Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

True believer

I honestly don't know what to think about Rosarie Champagne Butterfield's The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  I know how to feel about the memoir--a deep and rich joy at the unlikely happiness that has come into her life by way of her amazing profession of faith.  She is a child of God, she is secure in that knowledge, and she glories in the light that shines into her life every morning she opens her eyes to a new day.  That she is thankful for what God has done for her and to her is evident in this stunning testimony.

Dr. Rosarie Champagne was a tenured professor in the English Department at Syracuse University, where she was working on a book investigating "the religious right" in American life and politics. She was a serious scholar, whose specialty was critical theory, an advocate, a passionate advocate, of gay rights and what is called "queer studies."  She had fixed her aim on a long and thoughtful study of evangelical Christians; and then a very strange thing happened--she became one.

She was, at the time, in a committed lesbian relationship, for years in fact.  Her friends and colleagues were all LGBT advocates.  In her classes, she says she told students she would allow them to write only from a LGBT worldview, the basis for learning. She was a leader.

Today, she's a preacher's wife, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools all of her adopted children.  She is passionate about just about everything in her new Christian life, including the traditional psalm-singing (no instrumentation) in the Reformed Presbyterian fellowship where she worships. She argues pointedly that spiritual songs created by human beings are not worship fare. She's not opposed to "praise and worship" songs on the basis of her personal tastes, as some are, but because such music simply isn't canonical.  Only the psalms are God's words after all; therefore, only the psalms can be sung.

Long after she'd become a believer, she still winced when she'd come into a small town, so experienced was she in the rejection and even hatred she felt as a lesbian in such places.  Small towns made her fearful.  And, to be truthful, there's much she still dislikes about those believers who don't take their opposition seriously, or entertain them lovingly. That she loves the Lord doesn't mean she's simply adopted the ways of those she once despised.

But the startling, central fact of Ms. Butterfield's amazing memoir is that once upon a time she was a happy, practicing lesbian who had little or no time at all for the Christian faith.  She was raised Roman Catholic but had long before given that up. She was enough of scholar to understand that if she were to study evangelicals, she had to understand them. She did, and she became one herself.

It was her desire to study Christians that created a place for the preacher and his wife who are most central to her amazing conversion.  She'd written a piece in a Syracuse newspaper, something not particularly kind of Christians, when he wrote her.  She took his words--his desire to understand her, in fact--as an opportunity to get to know the opposition from the inside out.  What resulted, over time, was what she calls "the train wreck" of her conversion to the Christian faith, the transformation of her existence.

She throws enough elbows in this collection of essays to give almost all readers some discomfort here or there, but the grand narrative here is clear. She has changed. Radically. She calls herself today a child of the Lord.

It would be, I think, a grave mistake to "use" her story, to shoehorn her transformation into the life of anyone else, to make Rosaria Butterfield anyone other than she is, a human being, like all of us, saved by grace. Well-meaning Christian people (and many who are not well-meaning) have poured sufficient coals on the heads of gay men and women for too many centuries.  To use Rosarie Champagne Butterfield's memoir as if it were a weapon in the culture war arsenal would be, in every way, abuse.

Today, she's happy.  She's at peace.  She sees herself a child of the Lord.

Does that somehow argue that all LGBTs can walk away from their professions?  I don't think so.

Did she? By all measures, yes.  What's still there is her feistyness, her character, her great intelligence and ebullent personality.  It's a fascinating book, a provocative read, an amazing story whose denouement is nothing less than joy, eternal joy.
For a long interview Marvin Olasky did with Rosaria Butterfield, go here.


Anonymous said...

Beware of the 'Drones" near you!

Anonymous said...

sleep good IOWA, you're exempt.