The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith
by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publishers, 2012
Reviewed by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
Until her late thirties, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield and I had a great deal in common. We both were tenured English professors in large secular institutions and also taught courses in Women’s Studies. We both lived in homes we owned with our respective lesbian partners. We both advised many students and groups, especially (but not exclusively) LGBT people on campus. The big difference? I was openly Christian, while Rosaria prided herself on her postmodern and materialist worldview.
Then she met the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church, whose approach to Rosaria could well provide a model for those who want to “lead others to Christ.” He listened to her so carefully, answered her questions so honestly, and avoided pressuring her so respectfully, that eventually she became a Christian. She describes the conversion process as “a train wreck at the hand of the supernatural.” Now she lives in North Carolina with her husband, the Rev. Kent Butterfield. Having resigned from her tenured professorship, she has mothered and homeschooled their four adopted children.
In her now converted state, Dr. Butterfield defines the sin of Sodom exactly as Ezekiel 16:48-50 says it was: “materialism and neglect of the poor and needy” (p. 30; I’ll deal with her sex and gender issues later). Since approximately three-fourths of this book emphasizes the importance of hospitality and helping other people in their need (including the adoption stories of some particularly needy children), there is a lot to like about this book. I have always admired people who have the courage to receive and give their love to children who might be torn away from them by an often heartless foster care system—and that actually happened to Kent and Rosaria with one baby who enjoyed their loving care for just ten days. So I must admit I have lots of respect for the compassionate life described in this well-written and gripping book.
But, of course, there is also the shocking implication that a genuine conversion to Christianity brings with it a change of sexual orientation, so that a former lesbian feminist is now a happy wife and mother, contentedly yielding to her husband’s Christ-like leadership. Dr. Butterfield never outright claims to have been “healed” of her homosexuality, which she calls “a sin of identity” (p. 23). Instead, she allows her decisions, actions, and life story to establish that claim. She admits that at the time of her conversion, she was “getting tired” of her relationship with her lesbian lover. She also admits that she had had some relationships with men during her youth; but looking back at that era, she admits that her “heterosexual past” was no more sanctified than her “homosexual present” (p. 33). So while I do not question Dr. Butterfield’s truthfulness or sincerity, I do suspect that her orientation is bisexual, which would facilitate the change in feelings she experienced. However, occasionally it does happen that women (almost never men) experience a change of sexual orientation. So there is no reason to jump through hoops trying to make Dr. Butterfield sound deceitful.
In fact, I agree with Dr. Butterfield that “pride and not sexual orientation” is “the root sin” (p. 32). By “pride” I mean self-centeredness, not self-respect as in the slogan “gay pride.” As Butterfield says, “Proud people always feel they can live independently from God and from other people” (p. 30).
I also agree with Dr. Butterfleld that if love is grounded only in personal feelings, it can change “without meaning or logic” (p. 32). She confesses that “outside of Christ, I am a manipulator, liar, power-monger, and controller” (p. 32). But the same is true of everyone, regardless of sexual or gender orientations or any other distinctions. “Outside of Christ,” we have no idea of how to love. But where we differ is that I define the Christ as the light within us that has never been extinguished (John 1:3-5), the image of God, the true eternal Self—a union with the One who is all in all. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Col.3:9-11 NIV). To the degree that we identify our bodies as separate from our Creator and separate from other creatures, we are indeed capable of utilizing other bodies for our own purposes.
In Christ—our eternal Self, the kingdom of God within us—we must indeed die to the false concept of separateness and instead connect with the single unified field of Energy that is God’s Omnipresent Self. Dr. Butterfield seems to regard Christ as a Savior outside herself; but to her credit, she dislikes “the easy believism that typifies modern evangelical culture” (p. 34). So her faith in Christ requires “dying to yourself,” which apparently she feels would include her lesbianism.
