaper and received lots of letters. You had a tray for fan mail and a tray for hate mail, but you didn’t know where to put a letter from a pastor, Ken Smith, because it wasn’t nasty, just questioning. I couldn’t dispose of this letter. I tried to, but at the end of the day I would fish it out of the recycling bin and put it back on my desk. It had some questions that no one had ever asked me in my life. At the end of the letter the pastor asked me, please, to give him a call. The title of the church was Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church, and I assumed reformed meant enlightened. An anthropologist colleague of mine said a meeting would be “GOOD FOR YOUR RESEARCH! Call him back!” So I did.
What were some of the questions no one had asked you? One had to do with the nature of the Bible as a library, not just a book, that it contained every genre I used to teach from. He asked questions about my well-being. He asked, do I believe in God, and if so, what do I think He thinks of all this? He wrote in such a gracious way, and I was intrigued by it.
You write that he invited you to dinner, and there was no air conditioning. Why was that a plus in your mind? I had presumed that evangelical Christians were people who felt entitled to a dominion over the earth that is hateful, violent, unhelpful, unkind. Air conditioning: not necessarily good for the ozone layer, and expensive. They had fans and served a vegetarian meal, which I appreciated because I felt at this point that the eating of meat was a violent activity and I didn’t want to be a part of it. Their home and their culture didn’t seem so different from mine. That put me at ease. . . .
You read serious passages such as Romans 1:24-28, which may be the scariest part of Scripture to anyone suffering from sexual sin. How did that hit you? My friend Jay at that point was a transgendered woman—biologically male, but had taken enough female hormones to be what’s called chemically castrated. Jay followed me to the kitchen, put her large hand on my hand, and said, “Rosaria, something is changing you. This Bible reading is changing you, and you need to tell me what is going on with you, because I am worried, I am losing you.” I sat down and had that panic feeling you have when you’re not really sure if you’re going to throw up. I said, “I’m reading the Bible, reading it a lot, and what if it’s true? We are in big trouble if it’s true.” Jay sat down and said, “I know it’s true. I was a Presbyterian minister for 15 years. I prayed and God did not heal me, but if you want I will pray for you, and I have some books for you to read.”
Which books? The next day I had two boxes of books overflowing. One book was a copy of Calvin’s Institutes. In the margins in Jay’s handwriting, right by the exegesis of Romans 1, is a note. I still have it today: It says, “Be careful, this is where you will fall.” Romans 1 of course, tells us that God will give some over to their lusts.
It made you start thinking about … I was thinking, do I want to be changed? No. I like my life, I like my girlfriend, I like my house thank you very much, I even like my wonderful career. I am standing in the rushing water of the world. I have my toe in another world because of all that Bible reading. What will happen if I put my foot in, if I put my whole body in? I started reading commentaries, and those from my friend Jay, whose handwriting was in the margins, were like a flag on those icy ponds that you see in Syracuse: It looks like ice, but if you walk on it, you’ll fall through, now or later.
You can read the entire interview here:
Here is an audio interview with Rosaria conducted by David Murray and Tim Challies. Fascinating: