I do not ever get tired of reading about how the gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. The manner and shape of that change is an endless mosaic of God taking prideful rebels—rich, poor, sick, well, mean, kind, drunk, sober, Democratic, and even a Republican or two—and turning them into something beyond our wildest imaginations. The engaging thing about The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, by Rosario Champagne Butterfield, is to see the weird way in which God turns a lesbian, feminist professor at Syracuse University into a homeschooling mother/pastor’s wife [which is not something one reads about every day].
Mrs. Butterfield is not one to mince words: “That morning—February 14, 1999—I emerged from the bed of my lesbian lover and an hour later was sitting in a pew at the Syracuse RP church. I share this detail with you not to be lurid but merely to make the point that you never know the terrain someone else has walked to come worship the Lord.” So like I said, Mrs. Butterfield is going to lay it out honestly for us.
The first takeaway for me from reading this book was the necessity for both patience and relationship as we reach out to people for Christ. Mrs. Butterfield spends two years meeting with a pastor who wrote her a “kind letter of opposition” and his wife before she ever set foot in a church. How many of us would have just given up on her? As she will comment later on another issue: “This experience taught me a powerful lesson about evangelism: the integrity of our relationships matters more than the boldness of our words.”
The second takeaway from the book is that, as she puts it: “My journey out of lesbianism was messy and difficult.” This did not come as a surprise. One of the things I’ve seen over and over again is that where sin is entrenched so deeply that it becomes an identity, Satan has a great hold and is very reluctant to let go. She describes what I can only say was the spiritual warfare that went on after she followed Christ: “And then came the night terrors. Night after night, dreams so vivid and real that I could taste and feel them. Dreams so commanding that when I finally awoke, I felt filthy and delirious.” This reminded me of a similar experience when Mary Poplin—radical professor at Claremont University—came to faith. She describes one night where she wakes up and there is literally a dark, physical presence in the room—harrowing, but ultimately God freed her in the same way that he freed Rosario Butterfield. As Mrs. Butterfield puts it:
One doesn’t repent for a sin of identity in one session. Sins of identity have multiple dimensions, and throughout this journey, I have come to my pastor and his wife, friends in the Lord, and always to the Lord himself with different facets of my sin. I don’t mean different incidents or examples of the same sin, but different facets of sin—how pride, for example, informed my decision-making, or how my unwillingness to forgive others had landlocked my heart in bitterness. I have walked this journey with help. There is no other way to do it. I still walk this journey with help.
The third takeaway is that Mrs. Butterfield is at times critical of evangelicalism, and rightly so. Some of her comments so you get a flavor:
The closest I ever got to Christians during these times were students who refused to read material in university classrooms on the grounds that “knowing Jesus” meant never needing to know anything else; people who sent me hate mail; or people who carried signs at gay pride marches that read “God Hates Fags.”
The lesbian community was accepting and welcoming while the Christian community appeared (and too often is) exclusive, judgmental, scornful, and afraid of diversity.
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.
Political advocacy plastered next to Bible verses makes me anxious. I’m not a betting woman, but if I was, I’d say that Jesus is not a member of either political party.
We in the church tend to be more fearful of the (perceived) sin in the world than of the sin in our own heart. Why is that?
You get the point. Coming from her perspective of once being an outsider, she has numerous insightful criticisms of evangelicals. These made me wince, but in a good way.
One final anecdote that made me wince/laugh [I’m assuming that Mrs. Butterfield has a naturally sharp tongue, not to mention ready wit]. She gets saved. Gets married [and oh how neat it is to see how she loves her husband!] and they end up adopting four African-American kids (from infant to teenager), not to mention being foster parents to many more over the years. She recounts this anecdote of visiting a church where her husband is filling in for a vacationing pastor:
A man walked up to me, not knowing that I was the preacher’s wife, and said: “So, is it chic for white women to adopt black kids these days?” I took a deep breath and stood up to meet his gaze. “Are you a Christian?” I asked him. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “Did God save you because it was chic?” We locked eyes until he dropped his head. He stammered something unintelligible and backed away slowly, seeming to understand that even when the bear does not look like the cubs, the trauma of having one’s head ripped off by a protective mama can be bloody business.
I think I would like this woman!
There are things in the book where I disagree with Mrs. Butterfield. She spends an interesting amount of time defending Reformed Presbyterians and their singing only the Psalms in their worship services. I do not agree with her perspective on this, but who cares. It is ultimately not that important. We can argue about it on earth and then see who was right in heaven, or more likely when we get there we will both care less.
I could not put this book down. God has an amazing variety of ways that he calls people to himself.