Posted by: gmscan | May 13, 2013

Rosaria Butterfield, Part One

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield has caused a buzz with orthodox reformed Christians with her recently published conversion testimony.  She was a radical feminist lesbian, an English professor at Syracuse University, until a pastor with the local Reformed Presbyterian church started asking her questions about her beliefs. This began a process that resulted in a total transformation, which she chronicles in “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.”

This is a short, but powerful book. There is too much here for a single blog post, so I want to divide my comments into three sections:

  1. Her Christian conversion,
  2. Her post-conversion life, and
  3. Her, perhaps inadvertent, insights into the current state of “the academy” (i.e., the secular progressive way of thinking common on college campuses today.)

For those who don’t care for reading, Carmen Fowler, of the Layman Online has posted several videos of Dr. Butterfield describing her conversion here.

The Conversion

Rosaria Champagne was a very successful professor of English at Syracuse University. She had “come out” as a lesbian at age 28 and at age 36 was “one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist.” She says, “By all standards, I had made it.” But, she writes –

“In the normal course of life questions emerged that exceeded my secular feminist worldview. Those questions sat quietly in the crevices of my mind until I met a most unlikely friend: a Christian pastor.”

This pastor, Ken Smith of the local Reformed Presbyterian Church, was prompted to contact her by an article she had written criticizing the Promise Keepers “for their gender politics.” This article was only part of a larger attack she was developing on Christianity and the “religious right.”

Pastor Smith’s letter was not hostile but questioning and Butterfield (nee Champagne) was intrigued enough to contact him. This led to a budding friendship and exchange of views. This exchange was not a debate, but each explained to the other why they believed what they did. This was new to Butterfield. She expected more hostility and damnation, but the absence of that allowed her to ask herself questions about God and faith. She writes: “If what this guy said was true, then everything I believed – ever jot and tittle – was false!” She adds: “This seemed so naïve and preposterous. I was a product of a postmodern education. There are no truths, only truth claims.” But she was intellectually honest enough to put that to the test.

She continued to meet with the pastor and met more Christians in the process. “With these Christians in my life, certain aspects of my life had started to lose the sharp edges that it had before. With these Christians in my life, my life became a little kinder and a little safer.”

Others tried to reassure her. A Methodist minister told her, “… since God made me a lesbian, I gave God honor by living an honorable lesbian life…. But I had been reading and rereading scripture, and there are no such marks of postmodern ‘both/and’ in the Bible.”

But another friend, a transgendered man who lived as a woman, revealed that he had been a Presbyterian minister for 15 years and had no doubt that “Jesus is a risen and living Lord… during that time I prayed that the Lord would heal me. He didn’t, but maybe he’ll heal you. I’ll pray for you.”

As she struggled with all this, she writes  —

“… I prayed, and asked God if the Gospel message was for someone like me, too. I viscerally felt the living presence of God as I prayed. Jesus seemed present and alive. I knew that I was not alone in my room. I prayed that if Jesus was truly a real and risen God, that he would change my heart. And if he was real and if I was his, I prayed that he would give me the strength of mind to follow him and the character to become a godly woman.”

Finally, God’s call was irresistible. She writes –

“God sent me to a Reformed and Presbyterian conservative church to repent, heal, learn and thrive. The pastor there did not farm me out to a para-church ministry “specializing” in “gay people.” He and the session knew that the church is competent to counsel…. I needed (and need) faithful shepherding, not the glitz and glamor that has captured the soul of modern evangelical culture. I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself.”

Her struggle was nowhere near over. She was a prominent member and leader of the gay community. She was a well-respected (and well-paid) radical feminist professor under contract. She had obligations to fulfill. She had to give all that up. She felt like she was betraying people she loved – and they felt betrayed and told her so. At the time, she had nowhere to go, no job and few friends outside of a small church. Even in the church, she felt like an outsider, a novelty. She was used to wearing jeans and a butch haircut and felt out of place with the more traditional women of the church.

Ultimately she felt she had no choice but to “come out” again, but this time as a Christian. She did this at a talk she was already scheduled to give to all the incoming graduate students at the University –

“When the graduate school invited me, I was a lesbian postmodernist. When I delivered the lecture six months later, I was a fledgling follower of Jesus Christ.”

She includes the full lecture in the book. This was a bold and courageous move on her part. Some of it is cringe-inducing, like when she goes on a rant about the Religious Right supporting “capitalist consumerism and conservative political agendas,” (What? The religious left doesn’t support leftist political agendas? She should check with the PCUSA on that). But other parts are great, such as –

“This all brought me to the awesome realization that our living God is in all our life, and that my ‘success’ as a professor was his blessing on me, not my deserved and earned accolade.”

Overall, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to make such a declaration in such a setting.

What to make of all this?

First, that a wishy-washy, milquetoast version of Christianity would not have made an impression on her. She encountered a faithful, demanding church — anything less would have been dismissed. This is something “progressive” Christians seem to miss –- people have fine instincts for hypocrisy and insincerity. They can tell a con job, and Butterfield is not afraid to identify such phonies. She takes herself very seriously, (maybe too seriously, but I will get into that in the third segment) so she expects a religion that takes itself seriously.

Even more important is her story of how Pastor Ken Smith and the elders first approached her with respect and, yes, love. We cannot have it drummed into our heads often enough that we are all sinners, without exception. Next time I will get into Butterfield’s description of how homosexuality is by no means the worst sin, and in fact is mostly a symptom of the much greater sin of pride. She is absolutely right here. We may find unrepentant sinners unpleasant, but they are also lost. What kind of Christians are we if we shun the lost sheep? Aren’t these exactly the people Jesus commands us to reach out to? Not suggests, but commands.

Next time we’ll look at the wonderful and faithful life in Christ Rosaria Butterfield has built.

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Responses

  1. Hi Greg,

    Sounds like a fasinating book. Other articles were very interesting too.

    The research you do absolutely amazes me.

    Looking forward to your other articles on Butterfield.

    Thanks for sending.
    Eunice

  2. I’m eagerly awaiting part two.

  3. […] we left Rosaria Butterfield last time,  she had converted to Christianity, and not just any Christianity, but a very orthodox version […]

  4. […] dealt with Dr. Butterfield’s conversion to Christianity in Part One, and her life as a Christian in Part Two.   Now I want to look at something a little less rosy, and that is her life before all […]


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