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Welcoming the Political Stranger

Political stranger 8.16.12

Lloyd Schmeidler of Durham, NC, prays during the opening worship at Bread for the World's Lobby Day in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Photo by Rick Reinhard/Bread for the World)

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.

I challenge Christians during this election season to welcome the political stranger, people we often know well (co-workers, family members, neighbors) who seem like strangers to us—alien, confusing, unfathomable. We may wonder, “What kind of person would vote that way? How can they hold that position?” 


As Christians, we have an ancient spiritual practice that could make a real difference in the public square and in our own lives: welcoming the stranger. What if we reframed our political differences in terms of 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’m calling on all Christians 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 _____________ (Obama, Romney, 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. Does Jesus really mean it? Does this include political strangers?

Let’s try it and see what happens. We can all model love of neighbor as individuals and communities. Maybe we’ll even get a glimpse of Jesus.

Amy Oden 8.16.12Amy G. Oden is dean and professor of history of Christianity at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Her “Two Questions” challenge is based on an exercise in her book, "God's Welcome: Hospitality for a Gospel-Hungry World," (Pilgrim Press, 2008). 


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"Everyone has reasons, stories about how they came to the commitments they currently hold."

Amen. Knowing someone's story makes it much easier to love them.

Thank you so much for this blog post. It resonates passionately with me. Bringing people together as humans rather than casting them aside as "other." There seems to be trouble with actually listening to people with a different perspective. How wonderful to have a conversation with someone and understanding how they got to where they are in life rather than yelling all the time (or simply ignoring them).

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