Why do so many Christians resist welcoming the Syrian refugees? I am baffled by this. Embracing the stranger is an essential Christian teaching. You might say that hospitality is in the Christian DNA. (A few supporting texts: here and here and here.)
I am a Protestant who has learned to appreciate her sisters and brothers who practice the contemplative Catholic traditions. I have often experienced Benedictine hospitality. According to the Rule of St. Benedict, all guests are to be received like Christ.
Hospitality is not a naive “feel-good” enterprise. Hospitality demands something of us. To begin, we must manage our fear of the stranger. As someone who has been harmed by strangers in my past, I have had to work at developing a hospitable heart.
Besides my belief system, here’s something that has helped me: becoming an Air Bnb host. Hosting people in my home has changed my heart attitude toward strangers. That’s not intended to be a romantic statement. There’s no bliss involved. No soundtrack begins to play when I open the door. I don’t embrace each person who crosses my threshold. I haven’t made bosom buddies with every guest.
But this is what has happened: I have gotten to intimately know — we’re talking toothpaste-splatter intimacy — many people I would not otherwise have even met. Every age and circumstance and nationality and religion. Senior citizen to high schooler to young professional. Newly-engaged to newly-widowed to newly-divorced. Buddhist to Christian to Practitioner of Past-Life-Regression. We’ve noticed a preponderance of folks from Asia, but also Canadian, Aussie, European and quite a few from the southern states of America.
No matter who they are, each person has appreciated a safe, comfortable place to sleep. No one has turned down the invitation to join us in a family meal if they were hungry when we were sitting down to supper.
What’s more, when we host long-termers — as we do frequently — at some point I get to sit at the kitchen table and listen to their story. Because everyone has a story.
As my social media fills with people and politicians expressing fear and distrust of the Syrian refugees — even people and politicians who claim to be Christian — I feel deeply sad. What poverty! How can people resist embracing the stranger? Why do they resist? Don’t they want to hear the stories? Don’t they want to open the door and think: Is that you, Jesus?