Train Wreck Conversion

The Unlikely Story of Dr. Rosaria Butterfield

butterfield"The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert" is the story of a train wreck. That is, it's an autobiographical account of the progress of Professor Rosaria Champagne, Ph.D., prominent member of the LGBTQ community in central New York, to Mrs. Rosaria Butterfield, wife of Pastor Ken Butterfield, and mother of three adopted children and numerous foster children.

In other words, it's not the kind of story you hear every day.

Rosaria Champagne was a professor of English at Syracuse University in New York state. She taught Gender studies, Queer Theory, Feminist studies and other aspects of Post-Modern criticism. In fact, even now that the publication of "The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert" has become responsible for hundreds of hits, one of the first things that "Rosaria Champagne" brings up on a Google search is this 1997 interview in the Harvard online newsletter, in which she railed against the "repressive" policies of Promise Keepers.

She had begun to make a particular study of misogyny among the religious right, and was working on a book about the Promise Keepers when a Reformed Presbyterian pastor, Ken Smith, contacted her and invited her to join him and his wife, Floy, for dinner at their house. She was impressed, after all the hatred she had perceived on the side of the religious right, by his kindness and graciousness -- for example, the Smiths made her a vegetarian meal in sensitivity to her principles. And thus began her journey toward Christianity.

She speaks of her conversion as a "train wreck" because its immediate effects were anything but comforting and satisfying. She knew she needed to deny her sexuality, even though she believed it to be closely entwined with her identity. She decided to break off a long-term lesbian relationship because she now believed it was wrong, even though her emotions were not yet changed. She lost most of her relationships in the LGBQT community, including relationships with students for whose clubs she was the faculty advisor. She even left her tenured position at the university to teach at Geneva College. And there she met Ken Butterfield, a student in the ministry. They married and adopted children, whom they homeschool.

But through it all, Rosaria Butterfield is a professor to her core. She does not just give an account of the events that led her on her dangerous journey. She stops for rabbit trails. She discusses the Regulative Principle of Worship as understood and practiced by the Reformed Presbyterian Church. She extensively quotes a sermon that outlines her view of marriage and the role of the husband and wife, in defense of a very controversial understanding of the wife's submission and the husband's Christlike love. She transcribes her first speech as a Christian to the students and faculty of Syracuse University in whole. She discusses the homeschool movement as she saw its effects at Patrick Henry College (though she never mentions the university's name) and as she sees it as a homeschooling mother.

And she doesn't just ramble -- she teaches. She has very specific goals, and she wants to see things change. Like all professors (though some do not seem to admit it) she has a worldview, and she really wants to leave you with that worldview in the end.

I am a student, so I loved it, even though I could see how a reader might feel bogged down or preached at. If you just want a simple conversion narrative, then you might be put off. But even if you hate the rabbit trails, the story Rosaria Butterfield tells is well worth the time. The story is dramatic and might even seem unbelievable -- except that it reminds us that we ought to believe it is possible. And her story is relevant for every Christian. For example, she sees her previous homosexual lifestyle as rooted in pride -- pride that every person feels, regardless of which sexual sins one falls into. It convicted me of my own pride, and I'm sure would do the same for other readers.

"The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert," with the good and the bad, was an incredibly encouraging book. Primarily, it was a perfect expression of the truth that God saves people and uses the gifts they have to further His kingdom, but it was also an encouragement (and rebuke) to me. Should I consider a professor like Rosaria Champagne Butterfield an impossible convert? No! Paul the apostle was hostile to the church of God and called himself the chief of sinners, and he was saved. Jesus says that Sodom and Gomorrah would have been saved if they had heard the gospel. I have weak faith, but I thank God for the encouragement He gave by saving Rosaria Butterfield.

And this encouragement is for any Christian, whether a student or one who never went to school. I recommend this book to any Christian as a reminder and an encouragement to love our neighbors practically and in prayer. Perhaps there are unlikely converts, but with God all things are possible.

Image courtesy of WORLD.

Kaitlyn Elisabet Bonsell is an avid writer, student, and Sherlock Holmes fan, and owner of Arthur the distinctly un-regal labradoodle.

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I absolutely loved this book!

My only complaint is that was too short and felt rushed, especially the switch from single convert to married, homeschooling mom. There's so much more of her journey I wanted to share.

(But with all that was going on in her life while she was writing, it's a wonder we got any book at all!)

I hope she considers a sequel or a re-write when her kids are older. I wanted to learn so much more about this remarkable lady!