Monday, April 8, 2013

A Review of an "Unlikely" Read

 Recently, I just finished reading an excellent and very thought provoking book by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield entitled "The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert".  A friend had given me  a copy of this book to read and at first glance, it looked interesting but not immediately compelling until I opened to the first chapter.
     Dr. Butterfield was a tenured professor of women's studies at Syracuse University specializing in "Queer Theory".  She was in a committed lesbian relationship and she and her partner owned two homes which they frequently opened to the Gay community for gatherings.  Her unlikely conversion to the Christian faith is not just another testimony.  Instead, she described it as a "train wreck" because it meant giving up all she had come to know in her life.
     Being a tenured professor of English and serving in a field that she cared deeply about, Rosaria had the good life.  She entertained students and activists who wanted to change the world.  Her life was rolling along quite smoothly until she wrote an editorial piece for a local newspaper about the "Promise Keepers" and their gender bias.  Naturally, she received many letters in response to her article both good and bad.  However, one stood out for her.  It was written by a local Reformed Presbyterian Church pastor.  She wanted to dispose of this letter but she could never bring herself to do so.
     Since she was beginning to research material for a book criticizing the "religious right", she thought she might get some insight by talking with this pastor.  After all, he had raised some interesting points in his letter to her and sounded like someone she could use in her book.  Her view of Christians up to this point was negative.  She writes:  "Christians always seemed like bad thinkers to me.  It seemed that they could maintain their worldview only because they were sheltered from the world's real problems, like the material structures of poverty and violence and racism.  Christians always seemed like bad readers to me, too."  How interesting, then, to see what happens in her encounter with Rev. Ken Smith and his wife Floy who invited Rosaria into their home for dinner and conversation.
     Dr. Butterfield's conversion was not instantaneous but came in a slow but steady awakening as God worked in her heart.  She visited this church despite her very different appearance and began voraciously reading the Bible.  It was all in the name of research, but the Word of God does not return void and it began to work inside her heart.  For her, it meant giving up everything she had ever known to follow Christ and reading about the journey was at once refreshing and eye opening for me.
     There are several reasons why I would highly recommend reading this book.  First, it is a very honest and well written piece.  Dr. Butterfield is a consummate writer as an English professor, but more importantly, she opened my eyes to how the Gay community looks at Christians and how, unfortunately, Christians have failed to reach out in love to those caught up in this lifestyle.  We have a lot to learn from Pastor Ken Smith and his wife who saw Rosaria as a person not as a "blank slate".  They did not push her or cajole her but instead, offered her friendship and hospitality.
     Secondly, this book shows that conversion can be a messy process as a life turns around 180 degrees.  In Rosaria's case, it shattered her career, her network of friends, and her reputation among those she cared about.  It was chaotic at best and lonely.  Too often, people look at conversion through rose colored glasses making it sound idyllic.  For her, it was costly.
     Third, the book deals with sexual sin and gender politics in a sophisticated and fascinating way.  There are no trite answers given here.  Dr. Butterfield makes it clear the sexual dysfunction in society is a symptom of much deeper problems as is consistent with Romans chapter 1.
     Finally, this autobiography serves up reflections on the nature of life, faith, sexuality, worship, education and other matters.  Dr. Butterfield is now married to a pastor and together they have adopted
four children whom they are homeschooling.  No one could ever have predicted this outcome in her life, but the story is an honest evaluation of how God drew her to Himself.
     Once I began reading this book, I could not put it down.  I was encouraged and stimulated in my thinking.  There is also an excellent interview with Rosaria Butterfield done at Patrick Henry University on YouTube by Dr. Marvin Olasky.  The link to follow is: .
     As we think about sharing our faith, we need to consider the great role that hospitality played in bringing this person to an encounter with Christ.  I encourage you to get a copy of this book and read it as it will be a blessing.  May we become more sensitive to the people around us and the opportunities we have to touch their lives.  Selah!

Pictures taken at Highlands Hammock State Park courtesy of Cathy Hardesty.

No comments: