Summary: An conversion story that stumbles with long digressions into particular styles of worship and other minor issues of Christian life.
I first heard of the Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert when Seth Simmons (a Bookwi.se contributor) reviewed it here. But it wasn’t long after that that there was a minor controversy at my college alma mater (Wheaton) when she was invited to speak.
Students protested her chapel because they understood her conversion story (as told in this book) as prescriptive of how all gay Christians should respond. And I have to say, after reading the book, I agree, it sounds proscriptive at many points
Reading generously, Butterfield, in a response to the students at the Gospel Coalition blog pointed out what she believes are three unbiblical (but widely held positions) on homosexuality. The first is the Freudian position (morally neutral but a fixed part of personal make up and identity.) The second is the revisionist heresy (asserting that previous understanding of Christianity against homosexuality is wrong and that the bible does not prohibit monogamous homosexual relationships, i.e. Gay marriage). The third is the reparative therapy heresy (asserting that the primary method of resolving homosexuality is to assert heterosexuality, i.e. pray the Gay away.)
But it did not really define what her understanding of the right understanding was, because essentially this story is the story of how this third option worked for her. In the comments of the TGC article, several suggested that the students were not advocating these three positions either, but ‘clarifying that not all Christians with same-sex attraction expunge them. It was about demonstrating that there are students on campus who will come alongside fellow students struggling to reconcile their attractions with their faith.’
I think Butterfield is being honest that she is not trying to make her story into a guide for how all same sex attracted people should approach Christianity. I think there is a good case to be made that she was not gay to start with by her own words. (She says she was not initially attracted to women, but was instead not interested that much in men. Sexual attraction only came later when she already had emotional attraction to other gay women.) But the tone of the book does feel prescriptive.
In the end, I am very mixed on the book. I am all for her descriptions of how she was loved and cared for by Christians as she found her way into the church and discovered a real relationship with Christ. This part is a story that should be told about how to love people to Christ and not beat them into submission. Similarly, there is real insight when she describes her struggling through the transition between her old life and her new and understanding what Christianity is all about. I also think she was wise to focus on on-going spiritual transformation that happened over time.
But like many converts, she occasionally becomes dogmatic about her stream of Christianity being the best stream of Christianity (she is a conservative Presbyterian). She spends nearly as much time talking about how she came to believe that her stream of only psalms singing worship is the right form of worship as she did talking about her conversion.
I eventually gave up the book about 75% through. After my own frustrations, I browsed through reviews at Goodreads and it seems that she continues on in a similar vein in talking about adoption and homeschooling. I think the parts of this story really are important. Listening to converts tell their story, especially when the convert is someone that has been very opposed to Christianity, I think is worthwhile. And because of her background, Butterfield has some things I think that are worth listening to
That being said, the majority of this book is about sideline issues that are not important and seriously detract from the rest of her story. It becomes hard to reconcile the wisdom and insight of some of the sections with the myopic understanding of the church that is presented in other sections.
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook, Free Audiobook from Christianaudio.com for the month of Aug 2015