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Back in 2001, my pastor announced to the congregation, “You don’t know God.”
He went on to say, “If you think there’s somebody too hard for God to reach or a situation too difficult for him to fix, then you don’t know God. You don’t know what he’s able and willing to do in a person’s life.”
It was a few weeks before Easter and the pastor asked us to write down the names of five people we wanted to see attend church on Easter Sunday, even people we thought would only step foot in church when hell became a ski resort.
He dared us to believe God was able to do what we considered to be impossible.
(Of the five names I wrote down, none of those people came to church that Easter, although since then two of the five have.)
I thought of the pastor’s five names thing recently when he mentioned a most improbable convert to Christianity. Her name is Rosario Champagne Butterfield, a pastor’s wife in Durham, N.C. In her recent book, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,” she describes her life before Jesus: university professor of English and women’s studies, fervent feminist, radical atheist, leftist student of Freud, Hegel, Marx and Darwin, in a long-term lesbian relationship, active in GLBT causes.
She viewed herself as principled and caring, compassionate and moral. She and her partner were active in AIDS causes, children’s health and literacy and Golden Retriever rescue.
She was perfectly content with her “happy, meaningful and full” life and didn’t want to change anything.
She said her understanding of Christianity was from her own encounters with angry Christians holding signs, mocking her “butch” haircut at Gay Pride marches.
“I despised Christians,” she wrote. “Those who professed the name of Jesus commanded my pity and wrath.”
In 1997, she wrote an article in her local Syracuse, N.Y., newspaper attacking the “unholy trinity of Jesus, Republican politics and patriarchy.” She received a ton of mail — fan mail and hate mail.
One letter, however, was neither. It was from a local Reformed Presbyterian pastor, Ken Smith, who neither preached at her nor condemned her. Instead, Smith encouraged her to explore the kinds of questions she admired — “How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you’re right? Do you believe in God?”
Smith and his wife invited Butterfield to dinner and met her friends. They talked openly about books and politics and sexuality.
“They did not act as if such conversations were polluting them,” she wrote, although she knew they disagreed with her. Also, to her surprise and relief, the Smiths didn’t invite her to church. She didn’t feel like their fix-it project, which made her feel safe to be their friend.
She started reading the Bible “the way a glutton devours,” she wrote.
Although she couldn’t get enough of it, she also didn’t like what it said — she didn’t want God messing up her life.
“I counted the cost of following Jesus, and I did not like the math on the other side of the equal sign,” she wrote.
And yet, the beauty of Jesus and the promise of a life much richer and fuller — even though much, much different — from the one she had been living was irresistible. The irresistible grace of God eventually won her over.
As a result, she lost her lifestyle, her worldview, her lesbian partner. Yet, she wrote, she gained so much more.
Butterfield was an unlikely convert, but aren’t we all? No one is born loving Jesus, and it’s human nature to fight against him — some seem to fight harder and more outwardly than others.
Even so, if nothing is impossible with God and with him all things are possible (Mark 10:27), then no person is beyond saving and no situation is beyond redeeming, whether it’s changing a person’s heart, drawing people to church on Easter or any other Sunday morning or raising the dead.
“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind,” God told the prophet Jeremiah. “Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).
Well, is there?
If you think so, then you don’t know God.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.