“The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,” book review

[dropcap]V[/dropcap]ery infrequently does one come across a book like The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Butterfield, once a left-wing lesbian professor, wanted little to do with Christians save analyzing them for a book she planned to write. Degreed in a primary field of Critical Theory, aka “postmodernism,” her “specialty was Queer Theory (a postmodern form of gay and lesbian studies).” One assumes her book would have been less than friendly toward its target audience.

Secure in the world of academia, surrounded by friends and in a relationship with a woman she loved, Christians as a whole had not impressed her. They

always seemed like bad

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

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. They appeared to use the Bible in a way that Marxists would call “vulgar”–that is, common, or, in order to bring the Bible into a conversation to stop the conversation, not deepen it. “The Bible says” always seemed to me like a mantra that invited everyone to put his or her brain on hold. (p. 4)

In spite of this perception, her world was rocked by a letter from local pastor, Ken Smith, after Butterfield had written a critique of Promise Keepers for her local paper. Rather than arguing with or berating her, Smith challenged the presuppositions undergirding her criticisms: how did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right?

Smith and his wife Floy welcomed Rosaria into their home for meals and discussions over and over. Writing on pages 10 and 11 she says:

I wanted to get to know these people but not at the expense of compromising my moral standards. My lesbian identity and culture and its values mattered a lot to me. I came to my culture and its values through life experience but also through much research and deep thinking. I liked Ken and Floy immediately because they seemed sensitive to that. Even though obviously these Christians and I were very different, they seemed to know that I wasn’t just a blank slate, that I had values and opinions too, and they talked with me in a way that didn’t make me feel erased…Ken and Floy didn’t identify with me. They listened to me and identified with Christ. They were willing to walk the long journey to me in Christian compassion. (pg. 10, 11)[Emphasis added.]

Notably Rosaria met with Ken and Floy for two years before she ever attended their church. Ken, she says, was willing to bring the church to her.

Over time her repeated exposure to the gospel began, like water over stone, to have an effect. Finally, in a scene bringing C.S. Lewis’ conversion to mind, she recounts

That night, I prayed, and asked God if the gospel message was for someone like me, too. I viscerally felt the living presence of God as I prayed. Jesus seemed present and alive. I knew that I was not alone in my room. I prayed that if Jesus was truly a real and risen God, that he would change my heart. And if he was real and if I was his, I prayed that he would give me the strength of mind to follow him and the character to become a godly woman. I prayed for the strength of character to repent for a sin that at that time didn’t feel like sin at all–it felt like life, plain and simple. I prayed that if my life was actually his life, that he would take it back and make it what he wanted it to be. I asked him to take it all: my sexuality, my profession, my community, my tastes, my books, and my tomorrows. (p. 21)

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is a fantastic book, well written and well told. From a broken engagement to her first post-conversion boyfriend, to her eventual marriage to a pastor, to foster care and adoption, it is an evident work of God.

Butterfield writes well enough to hope she puts forth a second effort. Consider these gems from among many:

“It is painful to lay my hand on the absence of my former life, and breath. My former life still lurks in the edges of my heart, shiny and still like a knife.

I come to the limits of language when I try to describe my life in Jesus Christ.” (p. 2)

“There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted.” (p. 7)

“Good teachers make it possible for people to change their positions without shame.” (p. 14)

“You never know the terrain someone else has walked to come worship the Lord.” (p. 20)

“I had learned in a rich and organic way that the Bible webs into all conversations and cultures, like active verbs in sentences or oxygen in the atmosphere.” (p. 67)

“I would learn to grieve through repentance without feigning false innocence.” (p. 76)

“Sin, when unrestrained, infantilizes a person.” (p. 108)

“When fear rules your theology, God is nowhere to be found in your paradigm, no matter how many Bible verses you tack on to it.” (p. 115)

The book might have been a little stronger had Butterfield not chased prey through fields of regulative worship. Her obvious embrace of that theological bent is important to her, but not relevant to the larger story of the book. The same could be said of including the lengthy marriage charge from her wedding ceremony. It could not be more clear why it is important to Butterfield, but it could have been edited to benefit her readers.

In the end I think The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert will benefit the community of Christ as much as or more than gays or lesbians who read it. This is not to say the hearts of some will not be changed from its clear gospel witness; this is near certain. It is more to say those who follow Christ will be challenged and instructed how to better engage non-believers of any background. This makes it an absolute must read.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor’s journey into christian faith, published by Crown and Covenant, is available at LifeWay Christian Stores nationwide.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.