Christian courtesy

The intellectual power-house and thinking woman’s crumpet known as David Allen Green has written an interesting post in today’s New Statesman.

Whilst I do not wish to re-hash the entire case with regards to the case of the B&B owners, I note that Ed West of the Telegraph echoes the point made on this blog last week, namely that the owners were not refusing the couple outright hospitality but were offering a restricted hospitality, in line with the type of hospitality on offer to all unmarried couples.

Mr Green says “The duties which one owes to strangers are central to any developed system of law, as they are to any sensible system of ethics”.

Whilst I wouldn’t dare to contradict Mr Green’s extensive professional knowledge, I would like to point out that while systems of law do incorporate duties, it is equally true that law does not exist to justify behaviour. Indeed the law prescribes both duties and limits to our behaviour. The duty of care to one’s neighbour is not automatically approving.

Mr Green continues “In both legal and ethical contexts, there is long tradition of valuing the hospitality to be given to travellers and guests.”

Again this is correct, however what Mr Green omits is that hospitality cuts both ways. Hospitality is generosity to another, opening one’s doors to another, however this does not mean that the guest is able to behave exactly how they wish. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the responsibility of the recipient of hospitality is as important as the hospitality offered by the host. It is a two-edged sword. If we examine those cultures and traditions whereby hospitality is of vital importance, the encounter pivots upon the graciousness of the guest in the way they accept the hospitality on offer. One would not offend the host by refusing to eat the food provided – refusing to observe traditional customs, insisting on following one’s own habits and certainly one wouldn’t call the police if one felt that the hospitality on offer was different to what one had been accustomed. Hospitality is a mutual exchange.

My mother-in-law has just returned from attending her brother’s funeral in China where the rules of hospitality meant that she had to accept the hospitality that was on offer from her brother’s wife, a Chinese national. This included some funeral customs that were a complete anathema to a practicing Christian,however as a guest of her sister-in-law it was not for her to dictate the terms of the funeral, nor indeed the wake, which consisted of a Chinese karaoke party. She was welcomed as a guest into the house as a family member and thus had to accept the generous hospitality that was on offer, despite the fact  that it was contrary to her preferences.

Mr Green concludes: “So it is saddening that some followers of the very religion which gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan appear now to be completely unaware of this.”

With the greatest of respect, the parable of the Good Samaritan is not purely concerned with hospitality, but also with that greatest of Christian virtues, namely Caritas –  love for one’s neighbour, a love that enables one to put one’s fellow-man above one’s self. That does not simply mean their neighbour’s own perception of their desires first. As I have discussed in previous posts, love often entails an element of discipline.

This is where the clash of ideologies takes place. The liberal does not wish to have their physical freedoms restricted or dictated by another.

Furthermore, I do believe that it IS possible for so-called “mainstream Christians” to object to Mr Green’s statement which attempts to explain the principles of their  Christian faith to them, assuming that they have misunderstood it – something of a slightly patronising attitude. Mr Green falls into that classic trap of defining his version of what he believes Christianity to be all about, and assuming that those who disagree with this definition are by very nature extremist or ill-educated.

The commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is often, understandably, thought to be the cornerstone of Christianity. To some extent it is, but as discussed above, love is not to be confused with giving free rein or licence. It also needs to be understood in the context of the commandment immediately preceding it, namely “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 30-32)

The second commandment cannot be taken in isolation to mean simply be nice to other people, which is how it is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. One has to be able to love God with all one’s heart and soul in order to be able to contextualize how to love one’s neighbour. Loving God includes following his commands on how we should live. To love our neighbour as ourselves is to desire for them the good that we desire for ourselves which is to follow God and to follow his commandments. God’s commandments are not those of a dictatorial, authoritarian God as the likes of Stephen Fry might have one believe. God is love and therefore his commandments are given out of love, because he desires the best for us. The things that are prohibited are ultimately the things that cause self-destruction.

This is not quite the same as be nice to each other folks version of Christianity that many liberals and perhaps poorly catechised Christians subscribe to, not being able to deal with the idea of a God who might prohibit our freedoms and our basest desires. People often perceive that their actions or desires do no harm to others and thus cannot accept the idea of a God who will not condone a deed, which as far as they are concerned, does absolutely no physical or discernable harm to anyone else.

