By Amy Oden
Christians talk a lot about hospitality, about welcoming the stranger in our churches and communities. Yet, in our personal lives we continue to label, categorize, and dismiss the “political stranger” — people who express political views different from our own. A political stranger can be someone we know well (co-workers, family members, neighbors), but who seems like a stranger to us — alien, confusing, unfathomable. We may wonder, “What kind of person would vote that way? How can they hold that position?”
As Christians, the ancient spiritual practice of “welcoming the stranger” could make a real difference in the public square and in our own lives. What if we reframed our political differences around hospitality rather than battle, seeing political others not as enemies to be defeated, but as strangers to be welcomed and explored? What if we got curious instead of frustrated? What if, with God’s help, we even saw Jesus in the political stranger?
I encourage you to try the “two questions” experiment. When you encounter someone with different political views, ask these two questions, and then just listen:
1. First, how did you come to your view on _____________ (the president, health care, immigration, fill in the blank)?
2. Second, how is this political issue important in your life right now?
Listen to the answer. Be curious. Don’t debate. Everyone has reasons, stories about how they came to the commitments they currently hold — maybe a daughter in the military, or a brother with AIDS. As we listen, we learn things that help remove people from the boxes we create for them. We hear the personal experiences that have shaped them, the messiness of life that leads to differing viewpoints.
In Matthew 25:35, amid a shocking story of judgment, Jesus says that when we welcome strangers, we welcome him. We can all model love of neighbor as individuals and as communities. Maybe we’ll even get a glimpse of Jesus.
Amy Oden is Professor of History of Christianity at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D. C. Her most recent scholarship has focused on the radical practice of hospitality in early Christianity and its challenge for communities today. Adapted from her book, God’s Welcome: Hospitality for a Gospel-Hungry World.
Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Thinkstock.