The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Rosaria B)
Hospitality and the Cost of Discipleship
When you’re writing about a book, it goes without saying that you refer to the author once by their full name, and just their surname from then on. But all the while that I was writing this post, I kept catching myself typing the writer’s first name (and yes, here I am, clumsily giving away my routine adherence to one timeless piece of writing advice – always write the introduction last!). Where most books tend to situate characters or ideas in between the writer and the reader, creating space between them, an extra step for the reader to take in understanding something of the writer, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert instead offers an open invitation into the writer’s own, very personal journey. In reading the first few chapters, I came to feel that I had a familiar relationship with the writer. Each page extended reflections on her extraordinary journey to faith, with the generosity and vulnerability of a new friend, Rosaria.
Secret Thoughts is one woman’s memoirs of radical conversion. In the space of a few short years, Rosaria Butterfield went from postmodern gender theory academic to lecturer in Christian hermeneutics, from living with a committed same-sex partner to being a Christian wife, from outsider to accepted, and from unbeliever to saved. Butterfield invites us into her journey, one that canvasses a road less travelled than the church ought to hope.
What struck me most about the first chapter in Rosaria’s journey, chronicled in ‘Conversion and the Gospel of Peace’, was the profound impact of hospitality in her exploration of Christianity. Butterfield writes of Ken and Floy Smith, a pastor and his wife at the local church, who spent years showing hospitality, as she examined the gospel and made sense of her changing beliefs. Their hospitality didn’t stop at the already significant output of having Butterfield over for dinner once a week. The picture painted is of a family opening up their beliefs and their lives to a woman who, by so much of church culture and it’s members, would be otherwise relegated to the outer. The Smith model a pattern of spending their time, their energy, their money and themselves to see Butterfield come to know Jesus as her saviour.
I often find myself in a roundabout cost-benefit analysis when faced with opportunities to minister the gospel to unbelievers in one way or another. How much time/energy/money will this opportunity take? Will it be worth that kind of output? The costs will often be weighty, and the benefits will sometimes never come to bear, save for those fewer, but priceless cases like Butterfield’s, of a sinner coming to know their saviour.
Though there can be costs to count for the evangelist, how much greater are the costs for the convert? This is what stood out most in the second chapter, ‘Repentance and the Sin of Sodom’. For some, the cost of leaving behind the old self doesn’t only mean turning from sin, but it can mean abandonment of, or rejection from community. After committing to following Jesus, Butterfield felt a growing chasm between her lesbian community and her new beliefs. It was illuminating reading of her warring communities and convictions, and the hard, ongoing task of reconciling these.
As a straight, middle class, white, educated woman, there’s a lot that’s automatically acceptable about me in the eyes of the modern Western church. Like lots of people who comfortably fit in the church today, I’ve scarce felt compelled to forgo other communities, other connections, left only with the community of believers as my solace. So reading these chapters opened my eyes to a question. To someone who has previously found home in another community – whether that be the LGBT community, that of another religion, or something more niche – do we make an open door to Christian community look like the greatest gift, or a consolation prize? If we really see an aspect of God’s grace through Jesus being an invitation into real community and real acceptance for every kind of sinner who turns to him, are churches striving for this to be realised, or shying away from anyone outside the borders?
When someone’s call to Jesus means a call out of another community, surely the responsibility falls squarely on the privileged to make this new community a reflection of all that is good about being in Christ, not a disappointing second best.
Writer | Lauren Mahaffey is in her fourth and final year studying at Moore College, living on campus in Newtown, and loving being part of Summer Hill Church. Her spare time is usually all about catching up with friends and family, nerding out over podcasts, running, and cooking.