Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English professor’s journey into Christian faith, Crown & Covenant, 2012
This is the conversion testimony of a (former) lesbian English professor but it is far more than that. It is about hermeneutics and worldview, education, evangelism, church planting, Christian sub-culture, public worship, church membership, mercy ministry, sanctification, marriage and adoption. The chapters are few and long (for those of us who have got used to books with short sharp chapters) but the writing flows and I read this quicker than any book I’ve read in the last year. She’s got some very striking statements and turns of phrase:
“How do I tell you about my conversion to Christianity without making it sound like an alien abduction or a train wreck? Truth be told, it felt like a little of both.”
“Sin, when unrestrained, infantilizes a person.”
“God doesn’t act quickly, he acts suddenly.”
“betrayal and risk are at the heart of the gospel life”
“Rahab the Harlot. Mary Magdalene. We love these women between the pages of our Bible, but we don’t want to sit at the Lord’s Table with them”
You won’t agree with everything in these pages. I didn’t buy the arguments for the regulative principle in public worship and exclusive a capella Psalm singing. But basically it’s a great book. What I found particularly helpful was three things:
- The way Butterfield can still remember what it feels like (and thinks like) to be an outsider and an outcast. Her observations on what the Christian (sub)culture looks like from the outside are razor sharp and need to be read by all Christians, particularly those of us who have grown up in Christian families. And yet at the same time she doesn’t cross over into hyper-critical superior church-rejecting criticism (“They’re all hypocrites”) as many who have been hurt by the church tend to do. She writes as an insider as well as an outsider. She is honest about her church’s faults and failures but also about her own and she still clearly deeply loves the church and shows how it was absolutely crucial to her own conversion, healing and perseverance.
- In relation to homosexuality her exposition of Ezekiel 16:48-50 is excellent and her self-analysis is very perceptive and honest without being at all prurient. Her material on this is also well balanced by a chapter dealing largely with the positive biblical model of marriage.
- She is a very powerful advocate for adoption as a ministry of mercy and as a wonderful parallel to God’s adoption of us. You may need a box of tissues at hand for this last chapter.
I’ll write some more about Butterfield’s perspectives on sexuality and healing from same-sex attraction in the next issue of Conversation but for now I just want to warmly commend this book.
The book is more subtle than its evangelical cheerleaders would imply; but Butterfield allows herself to be so used. The simplistic lie that Gay is Sin, that God will convert anyone to straight who has sufficient faith, is told by people who gain comfort from Butterfield.
Thanks for joining the conversation Clare. I agree that the book is subtle. Anything but simplistic. She is very strong against self-righteous hatred of gay people. Her exposition of Ezekiel 16 shows a) that the sin of Sodom was less than the later sin of Jerusalem and b) not *at root* homosexuality but pride and lack of hospitality. Butterfield argues strongly against the simplistic line of “God will convert anyone to straight who has sufficient faith”. In an article I’ve quoted previously she says, “This heresy is a modern version of the prosperity gospel. Name it. Claim it. Pray the gay away.” Part of the hersey is a wrong understanding of sanctification (privatised, instant and magical rather than communal, gradual and making use of the means of grace). Another part of the problem is one of wrong goal. Butterfield doesn’t use the word ‘straight’ once in her book. She writes, “My heterosexual past was no more sanctified than my homosexual present… responding to Jesus… meant not going backwards to my heterosexual past but going forward to something entirely new.” Later in the book she tells of how she challenged Christians who have a simplistic sexual re-orientation mindset, saying, “sexual sin… won’t be “healed” simply by redeeming the context or the genders [i.e. by marriage or swapping genders]… Sexual sin must simple be killed. What is left after this annihilation is up to God.”
However, Butterfield also talks about how a liberal Christian minister tried to persuade her that she could have her lesbian lover and Jesus. She wasn’t convinced that was what the Bible was saying. And despite the arguments, verses and links that you give on your blog Clare, I’m not convinced either. It is not about half a dozen clobber passages with (some would say) contentious Greek words, it is about the whole structure of opposite gender marriage as a God-given picture of Christ and the church – Matt. 19:4-6 and Eph. 5:22-33 are key. Certainly the “clobber passages” clobber *all* of us (e.g. Romans 1). Certainly homosexuality is not the worst sin or the root sin (faithlessness and thanklessness is). But with all our sin (gossip, pride, malice), with our whole old nature, it must be left behind.