Rosaria Champagne was an associate professor of English at SyracuseUniversity. She also served in the Center for Women’s Studies at her university as a specialist in queer theory, a postmodern form of gay and lesbian studies, living in a lesbian partnership of several years with a female psychology professor. As a convinced postmodernist, she believed there is no truth, only truth claims.
Rosaria explains that the only exposure she had with Christians were from “students who refused to read papers on the grounds that knowing Jesus meant never needing to know anything else, people who sent her hate mail, or people who carried signs at Gay Pride marches, which read, ‘God hates fags.’” She had formulated the opinion that “Christians always seemed like bad thinkers” as well as “bad readers.” She concluded that Christians maintain their worldview only because they are unwilling to engage the complex problems of the world like poverty and violence. When Christians became uncomfortable in discourse it seemed to her that they resorted to their mantra, “the Bible says,” not to deepen the conversation, but in the hope of ending it.
In 1997 she wrote a critique of Promise Keepers for the local newspaper and received the usual hate mail from Christians – with one exception. Pastor Ken Smith graciously responded with questions rather than dogmatic judgment. He asked her how she had arrived at her interpretation, and how she knew that this interpretation was right. He was asking her to examine her presuppositions, something no one had done before, and he did it with kindness.
She kept his letter on her desk for a week, not knowing what to do with it. Then she decided to call him. She was involved in research for a book on the rise of the Religious Right in America and its tactic of using hate against homosexuals. Talking with Ken would provide additional material for her book. He invited her to dinner at his home with his wife, Floy, and she accepted.
A number of things created a safe environment for Rosaria as she entered Ken and Floy’s home. When Ken prayed for their meal and evening, she was not prepared for the genuineness of his prayer. She was used to the pretentious prayers of Christians at Gay Pride protests. She comments,
“I had never heard anyone pray to God as if God cared, as if God listened, as if God answered. It was not a pretentious prayer uttered for the heathen at the table to overhear.”
Their conversation that evening was engaging, but not disagreeable. She left Ken and Floy’s home with a genuine desire to know if God existed, wondering if she even had the courage to face what she might discover in this quest.
This encounter led to more evenings together, and even a friendship with these non-stereotypical Christians. On one occasion Ken offered to do a lecture on the literary value of the Bible to English studies for her English students. She was not ready to unloose an evangelical in her classroom yet, but she did ask him to do the lecture for her. In it he gave an overview of the sixty-six books of the Bible and how they contributed to the central message of redemption and forgiveness that unified all the books. When he was finished she was infuriated, primarily because her worldview was placed in jeopardy. If Ken was right, her beliefs were very wrong. There was no postmodern middle ground. So she asked him how he knew his Bible was true. He was delighted to meet with her again to address that question.
For the first time Rosaria was confronted with the price that sin demanded, requiring the Son of God to come to earth in order to suffer the wrath of His Father for the sins of His creatures. She imagined how secure her world might be if this message were true, if there really was an unchangeable truth, if there really was a man-God who was willing to deal with the sin problem personally. But, she determined, God had made her a lesbian and not a Christian.
Her book research required her to read the primary source for Christianity – the Bible. She read it and reread it. In it she was discovering a consistent worldview that differed dramatically from her Marxist, postmodern worldview.
The message of this book was compelling, and was steadily eroding her presuppositions about Christianity. With the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel the Bible was dividing the thoughts and intents of her heart, and slowly unraveling her belief system.
It was two years before she had the courage to enter Ken’s church, with her butch haircut and her truck bearing the bumper stickers advocating gay pride and pro-choice. She was surprised to find a community as warm as its pastor and his wife. Finally, she came to the place where she realized that she had to make a choice. God was calling her to repent of her sin, not wait for healing from a disease. The continuing transformation has not been easy for her, but Rosaria is now married to a pastor and using her gifts to serve the Church.
Here was an intelligent, articulate successful young woman who had some deeply ingrained beliefs that needed to be changed. The hate tactic was not working. Denouncing homosexuals publicly was not working. She needed someone who was willing to take a risk and reach out to her with the love of Jesus. She needed to be exposed to truth in an environment free from self-righteous condemnation. It was through this tactic that God drew Rosaria to himself, through the humble, patient love of one of God’s messengers.