The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Book Review)

secret-thoughts-butterfieldAlthough not a book exclusively about homosexuality and Christianity, everyone who wants to learn more about how the gospel relates to homosexuality should read The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. It is primarily an extended testimony of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, once a professor at Syracuse University who lived the lesbian lifestyle, whose life crossed paths with a Presbyterian minister and his wife who loved her by “accepting her as a lesbian while not approving of her as a lesbian.” Thus began what Butterfield describes as a train wreck of a conversion.

As a testimony of her conversion and subsequent growth in Christ, Butterfield shares her story as it unfolded. It feels like the author has given us a window into her personal diary. Her secret thoughts narrating her movement from the LGBT community to the church community are precious because so few Christians have had any meaningful dialogue with anyone who struggles with Same Sex Attraction, and much less with anyone who lives the homosexual lifestyle. As a diary of sorts, the author invites Christians (and others) who don’t know anyone of whom to ask such questions to come along for the ride. And what a ride it is!

Butterfield does not give any salacious details about her life pre-conversion. That is not her purpose. Her goal is more personal: to tell her story in such a way that people can learn how very stressful and costly it can be for unbelievers to simply begin to follow Jesus. She is very aware of the cost of discipleship, yet is happy to have paid the price. If I were to list the most valuable things about this book, it would look something like this.

  1. A realistic portrayal of conversion to orthodox Christianity from a homosexual lifestyle.
  2. A window into the humanity of sinners. We are all sinners in thought, word, and deed, but that does not mean that God’s common grace never impacts the lives of unbelievers. I got the impression that in some ways, Butterfield and her LGBT friends were living a life of love and service (from a secular humanist perspective) that outshines the good works of lots of people, Christians included.
  3. The witness of God’s faithful pursuit in the life of one of his baptized children (the author was baptized into the Roman Catholic church).
  4. The grace that God’s people showed to a woman whose life was still messy during her months-long conversion.
  5. The awesome homily (full text included; pp. 97-107) that Pastor Doug Comin preached as he officiated Rosaria’s and Kent’s wedding.
  6. Her journey into the world of child adoption, including her joys and struggles through the process.

There are a couple things that distracted me from the heart of the book. First, the recurring theme of exclusive psalm singing that Butterfield adopted as her worship conviction. The author seems to think the only way to legitimately (and thus faithfully) worship God in song is to sing Psalms a cappella style. This is the conviction and practice of the denomination in which she began her Christian life, and in which she continues to worship and serve. Loyalty and worship according to one’s conscience is great. I try to do the same. But in a testimony book, I thought it a little strange that she sets out a case for exclusive Psalm-singing and expects the reader to agree with this historically minority practice. It seems to me that she based her conviction on the study of one side of the argument (even perhaps from one book!). If I’m right, that seems a little strange for a scholar.

Second, the author is now a homeschooler and tutor in the Classical Conversations educational community. As a former English professor and scholar, I would expect less stridency in her choice of the classical education model for children. Again, it seems to me that someone of her educational level and background would have more of a nuanced view regarding educational philosophy. Perhaps she does, but it sounds to me she believes that the classical education model is the best (right?) way to school children.

[Full disclosure: my wife and I homeschool our children and we are involved in our local Classical Conversations community co-op. We love the educational structure and opportunities it provides us as parents teaching our children. But it is not for everyone. Nor do we agree with the “cultural dominionist” underpinnings of the CC national leaders. But we can happily work within the system. Hey, pobody’s nerfect!]

Besides these two minor reservations, I learned a lot reading the book. I count Butterfield as an interesting, winsome, and earnest sister in the Lord.  Her testimony of leaving the lesbian lifestyle and LGBT community for a church culture scary and unknown to her will give great hope to many.  If we were in the same church with her, I think we’d be friends. I’m very glad she has put her story to words on a page to share with a wider audience. And I’m encouraged that her efforts to tell her story in various Christian circles (e.g., Wheaton College) is generating an overdue conversation about homosexuality and the gospel.

Here is a one-hour interview of the author at Patrick Henry College:

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