Christian Hospitality in an Age of ‘They’re Not Welcome Anymore, Anywhere’

Sometimes we should offer hospitality to our enemies. Other times, we must rebuke them. It takes wisdom to know which situations call for which response.

California Congresswoman Maxine Waters is urging the public, “If you see anybody from that [Trump] Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

 

Many years ago, I stood in a checkout line behind one of the most notorious abortionists in my city. I knew who he was, because for years I’d been protesting regularly outside a clinic where he performed abortions. From my spot outside the clinic, I’d glimpsed him only from a distance or with the darkened window of his black sedan between us as he drove past. Even so, I knew his face well. Now, unexpectedly, he was mere inches in front of me. Looking straight ahead, my eyes landed somewhere in the middle of his massive back. He had to be 200 pounds to my 100. Other than my racing heart, I was frozen as he moved toward the register and prepared to pay.

I knew what my role was when I was at the clinic protesting at the site where his hands did their dirty work. But I had no idea what I was supposed to do when I faced him in the clean, well-lighted convenience store, where citizens of all walks of life come together, bonded by our common need to buy gas, milk, bread, coffee, and water.

Suddenly, with no forethought or plan, with his back still toward me, I spoke gently toward his ear, “When are you going to stop killing babies?”

My tone was as if I’d asked if he thought we might get some rain soon. My volume such that the cashier made no indication he’d heard me speak.

But the abortion doctor heard.

He wheeled around so fast that my heart began beating impossibly faster than it had been before. His voice exploded into a torrent of angry words, aimed like bullets at my impassive face. I stood still and didn’t say another word. When the alarmed cashier—who had no idea what caused this outburst—tried to calm the man, the doctor turned on him, telling him he would never come into this store again. Finally, after what seemed like hours but was probably only a minute, he stormed out of the store.

Recent News

I hadn’t thought of this incident for quite a long time. Then came the recent news about a Virginia restaurant owner’s request for Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave the premises. Before that, Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen was jeered by protestors while dining at a restaurant in Washington D.C.

But now California Congresswoman Maxine Waters has upped these antes by urging the public, “If you see anybody from that [Trump] Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

As my opening story shows, I understand this impulse.

But it frightens me terribly.

Hospitality or Rebuke?

During those years when I regularly protested at abortion clinics, some of my fellow protestors took their pickets to the abortionists’ homes and neighborhoods. I never did (and was sometimes criticized for not doing so). Something about violating the home and family life of the abortionists seemed to contradict the life- and family-affirming principles we claimed to stand for. And when one of the abortionists whose home was regularly picketed was murdered in his kitchen by a sniper hiding in the nearby woods, my worst fears came true.

In a free society, we are called both to live peaceably with one another and to hold one another accountable for violating principles that we believe undermine a free society. As citizens, sometimes we should offer hospitality to our enemies. Other times, we must rebuke them. It takes wisdom to know which situations call for which response.

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