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Tears in God’s Wineskin: A Theology of Hospitality


The church, particularly in its current state, cannot offer clear thinking or guidance to the secular world concerning issues of gender equity or identity, homosexuality or sexual ethics.  Quite the opposite, in fact, our churches are woolly and unclear at best, oppressive and extreme at worst.  As Christians we owe it to ourselves, to one another and to our communities to take seriously the need to understand sex and gender in a fresh light, to do this faithfully while honouring the creatively diverse and imaginative God we profess to serve – and then to act and teach accordingly.

The continuing debate surrounding the inclusion or exclusion of homosexually oriented Christians in the church, and the consequent issue of same-sex marriage might be simpler if those Christians in favour or against were positioned at extreme ends of the spectrum, with one group being naïve and having no respect for Christian faith or biblical text and the other being hardened homophobic religious people using scripture selectively to justify their abhorrence.  Unfortunately, the simple truth is that all Christians of integrity look to biblical text as a source and guide for faith and Christian living yet may strongly disagree with one another regarding biblical passages that appear to relate to homosexuals, homosexual behaviour and how such passages relate to today’s cultural situation.  Unfortunately, while hermeneutics and exegesis are certainly crucial and may be extremely well presented they cannot bring closure to this particular emotive issue.

However, I believe it is possible to find a different approach that maintains biblical integrity while potentially making available a reconsideration by all thinking Christians.  This consists of two premises within the field of Queer Theology, firstly finding a parallel situation similarly presented in the pages of scripture that carries an authoritative ‘yes’ from God that was once a foundational ‘no,’ and secondly a consideration of the significant Christian virtue of hospitality as a biblical imperative, which can and should take presidency over both the presumed or denied ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’s’ of biblical text, the odd mix of religious heteronormativity in the church and the infiltration of modern day phenomena ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity.’   I intend to show that these together enable this difficult issue to move forward with grace and fresh understanding.


The biblically-based, parallel situation that provides necessary criteria is the historical and biblical journey of the eunuch, from pariah and God-pronounced excluded being (Deut.23:2) to fully accepted, baptized Christ follower (Acts 8), aided by the profound and even outrageous prophecy of hospitality through Isaiah (Isa.56) and the straight forward teaching of Christ concerning the existence of both the castrated eunuch and the natural eunuch (Mt.19:12) or eunuch of the Sun, who, I shall argue, was at that time understood to be a gay man.  These things, fulfilled and emphasised by Philip’s baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch and the consequent reception of the man into the church, significantly indicate that the law of God, where it was understood to ban or forbid something, may later be lifted or reversed by God.  When we grasp the possibility of this, it may be allowed that whether the people of God today trust an apparent ban or believe in no such ban, it may still be recognised that the issue of homosexuality and the church may in fact be viewed from the same place rather than from opposing sides, and that differences of opinion might be accepted and acknowledged, or at least understood, allowing straight and gay Christians to worship together in love regardless of sexual orientation or opinion concerning biblical text.


With the history of the eunuch, the bible moves from a place of non-acceptance to complete acceptance, without any sense of blurring scriptural text or the issue.  The biblical journey regarding homosexuality may not be so clear cut for many Christians, but it parallels significantly with that of eunuchs, bringing it into sharper focus where consideration of the topic need not shelter positively behind human rights or negatively behind biblical pericopes or traditions, but rather be opened up to richer theological discussion and greater patience for differences of opinion.  I have commented on the various biblical passages allegedly related to homosexuality, and have included this text as an appendix rather than placing it in the main body of the text.  This is simply because I stand on the shoulders of many good theologians who have produced enough commentary on these passages to sink a ship, although I believe I have brought freshness to some of the data which provides a newness of reading and so makes the appendix worth paying attention to. 

Concerning hospitality, as a prized virtue of both the Israelites and the early church alike, it has lost its royal status as handmaiden, as grace in full control yet in complete loving servitude of others, showing compassion for the lost, the stranger and the outcast.  As frail human beings, Christians mirror the cultures and societies in which they live and so the church is susceptible to being just as inhospitable as our societies may be.  It is far easier to exile the stranger than to welcome him/her and it is easier to condemn out of fear and ignorance than it is to embrace out of compassion and a willingness to understand.  If we begin to accept and receive a theology of hospitality we can no longer stand in judgement over others, because we begin to experience that at the heart of hospitality is found a profound humility and recognition of how we are all outcasts and strangers, called together by God through Christ and enabled by the Holy Spirit.  If, as the church, we become serious about hospitality, then we can no longer exile the gay man or lesbian, for such as these make up the strangers and outcasts we are called to receive, and they are more than those whose tears are remembered solely in ‘God’s wineskin’ while all others ignore their pain and struggle, as related in Psalm 56:8 and from which the title of this work is taken.

