Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Book Review)
By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Rosaria Champagne, was a very successful tenured professor at Syracuse university. Holding a PhD in english literature & cultural studies she was the key professor in the critical theory department. Her specialty was queer theory. (a post modern form of gay & lesbian studies) She endeared herself to “radical leftist ideology” embracing the philosophical & political views of Freud, Marx, and Darwin. She genuinely believed that her perspective and her activism was making the world a better place. As a result, she was deeply loved by the GLBT community and served as faculty advisor for all the gay and lesbian organizations on campus. She was a sought after key note speaker at gay pride parades and desired visiting lecturer at such reputable schools as Harvard. But all that changed…
The local newspaper had printed her scathing assessment of the “gender politics” displayed by a national evangelical Christian organization. As usual mail that hated her, and adored her poured in. There was one letter, however, which didn’t seem to fit in either pile. The letter from pastor Ken Smith suggested that she explore and defend the presuppositions that undergirded her conclusions. The letter was gentle, open, inquisitive and challenging. Rosaria was unable to let the letter leave her mind.
Life moved forward and Rosaria decided to write a book on the religious right. She believed that religion was as Marx wrote. “The opiate of the masses” an imperialist social construction made to soothe the existential angst of the intellectually impaired. But in the interest of good scholarship she knew she must study. She learned Greek, started reading the Bible, and tried to immerse herself in this thinking that was so foreign to her. It didn’t take long before she knew she needed a tutor. She thought of Ken Smith, Rosaria, suspected all Christians to be narrow minded, bigoted, and anti-intellectual, but maybe, just maybe, Ken was different. She called and started blasting him with questions. Ken responded, “These are the kinds of questions that need to be talked about in my living room in front of the fire place after dinner, would you come?” And so it began, the remarkable friendship between a 36 year old lesbian feminist, and a 70 year old reformed Presbyterian minister. After 2 years Rosaria converted to Christianity. She describes her conversion as a “train wreck” because of the massive destruction that it wrought in every aspect of her life. “When you die to yourself you have nothing from your past to use as clay out of which to shape your future.” Rosaria has little use for the concepts of easy believism. As Roseria reflects back on her incredible transformation she has a multitude of wisdom for us. I think it best to simply quote her.
- Where everyone thinks the same nobody thinks very much.
- There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted.
- In the court of public opinion, Christians have lost the war on intellectual integrity.
- I couldn’t come to church, it was too threatening, too weird, too much. So Ken was willing to bring the church to me. Ken Smith spent time with me — and not just spare time. He spent pricey time — real time. He didn’t hide behind bumper stickers or slogans.
- How do you have 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…sins of identity take a while.
- Repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin.
- Christians still scare me when they reduce Christianity to a lifestyle and claim that God is on the side of those who attend to the rules of the lifestyle they have invented or claim to find in the Bible.
- I needed to be shepherded, I did not need the glitz and glamor that has captured the soul of modern evangelical culture.
- God’s people surrounded me. Not to manipulate. Not to badger. But to love and to listen and to watch and to pray. Eventually instead of resisting, I surrendered.
- Homosexuality — like all sin — is symptomatic and not casual — that is it tells us where our heart has been, not who we inherently are or what we are destined to become. Pride and not sexual orientation is the root problem.
Roseria, had come to see herself as the controlling, manipulative, arrogant, rebellious person that she was. She stopped justifying herself and repented even when the feelings were not there. Differences in her were duly noted by her network of friends. Her lover suggested she take a holiday. Her drag queen friend told her she was sick. Eventually, Roseria knew she had to “come out.” She picked The graduate student orientation convocation as the time and place to do it. She was the key note. Towards the end of her speech which landed like a bombshell in the ears of all her listeners she said:
“I discovered that God isn’t just a narrative we pick like summer berries or leave for the next person; nor is God a set of social conventions tailored for the weak of mind; nor is God a consumerist social construct who exists in the service of Christian imperialist ideologies and right-wing politics. Rather, I discovered that God through Jesus Christ exists, the triune God of the Bible exists, whether we acknowledge him or not. I discovered that God wasn’t very happy with me.” (August 1999, Graduate Student Orientation Convocation) Syracuse University.
There was nothing in the speech the was pejorative or inflammatory, but even still it wrecked everything. The line up outside her office became long and the requests for her to resign her advisory posts poured in. She remembers one exchange with a young GLBT activist;
“How do you know you are not gay?”
“How do you know you are?”
“I’m a gay man because the GLBT community is the only safe home I have, a home that was made safe by you! How could you?”
She had nothing to say, she just hugged him while he cried.
Rosaria ends up becoming a pastors wife, adopts 4 children, and takes on the role of homeschool mom. As a reformed Presbyterian she embraces something called the “regulative principle of worship” — essentially all singing in a church gathering is reduced to the the singing of psalms without accompaniment. She attempts to make the case for this position by saying. “If God gave us a book of praise songs, who are we to add to them?” However, If God gave us creative minds and gifts. Who are we not to use them for his glory? To not use our gifts is to insult the giver of these gifts. I recognize that all followers of Jesus practice some form of regulation when it comes to worship. The RP practices the strictest of regulation, that’s fine. Rosaria makes her case and leaves it at that. Diversity among Christianity is healthy.
This is my favorite book of 2013 so far, and a worthy read no matter what perspective you are coming from.