The lesbian, the alcoholic, and the Jew each has her own story to tell and none of them is a joke.
Rosaria Butterfield was a radical leftist university professor living with another woman who shared her passions for feminism and justice and her bed. She despised Christians and what she called “their politics of hatred.” When she wrote a letter to the newspaper in 1997 complaining about the Promise Keepers, she got a lot of supportive responses and a lot of angry ones. But the one response she got that changed her life was neither. It came from a pastor who asked her the kinds of critical thinking questions she asked her students: How do you know you are right? How did you arrive at your conclusions?
This letter led to a friendship with the pastor and his wife, who were not hostile and were not haters. They did not compromise their stringent beliefs about homosexuality, but it was not their beliefs that attracted Rosaria. It was their respect and love for her.
As you might guess, as this is a conversion story, Rosario eventually accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. She then joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church. She renounced not only her former unbelief but her former way of life. She married a pastor and homeschooled her children and is now as passionate a Christian as she was formerly a radical. She tells her story in a Christianity Today article and in a book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: Expanded Edition.
Evangelicals are quick to embrace the new convert, especially one who changes her politics appropriately. But the story Anne Lamott tells in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith is one that reminds us that Jesus cares about people who may not fit our preconceptions of a good convert. Lamott is a writer of several books and a contributor to Salon. She is passionate about progressive causes and to be honest does not much like her fellow believers who vote Republican. But Jesus saved her anyway.
She is honest enough to admit that she is indeed “born-again,” though it pains her progressive friends for her to say it. They like to think of her as “Christian-ish,” but she insists she is just a “bad born-again Christian.” When asked about her faith by a fellow traveler on a flight she assents to the born-again label and muses
…certainly like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesusy bon vivant. But it’s not true. And I believe that when you get on a plane, if you start lying, you are totally doomed.
Hers is not a sweet story. She is profane, she is an alcoholic, and she sins a lot and tells you about it without euphemism. She is open and vulnerable about her life, and she is hilariously funny. Her chapter called “Forgiveness” is really the most honest account of what it takes to forgive in real life that I have ever read. It begins
I went around saying for a long time that I am not one of those Christians who is heavily into forgiveness—that I am one of the other kind.”
If you want to read a different kind of conversion story but with the same Savior who stars in the other stories, read this one.
Finally, in Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life, we meet Lauren Winner, a contributor to Christianity Today and an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School. Winner’s story is also not the neatly packaged conversion story evangelicals have come to expect. Winner says “the datable conversion story has a venerable history” but hers is not that kind.
She was raised Jewish and was a bookish girl who pursued academics on the East Coast. We meet her interesting friends, family members, and boyfriends, and walk with her through her long, circuitous journey to Jesus. While Lamott’s life is a raucous mix of drinking, pills, and adultery, Winner’s struggles are quiet, internal battles among competing loyalties. But Winner writes in a humorous and sometimes self-effacing way that is winsome and engaging.
Coming as she does from an East Coast academic milieu, she, like Lamott, does not always want to be identified with her poor-in-sophistication conservative Christian brothers. She notes that she is still somewhat embarrassed that she came to faith through the “middle-brow Christian fiction” of Jan Karon ( At Home in Mitford: A Novel). Winner writes,
I am sure God, who could have thrown a little Dostoyevsky or Barth in my path, was playing some sort of divine joke, figuring he would both get me to the baptismal font and erode some of my cherished intellectual snobbery in one fell swoop.”
Who Does God Choose?
Entering in to the lives of believers who are unlike the believers in your church can open your eyes to the amazing grace of God, His no-fooling invitation to absolutely everyone, and His prerogative to supply the Holy Spirit to those we might not choose.
The early Christians were shocked when God invited in Gentiles, but “they held their peace and glorified God….” And so should we.