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Tears in God's Wineskin: A Theology of Hospitality

Part 3: Hospitality, the Handmaiden of Grace


Concluding Remarks

When we consider the past 100 years of homosexuality in the West a transformation can be seen in terms of rights, laws and general societal attitude. The church, while slower than the rest of society, has seen during the past 50 years inclusive churches appear and groups such as Accepting Evangelicals – unheard of 20 years ago – thrive. Progress is undeniable, although overt heteronormativity and consequent hateful attitudes remain prevalent. Gay men and lesbians enjoy rights of freedom and acceptance under the law, yet the Crime Survey of England and Wales reports an average of 39,000 sexual orientation hate crimes per year, of which 42 per cent involve violence and 52 per cent involve physical injury. [1] Legally recognized same-sex marriage advances across many countries, fully accepted by some free churches while forbidden by others, and the Anglican Church continues to debate its recognition though refusing it to her gay and lesbian clergy, while the Roman Catholic Church entirely rejects same-sex marriage, continuing to refuse Holy Communion to Catholic gay men and lesbians in committed relationships or who are legally married. [2] We have no doubt progressed considerably, but the argument remains that as long as people face physical assault or worse for simply being who they are, and same-sex marriage is not fully accepted, the journey to equality remains incomplete.

Theologically, exhaustive debate over relevant or seemingly relevant biblical text has moved many of us into a place of understanding and acceptance of non-heterosexual Christians, while for others this is simply impossible since from their perspective, biblical text presents only a blanket ban on homosexuals and confirms that God ‘hates gays’, however naïve or inappropriate that may seem. A queer theological approach using biblical and historical data concerning eunuchs, combined with the biblical imperative of hospitality provides an alternative way to consider the issue and consequent problems that, whether real or imagined, challenge Christians regarding the acceptance or non-acceptance of non-heterosexuals in the church and related issues such as same-sex marriage. It is a useful approach because it relies less heavily on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of the same few biblical texts that most people have an opinion on, whether or not they actually read the Bible, and gives greater insight firstly, into actual people who existed and carved their place in history, were affirmed by God through his prophet, spoken of simply by Christ and received into the church by Philip and secondly, consideration of hospitality brings into stark focus what the church tends to withhold from the ‘outsider’ whom God nevertheless loves, tends to and commands his followers to do likewise.

As I have shown in the chapters concerning eunuchs, eunuchs frequently held positions of authority and political power and were not only cultic priests, sacred prostitutes, sexual pastimes for the rich, or victims of castration for punishment or the result of enforced slavery. Eunuchs had the king’s ear, guarded the king’s wives, concubines, other female family members and were guardians of royal children; they were trusted soldiers, generals and ambassadors, secretaries, scribes and treasurers. Through Rabbinical Literature and Roman Law we learn that eunuchs were not solely partially or fully castrated men but also fully intact homosexuals, sometimes viewed negatively as were castrates, considered by some to have female souls since they appeared beautiful and effeminate, yet no less commanding of positions of importance. In the light of this, the eunuch’s biblical journey from God’s emphatic ‘no’ to God’s unequivocal ‘yes’ advances the significant observation that it includes castrates and homosexuals alike, since his message through Isaiah was simply to eunuchs without differentiation.

Christ’s reference to both castrated eunuchs and natural eunuchs, without negativity, followed by his stating that it is a hard teaching to accept, seems to have foreshadowed for today that acceptance of the gay man, indeed of all homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersexed people is not something that can be considered lightly by the church but must be taken seriously, thoughtfully and prayerfully. It is insufficient to dismiss a people solely on the grounds of, “because the Bible says . . .” at face value, particularly when contrasted with a recognized central Christian call to provide justice and mercy for all, and because it places us in a position of being the oppressor, judge and manipulator of men and women created in the image of God. We end up playing God, rather than serving God as a people with humility and grace and recognizing that together we are all strangers and outcasts who are saved and reconciled through the salvific work of Jesus Christ.

Hospitality, as a Judeo-Christian virtue, is a command from God founded in grace, agape love and practicality to provide safety and nurture, not only for those we know and love but also for the stranger and outcast, including those we would not naturally associate with. Hospitality, certainly for the Hebrews was a principal virtue, frequently a matter of life or death in their harsh climate, where shelter, a simple meal and water meant all the difference between thriving and perishing. Throughout the Old Testament God reveals himself as both host and guest, providing for and meeting his people’s needs and enabling them to tend to him as the One Lord served and worshipped. It seems little wonder, then, that the ancient understanding of hospitality was, and was meant to be, all-encompassing, leading to blessing for those who practiced it, such as Abraham, and total disaster for those who abused it, as the Sodomites discovered. The early church regarded hospitality in much the same way the Hebrews had only now, having Jesus Christ as the supreme host and guest in their midst, hospitality becomes a clear expression of what it means to follow the Saviour and emulate him. This is why hospitality may be regarded as the Handmaiden of Grace, summing up in essence hospitality’s royal and divine status that is steeped in godly authority yet given freely, in humility and servitude, with great love for God and for the one being attended to.

For any Christian facing, what is for them, the dilemma of whether to show love and hospitality to non-heterosexuals and include them in their midst, or to hold to a literal/innocent understanding of biblical text proclaiming them to be an ‘abomination’, the question becomes quite simple: Which should be the principal biblical guideline? To judge, condemn and exclude in accordance with a handful of texts that Christians disagree on or to not judge, but accept and include in accordance with the biblical imperative of hospitality? We might wonder sometimes, whether today Jesus would be in the midst of the carnival during a Gay Pride celebration or on the sidelines with the likes of Christian Voice holding aloft a condemnatory placard, though I suspect we would have serious doubts that he would be on the sidelines condemning anyone.

