compelling conversion

I just finished Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s moving testimony, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. I read the first chapter before bed, and then, against my better judgment, I read the next chapter when I awoke, and then I couldn’t stop until I had finished it. What a timely story for today, honestly told with godly insight!

For those who may not know, Butterfield was a tenured professor in the English and Women’s Studies department at Syracuse University, and an influential lesbian. She would seem to be the most unlikely convert since Chuck Colson, and maybe even a little more.

Here are only a few of the things that I appreciated about the book and learned from her story:

1. Evangelism is a violent activity. She describes her conversion as a “train wreck,” even after she was born again. Butterfield was ambivalent about following Jesus long after we would assume she was safely within the fold. She shares how her identity was wrapped up in her former lifestyle. She missed her friends and colleagues and feared that she had betrayed them. She no longer knew where she belonged. Her story taught me that new believers are fragile things and they need our support for the long haul. We must not assume that every conversion starts with the joy of serving Jesus.

2. The homosexual community often excels at hospitality in a way that puts some churches to shame. The gays and lesbians in her world supported each other and supplied a safe environment for each other. Reading her story reminded me that homosexuals are real, and often kind people, who want many of the same things that I want out of life. We disagree about the most important thing in life—who is Jesus?—but we will make more progress in reaching them, and be enriched ourselves, if we start with the values and concerns that we share in common.

3. We need to saturate our interaction with gay people with love. They already know that we believe what they are doing is wrong, so we don’t need to belabor that point. What they don’t know, and what they don’t trust, is that we truly care about them as people. The gracious pastor who led Butterfield to Christ put it well:  “I accept you as a lesbian but I don’t approve of you as a lesbian.” A subtext of the book was how even the ardent homosexuals in her world realized they were “queer.” The attraction for many, the reason they remained gay, was because that was the one community that loved them. There is a lesson here for us. I know that after reading this book, I am convicted to lead, maintain, and end all of my relationships with love.

Butterfield can flat out write—the perks of being an English professor—and I hope that her next book tells us more about how to reach and support homosexuals who become Christians. What are the specific problems they face, and how might we help them to overcome? What is gender identity, and how did a lesbian like her end up married to a Reformed pastor? What hurdles did she face in that transition? The book is mostly silent about this private relationship with her husband, and maybe for good reason. But if this book is any indication, Butterfield has much yet to teach us, if she can do so while protecting the privacy of her marriage.






6 responses to “compelling conversion”

  1. Eric Lapata

    Awesome post, Dr. Wittmer. I resonated with your point #2, which says that we need to start with what we have in common and go from there. Sometimes, I am intimidated to interact with gays because I always think I don’t have anything in common with them. Yet, we absolutely do have a lot it common, which in turn will lead to further discussions about Jesus!

    This hit me in a fresh way and something that I haven’t thought about before. Thank you!

  2. Joey

    She was interviewed by Chris Fabry back in April.

  3. Dan

    This review from a year ago was what first drew my attention to the book. After it gathered steam over the next couple of months, I finally bought it and read it in a weekend.

    As a discontented evangelical, I especially resonated with Carl Trueman’s fourth point in the review; while your insights and those of Trueman have some overlap, it was very observant of him to draw out this theme in Dr. Butterfield’s book and to distinguish between confessional and broad evangelical forms of Christianity. Not to slight your response to the book but to point out that the book also carried some significant doctrinal and ecclesiolgical themes that were integral to her conversion story.

  4. Read this earlier in the summer and had much the same reaction. Here’s my short review from Goodreads/Amazon: I thought I was simply going to read of Rosaria’s conversion and lifestyle change. Instead, I got that and so much more. To read of her experiences and belief is to be humbled for my self-righteousness and shamed for my own tendency to hoard my time for myself rather than investing in others in a personal way. This is an incredible story, not about an incredible woman but about an incredible God who chooses whom He will and draws them to Himself. I challenge you to read it without tears and without confessing your own sins to God who grants forgiveness.

  5. […] Compelling Conversion, thoughts on the book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. I reviewed it here, but he includes some points that also spoke to me but I didn’t articulate. […]

  6. […] Compelling Conversion – Mike Wittmer […]

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