“Yeah, that’s the gay house,” Savannah said while we walked past the home with pride flags in every window, a rainbow wreath on the front door and a “love is love” sign in the front yard. “There’s a lesbian couple that lives there, and they’re just so nice. The house looks like that because they want everyone to know it is a safe place. So, anyone who needs someone to talk to—people worried about being gay or dealing with depression or whatever—can go and get help. They’ve helped a lot of kids around here.” She went on: “Some people get a little annoyed with it, but I think it’s kind of cool. I mean, everyone needs someone to talk to.”
These comments came from my friend while she gave me a tour of her hometown and pointed out the noteworthy sights. The rainbow-colored house stood out on the main street next to more traditional pale yellow or light blue Victorian-style homes. It struck me that the women of the rainbow house broadcast their mission of hospitality so effectively that I, a weekend visitor, heard about it as one of the town highlights (and now you know about it too). And it sounds like their open invitation to come and share hardships has real substance to it; their neighborliness has an impact that people talk about. Savannah’s comments about the “gay house” got me thinking about what would happen if there were Christian homes in every town that earned a similar reputation for genuine care, credible support and radical hospitality.
Historically, Christians have been famous for their hospitality. They know that every person has inherent and eternal value as a creature made in the Image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Because human beings are beloved by their Creator, radical love toward each other makes sense. It naturally follows that we should “show hospitality to strangers” (Rom. 12:13). Fourth-century Christians lived out hospitality in a way that made Emperor Flavius Claudius Iulianus take notice: “Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated [Christians] Galileans devote themselves to works of charity…their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them….” To this day, there are Christians who practice this kind of exceptional generosity, but many do not. Meanwhile, another group—the lesbian community—has earned recognition for their hospitality.
In chapter five of her book The Gospel Comes with a Housekey, Rosaria Butterfield shares some of what she learned about hospitality while living with her then-partner in New York. Rosaria and her partner set out to be the best neighbors possible, even showing kindness to the “Christians” who met them with disdain. It was standard practice in their community to duplicate house keys and give them to loved ones as a way of saying, “you have access anytime. The door is not meant to hurt you or keep you away” (94). Most importantly, the lesbian community taught her to see home as a hospital and incubator: a place to “help each other heal” and “help ideas take root” (94). Years later, Rosaria heard the gospel from Christians who used their home in a similar way: as a place to help her heal and learn and fellowship.
It is worth asking why the lesbian community is so strong and what its strength can teach Christians about hospitality. It seems to me like many people in the LGBTQ community understand the costliness of their lifestyle: many have lost friends, severed ties with family and faced hostility from strangers. It makes sense why they would then build tight-knit communities marked by the radical hospitality that Butterfield describes. I believe that their community is so strong because they know what many American Christians have forgotten about themselves: that they live as outsiders and they need each other. Christians build stronger communities and reach more people with the good news when they present the gospel with a house key.
The house key symbolizes access to the genuine Christian community, being welcomed into the family of Christ. Relationship with Christ means death of the old self for every believer, but there are some who feel a harsher break with the past life because of their circumstances. Claiming Christ can mean saying goodbye to important people, sacrificing some cherished aspect of personal identity, breaking with long-run habits or even facing persecution. One of the many things gained, however, is the church—a group that lives this new life together. When the gospel is presented with a house key, an invitation to step into real family life, it communicates the heart of the Father and meets a practical need. Christians should be handing out house keys, metaphorically or literally. And this is where we can learn from our lesbian neighbors.
A hospitable Christian home is a place where the gospel is shown and shared. When guests enter, they learn about Christ’s costly love in a way that is sensitive to their struggles and true to the gospel. Before engaging with guests, the Christian asks, “Have I made myself safe to share the real hardships of [their] day-to-day living, or am I still burdened by the hidden privileges of Christian acceptability that I can’t even see the daggers in my hands?” (54). It would be a place where outsiders were invited in, brought into table fellowship, listened to, prayed over and cared for.