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The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

David Campbell
09 September 2021 19:40

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

The subtitle is, an English professor’s journey into Christian faith. Those of you who have read the book (as a number of you have) will know that it was quite some journey.

Rosaria Butterfield is not just the author. She is the book’s subject. The ‘secret thoughts’ are her own thoughts, given to us first-hand; her own testimony to the amazing grace of God in her life.

It all began with a critique of Promise Keepers for their gender politics, published in a local newspaper. Rosaria, at the time, was an associate professor at Syracuse University, New York State, researching the rise of the Religious Right in America. She was also, in her own words, “a radical lesbian feminist” (p.11). Her editorial generated a huge response. “I received so many letter”, she says, “that I kept empty Xerox paper boxes on both sides of my desk, one for hate mail and one for fan mail” (p.8). One letter, however, sat on her desk unfiled.

Ken Smith, Pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church, had written what Rosaria describes as “a kind and inquiring letter”, asking her all kinds of questions: “How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God?” (p.8). He also encouraged her to call him and discuss these questions, the upshot of which was an invitation to join him and his wife for dinner at their home.

“This simple meal in a pastor’s home”, as Rosaria describes it, was the first leg of her spiritual journey. Several things made an impression. One was Ken’s prayer before the meal. “I had never heard anyone pray to God as if God cared, as if God listened, and as if God answered” (p.10). Another, the fact that during the meal neither Ken nor his wife shared the gospel with Rosaria. Nor did they invite her to church. Rosaria admits, in fact, that had they invited her to church at that first meal she would have “careened like a skateboard on a cliff, and would never have come back” (p.11)! It would take no fewer than two years of home meetings and Scripture study before Rosaria stepped foot in a church. 

Reflecting back on it she comments, “Ken and Floy did something at the meal that has a long Christian history but has been functionally lost in too many Christian homes. Ken and Floy invited the stranger in – not to scapegoat me, but to listen and to learn and to dialogue” (p.11).

All of this, of course, was just the beginning. A long and difficult journey lay ahead. Should the short distance we’ve traveled have whetted your appetite for the rest, you will find it fascinating, instructive, and inspiring, peculiarly fitted to encourage us as we witness for Christ in our confused and so openly immoral society.

 And it is with witness that I want to close. How do we reach the Rosaria Butterfields of our society? Effectively? There is no easy answer! Recall, however, that our Lord was able to simultaneously hate sin and yet attract sinners to himself. The worst of them were drawn to him. The heart of it, therefore, unquestionably lies in becoming more like Him.

David Campbell