Sometimes it’s the littlest things we do that speak the loudest.
Take my colleague, Glenn Stanton. Glenn heads up our family formation studies. He’s the quintessential researcher, citing studies on marriage and family, speaking at universities, and engaging with experts across the political and ideological spectrum.
A few months ago, Glenn invited Jonathan Rauch, a well-known advocate of gay marriage, to speak to the staff at Focus on the Family. This was a good time for people on two different sides of an important issue to meet, share their views, respectfully challenge each other’s assertions, and walk away better informed about the complexities that surround this issue. I’m proud to say that the Focus employees who gathered to listen to Rauch that day treated him with kindness and genuine hospitality.
A few weeks later, Glenn was speaking to a group of students at the University of Colorado at Denver about gender identify and sexuality. After his participation, he strikes up a chat with a representative of a left-leaning woman’s group, mentioning Rauch’s visit to Focus. Glenn remarks he’d love to make a similar visit to a prominent gay advocacy organization, mentioning the name of the group.
Here’s where the big idea of this story takes place: after Glenn mentions he’d like to meet with prominent gay advocates, the woman’s face falls a bit. She tells Glenn he probably would not receive a kind response. “In fact,” she says, “they would probably be very hostile to you. And that makes me sad. Because we should be able to talk to each other respectfully.”
What struck me about this exchange was how this woman perceived hospitality. It mattered to her. Intuitively, she understood why it mattered that we extend warmth and care to others. Hospitality – or the lack of it – says something about us, and how we see the value of others.
That’s probably why the Bible is so clear on the seemingly inconsequential issue of hospitality. In Romans 12, Paul encourages believers to “show hospitality,” reminding believers to extend kindness even to one’s enemies. We read the same in 1 Peter 4. In Hebrews 13, the author includes strangers under the mandate.
We’ve seen the fruits of following these passages at Focus, even beyond Glenn’s experiences. A few years ago, Focus welcomed members of another gay advocacy group that asked to meet with us. We gave them a tour of our campus. We listened to them, and they listened to us. The conversation wasn’t always easy, and neither side budged from its original views on sexuality. Yet, a lot of progress was made that day. The act of extending and receiving hospitality helped each side affirm the other’s dignity and humanity. It reminded us that when we are out making our case in the marketplace of ideas, there are real people on the other side of the issues we speak to, so we need to communicate well.
Experiences like these have always occurred during our long history at Focus, and I pray they always will. After all, who knows how God can use encounters in the future? If an invitation, handshake and conversations shared over a meal can have an eternal impact on the hearts of those we extend hospitality to, how could we not?