By contrast, I believe my lesbianism and my transgender characteristics are aspects of the eternal Self, created by the Source in whom “we live and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God apparently wanted to be embodied here and now in someone just like me; so in my present embodiment I pray that Christ’s Universal Love will be my vision, my thought-patterns, my words, my actions, my everything. I think often of Rabbi Zoysa who tried all his life to be just like Moses. When Zoysa faced his Maker, however, God said to him, “Why did you try to be Moses? I already had a Moses. I needed a Zoysa!” And that is my message to everyone who finds themselves “off-norm” in any way that does not harm others: be the one you were created to be, and embody God’s love in exactly that “off-norm” pattern you have discovered in yourself.
Dr. Butterfield correctly identifies sexual sin as being “predatory,” a trait that “won’t be ‘healed’ by redeeming the context or the genders” (p. 83). Inside or outside of marriage, she points out, sexual sin is not merely “sexual excess, “ but the manipulation of others for our own gain. This is precisely accurate. But by then proceeding to call homosexuality “sin,” Dr. Butterfield reveals a slippage in her own logic. She says that homosexuality is a sin which, like “a myriad of other sins,” develops as a result of pride, wealth, and lack of mercy (p. 30). Yet surely she has met homosexual couples who are truly loving, respectful, mutually supportive, generous, and given to hospitality. How can such homosexuals be depicted as prideful, rich, and merciless predators? By Butterfield’s own standards, we would have to call heterosexuality sinful as well!
Another slippage of logic occurs when Dr. Butterfield is describing the importance of Christian wives’ submissiveness to their husbands. She quotes Ephesians 5:22-29 (pp. 101 and 103) and provides a beautiful description of the husband’s Christ-like willingness to “sacrifice everything for the welfare of His Bride” (p. 104). But she sounds as if Ephesians 4:13-15 did not exist as the context for the fifth chapter. Ephesians 4 insists that the entire body of Christ is intended to “all come in the unity of the faith,” growing up “into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Here men as well as women are identified with Christ’s body, and women as well as men are urged to grow up into Christ’s head, so that together we all may reach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Furthermore, the context of Ephesians 5:22-29 is also the verse that immediately precedes it: submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21, KJV, my emphasis).
Dr. Butterfield tells the story of an influential church member who asked her what she would do if a homosexual entered the worship service of the congregation pastored by her husband. Dr. Butterfield gave the questioner a copy of her conversion testimony—a chapter that would became part of her book. A week later, the inquirer returned, clearly troubled about what she had read. She implored Rosaria to please keep quiet about her past. Dr. Butterfield’s comment follows:
“Rosaria’s unmentionable past. 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. That’s the ringer: the common cup—that is, our common origin in depravity. We are only righteous in Christ and in him alone” (p.138).
Again, as a believer in the eternal goodness of what God pronounced good (Genesis 1:31), I would argue that our commonality is in our eternal Christ-like Selves as opposed to our time-bound cruelly selfish ego-natures. But from this story, I take hope that maybe even someone like me might be welcome at Dr. Butterfield’s communion table.
I am aware that this book will be greeted triumphantly by the “ex-gay” or “reparative therapy” or “conversion therapy” movement that eagerly seeks out anyone who is willing to say they used to be homosexual but are no longer so. However, I would maintain that that is not Dr. Butterfield’s major point. What this book implies is that in its pride, wealth, and lack of concern for people in need, America (including the church) is denying its responsibility toward the outcasts that Jesus ate with and with whom he identified.
Reviewer Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, PhD, professor of English Emeritus at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, taught English language and literature on the college level for 44 years and also developed specializations in feminist theology and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender theology. She has published widely in both scholarly journals and religious publications and has served on the Executive Committee of Religion and Literature for the Modern Language Association and on the Executive Committee of the Milton Society of America. Dr. Mollenkott was a stylistic consultant for the New International Version of the Bible and a member of the translation committee for the Inclusive Language Lectionary published by the National Council of Churches. Having retired from teaching in 1997, she continues her writing, speaking, and serving as a manuscript evaluator for the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She has authored or coauthored 13 books, including In Search of Balance; Women, Men, and the Bible; The Divine Feminine; Sensuous Spirituality ; Omnigender; and Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? (with Letha Dawson Scanzoni). She is a founding member of The Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC-Christian Feminism Today).
© 2013 by Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus – Christian Feminism Today