I have traveled the United States rather extensively this summer. Learning, loving, and listening in fellowship with congregations and communities that span the theological spectrum from ultra- conservative to ultra- liberal has been both riveting and eye opening. In my experience, the more thriving and life affirming gatherings have been those hosted by groups committed to radical hospitality. Our nation is in a spiritual crisis, when it is okay for the President to call a Black woman who is a former employee a dog, which is clearly a polite way of saying something much more culturally offensive, we have lost all sense of moral grounding. The religious spaces with the most exclusionary theology and practices seem to struggle with the ability to speak to the crisis we find ourselves living through. Those who feature and take seriously the concept of Imago Dei understand the deep longing of people in this hour for connection with the Divine and belonging to community. Imago Dei is the theological concept (based on Genesis 1:26-34) that God made the first people in a way that very much resembles God’s own self. The doctrine purports that humanity is made in God’s image and, therefore, the individual is of sacred worth (Lightsey 2015). Further, the doctrine of Imago Dei postulates that humanity in its authenticity is united with God in character and nature—even if brokenness and sin, in some theologies, has transgressed this original nature (Ruether 1993). In light of this, our task—as people made in the image and likeness of God—is to overcome the temptation not to love and appreciate all those whom God has called good (Lightsey 2015).
Radical hospitality in religious spaces makes identity legible; no matter what else you might be, you are God’s creation and therefore you are of sacred worth. Mistreatment based on any social identifier such as race, poverty, gender, sexuality, or being unhoused is overturned in environments of hospitality that reflect the welcoming voice of the cosmic Christ who invites whosoever will to come (Rev 22:17, Rom. 10:13). I found that in those spaces dedicated to radical hospitality people were healed and made whole because they were invited into belonging. The key to building true belonging practices is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection (Brown 2017). I have been reminded in my travels that the more exclusive we are the more we are tempted to create walls. These walls are erected around our churches, temples, and other houses of worship and ultimately there are those calling for walls to be erected around our nation, because we are no longer rooted in love and compassion and therefore committed to our bunkers where it is safe to dehumanize others based solely on their otherness.
My own faith tradition of Pentecostalism was noteworthy in its inception for its egalitarian ethos of worship, with race and gender not determining leadership roles, but later collapsed and fragmented, due in large part to such race and gender equality presenting too radical a departure from prevailing social norms (Lewin 2018). Now it is often the women of Pentecostalism that hold the strangest criticism of progressive social policies, when once they themselves were liberated by the radical hospitality of the Church. It is fascinating to me to see those who were once oppressed use their liberation as a tool of oppression. I often wonder what would happen in the world if those Pentecostal people I am so familiar with, those women, those poor, those Black, those marginalized people would with the fiery power of the Holy Spirit use their liberation to liberate other groups on the margins of society? To be saved from oppressive systems does not mean to be saved from oppression. Often disenfranchised and marginalized people still suffer from internalized oppression. It is internalized oppression when any group thinks the same way about themselves as the oppressor. This leads to oppression sickness that causes the oppressed to mimic the oppression of the oppressor. The effort to mimic dominant culture has greatly infected the Black Church tradition with classism, sexism, privilege, dozens of phobias, and more. Unfortunately, inferior-feeling groups often seek to make someone else more inferior (Flunder 2005).
This week as you enter into your community of faith ask yourself if it is a place of radical hospitality? Who is the stranger here? Who have we made an outsider? Have we justified being unloving and therefore betrayed the Gospel because someone is other? Where are we living into the idea that everyone is made in the image of God and how are we failing to acknowledge the sacred worth of even one individual? For those who really be seeking the healing and wholeness of our broken world radical hospitality is not an option (Luke 14:12-14).
Please feel free to comment below.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Brown, Brene. 2017. Braving the Wilderness. New York: Random House.
Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.
Lewin, Ellen. 2018. Filled with The Spirit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lightsey, Pamela R. 2015. Our Lives Matter. Eugene, Or: Pickwick Publications.
Ruether, Rosemary. 1993. Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press.