Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield [1]. 2012.  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:  An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.  Pittsburgh:  Crown & Covenant Publications.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is conversion?

In postmodern thinking, conversion is an act of treason.  The modern thinker believes in objectivity—a single, objective reality exists which we can study, understand, and agree on.  By contrast, the postmodern thinker believes truth is socially constructed. There is not one objective truth; there is only your truth and my truth. The interpretative community (the social group) in power determines reality. Therefore, the convert from one worldview to another is accordingly a traitor (or heretic) to the interpretive community (social group) left behind.  Because community boundaries are vigorously defended, conversion can be accompanied by significant costs to the convert.

In her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield writes about her conversion from lesbianism to Christianity.

Dr. Butterfield’s use of the word, convert, in her title suggests the vast distance that she traveled.  One converts from one religion to another, not from one hobby to another.  Lesbianism is a secular (atheistic) religion with its own philosophy (deconstructionism), cultural markers (hair-style; clothing; vocabulary; 8), public testimony (x), evangelism (8), and social networks (50).  She writes:

When I became a Christian, I had to change everything—my life, my friends, my writing, my teaching, my advising, my clothes, my speech, my thoughts.  I was tenured to a field that I could no longer work in (26).

A change in worldview requires a world of change.  She refers to lesbianism as a sin of identity (23).  What this means is that when we establish our primary identity in anything other than Christ, we commit idolatry—sin that violates the second commandment [2].  Workaholism is another common sin of identity.

In her biblical exploration of her sin, Dr. Butterfield focuses on an interesting passage:

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. (Ezekiel 16:48-50 ESV)

The sin of Sodom was not just immorality but more importantly pridea focus on self, entertainment-driven lust, love of money, and neglect of the poor (30-31).  Does this description sound familiar?

The details of Rosario’s conversion experience are fascinating.  Her spiritual journey began with a research project.  She decided to write a book on the hermeneutic (interpretative principles) used by the Christian Right—people such as Pat Robertson.  Her research involved studying the Bible 5 hours a day (12) and led her to begin studying Greek (the New Testament is written entirely in Greek; 7).  A newspaper article that she published critiquing the gender politics of Promise Keepers [3] generated a lot of mail, including a thoughtful letter from a local pastor, Pastor Ken, who invited her to call and discuss the article (7-9).  She called. They began a conversation that extended over a period of years as she pursued her research. But the book was never completed.  From her own study of the Bible (aided by Pastor Ken’s non-anxious pastoral presence and biblical interpretation) Rosario became convinced that what the Bible said about God was true (13, 8).  Baptized and raised Roman Catholic, Rosario began attending and later joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC) [4].  She later married an RPC pastor (94).

Rosario’s claims to be a leader in the gay rights movement (4) are not lite fluff.  To see this, just check out her reading list in preparing her proposed book on the Christian Right.  For example, she read Augustine’s Confessions (50), John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (17), and Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text? (87-89). These are books that challenge most seminary students—if they have read them at all—and they are required reading in understanding Christian hermeneutics (study of interpretation) and epistemology (study of knowledge).  If you think that English professors sit around reading Emily Dickson all day, you vastly underestimate Dr. Butterfield’s academic bona fides [5].

A key takeaway from Rosario’s conversion testimony is that it was the subversive activity of the Holy Spirit, not a clever evangelist, that led her to Christ.  Like many converts from Islam, her conversion began with study of the Bible [6].

Another important takeaway concerns Pastor Ken’s ability to be a non-anxious presence for Rosario.  The RPC has a strong intellectual grounding in Calvin’s systematic theology.  Systematic theology is holistic which implies that no aspect of life or faith is doctrinally neglected—its strength lies in its completeness.  A non-anxious presence begins with emotional intelligence but requires intellectual rigor.  Lesbians, like Muslims, ask tough questions.  One earns their respect by being able to field the questions credibly, honestly, and humbly without fear.  Pastor Ken’s RPC background helped him keep up his end of the conversation.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert reads like Augustine’s Confessions.  As a young man, Augustine also struggled with sexual sin.  And, after converting to Christianity, he played an important role in the monastic movement which encouraged candidates for ministry to practice celibacy.  Augustine’s deep theology particularly influenced a young monk in the 15th century—a certain Martin Luther whose work was at the center of the Protestant Reformation.  Protestants all owe a debt of gratitude to Augustine, who struggled with and overcame sexual sin.  The Apostle Paul writes:  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Rosario’s book is short having only 5 chapters:

  • Conversion and the Gospel of Peace;
  • Repentance and the Sin of Sodom;
  • The Good Guys: Sanctification and Public Worship;
  • The Home Front:  Marriage, Ministry, and Adoptions; and
  • Homeschooling and Middle Age.

These chapters are preceded by a forward and acknowledgments and followed by a bibliography and other resources.

Rosario’s confession is likely to become a classic, in part, because it is timely and, in part, because it can be read on multiple levels.  On the surface level, it reads as a reinvestment story [7]:  there I was; here I am.  For the surface reader, she provides lots of interesting details about her life both as a lesbian and, later, as a pastor’s wife and home-school teacher.  Beneath the surface, however, lies Dr. Butterfield, the intellectual.  What is a presuppositional problem? (8)  What is the ontological fallacy? (13) What does it mean not to believe in objectivity? (14)  I was intrigued and was sorry that Rosario did not write and explain more.  In particular, why did she become a lesbian? [8]

What is conversion?  For Rosario, it was like the Copernican Revolution. The earth went from being the center of the universe to being a planet rotating around the sun.  The Copernican Revolution simplified the mathematics of planetary motion.  It was much the same for Rosario. When she displaced self with the Triune God, her life was simpler, more joyful, and kingdom focused [9].

What are the implications for the church?  For the surface reader, Dr. Butterfield’s conversion is incomprehensible and terribly inconvenient for those that have been co-opted by ardent lesbianism and related postmodern philosophies.  For deeper readers, this review only scratches the surface.  Bottom line?  Read and discuss the book.  It is worth the time for those who believe in the resurrected Christ.

[1] http://RosariaButterfield.com.

[2] You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me (Exodus 20:4-5 ESV).

[3] www.PromiseKeepers.org

[4] RPC adheres to the Westminster Confession which does not permit ordination of women.  http://ReformedPresbyterian.org.

[5] By contrast, her academic specialty, Queer Theory, is a topic that I have no background to evaluate (2).

[6] For example, read or listen to the testimony of Khalil (www.MoreThanDreams.tv/Khalil.html).

[7] See John Savage.  1996.  Listening and Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, pages 82-84.

[8] The only real hint in the book arises when Rosario write:  I had not always been a lesbian.  But once I had my first girlfriend, I was hooked and I was sure that I found my “real” self. (14)  This description reads as if one who, having tasted blood, desired more—an addiction consistent with deconstructionism’s focus on power.

[9] One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven– for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:36-47 ESV)

 

 

 

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