In expressing hospitality, we become vulnerable as a people sharing our lives, homes, time, meals, attention and so forth; we have no place from which to ask, “what’s in it for me?” which is why we are so bad at living out hospitality in reality or taking it seriously.  We fear the vulnerability that showing hospitality brings and we fear the lack of reciprocity it affords us.  Yet hospitality is at the very centre of what it means to be a living, thinking Christian, expressing (agape) love to those we care deeply for and those we do not know at all, in response to the command to love God fully with heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.  This is not the same as introducing a gospel of inclusivity and diversity, as I will show, and it is not tolerance which, taken to its logical conclusion accepts and allows for everything to the point of effectively tolerating the intolerant.  Hospitality incorporates discipleship, faithfulness and integrity, which inclusivity, diversity and tolerance do not, while standing firmly within the realm of Queer Theology, challenging heteronormative assumptions of acceptability and ‘them’ and ‘us’ comfort zones.  

With the historical and biblical journey of the eunuch and an understanding of hospitality I will show that, for the Christian church, there is a biblical imperative to accept and receive, and even celebrate, gay men and lesbians who love God, follow Christ and are spirit-filled.  Similarly to call to Christ non-heterosexual strangers with welcome and compassion, rather than with condemnation for who and what they are and a consequent demand for change.  It allows for an understanding that Christ died for our sins not our sexuality, and encourages a fresh look at certain biblical text and considering them more seriously and less presumptively.


As a committed Christian and lesbian myself, I have seen the church as a loving, welcoming institution, and as a place of abuse and exclusion.  Because my love is directed toward women rather than men, I have been put out of two churches, received an attempted exorcism at one and banned from another Christian fellowship.  I initially trained in the 1980’s as a Christian minister alongside two fellow Christians from the same denomination, and while they went directly from college into ministry I was requested to complete a further year at another college while receiving psychological counselling, “. . . in order to become straight.”  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the church and I at that time parted company.  I witnessed the majority of the church turn its back on suffering and dying gay men during the HIV and AIDS crisis, refusing to provide funeral services or bereavement counsel and using this horrific and tragic period as a further reason for the intolerance of homosexuality.  For too many people, ‘gay’ became G.A.Y. as in ‘Got AIDS Yet?’


I listened to numerous Christians joining in positively with Margaret Thatcher’s new Clause 28, which became law in 1988 and banned local authorities from portraying homosexuality in a positive light.  It was finally abolished by the Labour government in 2003, following years of political action by the British gay rights movement and protest marches undertaken by the likes of OutRage!, Stonewall, Schools Out, and groups not directly associated with LGBT rights, such as Gingerbread (a charity for single mothers).  I am quite proud to have been one of the thousands who joined such protest marches, and similarly the growing annual Gay Pride marches in London and Brighton (also taking place in Leeds and Manchester); of course, in the 1980’s and 90’s we really were marching for our lives, for legal and social recognition, and for equality, not merely having a fun day out with a carnival atmosphere.


It was the discovery of the fully inclusive Metropolitan Community Church that finally brought me back into church fellowship and consequently many happy years of discipleship and growth.  I was able to return to ministry and to serious theological study, encouraged by perhaps the most remarkable, compassionate and loving spiritual leader I have ever been pastored by, the Rev Elder Jean Anne White.  She sadly died in November 2010 but her legacy of encouragement and empowering gay men and lesbians who are Christians continues.


As I complete Tears in God’s Wineskin, the number of inclusive churches in Europe is growing, but it is a long, slow journey.  Societal attitude in general has pendulum-swung from a majority of anti-gay sentiment to a majority of positive and accepting attitude, but continuing hate crimes against non-heterosexuals confirm there is still much to do in terms of education and understanding.  Theologically, we continue to debate homosexuality and related issues in the church, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but such discussions are rarely dull and I trust my contribution here may add to such debates, bringing a new approach for consideration.  At the end of the day, the question for each of us as Christians must be, have I loved and served Jesus Christ as well as I could?  It was Christ who told us to love God fully with heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, explaining that this summed up all aspects of Scripture.  He seemed clear that the practice of this included everyone, and gave no implication that ‘neighbour’ excluded anyone.  The fulfilment of this command, I believe, sits at the heart of any argument that encompasses inclusion as a tenet of Christian fellowship, and so to practice exclusion must surely raise a serious question regarding how we are fulfilling Christ’s command.