Welcoming the Political Stranger

by Beth A Richardson on January 18, 2013 · 22 comments

shaking hands

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.

Jan January 24, 2013 at 9:12 am

This looks like a real help at a time and in a place where it can be so hard to relate to others whose expressed views can seem incomprehensible. What Ms. Oden suggests can be a way to take a preliminary grasp on a communication problem, rather than to simply throw up one’s hands about it.

Beth Richardson January 28, 2013 at 8:41 am

Thanks, Jan. So glad you find it helpful! We did, too.

Rebecca January 27, 2013 at 9:27 am

How grateful I am for this lesson from Amy Ogden; it is so timely for wherein I struggle. I especially appreciate the practical application of the “two questions” she suggests. It helps me have heart for those with a story different than mine. It reminds me to listen to even those I find so bullishly arrogant.

So, thank you Amy for this insight and Beth, thank you for this wonderful website. God bless you both.

Beth Richardson January 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

Thanks, Rebecca. So glad you found us.


Ken May 20, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Each sector in our personal community and family life journey has its “political” element that we need to acknowledge and understand. Sort of a part in our “growing up” as we seek a personal understanding of “truths” to satisfy our point on life’s journey.
There seems to be no limit to the age or nationality of the “strangers we welcome” where we can discover some gem of truth.

Beth Richardson May 21, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Thank you, Ken. Blessings!

Charlotte January 16, 2017 at 7:41 am

What good to continually feel frustrated? Nothing gained. But by asking and then actually listening, we can gain understanding, perhaps compassion, and definitely a release from the churning. The elephant in the room addressed. And Hospitality is the perfect term, because we don’t invite people in, then leap upon them with criticism and anger. We ask questions and listen. Well done.

Roma January 17, 2017 at 8:31 am

I needed this today. Thanks for the gentle reminder of hospitality to all types of strangers.

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