You may have picked up on the story of the home-owners who refused to sell their house to a same-sex couple. The story is I guess of personal interest to me because we are in the process of attempting to move home. Fascinatingly, something has come up repeatedly in conversations with estate agents, both when talking about selling our house and when looking at other properties.
“Very often, it does not come down to the highest offer.”
You see there are other factors at work. The person who goes in with the highest bid may prove not to be the most dependable in terms of their ability to follow through on commitment. I’ve heard stories of people bidding high to secure the property and then attempting to negotiate down later. And then there’s just the reality that other emotions are at play. We become attached to our homes and we like to think about who might live in them next. The idea of someone getting a chance on the housing ladder and enjoying the improvements we made here with their family appeals, just as there is the hope that they’ll look after those improvements and build on them (even though you just know that they’ll rip out all the things we took pride in within months).
Similarly, we have feelings about who has been there before. I have wondered what people will make of our house when they walk in and see my Bible on the desk, a tapestry of the 23rd Psalm and shelves of theological books. This might draw some people to the property and put others off.
Therefore, I’m keenly aware of the potential subtext around conversations and decisions about homes. I hope that people considering buying/selling will look favourably on our back story. Yet at the same time, and perhaps this is a little hypocritical, whilst I want our back story to win favour, I also don’t want people to discriminate against me because of it. If I discovered that someone decided not to sell to us because they didn’t like Christians or because they had a bad time at school and so were put off because one of us was a teacher I’d be pretty upset.
So, the story is intriguing and partly so because at one level, it was nobody else’s business who the owners sold to. They didn’t have to give any reason. They could in that sense discriminate. However, they made it the business of others when they gave their reasons and made it clear that they were discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. At that point they were also crossing legal boundaries too.
I’ve waited a little before commenting and it’s worth saying that others have dealt well with the question of discrimination v freedom of religion already. So I wanted to focus more specifically on the decision to send the note and what potentially might be behind such a decision. I’m not seeking to second guess the owners’ actual reasons here but rather to try and think through some of the things that can go through our minds and not just in this specific situation but on any decision to communicate. I’m also reflecting here on some of the discussion I’ve seen around the case.
I think we can divide reasoning into two things here. First of all, there is the defensive/protective element. The owner may be concerned about the impact of their decision on themselves. Would selling the house to homosexuals mean that they were enabling sin and compromising with the world? The reality is that the same sex couple are going to continue in their relationship wherever they live. It doesn’t matter if it is in my old house or someone else’s. I’ve not enabled/facilitated their sin. Nor have I endorsed it, anymore than I might endorse the sin of anyone else who might buy my house. I simply do not know what is going to happen in my home once I move.
And here’s a further point. Whilst we’d never own up to superstition, I think even a little of that can creep in. Yes, I admit it, if I walked into a house to buy it and there was a little god on the idol shelf it would make me feel uncomfortable. However, the reality is that what matters is how we live there once we are there. You know, at some point in the past sin and idolatry were probably practiced on the ground where I now live and at some point in the future it will be too. Whilst I have an emotional connection to this house because I’ve lived here for a significant part of my life, its future use is not going to affect my spiritual safety.
The other side of the question is about proclamation and a concern to speak up for Christ and the Gospel. Would it be a missed opportunity if we didn’t challenge someone about their sin and call them to repentance? The first thing I’d say here is that yes Christians should be speaking up for the Gospel, should be calling the world around us to repentance. This means we cannot pick and choose. We should not be cowed out of identifying sin for what it is. At the same time, we should not be selective about where we put the emphasis.
This brings me to a further point. Just as yelling into the wind some Bible verses may encourage me to feel that I’ve done my part in witnessing whilst having no discernible impact, so too I think there’s a risk here that in the haste to proclaim that we don’t think about whether it is effective. It is possible that the potential buyers will be cut to the heart by the quotes from Scripture. But I wonder? Isn’t it more likely that they will see this not as fearless, loving Gospel conviction and more about someone else just being rude and unpleasant to them? Isn’t it more likely to entrench them in their choices and life?
It’s important to think hard about why we are saying something. This applies in Gospel witness and it applies in church life, in friendship, body ministry and discipleship. Two good questions to ask are:
- What are my motivations for speaking?
- What outcome am I hoping for?