Monday, October 7, 2013

Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

Rosaria Butterfield was a self proclaimed lesbian and feminist working as an English professor at Syracuse University. When Promise Keepers came to town in the 90's, she wrote an article for the local paper criticizing the event being held on campus. What happened next is a wonderful display of the power of the gospel at work through hospitality and friendship. Here's some of the transcript from her interview on FamilyLife Today:

[NOTE: I've excerpted and edited a longer section of the transcript. If you don't make it to the end, make sure to skip ahead for the links to the audio!!!!]

Bob: Your editorial said: “Syracuse should have nothing to do with these patriarchs coming to our campus.”
Rosaria: I got all kinds of responses and had two boxesOne, I kept for hate mail. One, I kept for fan mail. Then, this one letter came in. It wasn’t hate mail, and it wasn’t fan mail. I had to figure out what to do with it.
Bob: And the first thing you did with it was wad it up and throw it away?
Rosaria: Yes, absolutely; absolutely.
Bob: Well, what did this letter, that didn’t fit either box, say?

Rosaria: Well, it was kind; and it was gentle. Yet, it was also clearly written from a Christian world and life view. It was from Ken Smith, who is my dear friend and became my first pastor. But at that time, he was just this dude who wrote me a letter. It asked me some basic questions that were genuine questions, and he wasn’t answering those questions for me. I admired that. I really liked that.

I [also] admired the fact that here was somebody who knew a lot about the Bible. I was going to need to read the Bible for my new research project; and I thought, “Well, you know, I’ll bet this is somebody who could help me with my research.” At the bottom of the letter, Ken asked me to call him back; and so, I did. I thought these were questions that needed to be aired on the phone. We had such a lively conversation on the phonethat he invited me to come to his house for dinner.

Sometimes, people don’t know this—but the gay and lesbian community is also a community quite given to hospitality. I tell people this—that I’m a pastor’s wife now. I believe, strongly, that hospitality is just the ground zero of the Christian life, and of evangelism, and of everything else that we do, apart from the formal worship of God. But I tell people that I honed my hospitality gifts in my former queer community. So, when Ken invited me to have dinner with himthat seemed really like a great idea. He already seemed like my kind of people.
Here’s what I discovered in Ken’s house. That door was ALWAYS opening and closing. People, from all walks of lifeI met them at that table. I did not meet Christians who shared a narrowly-bounded, priggish world view. That is not what I met. I met people who could talk openly about sexuality and politics and did not drop down dead in the process.
But you have to understand that was normal for Ken. Ken didn’t say: “Oh great! We’re going to have the lesbian over for dinner. Let’s be sure to share the Gospel as soon as she walks through the door!or, “Let’s....” Hethis was normal for Ken. Ken cares about the heart. In fact, I found Ken’s business card in one of the books I was looking at for some writing that I’m doing. The business card said: “When you’re ready to talk about God, give me a call.” That’s what the business card says. It’s just—that’s how Ken was. It is how Ken is.

They did two startling things the first time I had dinner at their housetwo things that were against the rule book that I believed all Christians followed. They did not share the Gospel with me, and they did not invite me to church. But, at the end of our dinner, when Ken extended his hands, and I closed mine in it, he said: “We’re neighbors. Neighbors should be friends.” I found myself being in complete agreement with Ken.
Also, Ken had a way of asking questions; and he had an authorityyou know, I had been in a queer community. I had been in a feminist community. In my community, women ran the show. I had not encountered a man like Ken in my whole life.

I found that his gentle authoritythat when he asked me a questionin fact, I left his house that night and I thought: “I cannot believe you said those things, Rosaria! Why did you give him all that material?!” I found myself actually answering his questions honestly instead of answering with the programmed party line.
[Later Bob asks if Ken prayed before the meal...]
Rosaria: That’s right. And you know what? I had heard plenty of prayers beforePlanned Parenthood, gay pride marchesyou know the prayers that the crumbs are there for the heathen, like me, to hear.
That was not Ken’s prayer. It was vulnerable and honest. He prayed to a God Who is not a god I had ever been introduced to. One of the things Ken asked me that nightand I still cannot believe I actually answered him honestly!I mean, it was just soit was so out of character for mebut he asked mehe said: “Well, what do you really believe? I mean, do you reallyyou know, you just really don’t believe in anything? What do you really believe?” I said: “I don’t know what I believe. I was raised Catholic, and I’m now a Unitarian. I don’t really know what I believe,” which was true but not anything I had said out loud. 

As promised, that was a long excerpt. All three days of the programs are just amazing to listen to.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert audio and transcripts

You can also order her book by the same title here.

And read her interview with Marvin Olasky in World Magazine.

The powerful part of all this is the example it sets for all followers of Jesus. Open your door and your table. Don't vilify those who have made different lifestyle choices, instead, reach out to them and love on them. Get to know them, sincerely, and, as Ken Smith said, be a neighbor.

1 comment:

Michael said...

What a great interview. Thank you for sharing it.