Friday, January 21, 2011

Thoughts on welcome - a work in progress

This week, the UK press has been buzzing with the case of Mr and Mrs Bulls, Bed and Breakfast proprietors who in 2008 refused to allow a gay couple (in a civil partnership) to stay...The couple brought a case on the grounds of discrimination, with the Bulls providing a focus for the groups who believe that Christianity is being marginalised in 21st century Britain, and feelings running high on either side.
The judge in the first hearing found in favour of the couple, Steven and Martyn..but this doesn't mean that the issues are going away quietly. On Sunday I'm doing a live phone interview for local radio, as a former B & B owner with a rather different view.


I ran a B&B in the North Cotswolds for several years while our children were growing up...The main guest accommodation was in a small barn conversion, adjacent to the house – with guests coming over to the farmhouse for breakfast. This meant that the children were free to be loud and messy, while guests could enjoy the peace of the countryside...It also meant that I did not, for the most part, have to make difficult decisions about whether I felt comfortable with particular guests mixing with my children.
Important edit 

An anonymous commenter below alerted me to the possibility of misunderstanding here.
I should clarify here that I had and have no problem AT ALL with my children enjoying the company of gay guests...simply that if I had shared the view of the Bulls, I would still not have been in the same situation, in that my guests were not actually sleeping in my house. Once or twice people stayed with us who were, for example, particularly heavy drinkers: I did not have to worry that small children might encounter a guest unable to make it upstairs to bed, or rushing to the loo after one too many, because the guests slept in the barn.

I appreciate that this puts me in a rather different position from Mr & Mrs Bull – but I have to say that in their situation I would nonetheless have welcomed Martyn & Steven as guests
In part this is because I do not share the Bull's view that gay relationships are contrary to God's will...for me then, as now, a faithful, stable and committed relationship, whether straight or gay, is an expression of love to celebrate...and something that makes God smile.
But even if I held another view, it seems to me that their approach is not workable. Unless you demand a marriage certificate from every couple of prospective guests, it's surely not possible to marital status as a yard-stick to assess suitability.

There are many ways in which, as human beings, we sadden God.
Cruelty, selfishness, greed...
None of those is immediately obvious to the naked eye – so it's not practical to make moral judgements about whom to welcome on those grounds.
Why then, should we be selective about the issues that we treat as deal-breakers. It would be quite easy, on a quick reading of the press, to believe that Christianity is only concerned with issues of sexuality and gender - but that is so far from true
Those who are anxious that Christianity is under threat in this country are keen to present this case as one in which faith and Law are set against one another...My personal view is that welcoming all comers into my home was one way of reflecting the unconditional hospitality of the God, who doesn't demand that we have our lives in perfect order before we come to him. To be less than inclusive seems to me both unjust and unkind. 

As I was thinking about this, a friend posted a photograph of the words that she has over her desk: Micah 6:8
What does the Lord require of you? To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
Or, more simply still, "Love", said Jesus,"is the fulfilling of the Law".

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

The comments on same sex couples in B&B does strike some odd and unexplained feelings in some people.
I am not Gay but have a number of friends who are single and some that are in civil partnerships. I was disappointed to read that you indicated that guests mixing with children could cause you a problem if you knew that they were Gay. The implication here is that Gay's are paedophiles. My experience is that Gay folk love children in the most Christian of ways and to worry about their presence with children is irrational.

Kathryn said...

No.....that wasn't what i intended to imply at all.....
I have many gay friends, all of whom are known and loved by my children
That was just clumsy writing if I gave that impression......I was trying to put myself in the shoes of the couple who thought it MIGHT be harmful in their homes.
Will add an edit to clarify. Thanks for making me notice the possibility for misunderstanding.

Kathryn said...

But, anonymous, it would have been lovely if you had been willing to step out of the shadows...I'm grateful to you for your input - and would like to be able to express that to you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Kathryn. I'm sorry to have seen something that wasn't there.

Songbird said...

