The Christian Mind as a Hospitable Mind

Gordon Smith Ambrose University President
The Christian Mind: In this blog series, President Gordon T. Smith explores the topic of the Christian Mind - Thinking Christianly. Dr. Smith offers insights and personal reflections on what vital place of the mind to the Christian faith calls us to a thoughtful and intentionally Christian approach to life and work. This series is published bi-monthly, on the 1st and 15th.

The Christian Mind as a Hospitable Mind

We live and work in deeply polarized social, political and religious communities and institutions. Christians have always, of course, had to navigate substantive differences. We see witness to those towards the end of the book of Romans where the Apostle Paul is speaking to what were clearly deep differences of opinion that were threatening to divide the church in Rome. And throughout her history, the church has been marked by century after century where Christians were deeply divided around matters of faith, piety and morality. So I am not about to suggest that we are more polarized now than at any time in our history; and yet, there is no avoiding that the level of polarization today is the worse that many of us have seen – at least in our lifetimes. 

The deep polarization within our society – notably in the political realm – is reflected in the church. This has been very ably analyzed by Timothy Dalrymple, in his Christianity Today essay [April 16, 2021], entitled The Splintering of the Evangelical Soul. He writes:   

New fractures are forming within the American evangelical movement, fractures that do not run along the usual regional, denominational, ethnic, or political lines. Couples, families, friends, and congregations once united in their commitment to Christ are now dividing over seemingly irreconcilable views of the world. In fact, they are not merely dividing but becoming incomprehensible to one another. 

Part of what makes this an insightful piece is that he gives attention to how opinions and convictions are formed and how it perhaps has come to be that even those within relatively close communities have come to see the world from dramatically different perspectives. But it is something else that I suggest merits attention, and it is this: if there is any hope for our world and for the church, we need to lean into the ancient spiritual practice of hospitality – a hospitality that will be offered to the other, including when the other differs with us on fundamental matters. 

Hospitality is not the answer, necessarily, to what ails us. But, what we can affirm is that we will not find a way forward without the fundamental capacity to offer hospitality – to be hospitable to one another, particularly with those with whom we differ. That is, the issues are so complex and seeming intractable, that it would be much to facile to simply say that with some good will – that is, some basic or minimal hospitality – we can overcome these differences. Not quite. And yet, what we can speak to is this – as an essential capacity for Christians and for faculty, staff and students at a Christian university: the Christian mind at its best is a hospitable mind. It is marked by the ability to listen twice as much as we speak, by the capacity to be present to those who differ with us and, actually, whose views we might find to be not only troubling but also offensive and, finally, that we keep attentive to how engagement with another opens up new avenues for insight, learning and growth in wisdom. 

That is, can we be women and men of conviction – resolved to know and live by the truth – and be hospitable? Can we agree that we do not need to choose between truth and hospitality? We can hold and need to hold to what which has emerged for us as something about which we are convinced; our minds have come to clarity about this or that or the other. But, we can also be hospitable to the other even when we are convinced that are quite mistaken in their views or perspectives – even if we think their views will have a detrimental effect? That is, can I be hospitable to you even if I think your political views might lead to an election of a government that will implement legislation that is problematic? I am suggesting that there might be no other way. 

Can we insist on civility and even generosity towards the other – contra, for example, the way that Liz Cheney was treated when she greeted President Biden when he addressed the joint houses of the US congress? She was severely criticized for this, but it was basic civility: they are colleagues. In the Canadian system the prime minister and the leader of the opposition differ and differ markedly, but they can and must sustain a fundamental good will towards the other. 

Can we go further and recognize that the other has the right to speak and thus the right to be heard – that is, that in the civic square and in the classroom of a Christian university – and thus that we will be able to engage in opinions and perspectives of those with whom we differ? We will not categorically dismiss them. 

And finally, and without doubt the biggest step, can we be women and men of conviction and a commitment to truth but still be able to learn from those with whom we differ? 

Paul in Romans 15:7 summarizes the whole debate in Rome in a single stroke: he does not resolve the differences of opinion but instead urges his readers to ‘welcome one another as the Lord has welcomed you.’ He was not asking them to change their minds; but he was insisting that the posture of hospitality needed to could mark their shared life.