She had attained much in the eyes of the world. She was a lesbian activist, a respected English professor who had been tenured in her department, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies at Syracuse University. For Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, coming to Christ meant betraying her close-knit gay community, her closest friends. It also meant losing so much of what she had worked hard to attain in her profession. In a nutshell, she lost “everything but the dog” in the process (63).
She describes her conversion as a “complicated and comprehensive chaos” (27). Throughout the first several chapters of her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, she describes much of that inner chaos and the difficult questions she had to grapple with along the way. Dr. Butterfield’s example of wrestling with hard questions and building her convictions on her understanding of God’s Word should be a challenge to us all, even though we may disagree with some of her conclusions (such as singing only psalms and no hymns or other worship songs).
An Inside Glimpse
Have you ever wondered what goes through the minds of those who identify as homosexual? Have you ever wondered how you can best reach them where they are? In her book, Dr. Butterfield gives us a glimpse into the thoughts of a lesbian activist and offers a unique perspective along with many valuable insights on this important issue. She shares some of the ways she viewed the Christian community before her conversion and how her journey has shaped her perspective of the issue of homosexuality today.
Some of these thoughts and insights may be new to those of us who have grown up in the Christian community. But it is important for us to consider how God wants us to think about these things and to reach out to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we must face the fact that, in general, the church has not done a good job of reaching out to these people with the love of Christ. Over and over as I read her book I was challenged to examine the way I think about those who identify as homosexuals and to consider how my thinking needs to change.
One thing that challenged me greatly was when Dr. Butterfield wrote about how often we as believers tend to view homosexuals as a different kind of people – a kind that we cannot relate to and that are somehow more dangerous. Christians tend to think that this sin is on a different level from all the other sins we commit. Dr. Butterfield writes of what she learned from God’s Word about how He views sin, especially in regard to homosexuality. She says some very convicting things, as she writes about how she learned that “pride and not sexual orientation” was the “root sin” (32).
A Sexual Battle
As she studied Matthew 11:23-34, she realized that “Jesus tells us clearly that had Sodom seen God’s power manifested before them as Capernaum had, they would have repented and lived. Jesus’ injunction that God is more greatly grieved by the sins of those who claim to know him than by those who know him not, struck a chord for me” (32). As we consider this, we must admit that the sin of homophobia, which is the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals” (Merriam-Webster.com), is just as detestable in God’s eyes as homosexuality!
Christians must also understand that transformation for a homosexual person does not always mean that the struggle will completely go away, just as the struggle with heterosexual lust does not necessarily go away after conversion. Dr. Butterfield writes that she learned that her sexuality was sinful because it “wasn’t Christ-controlled” not merely because it was homosexual. She says, “In understanding myself as a sexual being, responding to Jesus (i.e., “committing my life to Christ”) meant not going backwards to my heterosexual past but going forward to something entirely new” (33).
I personally had the privilege of hearing Dr. Butterfield share her testimony live at the ACBC annual conference. In her talk, she addressed a question that is often asked when considering these things: can someone believe in Jesus and be gay? Her answer was that if a believer struggles with the desire, but fights it as any other sin, then the answer is yes. However, if someone claims to be a believer, yet also fully embraces his homosexual desires, living that lifestyle and claiming it is not a sin, then the answer would have to be no.
Throughout her book, Dr. Butterfield also describes some people who walked with her through the chaos providing support, insight, and encouragement through the struggle. She writes of the impact one particular couple had on her as they reached out to her in friendship. We as believers have much to learn from her description of the ways that Pastor Ken and Floy Smith, along with several other key people, showed her the love of Christ.
One thing that Dr. Butterfield says made a huge impact was that at their first meeting they extended friendship to her rather than preaching the gospel. She writes, “During our meal, they did not share the gospel with me. After our meal, they did not invite me to church. Because of these glaring omissions to the Christian script as I had come to know it, when the evening ended and Pastor Ken said he wanted to stay in touch, I knew that it was truly safe to accept his open hand” (11).
Can those in the gay community say that of us? Do they see friendship with us as “safe” or do they only sense condemnation? This is just one of many important characteristics of the friendship that we can learn from. Readers can glean many more insights on how to extend Christ’s love and friendship to those in the gay community.
A Thoughtful Read
The last half of the book centers mostly on her life after conversion – which is equally interesting and insightful. As you read, keep in mind that Rosaria was an English professor. Because of this, she at times uses words that are not generally found in the vocabulary of the average American. You may find it helpful to have a dictionary handy as you read to better understand all that she is saying.
This is a book to be read thoughtfully, with many nuggets of truth to stop and consider along the way. Overall, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is a worthwhile read, one that challenges us to examine how we think about this important issue.
| Ranita Reitz is currently living in Elnora, Indiana while working on her certificate in Biblical Counseling with Elnora Bible Institute. Most of her time is spent either studying or tending the small store where she works part time. She has a burden for helping young women find freedom in Christ as they learn to trust in His promises and to apply the principles of God’s Word to everyday life. Some of the things she enjoys most are connecting with people, reading, baking, taking pictures of God’s beautiful creation, and traveling to new places.
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. Pittsburgh, PA: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012.
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. “Secret Thought of an Unlikely Convert.” ACBC Annual Conference. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville. Oct. 2015. Speech.
Complete definition of “Homophobia”: http://beta.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/homophobia