In her excellent new book, Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church, Wendy VanderWal-Gritter explores a crucial distinction between hospitality and tolerance that I believe would do us all a great deal of good to meditate on. After years of living in the extreme dissonance of working with gay people and the church, she has a lot of wisdom to share with the rest of the church about spirituality and how we relate to one another.
Tolerance often means a somewhat superficial acceptance of everyone’s ideas, beliefs, values, and practice. Differences aren’t really discussed. There can be a sense of coercion with the concept of tolerance, the feeling that it is being externally imposed. I encounter this when I hear the bitterness in people’s voices from within the Christian community whose experience of tolerance has been feeling forced to accept a certain political correctness and being part of systems that suppress expressions of true belief and opinion. Granted, some opinions ought not be publically expressed because of the damage and hurt they would inflict on others. Nonetheless, resentment simmers when this kind of tolerance stifles the expression of deep convictions.
Hospitality, however, creates a very different environment. Hospitality welcomes the other, the stranger, the one who is different. But inherent in this welcome is the acknowledgement of difference. Instead of difference being superficially expunged, differences can be explored. Hospitality enhances our humanity as individuals and as those called into relationship with one another. Tolerance can flatten our humanity with its expectation of enforced acceptance. But such acceptance will rarely lead to embrace.
Such hospitality is challenging for all of us – it is intrinsic to our species to lack such humility. We all struggle with such hospitality, and resting in it can feel like the mental equivilent of resting in a particularly painful yoga posture. Such places of mental stretching and challenge, though, is where our minds, like our bodies, begin to transform and grow the most.
I am curious to know what such hospitality would look like in the Church and the gay community. I believe that we must all enter the uncomfortable place of letting go of tolerating one another, and learning to be hospitable to each other (myself included.) Tolerance has not gotten any of us very far in the debate over homosexuality. It might be time to find a harder, scarier, more humbling posture.