The 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 He had elsewhere claimed that this radical act of grace could be withdrawn by God if they were to approach the throne of grace with pride (Rom. 11:17-21).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.