This past week the largest Protestant denomination in the United States met to consider how it will address the issue of human sexuality as it relates to both Scripture and the LGBT community. In a close vote, the United Methodist Church determined to hold to a biblical understanding of sexuality. The vote will almost certainly lead to a split in the denomination into “conservative,” “moderate,” and “progressive” off-shoots. With all the news circulating concerning this momentous event in the life of the Methodist movement, I decided to peruse again a book I read about five years ago that helped me immensely as I considered these issues.
The book is entitled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and is written by Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, a one-time tenured professor of English and Queer Studies at Syracuse University in New York. This was the most helpful book (outside of the Scriptures) that I read that year - all in 148 pages. Here are a few reasons why:
- The book taught me about having compassion for people whose sin ostracizes them from the Christian community. Homosexuality tends to do that.
- I learned about letting God do the saving work in evangelism and allowing him to work through me by being sensible in my approach to sharing my faith - and being patient.
- It convicted me. I need to be better about hospitality, giving non-believers my time, and being willing to listen without feeling I have to push my own spiritual agenda.
- It showed me how the word of God makes us "wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 3:15). Butterfield was convicted and transformed first and foremost through her reading (she called it “devouring”) of Scripture.
- It demonstrated to me again that no one is outside the pale of God's saving grace.
- It reminded me that being good does not equal being saved. Butterfield was kind, intelligent, active in her community, faithful to her partner, happy and content, yet by her own admission, far from God. Good people do not go to heaven - neither do bad people - people who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ go to heaven (John 1:12-13; 3:18).
- It taught me that I have much to consider concerning the saving work of God.
Some may wonder after endorsing this book, "Is Pastor Jym embracing the idea that practicing homosexuality is acceptable for a Christian?" Or the opposite, "Is Pastor Jym bashing the gay community?" My answer is "no" to both. Dr. Butterfield was a lesbian (she is now married to a pastor and raises multiple adopted children), but the book is not about homosexuality. The book is about the work of God in a woman’s life. The questions we all must ask ourselves are the questions Dr. Butterfield asked herself when she realized (after reading the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation) that God was not pleased with her. "Am I really willing to turn whole-heartedly to God, even when doing so will lead to repentance and change? Is Jesus for real? Will I follow the teachings of Scripture where they lead me, even if it means living a life I would not choose for myself? Will I swim against the tide if God asks me to?"
Dr. Butterfield's journey taught me many things, not the least of which was what it means to take up your cross and follow Christ. Her transformation was authentic. I disagree with some of her conclusions, and I am not ready to join the Reformed Presbyterian denomination as she did, although I have great respect for them. A few of her ideas do not resonate with me, even after her conversion. But her faith lived out in action convicts me. I found myself wondering if I am demonstrating my own faith in tangible ways. In other words, the book stretched me, which is not always entertaining but is almost always beneficial.
I highly recommend this book to you, along with a second book Dr. Butterfield has recently published (which deals more directly with sexual identity) entitled Openness Unhindered. Both are available in our own church library.
Grace and peace,