Tolerance vs. Hospitality

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.

6 responses to “Tolerance vs. Hospitality

  1. Steven –

    After the World Vision episode, I’ve been doing some serious contemplation of “love your enemies”. Here are some unsolicited thoughts.

    As you rightly point out, setting aside our differences for the sake of unity is not fruitful (i.e., “agreeing to disagree”) because it engenders stagnation and possibly resentment. Our disagreements exist – as do our agreements. We need to be transparent with one another and discuss them openly. We need to commit ourselves to staying in communion.* We need to accept each other even as Christ accetped us. Otherwise it’s impossible to be mutually transformed by one another.

    I believe that we all have unique contributions to make to the yet unseen kingdom – conservative, progressive, Jewish, none, straight, gay, cis, trans, female, male, friend, enemy. We need to acknowledge that we’re all at this dance together and God sent the invites. It’s simply impossible for me to exclude someone from the communion table because that’s not my (or anyone else’s) invitation to revoke.

    However, I recognize that staying in communion is not easy. There are Christians who wish to erase me because I am a Christian man married to a man; I am anathema to some believers. I’ve recently been considering how to delight in people who wish me harm. I think part of the answer might be growing in compassion – understanding the pain of others and how I might be contributing to it.

    My very best to you,

    *provided that is a SAFE thing for us to do.

  2. “I am curious to know what such hospitality would look like in the Church and the gay community.”
    Personally, I do not believe that hospitality can exist where some people control and diminish by using the power of the government to force their religious opinions on others. Where non-straight people have the same legal rights and powers as straight people, hospitality can be offered by each in a meeting of equals. Where non-straights must come to the table as beggars for, as but one example, such basic rights as civil marriage and the experience of all the benefits and burdens of that legal contract, I don’t believe that the claim of “hospitality” is anything but a condescending joke.

    • As someone who is actually gay, experiences the diminishment you describe (in the South, no less, in a very unfriendly state) I choose what hospitality is and looks like in my own life as a gay man. I have made the choice that being a “beggar” will never keep me from being hospitable – even towards those more powerful than me. I have found that to be one of the most redemptive commitments in my life when it comes to my relationships with straight people – especially those who disagree with me. Hospitality is not about being social equals and it is not about turning a blind eye to abuse. It is about a genuine compassion, empathy and forgiveness that, to me, is at the heart of the Christian life.

      • I was referring to what “hospitality would look like in the Church.” I was not trying to define it for you in your own life. We do each make our own decisions about these matters, and have our own perceptions of them. I’m very sorry if I was so unclear as to seem to be saying that I was speaking for you. Actually I believed I was expressing a personal view that is different from your own, and I see by your reply that that is correct.
        I do wonder why you say you are “actually gay.” It seems to me that you are implying that you have (erroneously) decided that I am straight and even possibly implying that therefore my opinion and view on this matter is somehow less legitimate than yours. This is the first time in my faithful reading of your blog that I have felt uncomfortable. People do disagree. Please do not make assumptions about my sexuality or my experiences.
        I too choose what hospitality is and looks like in my own life. And I have found that a Church that expresses love and hospitality to non-straight people while at the same time working to use the power of government and the law to control non-straight people and force them to live in accordance with beliefs they do not share, their claim of “hospitality” in the Church is but a condescending joke.

      • I am sorry for making you uncomfortable, and I see now what you mean. (And do please know that I value immensely your steady contribution here to the discussion over the past year.) As to your sexuality, I seemed to remember (probably incorrectly) that you were straight, but it was wrong of me to assume regardless. I thought you were referring to hospitality in the gay community, and I had an immediate negative reaction, feeling as though a straight person was telling us how to live our lives. I felt threatened and invalidated, having clearly completely misunderstood what you meant. It was a knee jerk reaction from having experienced that before, but it was also wrong and very reactionary, and I am sorry for that.

        I do think you raise an important question, though, and one that needs to be addressed. Is hospitality truly hospitality if we strip a people group of their rights?

        … and as I’ve spent some time thinking about it this evening, I wonder if it isn’t something of a catch 22. I totally understand that hospitality that does not also acknowledge the inherent rights of the other is not truly hospitality. However, I also believe that the church only comes to a place of extending those rights when they choose to engage the person from a posture of hospitality, even though it may be limited or incomplete. It is only through generous interaction with gay people that the church changes. In my view, incomplete hospitality on the part of the church might be the only way forward.

  3. Pingback: The Weekly Hit List: June 13, 2014

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