Remember That You Were Gentiles: Christians, Homosexuality, And Culture Wars

imageThe recent World Vision flip-flop fiasco reveals a strikingly sad reality: many conservative evangelicals have become 21st Century Pharisees.

Let me be clear that I’m not suggesting that a conservative position on homosexuality is a Pharisaical position. I’m suggesting that a culture that would so punish one of their own organizations rather than offer hospitality to homosexual persons has failed to “discern the body” rightly (1 Cor. 11:29).

Notice that the issue here is not persons that so hate Christianity that they vehemently oppose the Gospel. World Vision was hoping to hire persons that can affirm their doctrinal statement, but have by one logic or another concluded that their homosexual orientation was consistent with that evangelical affirmation. And these are (presumably, since we don’t know if there were actual people in mind or only hypothetical) people that affirm and desire to participate in the mission of this evangelical compassion mission. These are (hypothetical) people that desire to be within the evangelical mission but have been told quite loudly that they are not welcome to do so.

I recently heard Willie J. Jennings talk about the main theses of his book, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, at the University of Indianapolis. He was concerned about the assumptions of colonialist Christian notions of race and the inhospitable disposition that these Christians showed their neighbors. He suggested that central to overcoming that inhospitality was recovering the notion that Christians are historically a Gentile people.

He is echoing the words of St. Paul, who reminded the early Christians in his letter to the Ephesians that they were the ones that were “on the outside looking in” to the blessed people of the Jewish covenant. Paul exhorts those Gentiles to “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). Apparently these early Christians had started to act like they actually deserved to be in this place of grace and mercy.

Paul reminds them they are actually “grafted into” the Jewish covenant. He had elsewhere claimed that this radical act of grace could be withdrawn by God if they were to approach the throne of grace with pride (Rom. 11:17-21). Though God had offered them a radical act of hospitality, they were to be careful that they did not become presumptuous about that status because they were once outsiders. It was expected that they would be reminded to act hospitably because of the gracious hospitality offered to them.

Conservative Christians would do well to remember this Gentile status. Gentiles are people that are on the outside of the covenant and desiring to be received. I cannot imagine a more apt description for those homosexual persons that are seeking to be received into the life of the Church (at least that part of the Church that has not already received them). From the perspective of these evangelicals, homosexual church-goers are like the “God-fearers” of Second Temple Judaism (see Acts 10:1-7). They desire to be received but are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to adhere with the community’s standards of membership in the covenant.

Remember that you were Gentiles. Hospitality was offered to you. Do to others what you would have them do to you.

Notice that this does not resolve the issues regarding homosexuality. God was the one that radically interrupted the covenantal order with the act of the incarnation and the radical ministry of Peter (Acts 10:9ff) and then Paul.  Rather the Gentile status demands that Christians offer hospitality to these “Gentile” people as they seek God’s wisdom. I cannot imagine a way that Christians can offer this kind of hospitality and engage in the culture wars simultaneously. The two are antithetical.

It’s time for Christians to put down their swords and engage this important issue of our time with grace. The culture wars must give way to radical hospitality.

Related Posts: World Vision And The Failure Of Christian Ethics
The Day That I Started To Understand Racism



  1. says

    I love your approach to this issue. The very fact that many of us are still blogging about this situation shows we have recognized there is something larger here. Something we were missing. You have made a wonderful Biblical analogy. Thank you.

  2. Mary Jane Bausman says

    Jeremiah, I so appreciate your thoughtful wrestling with tough, relevant issues. Thank you !

  3. says

    While I appreciate your take on all of this, you have failed to point out that God in his scriptures said that homosexuality along with many other sins were an abomination. Do not get me wrong, I am a firm believer in hating the sin and not the sinner. I believe we should treat all people with love and patience the same way Christ treated the whores and drunks and such. He treated them with kindness but still showed them that their actions were sinful. We are all children of God but unless we give up our sinful ways we can not enter the kingdom of heaven. A thief must turn away from his theiving ways to be forgiven. A man or woman who commits adultery must repent and turn away from their sinful way to be forgiven. That does not mean we hate the thief or adulterer but that we love them and show them that through repentance and acceptance of God they can be forgiven. The same goes with homosexual people. They are children of God, God loves them but they are sinning and must repent of that sin. So I do get the hospitality that you speak of but don’t confuse hospitality with acceptance of a sin. God said that in the last days right would become wrong and wrong would become right. Society is doing just that.

    • Jeff says

      So, in your analogy, if someone is a known alcoholic, and is found to continue to drink after expressing a desire for help, would you exclude him or her from attending church services or belonging to your community until such a time when he or she publicly declares to drink no more? Because that is what is generally being done to homosexuals.

      Before someone enters your church on Sunday morning, do you run through a checklist about whether they have stolen that week? Or how promiscuous they might have been?

