Hospitality, not Homosexuality

First published at on February 6, 2009

I’ve written in this column of my friendship with Glenn Stanton [], a Focus on the Family employee whom I regularly debate on same-sex marriage.

There are different kinds of friendship, of course, not to mention different levels and layers. We’re not “best buds,” but we’re not merely work acquaintances either. Despite our deep disagreements—which we express publicly and vigorously—we genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

And so I looked forward to Glenn’s recent Michigan visit to debate me at Saginaw Valley State University. Glenn would fly into Detroit on a Monday night and depart on Wednesday morning; on Tuesday we would drive the 100 miles to Saginaw together.

Naturally, I invited him to stay with my partner and me. Mark and I have two guest rooms, each with a private bath; we often entertain houseguests.

“You invited WHO to your house?” another friend asked incredulously. “The religious-right guy? I can’t believe you’d welcome such a person in your home.”

But I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. Even if Glenn were not a friend—even if he were just another debate opponent with whom I was traveling—I would have extended the invitation. I come from a family where hospitality is second nature. And while I am not a Christian, I find Jesus’ lessons on hospitality to be some of the most moving parts of the Gospels.

So I extended the invitation, and Glenn accepted immediately. We talked about checking out the Henry Ford museum and other Detroit landmarks. I asked him, as I ask all guests, whether there was anything special he’d like us to have on hand for breakfast.

Then, on the day of his planned arrival, I got the phone call.

Glenn explained that he felt unable to stay with us, and so he had booked a hotel instead. On the advice of his colleagues he decided that staying at our home wouldn’t be “prudent.” It might suggest the endorsement of our relationship, and thus send the wrong message to Focus constituents.

This struck me as nonsense, and I told him so. Glenn has expressed his moral disapproval of homosexuality in his writing, in our public debates, and in our private conversations. Staying under our roof could hardly eclipse all of that. His disapproval is beyond dispute.

For example, in his Christianity Today article [] about our friendship, he affirmed his “opposition to all sexual relationships that are not between a husband and wife,” and argued that whatever virtues might exist in a gay relationship (honesty, kindness, dedication), they did not redeem homosexuality itself.

But in the same article, he also described us as “dear friends.” He elaborated:

“John and I constantly hear disbelief at how we can be so opposed on such a life-shaping issue yet remain friends…John has hosted me at his own campus and had me to his beautiful home.”

Indeed I did. That visit was for a meal. This one would be for a place to sleep. I couldn’t see the substantive difference.

Of course, I can speculate. A meal takes place in the dining room, whereas sleeping takes place in bedrooms, where you-know-what occurs. Glenn would be just yards away—albeit past thick plaster walls and behind closed doors—from whatever it is that Mark and I do in bed.

FYI, here’s a play-by-play account of what Mark and I do in bed, at 1 a.m., after a two-hour post-debate drive: (1) I climb in trying not to wake him. (2) He grunts and rolls over. (3) We sleep.

I’m not naïve about the culture at Focus on the Family, but I was still angered and hurt by that phone call.

That’s partly because of my family’s culture of hospitality. Glenn’s decision to stay at a hotel was like telling Grandma that you’d rather go to a restaurant than eat her food. Italian-Americans (like many other cultures) take such things seriously.

It’s partly because I’ve defended both Glenn and Focus against charges of hypocrisy and have taken a lot of flak in the process. “Sure, John, they claim to be your friend. But just wait…”

It’s partly because of the gross incongruence of calling someone a “dear friend” but not being able to stay in his home.

And it’s partly because it underscores the ugly myths that I fight against every day, even in my debates with Glenn.

The opposition claims that they’re interested in truth. But the reality of our lives—the fact that we brew our coffee and toast our English muffins just like everyone else—seems too much for them to handle.