Radical, life-altering conversions to Jesus Christ are a thing of the past; the stuff of legend.
Or so they say.
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield proves that this is simply not the case. She tells her story in her little book, The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into The Christian Faith.
The story of her radical transformation begins with the very first sentence, where she boldly states that in her late 30s, she came out as a lesbian. At the time, she was a tenured professor at the University of New York at Syracuse where she was in the process of writing a book on the “Religious Right.”
But what really got her started in her long walk into Christianity was an opinion piece that she wrote to a local newspaper that critiqued the Promise Keepers movement. As Butterfield recalls, most of the responses she received were either blatantly positive or negative. However, there was one that stood out: it was from a local pastor, and it asked her some very penetrating questions: “How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you’re right? Do you believe in God?”
She could not get these questions out of her mind. This led to her contacting the pastor, who in turn invited her over for dinner to discuss their differences. She says of her encounters with him and his wife, “Even though obviously these Christians and I were very different, they seemed to know that I wasn’t just a blank slate, that I had values and opinions, too, and they talked with me in a way that didn’t make me feel erased.”
However, Butterfield was still afraid of going to church. This did not take place for a few months, and then only gradually. But the pastor and his wife never pressured her into it.
What is interesting, even surprising, is that her transformation into a Christian was very traumatic: it changed the dynamics of her work and home relationships, leading to her breaking up with her lesbian partner and then taking an extended leave of absence from which she ultimately never returned.
The author then is very frank with her readers about her ups and downs after her conversion, including a crisis of faith brought about by a failed engagement. She then tells of her move to teach at a Christian college, her marriage to a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), becoming an adoptive/foster parent, the closing of her husband’s mission work, and then eventually receiving another call.
In short, Butterfield leaves nothing out. Nothing is sugarcoated. She makes it plain to her readers that this is not an all-too-typical conversion story (i.e., she was a sinner who was instantaneously transformed got married, and lived happily ever after). Instead, she is refreshingly honest about her trials, which are typical of the Christian life (cf., 1 Peter 1:6-7, 4:13ff).
For these reasons, “Secret Thoughts” is a wonderfully poignant read, and an engaging, honest, and elegantly written autobiography. This reviewer can say with a high level of confidence that readers of all kinds will be encouraged and edified by it. I highly recommend it.