K, I think with the edit, your point is clearer. You just have to hope people read all the way through instead of scanning for hot quotes! (Which is one of the hardest things about any controversial issues in the news.)

Song in my Heart said...

So what would be your stance if the children and guests did share the same building and the couple in question were not gay, but had stated their intention to drink very heavily?

What would be your stance if a couple who were obviously there for a weekend fling, cheating on their spouses, came to stay?

It is easy for you to extend a warm welcome to gay people, because, like me, you don't see anything wrong with homosexuality. But how would you welcome those who do things of which you really can't approve, and how would you explain that to your children? How would you react to, say, an uncommitted triad wanting to stay? Or a husband and wife wanting to have their "friend" come for a threesome?

christinelaennec said...

This is a very interesting post, which I found thought-provoking. I also take Song In My Heart's point. I think we need to make a distinction between being inclusive - treating people of all races, sexual orientations, etc. equally - and countenancing certain behaviours. For example, I would be very unhappy with any house guest who was doing drugs in my house, regardless of their race, skin colour, etc.
The problem, it seems to me, is that some people see sexual orientation as a choice of behaviour rather than an unchangeable fact such as race.

Song in my Heart said...

Christine,

Caffeine is a drug, though widely tolerated and completely legal in the UK, so I assume you mean those drugs which are illegal. Would you have problems because of the legal risk to yourself or because of some kind of moral judgement on people who have an addiction problem or who choose to go outside (secular) law for their recreation?

What if the couple who were obviously cheating on their spouses, on eating breakfast with a family, felt bad and decided to end their affair? That wouldn't have happened in a less personal hotel, but denying them a place to stay probably wouldn't put them off cheating, and insisting they have two single rooms would probably just make them want to stay elsewhere.

There are two issues here: one is what to do when secular law and someone's religious convictions are at odds. There is nothing in secular law to prevent consensual threesomes but many religious people (and a fair number of atheists) would think that "behaviour" unedifying or something that children should be protected from. Should the law "protect" the business owner (and their family) or the freedom of the customer to behave as they wish so long as no harm is done to others? I don't count offending someone's religious sensibilities as harm in this case.

The second issue is how, in a Christian context, to welcome people who are doing things we really don't agree with. As far as sexual activity is concerned I'm extremely liberal as long as there is full and enthusiastic consent from all parties, but I think flying is a serious problem and runs counter to biblical values of stewardship (which poses me some big problems too, given that my parents live on another continent). If I ran a B&B would I have the right to deny people a place to stay, or charge them a carbon tax of some kind, if they had flown for some part of their holiday, rather than taking land-based transport? If I am offering a service for sale, when am I allowed to decide who may buy? When can I be conditional? How can I best reflect God's love for the world -- by trying to control people's decisions, or by welcoming them despite what I might perceive as their sins?

Jesus' response to the sinners of his day might offer some clues here, but I don't pretend for a moment that I am capable of following such an inclusive path. Thankfully, I don't run a B&B.

mathew said...

Well said. Very Micah compatible. And you can "listen again" at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/radio/bbc_radio_gloucestershire

and thanks to the imagination of other commentators a whole world of possible tensions, i would never have thought of has been opened up!!!!!!

perhaps readers contemplating a menage a trois, might consider sparing everyone some embarrassment by going self-catering, just a thought

Still Breathing said...

Gosh, what a lot of Christian blogging time and space, including mine, has been taken up with this case.
The way I see it the idea of Christians having the right to tell others how to behave is a throw back to Christendom when it was assumed that everyone was a Christian and should be following Christian morality.
We no longer live in that world and while we may have the right to gently and lovingly speak to a Christain friend who is behaving badly we have no right to impose our views on others unless it is to prevent harm to a third party.
Jesus set us an example, you meet people where they are without condeming them and show them love; the true love of God that brings about His Kingdom.

Andrew said...

