The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:
An English Professor’s Journey Into the Christian Faith
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield; (2012) Crown and Covenant, paper, $10.99, 153 pp. ISBN 1884527388. Reviewed by Matthew Kortus.
“What would you do if a homosexual entered our worship service?” This question was posed to the author of this book by a fellow church member (p. 138). The author’s response: the “R-Rated” testimony of her conversion into the Christian faith, which she describes as a spiritual train wreck.
Rosaria Champagne worked as an English professor at Syracuse University. Her primary field of study was Critical Theory, also known as postmodernism, as applied to gays and lesbians. This field of study matched her lifestyle: she was a self-declared lesbian, currently in a relationship. As an activist for lesbians, she involved herself in the gay and lesbian community, where she became a respected leader.
In her efforts to trumpet the cause of the gay community, the author published a critique of a group’s gender politics in a local newspaper. In response to this article, she received a tremendous amount of feedback in the form of letters. She began sorting them into two different boxes: one for hate mail, the other for fan mail. Among the letters that she received was one written by Pastor Ken Smith, minister of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. The letter asked her to explore the presuppositions that undergirded her article and invited her to discuss the matter with Pastor Smith. This challenge intrigued the author; so much so, she did not know which box to file the letter into.
At this same time, the author had begun researching for a book she intended to write on the religious right as it targets gays and lesbians. To understand Christian thought better, she responded to Pastor Smith’s letter. She began making regular visits to Pastor Smith’s home to study scripture with him and his wife Floy. These visits exposed the author not only to the broad teachings of scripture, but also to the dynamics of a Christian home. After meeting for some time, the author began to wonder if the teachings of the Bible might actually be true. After admitting these thoughts to Pastor Smith, he challenged her to consider her Roman Catholic upbringing and baptism in light of God’s providence. Doing so, the author found herself in the “crucible of confusion” as she made attempts to pray, contemplated the idea of repentance, and began attending church. By God’s grace, Rosario Champagne, a woman previously caught up in the gross sexual sin of homosexuality, was led to the point of repentance.
Soon after her conversion, or “train wreck,” as she describes it, the author quickly realized that it had massive implications for her life. She realized the need for change as she sought to obey God “one small step at a time.” Along with breaking off her lesbian relationship, she saw from scripture other sins that were deeply rooted in her life. On the basis of Ezekiel 16:48–50 and Matthew 11:23–24, she realized that at the root of her homosexual lifestyle, along with many other sins, was pride. When pride and other sins go unchecked, then sin progresses. In articulating all of this, the author writes:
“Conversion overhauled my soul and personality. It was arduous and intense. I experienced with great depth the power and authority of God in my life. In it I learned—and am stilling learning—how to love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind. When you die to yourself, you have nothing from your past to use as clay out of which to shape your future.” (34)
This all culminated in her public confession of faith to become a member of the church she was attending. Making her vows before the church caused her to realize that there was no going back to or maintaining any aspect of her previous life.
The author continues her story by chronicling her life after conversion. After committing to marriage with a member from her church, the author learned the importance of placing her faith in Christ in the midst of a trial when her fiancé broke off the engagement. Shortly after, she took leave from her position at Syracuse University to move to Pennsylvania where she studied and taught at Geneva College (the Presbyterian Reformed denominational college). There she had opportunity to give her testimony at a chapel speech. Her speech served as a springboard for opportunities to work closely with students.
While at Geneva College, the author continued to correspond with friends and colleagues from Syracuse. She faced many difficult questions about why she joined the Reformed Presbyterian churches. To give guidance, a seminary student at the college directed her to two books that explained how believing in sola scriptura produces the regulative principle of worship and calls for exclusive psalmody in worship. These resources helped ground her in the Reformed faith.
The seminary student (Kent Butterfield) who offered assistance eventually became Rosario’s husband in May 2001, the day after he graduated from seminary. During the first several years of their marriage, the couple remained in Pennsylvania, where Kent did a pastoral internship. During this time, the couple developed their philosophy of hospitality and mercy ministry. After a year, they moved to Maryland to begin the work of church planting, which began mostly with college students. This involved constant ministry to the students’ physical and spiritual needs.
The author’s life of service changed drastically when they were able to adopt children. In total, they successfully adopted four children. In addition, they faced one disrupted adoption, an event that caused much sorrow in the family’s life. The author recounts the story of each adoption and the impact on her life of having children. She now spends her days homeschooling them. The author describes the many the joys she has in serving her family and instructing her children. Her family now lives in North Carolina, where her husband is pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian church.
While Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is a memoir that chronicles the work of God in an individual’s life, the author makes constant effort to make sure her testimony is not simply a “how-shocking-was-my-sin-before-I-met-the-Lord story” by faithfully describing the believer’s daily struggle against sin.
This book is extremely thought provoking, especially with regard to two aspects of the Christian life: our view of homosexuality and personal evangelism. The author of this book is a living testimony of God’s grace to sinners. Just as Christ called Saul on the road to Damascus and the malefactor on the cross to believe in him, so too he gives faith to those entrenched in the most heinous sins. Do we sometimes view homosexuals, especially in the way we talk, as having committed an unforgivable sin? Have any of us tried to share the good news of the gospel with a gay or lesbian individual? And what about our personal evangelism? Would we ever invite a homosexual into our home with the purpose of showing him or her the peace and comfort we have as believers?
Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert provides a powerful testimony of God’s irresistible grace and his power to save sinners. The book is well written and provides the reader with a tremendous amount of food for thought. I highly recommend this book and I encourage you to read it slowly, taking time to meditate on many different points that the author addresses. Certainly this will make a great book for any discussion groups. This book provides a great opportunity to think deeply about certain aspects of the Christian faith as well as the sovereignty of God in salvation of his people.