The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

A teaser review (minimal spoilers)

If someone could have told Rosaria Champagne: successful English Professor, vocal gay-advocate, feminist and religious scoffer that in a decade and a half she’d be the wife of a Reformed Presbyterian Pastor and homeschool mom of four cross-ethnic children she would have been the first skeptic of this incredible story.

Her conversion was not “a blessing” as the common Christian cliche goes–not immediately. She writes this on the first page: “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. The language normally used to describe his odd miracle does not work for me. I didn’t read one of those tacky self-help books with a thin coating of Christian themes, examine my life against the tenets of the Bible the way one might hold up one insurance policy against all others and cleanly and logically, ‘make a decision for Christ.’ While I did make choices along the path of this journey, they never felt logical, risk-free, or sane. Neither did I feel like the victim of an emotional/spiritual earthquake and collapse into the arms of my Savior, like a holy and sanctified Scarlett O’Hara having been ‘claimed by Christ’s irresistible grace.’ Heretical as it might seem, Christ and Christianity seemed eminently resistible.”

At first, her relationship with Reformed Presbyterian Pastor, Ken Smith, was purely intellectual. She had published in the local newspaper a critique of gender politics and was barraged by a surfeit of both fan and hate mail. Then came a letter which fit in neither category. It laid idle on her normally immaculate desk for a week. She tried three times to throw it away. This RP Pastor had asked her questions she had never considered before. Gracious, but firm, he pressed the presuppositions of her secular, feminist worldview. Finally she called him and accepted his invitation to join him and his wife for dinner at their home. She seized the opportunity to dialogue with a real “evangelical”, enthusiastic about the depth it would add to her research field, little expecting that the dinner she shared with Ken and Floy Smith that night would be the beginning of the turning upside down of her world. They didn’t share the gospel with her over dinner. They didn’t invite her to church after dinner either. Rosaria shares in retrospect that these things would have turned her away because it would have signified to her that all this couple cared about was stopping a voice by making a high-profile convert. Instead, they listened. They made their home a safe place for her to ask deep questions and express her values; they actually dared to befriend a lesbian and enter her world.

It was two years before this friendship facilitated Rosaria’s conversion to a child of God.

For Rosaria, “Salvation” was something she had to recover from. The implications of her “train-wreck conversion” were vast. The gay community and the university where she tenured viewed her a traitor and much of the church community still viewed her as a leper. Mrs. Rosaria writes: “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–with people like me–drinking from a common cup. That’s the real ringer: the common cup–that is, our common origin in depravity. We are only righteous in Christ and in him alone. But that’s a hard pill to swallow, especially if you give yourself kudos for good choices.” (Pg. 138)

She chronicles her journey to true repentance, her reflections on the problem of homosexuality, on worldview, on methods of evangelism and on church culture. Her insights cut deep and hit home. “Maybe churches are filled with hypocrites” Rosaria tells an audience of seminary students, “because you are not there. Or maybe churches are filled with hypocrites because you are there in pride and in self-promotion.” (Pg. 84) Reflecting on the years she and her husband, Kent Butterfield, spent planting a church in Virginia she writes, “We encountered families who feared diversity with a primal fear. They often told us that they didn’t want to ‘confuse’ their children by exposing them to differences in parenting standards among Christians. I suspect that they feared that deviation from their rules might provide a window for children to see how truly diverse the world is and that temptation might lead them astray. Over and over again I have heard this line of thinking from the fearful and faith-struggling. 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? Here is what I think. I believe that there is no greater enemy to vital life-breathing faith that insisting on cultural sameness. When fear rules your theology, God is nowhere to be found in your paradigm, no matter how many Bible verses you tack on it.” (Pg. 115) “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.” (Pg. 5)

In the midst of regular hospitality and ministry in their church and community, Rosaria and Kent became certified for foster care and began the journey of adoption, filled with both joy and heartbreak. One baby they had in their own home for ten days with the expectation of adoption only for the social worker to come back and protest the placement of an African baby in a “white” home. After describing their gut-wrenching decision to give the baby up in the hopes of keeping her out of the foster system, Rosaria writes, “When God brings children out of neglect, abuse, dysfunction, gangs, drugs, and hate, and places them in a covenant home, he has moved a mountain in the hearts and families of men. When God gives a childless couple a child of any age using the means of his powerful will, he has just moved a mountain in the hearts and families of men. When mountains move, the earth shakes. When you stand as close as we have to real-life miracles, you will get roughed up. Mountains are big and we are small. A moving mountain can crush us. Splinters fall from the cross. They travel a long distance and they pierce the skin–maybe even the heart. And wrapped in this risk and danger is God’s embrace and promise to work all things (even evil ones) to the good of those who love him (pg 124)…You can’t play poker with God’s mercy–if you want the sweet mercy then you must swallow the bitter mercy.” (Pg. 125)

As to what became of the baby they gave up and of Kent and Rosaria Butterfield’s journey as foster-parents–you’ll have to read the book to find out and see for yourself, the mighty hand of God in this beautiful woman’s life, a woman considered by many to be a most unlikely convert.

2 thoughts on “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

  1. Pingback: Six Month Anniversary | Living In Heavens shadow

  2. You can almost hear this woman’s true grit for reality and knowing God. She takes you aback and makes you reconsider your thinking patterns, and has you (me at least) feeling a very deeply buried, disturbed awakening out of a monotonous thought cycle. God is unchangeable (impassible;) but WE never know what will happen next- we’re always changing as is everything around us. Trying to fit God into a nice little jar we become accustomed to fit in ‘our’ lifestyle is an easy trap to fall victim to, and causes a (needed) shaking conviction. I’m glad you decided to share this post, Emily!

    Liked by 1 person

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