The steady rise of Queer Theology, out of Liberation Theology and Feminist Theology has enabled theological thinking and research to move beyond the realms of traditional white male, middle-classed perceptions, to a place where non-heterosexuals have their own voice and new perceptions. Areas of history, culture, linguistics, biblical and non-biblical theology pertaining to homosexuality and consequently dismissed for decades, even centuries, are being examined with fresh and open understanding that throws enormous doubt on certain traditional ways of viewing the past and assumptions made about the past from a heteronormative perspective. The likes of James Alison, Eugene Rogers, Elizabeth Stuart, Richard Cleaver and many more are ensuring that the way is becoming open to reconsider biblical theology, ecclesial tradition and social understanding from a queer perspective, that remains biblically faithful while turning upside-down assumed heteronormative ideals that have been held for too long as the only truth.

As dialogue continues, traditions are re-examined and theology develops I believe a time will come when full acceptance of the gay man and lesbian in the church will be far more general than it currently is, although such a time remains firmly on the horizon rather than as a reality for the now. Yet if we, as the church, take seriously a call to hospitality and restore hospitality to her rightful position of Handmaiden of Grace, combined with a better informed perception of the place of the eunuch in human history we can achieve a far healthier consideration of all human beings made in the image of God and forming together the best part of God’s imaginative and diverse creation. Thinking Christians cannot remain comfortable with an oppressive heteronormativity that informs, perceives and makes demands on the homosexual, from a position of believing that the only natural way is a heterosexual way. Sexual orientation is not an indication of sexual morality, fidelity or faithfulness but rather a reflection of the all-encompassing and extensive range of God’s creation and simply put, a same-sex couple may be just as committed and sanctified in their love before God as a heterosexual couple.

In re-examining the journey of the eunuch from God’s unequivocal “No” to his unquestionable “Yes” and considering honestly the church’s role in bringing about the comprehensive and manufactured condemnation of the natural eunuch in the 4th century, we may find ourselves in the beneficial position of being able to effectively unpick the meager and confused attitude towards gay men and lesbians that has grown over past centuries in the church to become an ingrained phobia against anything non-heterosexual. In the light of this, and in taking an authentic stand for biblical hospitality, we can build a church that less reflects a fear and exclusion of the ‘other’ but rather provides a place where outcasts welcome other outcasts within a framework of agape love, forgiveness and reconciliation based on the saving grace found in the life, death, resurrection and person of Jesus Christ.

When we allow for the possibility that God continues to work in our modern world to ‘do a new thing’ and his actions are not restricted solely to pages of Scripture, then we may consider the church’s gradual move towards acceptance of the gay man and lesbian to be an inexorable work of the Holy Spirit. Recognition that non-heterosexuals are fully acceptable before God and sanctified by him, without call or demand to become heterosexual, is no different from the Jews of the early church recognizing that the new covenant through Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit were equally available to the Gentiles. Such equality was a revolutionary and controversial move for the early church, and so it is again, both transitions being regarded as reflecting the infinite love and inestimable grace of a compassionate God who opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all who would follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Genuine installation of hospitality towards non-heterosexuals in the church will certainly bring about the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:

“For this is what the Lord says: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant - to them I will give within my Temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant - these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.’” (Isa. 56:4-7)

As far as relationship with God is concerned, this acceptance has been in place since the words passed the prophet’s lips; only time will tell if the church will finally embrace the sentiment.

Until we completely grasp the importance of unity together as outcasts and understand the futility of exclusion, the church cannot consider itself whole in Christ. One who perhaps understands this position better than most is Desmond Tutu:

“When we are uncaring, when we lack compassion, when we are unforgiving, we will always pay the price for it. It is not, however, we alone who suffer. Our whole community suffers, and ultimately our whole world suffers. We are made to exist in a delicate network of interdependence. We are sisters and brothers, whether we like it or not. To treat anyone as if they were less than human, less than a brother or a sister, no matter what they have done, is to contravene the very laws of our humanity. And those who shred the web of interconnectedness cannot escape the consequences of their actions.” [3]

By the very nature of the church, we are made up of outcasts and misfits called together in unity to reflect the all-embracing, radical saving grace of Christ and to radiate his love to one another and outwardly in discipleship as we grow and mature together in faith. It is not our job to judge the marginalized self-righteously or from personal distaste but rather from a place of learning together how to make right judgments, with compassion, faithfully and prayerfully. When we exclude non-heterosexuals from the church we exclude part of God’s diverse creation, we exclude those made in God’s image, and we exclude those who might otherwise contribute to the rich tapestry of who and what the church is in the community. Ultimately, the choice is ours, but as long as we exclude those we do not consider the same as us we are missing something of the interconnectedness Tutu speaks of and we cannot authentically speak of having a theology of hospitality we do not genuinely practice. Combining a greater understanding of the biblical imperative of hospitality with an informed position of the historical and biblical place of the eunuch can, I believe, open a new door to Christians today to enable a greater capacity to love God fully with heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, which after all, is perhaps Christ’s most important command to us.



[1] Figures from the combined 2011/12 and 2012/13 C.S.E.W. dataset estimates. While there seems to be variation between police forces, sexual orientation hate crimes account for approximately 20 per cent of reported hate crimes.

[2] October 2014 saw Pope Benedict’s request for gay men and lesbians in committed relationships to receive Holy Communion overturned by his bishops. Their decision was based upon their insistence that, “Couples who live together without being married should not receive Holy Communion,” which of course incorporates heterosexual couples, but specifically relating to married same-sex couples the bishops further stated, “The Church does not impose this as a punishment, but because the way of life of such people goes against the sacrament of marriage.”

[3] Desmond and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving (London: William Collins, 2014), p.19.