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The Grace of God for Sinners

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Gender discussions, same-sex relationships, and sexuality permeate the culture in which we live. Often, as Christians, we steer clear of the debates on these issues for fear of getting our hands dirty (read our views changing). In steps the powerful story of Rosaria Butterfield, a former English professor whose life was filled with rage against the right wing, who campaigned for women's and lesbian rights. Rosaria was steeped in a lesbian relationship, being committed to her partner and their political activism. She writes, "In spite of having a worldview that valued flexibility, unanswerable Big Life Questions started to nag at me while I was doing initial research and writing for me second book, a study of the rise of the Religious Right in America,..." (6). Rosaria goes onto say that she published a letter in the local newspaper that bashed the Promise Keepers for their gender politics. After receiving so many nasty letters, she received a letter "was the kindest letter of opposition that I had ever received" (9). Pastor Ken Smith of Syracuse RPC wrote her to encourage her to examine her presuppositions regarding the big issues, including gender. After talking to Ken on the phone, Rosaria agreed to meet with him and his wife to start a dialogue. This book is Rosaria' story of being changed by the grace of God, from a position of hostility and enmity toward God, to one of praise and thankfulness to God. Moving for a lesbian relationship to a marriage relationship with a man was a radical change for her.

Why is this book such a powerful message of the gospel?

For one, Pastor Ken Smith was a prime example of what loving our neighbors, even those who are radically in opposition to us, can do for the growth of the good news to flourish. Rosaria writes, "Ken and Floy invited the stranger in - not to scapegoat me, but to listen and to learn and to dialogue" (11). They didn't bang Rosaria over the head with biblical judgment, but patiently showed compassion to this woman who was on a journey. From the beginning Ken and Floy didn't believe that homosexuality was a thing to be commended, but they led with the love of Christ in showing Rosaria compassion. Rosaria had never met Christian believers who lived their faith without vile contempt for the secular world of others. In other words, this book is a great example of the type of love we are invited to show to the stranger, the outcast, and yes, the lesbian.

Secondly, Rosaria's departure from her former way of life led her to a Reformed and Presbyterian church not usually known for dealing with people from a homosexual lifestyle. Yet, as Rosaria tells it, this church was the place for her "to repent, heal, learn, and thrive" (24). The church didn't send her away to a parachurch ministry but walked with her by God's grace through all of her struggles. Yet, Rosaris used her story to help call others to follow Christ, to bear witness to him in all the muck and mud of sin and its ugliness. The road of repentance and sanctification was not initially peaceful for Rosaria. She encountered students who called her a liar and were verbally abusive to her. Yet, as time went on, she began to grow in her relationships with church members and others. If we learn anything from this book, it is that the love of the stranger, compassion for the outcast brings to the foreground the message of the gospel in a greater way than denouncing the sinner.

The further chapters in the book elucidate subjects as broad as exclusive Psalmody in worship, adoption, and the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. Although I did not agree on the issues of Psalmody in worship, I appreciate Rosaria's desire to be faithful in giving a clear understanding of her belief about these issues (88-94). You will gain much in reading this book about God's overwhelming grace, the way the church should love sinners, and the way Rosaria lives out her faith today. I hope this book is an encouragement to those struggling with homosexuality, identity, and the Christian faith.

Thanks to Crown and Covenant Publications for the copy of this book in exchange for review.


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