The idea that the Christian B&B owners might have been acting out of love is unfathomable to many. As I mentioned here, the idea that a homosexual act is a sin, i.e. something that separates us from God, seems to many unpleasant. It smacks of dislike and hatred, when the reverse is true. The merest mention of sin, sends many reaching for their copy of the Guardian to fan down their waves of indignation, but in fact sin is just that – sin. An American Jesuit priest friend of mine involved in enticing me back to the fold many years ago, once recounted a story about a time he committed a mortal sin. Utterly repentant on his knees in the confessional the next day, eaten up by remorse, his kindly superior said to him “Hey son, it’s sin, that’s all it is”. Sin is obviously not desirable in that it separates us from God, but ultimately God is love and mercy: He always forgives.

Without wishing to go too far  into the realms of basic apologetics there are 2 types of sin, mortal and venial. Venial sin is accidental, like when the internet troll pushes you too far and you swear at her in the heat of the moment. It is certainly not honouring God, but neither is it pre-meditated. Mortal sin is when you deliberately and with full knowledge of what you are doing, commit serious sin. That’s it. Sexual sin is no worse than any other type, whether it be mortal or venial.

This seems to me to be the root of the issue. To a self-professed liberal like David Allen Green, the idea of saying that something is bad, seems unkind, unpleasant and not in kilter with his definition of Christianity. He is a highly principled, ferociously intelligent man of integrity and scruples who wishes to fight for the underdog. To deny a couple their double room seems deeply unkind, rooted in contempt and thus un-Christian. The reverse is true. It was an act of pure Christian love.

15 thoughts on “Christian courtesy

  1. I accept the point you are trying to make, however, the
    comparison between hospitality offered by the spouse at the funeral
    of their loved one, to holiday hospitality being run as a profit
    making business leaves me feeling more than a little uncomfortable.
    Most people, I believe would immediately accept a funeral is goign
    to be run in line with the beliefs and customs of the family, it’s
    not really the same as paying for a hospitality service…

    1. David Allen Green’s article does, however discuss hospitality as a general principle, particularly in the context of Christianity as opposed to a mere business transaction. Besides which hotels and restaurants do reserve the right to remove guests for unacceptable behaviour. Being in receipt of business hospitality such as being in business or first class on an aeroplane for example, carries with it expectations of behaviour. Passengers are frequently removed to the economy cabin for violations of acceptable conduct.

      1. Of course, Blondepidge …but the comparison does still not
        sit well with me. & obviously there are situations such as
        on a plane where passengers are downgraded or asked to leave for
        ‘unacceptable’ behaviours – but I’ve only seen it happen where such
        behaviour puts other staff or guests at risk; or where the behavour
        directly impinges on others enjoyment of the
        flight/holiday/experience, not for private behaviour where there is
        no physical or emotional harm done directly to others (&
        not just for mere ‘offence’, say that another might have sworn
        behind closed doors), for example. Anyhow, we clearly have
        different viewpoints on this, from the discussion here and
        elsewhere…so for me, I’m leaving it there

      2. My post was however a response to an article which was dealing with general principles of hospitality, both in a legal, ethical and specifically Christian, context as alluded to by Mr Green, who, incidentally, rather enjoyed reading my thoughts. Cannot begin to imagine why 😉

      3. Am I reading the right article, then – the one titled
        ‘Christians and innkeeper s – Why hotels should not discriminate’ I
        personally read this as a discussion on the transactional nature of
        hospitality as a public service, but clearly only my
        interpretation

  2. Very nice proportionate and reasonable response to David
    Allen Green’s article – I commend you! If I could have written the
    same myself, I would have. Well done @blondepidge!

  3. “The things that are prohibited are ultimately the things
    that cause self-destruction.” That mixed-fibre clothing is a
    one-way ticket to hell.

  4. Thw whole crux of this argument is that Christianity says
    that homosexuality is a sin. Nothing Jesus said or did mentions
    homosexuality. Neither the 10 commandments nor the 7 deadly sins
    specifies homosexuality. Only Paul could be said as preaching
    against homosexuality, but only if you choose to interpret it that
    way.I really cannot see why homosexuality is a sin or unnatural.
    Yes, it’s a relationship which naturally doesn’t produce children,
    but that’s all. It is a natural state of being. So many people have
    lived lives in misery denying their homosexuality because their
    church tells them it’s wrong. What IS said very clearly is that
    followers of Jesus must love their neighbours, treat others as they
    would want to be treated, turn the other cheek. It’s a message of
    tolerance, kindness, patience and genuine love of everyone for who
    they are. Sexual preference doesn’t come into it. As Martin Luther
    King said people should be judged for the “content of their
    character” and nothing else. A B&B is not hospitality. It’s
    a business, and when you run a business, you must accept that it
    should be inclusive. Someone is paying you to rent a room in your B
    & B. What they then do in that room, as long as it causes
    no disturbance, does any damage or is illegal is none of your
    business. If your beliefs don’t allow for inclusivity, then you
    should not run a business which demands it.

