The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (Crown & Covenant, 2012) is a bloodbath. It’s littered with crucified clichés. Her story, and its deft retelling, remind us that death is death and life is life, and neither are anything but revolutionary.
Butterfield was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University specializing in Queer Theory and enjoying a committed lesbian relationship. And if you think those facts make her conversion more remarkable than yours, read the book sooner than later so that you can be disabused of that heretical notion.
After publishing an article critiquing the Promise Keepers movement, she organized the predictable responses into fan mail and hate mail. But one particular response fit neither pile, so there it sat, in that tense middle where missional love resides. Eventually, and mainly as part of her professional research into the Religious Right, she took up its invitation and called its author — Pastor Ken Smith of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church.
That phone conversation and the dinner that followed were the beginning of a genuine friendship in which Ken and Floy Smith served as patient Christian midwife for Rosaria’s long spiritual gestation and her violent, bloody entrance into new life in Christ. She is now a Reformed Presbyterian pastor’s wife and the homeschooling mother of four, neither of which are signs of conversion but only potential evidences of grace contextualized for those whose shallow view of conversion she intends to explode.
Mrs. Butterfield the devoted Christian mother is still Dr. Butterfield the incisive English professor. As such, she tells her story with rugged authenticity and alarming insight, not only about her struggles but also ours. She pulls no punches, partially because that’s how she is and partially because she’s been smitten by God and recognizes the smiting as grace.
It’s been sung that we “had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view.” This book tells about both the rocks — big and sharp — and the view. You will not agree with everything that Dr. Butterfield says, but you will be improved, because her story will not approve of everything you do. Her story will call you to take another perspective, renew your mind, and remember that conversion is nothing less than divine sabotage.
I always do everything humanly possible to avoid hyperbole, but I must say: If you don’t read this book, you’re foolish, because unchallenged means unchanged.
* Thanks to Crown and Covenant for providing a complimentary copy for review.