This lesson uses an article about Christian stances on immigration to begin to explore how a focus on hospitality can help us imagine our role in the public square. Students explore the images of walls (safety), doors (openness), and tables (hospitality) as a scaffold for thinking about how we deal with others who are different from us.
- Students will discover how hospitality can function as a lens for thinking about civic issues.
- Students will analyze the roles of doors, walls, and tables in hospitality.
- Students will compare an account of Jesus’ death and resurrection with stances toward controversial political issues.
As we think about public issues and our stances toward them, our focus on the substance of debates can easily make invisible to us the underlying assumptions that we are making about how issues should be prioritized and what kind of debates we should be having. Intentionally focusing on our underlying metaphors can help us to become aware of what is driving our reactions and invest in a more considered response. As you prepare this sequence of lessons you may find it helpful to read the Insights material on hospitality and theology and on Christian civic engagement.
This lesson begins to use the language of hospitality and connects it to both faith and politics. It uses an article that argues that when we just focus on higher walls (making ourselves secure and keeping those who are alien to us at a safe distance) or more open doors (minimizing boundaries and thinking of ourselves as maximally inclusive) we forget that the doors and walls of houses exist to support the fellowship around a well-set table that takes place within them. Applied to a society, this suggests that as we debate issues of security and openness to the world, we need to remember that the goal is not exclusion or openness per se. We also need more than tolerance. We need to focus on what promotes justice and well-ordered relationships.
As the lesson unfolds, bear in mind that thinking with the concept of hospitality may be unfamiliar, and that current cultural images of hospitality often focus on providing services to the relatively wealthy (the “hospitality industry”) and sharing nice homes and fine meals to impress our social circles. Scripture warns against using hospitality to boost our own status, and often focuses on welcoming those who are at the margins, repeatedly suggesting that in doing so we may be welcoming angels or God himself.
Bear in mind that this lesson is the first in a sequence. Students may find it initially a challenge to think carefully about hospitality, make connections to immigration, and move from there to wider questions of how we approach political differences. Take the conversation gradually, allowing students to become comfortable with each step and building in moments to review the basic concepts as you move forward.
As you teach this lesson, think about the relationship between content and pedagogy. How might showing a picture of the author of the article while reading it shift our response to the words? Does it help to see that they are the words of an actual human being? Could seeing the author’s face help us to adopt a hospitable posture when reading? How does this lesson make space for students’ own voices, and how can you be hospitable to their ideas when discussing the house metaphor while still keeping the lesson plan on track? How might it change our reading stance or our willingness to engage if we refer to the author as “the author” or “Kaemingk” or “Matthew Kaemingk”? Consider the room layout: what seating plan might help students to feel involved and invested in the discussion?
Teaching the Activity
First phase (15 minutes)
Introduce the class by telling students that they will be thinking today about the connection between hospitality, faith, and public divisions around political issues such as immigration.
Display slide 1, showing images of walls, doors, and tables. Ask students to work in pairs or small groups. Ask them to think of a house and tell them that they are going to think about three parts of a home: walls, doorways, and tables. Ask them to discuss and list ideas about what each of these three things contribute to a home. Suggest that they consider:
- What does it give us or enable?
- What does it keep us safe from or prevent?
- How might a home be different if it were missing?
After allowing 5 minutes for students to discuss and write down ideas, lead a whole class discussion in which you gather all of the ideas from the various groups/pairs. At this point, accept all ideas, even if they head in divergent directions. It may be helpful to collect the ideas on the board.
Once you have a good collection of ideas, ask students which of them are connected in some way to hospitality, or to homes as places where we welcome people. How do doors, walls, and tables play a role in our ability to welcome others? The focus at this point should still be on students’ ideas, not on trying to elicit in advance every idea from the reading that comes next. The goal is not to guess everything in the article ahead of time, but rather to bring students to the article already thinking about the ideas it contains.
Second phase (15 minutes)
Next, show the image on slide 2 and briefly ask students for their first impressions of the person depicted. Then tell them that this is Matthew Kaemingk, who at time of writing is Richard John Mouw Assistant Professor of Faith and Public Life and Director of the Richard John Mouw Institute of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary, and that they are about to read an extract from one of his articles. Make the article The House of Hospitality 1 by Matthew Kaemingk available to students as a handout or digital file.
