Rosaria Champagne Butterfield was an insider. More specifically, she was an insider in the gay and lesbian community. Back then she was just Rosaria Champagne. She publicly declared herself a lesbian in her late 20s and by her mid-30s she was a tenured professor at Syracuse University’s Center for Women’s Studies where she worked with several gay advocacy groups.
And then everything changed.
As she puts it in her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, her life became train wrecked. Train wrecked by Jesus Christ and his gospel of grace.
A lot happened in leading up to that train wreck. That’s the way God usually works. Perhaps the most notable among those happenings was a letter from a pastor, Kenneth Smith.
Butterfield’s book is an excellent documentation of one woman’s journey from homosexuality to faith and repentance in Christ. For the church, it is a reminder that no one, no matter how radical they may be, is too bad for Christ’s forgiveness. Pastor Kenneth Smith knew this and it impacted the way that he moved towards Rosaria.
For most of her life, Rosaria thought that Christians were too intellectually and spiritually shallow to understand homosexuality and other progressive causes.
“The Bible says” always seemed to me like a mantra that invited everyone to put his or her brain on hold. “The Bible says” was the Big Pause before the conversation stopped. Their catch phrases and cliches were (and are) equally off-putting.
But Pastor Smith was different. He first engaged Rosaria in regards to an article she had written against the traditional view of marriage and sexuality. As the mail came in response to her writing, Rosaria kept two boxes, one on each side of her desk. One box was for the hate mail and the other for fan mail. Pastor Smith’s letter couldn’t find a home in either box. He spoke the truth, perhaps like some of the hate mail writers, but he did it with love and grace, like a fan would. How can a letter contain both truth and grace?
The church can learn a lot from Pastor Smith, and his wife Floy, on how to move towards those with whom we disagree. Rosaria’s description of the couple is profound.
Ken and Floy didn’t identify with me. They listened to me and identified with Christ.
The Floys didn’t spit venom, they listened. But they also didn’t water down their message. They remained rooted in Christ and his unchanging gospel. And that changed everything for Rosaria.
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is a different person than she was in her radical professor days. Jesus changed her. But Jesus didn’t die to make lesbian women go straight. There will be plenty of straight people in hell. Jesus died to make dead people alive. The happy ending to Rosaria’s story is not that she’s no longer practicing homosexuality. As good and important as that is, the real happy ending is that Rosaria now belongs to the family of God. So in a very different way, she’s still and insider.
But that’s not good enough for some in the church. For them, the “unmentionable past” of Rosaria and others like her is just too much to overcome. Her words are direct and necessary for those who feel this way.
Rahab the Harlot. Mary Magdalene. We love these women between the pages of our Bible, but we don’t want to sit at the Lord’s Table with them – with people like me – drinking from a common cup.
For people who genuinely care about seeing sinners redeemed by the Savior, this book is a must read. Rosaria’s story bleeds grace. For those who are stuck making arguments against homosexuality by talking about Adam and Steve, Pastor Kenneth Smith is an excellent example of how to engage the world with grace, truth, compassion and intellect.
I don’t agree with everything in this book. That’s the case for pretty much any book that I read apart from the Bible. But I can’t think of a more timely and important book for the church as we strive to remain grounded in the gospel by speaking the truth in love to people in need of Jesus’ saving grace.
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert can be purchased at LifeWay Christian Bookstores.