Kathryn, I notice that you refer to the Bulls as 'refus[ing] to allow a gay couple (in a civil partnership) to stay ...'. This is not the case, as they were quite happy for Steven and Martyn to stay in separate rooms - the policy that they had for ANYONE who was unmarried and wanting to stay.

Whilst this case has been publicised as a discrimination case, it has a far more important role in that it is a test case for the legislation that seeks to equate civil partnerships with marriage. As such, it is a vital piece of case law and the local judge's finding in favour of Stephen and Martyn needs to be reviewed at a higher level as British law involves precedence and the fine-tuning that occurs through such test cases.

Karin said...

I find it strange and rather sad that Christians claim to believe that Jesus said,

"Do not judge others and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you yourselves will be judged . . ."

and yet a substantial (and vocal) number of them seem to believe that Jesus wants them to go around judging others. How do they work that out?

I am loathe to call myself a Christian as a result, although I try to live by Jesus' teachings.

Suem said...

I would let people stay whether it was a couple cheating on spouses or a menage a trois. How would I know anyhow? Why would it be any of my business what they got up to in the bedroom (unless it was of a nature to disturb other people, which is quite a different matter!)

I am sure many hotels and B and Bs have had cheating couples staying - and I believe in stricter times they used to just sign in as married and no questions asked. How could you possibly conduct a "moral audit" of your guests sexual behaviour anyhow!

The decision to have children staying in separate quarters is a personal and private matter - not a question of discriminating - and possibly sensible in terms of child protection.

Anonymous said...

It really is irrelevant. We use our own judgement and we have the resolve to cope with ridicule. A line in the sand.

Excuse me if I have this wrong, but you seem to be too accommodating. What do you stand for? Exactly? Or is it just wishy, washy 'God loves you all' stuff. Which absolves everybody of responsibility.

If you're a believer, really, not just a body who finds satisfaction from preaching to others, you should be aware that there are parameters. There are rules. There are limits.

I do hope that you are a good person. Truly good. I hope that you have always listened to others. I hope you have not forced your family to follow your path.

If you are, you can rest easy. Why do sense a load of bullshit here?

Martyn - Being Free said...

It is a truely difficult decision to make. I think that is soley why it is so much in public view.

Distinction between having and running a B&B in comparrison to having one is part of your own home has come up in discussion, and i think that is where you should draw the line. Kathryns example I feel is good. She clearly sepereated the influences of others to any immoral influence to her children, allowing her children to be brought up to become who they want to be without outside influences, that they as parents believed were unnecessary. I too would and am the same with my children.

I live a Christian life, and want my children to live this life too, and therefore try to allow them the choice of good and bad in their eyes by the gifts that God provides.

Will I allow things in my house that I feel are a impure way against God. No. But I do understand the arguement of where we draw the line. So Again, I will at the time before my children are adults make this decision and expect it to be respected. But will not be discouraged by the thought that when they are adults that they agree to disagree. It is always down to our free will and choice.

Sadly, in the case of the story of the B&B it is clear that they are running a business from their home. Which will also mean they must respect all of the public. Although I do not run a B&B I do run a business from home. I do not force my faith on my customers, but I do not allow my children to interact. Again, for the influences to the children within my home and also to upkeep a professional seperation.

My thoughts and actions are solely my thoughts and actions. We all stray from Gods path from one way or another, we try to live our own life as much possible, as well as possible.

I personally feel no disagreement towards homosexuality, I have friends and family members who are gay.

I personally think the comment that sums up all of this converstation is set above by Still breathing. A good, well placed comment. (no offence to others)
Kathryn, a lovely thought provoking post.

Anonymous said...

As an ordinand in training it is a joy to realise how your words Kathryn help me to understand how far I've travelled. As Martyn - Being Free comments, this is a lovely thought provoking post, and as Still Breathing observes Christendom (thank God, with all its imperial and colonial implications and issues) no longer exists. We are called - as you so rightly point out - to love and to walk humbly with God. May God continue to bless you in your wonderful ministry of the written word, and also in your Parish.

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