      I can probably answer for you that you haven’t. (And, if your church DOES do that, who’d actually be allowed in Sunday morning?) But, it’s easier to check the box about someone being gay and telling them they’re unwelcome because they aren’t “good enough.”

      So, please, stop telling us you “hate the sin but love the sinner.” It comes across as a very thinly-veiled clichéd cover story to allow you to exclude undesirables from church and the Kingdom of Heaven, rather than actually doing the legwork involved in sharing the Love of Christ with the world. You do not have to approve of homosexuality, but continuing to paint them as others in the broader discussion of faith does a disservice to each and every one of their personal walks and relationships with Christ. You do not get to decide who is and isn’t repentant.

  4. says

    Jeremiah Gibbs! Been a while! Thanks for the take you give. I understand what you are saying and I think you make a good point, grace, humility remembering we were (are) gentiles saved by Grace is a good reminder. I also was not happy with the way people reacted to World Vision. Yet, on the other hand, I wonder if this issue should be agree to disagree or not. Again the actions of people did not show love or grace, yes, but it sounds the way you are talking about this to be the same slippery slope that has now created a divorce culture, the prevalence of pre-marital sex, cohabitation, children born out of wedlock, etc… I think these have been detrimental to the church and it’s witness, not to mention holy living among it’s people…

    If we go by official teachings and remove ourselves from a “Western Context” you need to remember that Western Christians make up a small percentage of world CHristianity (less than 20% I believe) and those who belong to a church that accept divorce, much less other types of sexual relationships are a small percentage of world and HIstorical Christianity. From that perspective, this is an upsurd idea to be even talking about. And again only in the past 4 decades has this change even happened in the West. Other things have changed in the church, but this is a pretty big change (not comparable to intermarriage or women preachers at all for me)….

    All my rambling goes to say that you make a good point in the actions of many folks were un-Christ Like, but I think your comparisons to Gentile behaviors to modern day ideas on marriage are overdoing it. I think eating pork and my marrying a man are not equivalent… Am I willing to agree to disagree, I guess I am not there…. Not that you asked me of course 🙂

  5. Amy says

    I just became aware of your blog, through your entry on racism and being white raising an African American child, and wanted to share with you my husband’s blog, which describes and responds to our similar experience fostering (and soon to adopt) an African American sibling group of two beautiful and amazing sisters. I especially draw your attention to his blog entry, “The Continuing Education of a White Foster Dad: “
    Thank you for sharing your experiences about race and other social issues from an ethical perspective. It has been refreshing to read and I look forward to more entries.

  6. says

    Dr. Gibbs, You seem to make some pretty big leaps here. Gentiles = homosexuality; (and in the comments) Gentiles = alcoholism. These are not equitive terms. The left-hand side, Gentiles, is a category of human beings defined by their exclusion to the covenant of promise. The right-hand side is a slot in which sins go? Can we put kidnapper and rapist in this slot? I’d like a much clearer and more responsible treatment of this topic, please. I like your framework of hospitality.

    • says

      Hi Thom,
      This is a great point that I should have written about. Notice that Gentiles are not only problematic because they are on the outside of the covenant, but because their position on the outside covenant means that they act in unclean ways. When Peter has his vision of mission to the Gentiles, he objects “surely not, for I haven never eaten anything IMPURE or UNCLEAN.” (Acts 10) Excluding the Gentiles wasn’t primarily about race, but about social and ethical practices that they Jews kept and the Gentiles didn’t. So I think it is right to say that our hospitality should be extended to all persons for the reasons above. I don’t think this condones sinful behavior. In fact, I would want us to “add” to the “list” of what is considered sinful and heighten the expectations for holiness. I just don’t think it is wise to preclude partnering in ministry and life with those that don’t adhere to those expectations.

      That said, Paul (I Corinthians 5) also had some direction about partnering with those that were not willing to adhere to the community’s standards. So I can recognize that there are some good grounds for pushing back against what I’ve written. But surely we can see that the points made are equally compelling. So maybe what I’m suggesting is that this is a place where we are to struggle with the questions rather than war against those we oppose.

      • says

        Thanks for the reply, and I had meant to say more about how much I appreciate your use of “hospitality” as a governing virtue of this discussion. I am also glad that you bring up culture issues of dress or habits (class morays and folkways, etc.) We are talking about a continuum between holiness and sin, and certainly accent or economics or sex shouldn’t figure here. What does figure is whether one has truly entered into the new covenant: died to the old self and been reborn after the image of the Son. Repent and confess Jesus, is what Peter’s injunction is to those wishing to be saved from “this corrupt” generation. And I worry that in emphasizing the missionary appeal, the world-encompassing invitation of God, we are downplaying the offense of the gospel. Without the offense of the gospel, where would we be? How are we challenged? And how do words such as discipleship or holiness or repentance to be understood? In short, how does the entire edifice that Paul calls “maturity” stand?


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