Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

 Playing on youtube is a lovely rendition of Love's Sorrow by Fritz Kreisler performed by YoYo Ma and Patricia Zandler.  I hope you will enjoy it as well while you read my post.

 http://cdn3.volusion.com/ehk4j.nhtn2/v/vspfiles/photos/MIS85-2.jpg?1338290483
Rosaria Champagne was a tenured professor at Syracuse University in 19th Century Romantic Literature and Cultural Studies.  Her primary field was Critical Theory which is also known as Postmodernism.  Her specialty was Queer Theory which is a postmodern form of gay and lesbian studies.

She and her lesbian partner owned a couple of homes, fostered abused dogs, and provided hospitality to gay and lesbian students at her university.  She enjoyed cooking vegetarian meals, making peached iced tea and baking bread for guests.  Champagne (I use her maiden name here since she was not Butterfield yet) was also the coordinator of the Welcoming Committee, the gay and lesbian advocacy group at a Unitarian Universalist Church where she and her partner were members.

She had spoken at numerous college Commencements, Convocations and Gay Pride rallies.  Her professorship was rigorous and had high standards.  As a result she was prolific at writing research papers in her fields.

She had written a paper on the gender politics of the Promise Keepers, an Evangelical Christian group for men.  Her next project was to write a paper on the Religious Right.  She decided she needed first hand accounts so she called up a Pastor from a local conservative Christian denomination.  His response surprised her.

Pastor Ken Smith of a local Reformed Presbyterian church invited her over for dinner with him and his wife.  This lead to several dinners together and what she describes as a "train wreck" of her life.

Ms. Butterfield is a reader.  Her routine after supper was to get in her pajamas and read in bed for the evening.  When she decided to study the Religious Right she immersed herself in the Bible spending five hours reading it daily.  If that doesn't put the average Christian to shame, nothing does.

To make a long story short, Rosaria Butterfield became a Christian but she didn't come peacefully.  

I often wonder:  God, why pick me?  I didn't ask to be a Christian convert  I didn't "seek the Lord."  Instead, I ran like the wind when I suspected someone would start peddling the gospel to me....How did a smart cookie like me end up in a place like this? (from the Acknowledgments page.)

There were things I liked about this book and, things, frankly, I did not like.

First of all this book should really be three books, each book developed to a much deeper level.  I felt as if none of the sections provided enough detail to provide the reader with adequate information to clearly understand her walk before her conversion, her struggles with conversion and her life as a Christian.

She admits that the book took her fourteen years to write because she and her husband kept adopting children and at six children, plus other foster children, the book understandably suffered several interruptions.  Nevertheless, I think after fourteen years she could have come up with more than 148 pages worth of material.

We learn a little of her life as a professor and the lesbian community she was involved in, but not enough for anyone to have individual faces.  We know they treated her conversion as a tragic betrayal over which they mourned, but other than that we know nothing of them. 

I also would have liked to have learned a little more about her upbringing.  She tells us her family was Catholic, her father died while she was still young and that's it.  She practiced a heterosexual life until the age of twenty-eight and then became a practicing lesbian.  That's a full package there and it would have been nice if she had unwrapped it for us.

We know very little about the church she joined or the people that populated it.  We don't really even know how she met her husband or why she married him.

We do know that immediately after leaving the gay lifestyle she jumped into an unhealthy relationship with a man who also struggled with same sex attraction.  This part has its value as it shows that we can't take everyone's profession of belief at their word.  

I think she included this part to explain why she left Syracuse University to teach at the college where her fiance was attending seminary.  He eventually left as it became apparent that he had not actually surrendered his life to Christ, but she stayed long enough to meet the man she is married to today.

I do congratulate her on her courage.  While still at Syracuse, she was elected to talk to the Graduate Student Orientation Convocation at the beginning of the year.  In her book she includes the entire speech which reveals her change of life and beliefs, and the change in her coursework as a result.  There was much disappointment and outrage.

However, interestingly enough, it also provoked a lot of curiosity.  Her new coursework centered around her new beliefs and the classes were filled to capacity, with students sitting on the floor.  She began hosting people at her house (her partner had moved out) for Bible study and it was attended just as much as her previous groups were.

Butterfield provides insight into the University culture, sometimes without intending to.  She admits that her Women's Studies syllabus went as thus:

NB (nota bene, or, "note well") Students are expected to write all papers and examination essay questions from a feminist worldview or critical (postmodern) perspective.  In Spanish class you speak and think in Spanish.  In Women's Studies you speak and think in feminist paradigms.  Examination essay questions written from critical perspectives outside of feminism will receive an automatic grade of F.  Papers written from critical perspectives outside of feminism will be allowed one revision.  Any student who is unable to write and think from a feminist critical perspective or worldview with a clear conscience should drop the class now.

How did I get away with this?  The secular academic world is bold in its protection of worldview.  

She goes on to say that all her colleagues had the same syllabus, working as a bloc.  She admits that "an interpretive community consciously and intentionally protects its way of thinking."

  So much for celebrating diversity in academic thought.

And yet, even as a Christian, Butterfield throughout the book is critical of Christians (by which she means conservative evangelicals) who, according to her all think alike and therefore, don't think at all.  She seems to have trouble coming to grips with the fact that being a tenured professor where the criteria seems to rest largely on your lifestyle choice doesn't make you an intellectual heavy weight. 

Did she forget she admits that University professors "protect their worldview?"  It's not the Christian community that creates "safe spaces" from people with opposing opinions or wants to censor classic literature due to "micro aggressive" stories that could produce "post-traumatic triggers".  

When over eighty percent of University educators are on the extreme liberal side of the  cultural spectrum, I don't believe a lot of intellectual exchange is transpiring.  

