When I first started attending a Christian church, as a young adult, I was taken back with how much ‘hospitality’ talk was bandied about. It became very clear to me that Christian communities placed a high value on the notion of hospitality. It appeared like a saintly virtue: one of those good practices that happened all over the world and in all cultures, but of which, Christians had taken on as their own. It took a while for me to realize that hospitality was seen as the imitation of Christ, a pragmatic outworking of Christian discipleship. Of course, I later became aware that a whole system of thinking ‘stranger’ and ‘neighbor’ was driving the push for hospitality. As Arthur Sutherland describes:
‘In the light of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return, Christian hospitality is the intentional, responsible, and caring act or welcoming or visiting, in either public or private places, those who are strangers, enemies, or distressed, without regard for reciprocation’.
I was always interested in the way descriptions such as this were seen to get at the very heart of God (which Sutherlands argues), and how my status as the ‘stranger’ and the ‘distressed’ allowed those well intentioned Christians I knew to become as ‘gods’. I am not employing cynicism as a sport here – as a newcomer to the church – and a young women with ‘all’ the social problems – I literally found myself paraded in front of congregations as the ‘stranger’ in their midst. With every step I made closer to the norms of Christian life I was celebrated – given access to that territory only Christians inside the house may possess. I was literally told: ‘now you are now one of us’. It was then that I began to suspect that ‘hospitality’ was more indebted to notions of ownership and possession than the Jesus I read in the gospel.
This is certainly present in the ‘homes’ of the faithful in contemporary family life. The church has aggressively pursued an idolatrous infatuation with marriage, romance, and homemaking; the sheer toxicity of ‘nuclear family’ has seen the hospitality of Christians more easily positioned within the Kingdom of Capital. That we think it is hospitable to invite people behind our walls is symptomatic to the problem, and consequently this current hospitality seeks to possess the stranger. Of course this does not preclude the possibility of people being kind in certain circumstances, and yet the walls erected in homemaking exemplify the dilemma. To be welcomed is to cross those boundaries and to enter the owners’ territory, to become a part of the possessed – a space that becomes the place of ownership. In this sense, hospitality more often than not enacts an unwelcoming of the outsider; it does so through an oppressive sociality of normalization, and it further beckons one to become – or at least to journey towards – ‘one of us’.
The possessive quality of hospitality is grounded in the very demarcations employed to justify hospitality – a delineation which is made explicit by Luke Bretherton, for example, in framing hospitality entirely around the idea of incommensurability between ‘Christian’ and ‘Non- Christian’. Bretherton argues that the Christian notion of hospitality provides a model of practice at the site of difference – a model that does not seek to resolve difference, but rather one that dictates a proper posture of Christian engagement with difference. But herein lies the myth of Christian hospitality; unlike an open encounter with the world, Christian hospitality assumes a posture of ‘rightness’. You are right because you are always already ‘the Christian’ and the outsider is always, well, on the outside. As a posture, hospitality therefore performs a weird kind of sublimation of discourse itself. This is especially true when ‘Christian theologians’ seek dialogue – when theology strives to ‘welcome’ multiplicity. For such a condition is not possible within the demarcation of ‘Christian’ when Christians possess the places of dialogue. I have seen this many times: confessional theologians ‘radicalizing’ their approach through engagement with ‘non Christians’. What usually ensues is a Christian demand on discourse; the grammar and categories engaged are dictated by Christian territory and the welcome amounts to nothing more than an attempt to make outsiders ‘one of us’. The myth of hospitality – as played out in dialogue – is not so much a myth performed on the ‘non-Christian’, but instead upon the Christian themselves who often believe they have played God, they have welcomed the stranger, they have willingly given up their territory for the sake of the gospel (and some of the strange theological treatments of – especially continental – philosophy reflect the awkwardness of this whole performance) To be short: I have strong doubts that inviting conversation partners (however people describe this) is ever about shifting discursive patterns. In fact, I think theological dialogue is nearly always a kind of imperialistic attempt to control marginalized discourse. That in this, and in the home, the very notion of hospitality is a claim upon the outsider and an exhortation to normalise.
So what is to be done with hospitality; is it redeemable, is it a concept that can be unbridled from the claim of territory and possession? I am not yet sure, but I actually think the accounts of gospel Jesus problematise all the theoretical accounts of ‘Christian hospitality’. These accounts are neither a matter of dispossession or radical openness. The accounts of Jesus’ welcoming are represented by contesting discourses; there is not a territory in which a theory, an account, or a posture can be placed. And so it seems that even for those who like to identify as ‘Christian’, there is a slippage beyond possession. And hospitality – whatever that may mean – cannot ultimately be tamed by mythic accounts of the ‘stranger’ and the ‘distressed’.
 Arthur Sutherland. I Was a Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality. Abingdon: Nashville, 2006, xiii.
 See Luke Bretheron. Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness and Amid Moral Diversity. Ashgate: Burlington, xiii2010. And Luke Bretheron. ‘Tolerance & Hospitality’, in The Blackwell Companion to Religious Diversity. Edited by Kevin Schilbrack. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.