    1. Thank you for your comment and I probably will pick up on the first half in a separate post. I’m slightly concerned about this blog turning into a perceived discourse or diatribe solely concerning homosexuality, however, so I may leave it a few weeks.

      With the greatest of respect I think you missed the point in my post, which stated that Jesus’ commands must be taken together, “love thy God” provides the interpretative key to “love thy neighbour”.

      Jesus’ silence on homosexuality is not a tacit approval, however as I said I will discuss this separately. Martin Luther King, whilst wise and inspirational does not form the cornerstone of my religious belief. Besides when the Lord judges one character, he will undoubtedly take into account whether or not that character, was born out of love of God.

  5. Normally I find myself sympathetic to David Allen Green’s
    views but in this case I think he is approaching the subject from
    the wrong angle. As the writer here makes very clear indeed there
    is no point in trying to use the tenets of a “revealed” religion to
    argue against an action taken in its name. The very fact that a
    member of such a belief system relies on faith in events and
    entities for which there is no objective evidence means that s/he
    can always justify their actions within their own frame of
    reference. A much better approach would be to invoke the principle
    of separation of church and state or the personal and the public.
    The state has no business trying to regulate what people believe.
    If people choose to believe in a deity, that’s rightly their own
    business. However this case isn’t about belief, it’s about actions
    and actions may properly be regulated by the state. Parliament has
    made laws that prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual
    orientation. The state is quite entitled, in fact obliged, to
    enforce those laws. The B&B owners are entitled to believe
    what they wish about the propriety of same sex couples sharing
    accommodation but as long as they are running a business that comes
    within the ambit of the law they are not entitled to act on that
    belief. I think it is sad that Christian belief seems in this case
    to be so intolerant and unfeeling, especially if Christians really
    do believe that this is a was of pure Christian love. But it’s
    actually irrelevant to the case. A B&B taking paying guests
    is a business. If it wants to remain a business it has to obey the
    law. If the owners are unable to accept that requirement because of
    their belief system then sadly they need to find another line of
    work.

  6. An interesting article and viewpoint. However, all sorts of cruelty have been justified over the years as acts of Christian love by similar logic, from burning at the stake to beating one’s children and wife, and to picketing funerals waving signs saying ‘god hates fags’. I don’t know if that was the justification however for the recently revealed actions of the Mr. Green of Christian Voice fame, as alleged by his ex- wife, complaining of his violence. It’s interesting that What God Wants generally seems to coincide with the prejudices and political beliefs of the particular believer.

    On the question of non double accommodation being acceptable to the Bulls, the Bulls said there was none available, and the judge said their evidence was ‘confused’ on whether they would have allowed the gay couple to stay in a twin room if one had been available. However he went with the Court documents drawn up for them by the Chrisian Legal Centre which said they would have done.

    1. I don’t quite see what the relevance of Stephen Green has in this instance, but it is important to note that the allegations to which you refer are entirely one-sided and according to an interview conducted by the Daily Mail. Although I do not condone the stance taken by Mr Green, we are in the UK, innocent until proven guilty.

      I do not believe the Bulls’ actions to be deliberate cruelty, the majority of Christian commentators being in accordance with this viewpoint.

      1. My point is not that acts of DELIBERATE cruelty have been justified by such reasoning, though they undoubtedly have where the justification was not sincere. The point I am making is that the subjective and genuine belief that one is acting out of Christian love for the good of the soul of one’s victim has been the cause of many acts of what are, when viewed objectively, clear acts of cruelty, such as burning at the stake, torture, and beating wives and children. There is even now an Evangelist writer, who founded a worldwide organisation, who advocates in his books the beating of children like dogs. From his perspective this violent discipline is genuinely an act of Christian love. Perhaps you agree with him, I’m not sure, but I’ve tended to assume you are a kind and gentle person.

        As for the Bulls, from their point of view it was no doubt genuinely an act of Christian love to show their disapproval of the couple’s relationship and discipline them, as you may say, by turning them away without alternative accommodation and humiliating them in front of other guests,- taking Leviticus as their stand, rather than Ezekial 16:49 (if I remember correctly). But viewed objectively, it was an act of cruelty, not as extreme as, but with the same sort of rationale as those that burned people at the stake in the genuine belief that this would purify them and save their souls from eternal damnation.

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