 My niece is half way through her first year at the University of North Texas.  She complained to her mother, my sister, that in her English Honors Literature class they only discuss literature in the context of sexism and racism.   What a waste of golden opportunity.  Instead of imbuing students with a love for literature they are teaching them to despise it.

Butterfield's personality seems to be one of intensity and single mindedness.  When she left the gay community and entered the Christian community she remained just as intense and single minded.  She joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church which, from what I can tell, is orthodox in its belief and solid in its faith.

However, they firmly believe, at least Butterfield does, that their form of worship is the only one that is truly Biblical.  This includes singing only Psalmody (the Psalms in the Bible) and without instruments.

She is also a hard core Calvinist.  She insists that we do not choose God, He chooses us, even against our will as in her case.

I wouldn't mind any of that, I'm probably more in the Calvinist camp than any other even though I struggle with some of its more extreme tenets, at least as they are understood by modern Reformed Scholars and Theologians.  I have been reading through Calvin's Institutes, something I recommend every Christian to do, and I don't perceive some of the harsher sounding precepts propounded on today by some Reformed Theologians, even though I have the greatest respect for them and know them to be far more informed and intelligent than me, hence my struggle.

What I do mind is how Butterfield apparently went from being an elitist Lesbian to being an elitist Christian.  She does not hide her contempt for Conservative Christians making sweeping statements about them (us) about how we hate gays (untrue!) and worship in "Disneyland Churches" with our coffee bars and Contemporary worship bands and Praise teams.

It's almost as if she wants everyone to know, "OK, I've become a Christian, but remember, it was against my will and I'm still very smart, not like all those other yahoos who call themselves Christians."  Apparently she has not been able to shed the "us and them" mentality she fostered before her conversion.

The last section concerns the growth of her family after she married Kent Butterfield.  They adopted five children from a couple of months old to teenagers, all "children of color" as she calls them.  She refers to her family as "transracial" which sounds a little pretentious to me.  Can't you just say you adopted some black kids?  

Nevertheless I do commend her for it, especially since she also home-schools them and are foster parents as well.  She includes some interesting stories about the tragic lives of some of the children they fostered and I would dearly have loved to have read more of this.  

To recap: putting her occasional pontificating aside, I really would like to see her write three books elaborating on each section she skimmed across in this one.

You can hear Ms. Butterfield on this Youtube channel.  Her speeches are worth listening to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEsj9Hh59uw

6 comments:

  1. Hi Sharon,

    You raise a lot of interesting issues here. I like your critical and balanced approach to these complex topics.

    On the experience of your niece as well as Butterfield's opinions on the academic world being closed minded. I am secular and I believe that we need to address sexism and racism. However, these things are reflective of a stridency and close mindedness coming out of certain elements of the Left, academia and other sources. It has reached the stage where witch hunts have been launched against dissenters, collage professors have lost positions, people have been silenced, etc. It is a really bad trend. It is doing nothing to stop racism or sexism. It is the opposite of true diversity and open mindedness.

    There is a backlash going on in response to it. Hopefully some kind of balance will be restored soon.

    Have great weekend!

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    1. Hi Brian! I was reading in the Wall Street Journal about the "cry bullies" in universities that are dictating to everyone else what should or should not be taught, or how it should be taught.

      I think that to some extent the professors themselves have created this Frankenstein and are now experiencing a backlash.

      My niece was telling me that her professor was speaking of a controversial issue when a student suddenly began clutching her ears and shaking her head shouting, "No! NO! Hate speech! Hate Speech!"

      The professor, who was from a liberal perspective, told this girl that we may not like to hear certain things and those things might even be wrong, but people have the right to say them.

      I wonder how students like that girl came to be like that?

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  2. I suspect a superficial conversion. At least your review leads me to that suspicion. But I am not criticizing. I am merely observing.

    Everyone should have a chance to see and understand "University culture." Would Americans be so eager to send their urchins away to universities if they see and understood? I have my doubts. (Yes, I used to teach at colleges and universities; so I have first-hand knowledge of the "culture.")

    Your review reminds that memoirs must always be read through skeptical lenses. People who write memoirs are not often objective and honest enough. Perhaps that is the case here.

    All the best from the slightly tarnished buckle of the Bible belt in the deep south.

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    1. Hi R.T. I don't know whether Butterfield's conversion was authentic or not, but she definitely has some maturing to do, in my opinion.

      I wholeheartedly agree with you about University. Even though I went years ago, I felt that many of my classes were not all that informative, only calculated by the professor to convert me to his own world view.

      I wonder if a revolution needs to take place where parents and their children need to take the bull by the horns and implement their own education even at the college level through apprenticeship and training to learn how to research and acquire information and knowledge outside the university?

      Thanks for your best. I receive it here in East Texas. I am well familiar with the deep South. I lived in Mobile for several years and grew up on the Florida Gulf Coast.

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  3. I'm not a hard core Calvinist but I was a bit on the extreme side when I first became a Christian. I was 19 & it took a number of years for me to get some balance so I sometimes cringe when I think back to those early years! I read this article about her:
    https://world.wng.org/2013/03/journey_of_grace
    I must say, that Ken Smith probably inspires me more. He sounds gracious & I think he could write a very interesting book.

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    1. Hi Carol! I grew up very high church, liturgical and it took me some years to arrive where I am on my Christian walk as well. We are all growing.

      I will read that article. I am interested in what they say. A friend of mine who is an Orthodox Presbyterian said that Butterfield has come out with an expanded version of the original book. I probably should read and review that.

      You're right about Ken Smith. I hope that I will be as gracious to others as he was to Butterfield.

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I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.