When is the last time you had a non-Christian over for dinner? Although the bible repeatedly tells us to show hospitality to the stranger, we rarely apply that to those outside the household of faith. However, if you think of hospitality as a way to develop friendships with unbelievers and live out your Christianity authentically before them, then it can certainly open the door for evangelism. Consider Rosaria Butterfield’s story. She was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University, working on Queer Theory. She was a feminist, pro-choice, lesbian activist who labored assiduously to lift up the disempowered in a range of social justice causes. She loved her life and regarded bible-believing Christianity as one of the major problems with the world. Here is how she felt in her own words:
I believed at this time that God was dead and that if he ever was alive, the fact of poverty, violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, and war was proof he didn’t care about his creation. I believed that religion was, as Marx wrote, the opiate of the masses, an imperialist social construction made to soothe the existential angst of the intellectually impaired.*
This is just the sort of person many of us would dread having a conversation with over dinner! Yet, a local pastor invited her over for dinner and made such an impression on her through genuine neighborly hospitality that a friendship began that over time led to her turning her whole life over to Christ. Here is how she recollects that first dinner:
Ken and Floy did something at the meal that has a long Christian history but has been functionally lost in too many Christian homes. Ken and Floy invited the stranger in–not to scapegoat me, but to listen and to learn and to dialogue. Ken and Floy have a vulnerable and transparent faith. We didn’t debate worldview; we talked about our personal truth and about what ‘made us tick.’ Ken and Floy didn’t identify with me. They listened to me and identified with Christ. They were willing to walk the long journey to me in Christian compassion. During our meal, they did not share the gospel with me. After our meal, they did not invite me to church. Because of these glaring omissions to the Christian script as I had come to know it, when the evening ended and Pastor Ken said he wanted to stay in touch, I knew that it was truly safe to accept his open hand.**
Over time, God worked on her heart though reading the bible and conversations with Ken and Floy. Eventually she did come to church and changed her whole life. Today she’s married to a pastor and she homeschools two of her four children in North Carolina where she attends a Presbyterian church. How did she get from there to here? It all started with a Christian who wasn’t afraid to practice gracious hospitality. Read Rosaria’s entire story in her book, The Secret Thought of an Unlikely Convert or watch this YouTube video.
*Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publishers, 2012).