Currently I am reading “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” by Rosaria Butterfield. This book traces Butterfield’s journey from a lesbian professor of “Queer Studies” in the English Department of Syracuse University to a conservative evangelical wife and mother. She is certainly not the poster girl for LGBTI movement nor of the growing voice of the Gay and Lesbian community in evangelical circles. One can agree or disagree with Butterfield, but the book is eminently worth reading for a variety of disparate reasons:
1. It reveals how conversations between disagreeing parties can be held with honour and integrity:
One of the aspects of the book that I was most impressed with was the description of the respectful conversations she had with the Rev. Ken Smith over a long period as they explored each other’s beliefs and worldviews. After Butterfield had written an article in a local newspaper a lot of mail came in her direction which was easily divided between hate mail and fan mail, except for one from a local pastor who wanted to have a respectful conversation. It is the genuine consideration of the pastor and the willingness by Butterfield to engage in that discussion where I see a model of how conversations can be held in our pluralistic society. Christians in particular need to take note as often our voices are perceived as judgmental and harsh. It struck me as a model as to how Christians need to deal with those with whom they disagree. It is light-years away from much of the judgemental stridency we hear too often.
2. The book reveals how Christian conversion can be a gut wrenching process in contrast to some of the glib techniques sometimes espoused.
Butterfield calls her conversion a “train wreck”. This is such a contrast to the simplistic “believer’s prayers” which often pass for “Christian conversion”. She describes the amazing struggle to move from one way of life and worldview to another and the incredible personal cost. The process involved the reorientation of every aspect of her life. She says she lost everything except her dog. I see it as a very modern expression of what Bonhoffer calls the cost of discipleship – a cost that those of us who have been Christians for a long time may have lost sight of.
3. The book includes some astute theological observations. I find these particulalrly helpful as they come with fresh eyes untainted by years of tradition. An unpacking of Ezekiel 16 is one example that I would like to explore in a later blog.
4. The book also gives us an outsider’s view of how we often behave in churches – the good and the bad. Her observations are useful for us to assess our own behaviours and words and their impact on people who are unfamiliar with the ways of churches. Butterfield also gives an entertaining and sometimes humiliating view of what we look like from the outside.
Finally, it is a book about a personal journey that can teach us all something, whether it is about our attitudes, beliefs or simply the way we go about expressing those beliefs. I haven’t even finished the book yet and it has challenged me in so many areas.
Butter field’so book is excellent. And a welcome challenge to the church.
Thanks for this, Pieter. I’ve just downloaded it to my kindle as it sounds like one I should also read. In our Baptist church we have been going through a number of sermons and meetings to discuss what our position is in the homosexuality debate and predictably have a wide range of opinions from the ‘I haven’t changed my mind on this for the last 30 years’ to the distraught parents/grandparents of children in gay relationships who are understandably wanting to show kindness to them above all other loyalties. We’ve been asking ourselves: how welcome would a gay person feel here? What if a gay couple come and want to be married? And then want to become members? And then want to become a church officer? You know, the easy stuff.