Give students a few minutes to read through the article silently, then ask them to discuss with a neighbor the connections between the article and the preceding discussion. How are their ideas about walls, doors, and tables echoed in the article? Push students to be specific here, to reference specific phrases in the text and articulate precisely what the text is saying. If they misrepresent the article, for instance by overgeneralizing or overlaying their own opinion, add clarification, stating that the goal at this point is to listen well. When a good summary has been elicited, invite students to consider whether there are ideas in the text that they did not consider in their own discussions, and whether they had ideas that the text’s author did not consider.
Next, discuss the following questions with students, with slide 2 still displayed:
- Why does Matthew Kaemingk think that it might be a problem if the church just focuses on high walls (protection and safety) as it thinks about politics?
- Why does Matthew Kaemingk think that it might be a problem if the church just focuses on more open doors (freedom and inclusion)?
- What does he think might be added by a focus on the table? In what sense are walls and doors meant to serve the table?
- How does sitting at a table with people make us vulnerable? What are the risks or costs that it requires?
- Based on this extract, what do you think are some of the things that Matthew Kaemingk cares about?
Avoid getting into discussion at this point of the political issues alluded to in the article—keep the focus on how Kaemingk is using the image of the house to think with, not on solving the larger policy question. Make sure that students notice how Kaemingk suggests that both openness and safety are serving the purpose of welcome.
Then take a few minutes to reflect with students on the process that they just went through:
- How might Matthew Kaemingk’s house metaphor apply to the way we read his ideas (or anyone else’s)?
- How would we read if we were focused on our own high walls as we listened to his ideas? What if our focus were entirely on open doors?
- How might we interact with him if we were sitting with him around a table?
- Which of these stances were evident in the way we read and discussed the article?
Third phase (20 minutes)
When you are satisfied that students have understood what Kaemingk is saying about the importance of walls, doors, and tables for hospitality and why each is necessary, draw students’ attention to the place where Kaemingk says that “a Christian response to refugees should start with Christ.” Ask students to briefly brainstorm for any biblical stories or texts that he might have had in mind when he said this. After gathering some ideas, make available The House of Hospitality 2. Explain that this is another extract from the same article that helps us see what Kaemingk meant by starting with Christ. Mention that when we read the first extract we only had part of his argument, and by reading more we will become better able to hear what he is saying and why. Ask students to read it silently and write down anything that strikes them as interesting, challenging, or hard to accept.
When students have read the extract, allow some time for general reactions. Once again, avoid getting drawn into policy debate about immigration, but do allow students some initial space to voice the thoughts that they had. Then draw them back to the house metaphor.
- What is there in Christ’s journey through the cross to resurrection that undermines a central focus on high walls that keep us inside and others out?
- What is there that undermines a central focus on open doors that wants no boundaries?
- What is there that points to the importance of the table, of taking the risk of welcoming others into a space of hospitality?
- What do you think is Matthew Kaemingk’s central point about how hospitality relates to politics? Might it relate to issues other than immigration?
- How does saying that politics is about relationships relate to the idea that politics is about public justice? Do we imagine justice as right relationships?
Finish by emphasizing that adopting a guiding image or framework like hospitality does not tell us exactly what policies we should pursue, guarantee that we will achieve justice, or solve our political debates. It simply gives us a stance with which to approach civic matters. Note that the lessons to follow will continue to explore how thinking about hospitality might help us think about our role in the public square.
Ask students for homework to think of another public issue, other than immigration, where we face a clash of different groups and might be tempted to build high walls (push others away) or to say that anything goes without counting the cost of actually building relationships with others who are different.
Ask students to re-read the two article extracts from class and write a paragraph that draws from a specific idea in the article to suggest one way in which starting from a stance of hospitality might challenge or change how we approach the chosen issue.
Character, Hospitality and Citizenship
In this lesson, students explore and compare the qualities that make for a good human, a good citizen, and a person who evidences the fruits of the Spirit spoken of in Galatians 5.