Radical Hospitality: Love Your Enemies' Arguments

In Luke's gospel, Jesus tells us to "love our enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back" (Luke 6:27-36).  In these days beyond crusades and duels, our conflicts are primarily ideological: schoolyard arguments, coffee-table disputes, shouting pundits and unanswered questions in Sunday School.  So how do we love our enemies on an ideological level?

We could start, of course, with respect and giving the other dignity in conversation.  But that's only window dressing.  In religious discussion (like politics), the goal of conversation so often is to persuade others to your viewpoint, or put up the best spirited defense of your viewpoint against imagined opponents.  Indeed, that's the assumed basis for evangelism after all: to persuade others of the truth of Jesus Christ.

But we are called to love our enemies, and persuasion may or may not be the right kind of love.  Indeed, that's what Peter Rollins gets to in his book (not)Speak of God.  Evangelism relies on what Rollins calls power discourses that rely on word and wonder:

Power discourses...convince the other that Christianity is compelling and must be accepted by any rational person, and miracles prove that a person ought to believe.
P. Rollins, (not) Speak of God, pg. 37
Rejection thus becomes irrational.  Calling our enemies irrational may be tough love, but it is also a claim to a position of superior power.  Rollins calls the church to turn away and not rely on power discourses but to instead create sacred space where questions can be wrestled with.  A sacred space with a sacred level of hospitality that goes beyond merely listening to the other.  What could that look like?

Here's one idea: What if our goal in conversation is not to polish our own worldview in full view of others, but to build up the other's worldview to its best possible form?

That's what political commentator Julian Sanchez is making in a recent blog post (via Andrew Sullivan):
Consider the way our views normally evolve. We sort of hunker down in our ideological bunkers trying to fend off various attacks and challenges. Sometimes an especially forceful argument will require a modification in the fortifications—and on rare occasions, we’ll even be forced to abandon a position. Which is to say, we learn from other perspectives largely in a defensive mode, through a kind of Darwinian selection of arguments. But what if instead we tried to use the insights available from our own perspectives, not to defeat or convert the other guy, but to give his argument its best form?
What?  In short, Sanchez is claiming that we learn about the other from an entrenched position (perhaps in our echo chambers) and we are not really engaging or honoring the other.  But still...we are supposed to help them with their arguments??

Sanchez concludes:

...This might sound like giving aid and comfort to the enemy, but even in terms of the Darwinian struggle, there’s value to being able to show how your view trumps even the optimal form of the competition. Think of chess: You can’t see your own best move unless you have some sense of what your opponent’s best response would be. But the more intriguing possibility is that a smart progressive’s good-faith reformulation of libertarianism might be something that the libertarian, too, could recognize as an improvement—and vice versa.
In the Scripture, Jesus says to love our enemies.  Even when we think we are right, and we know they are wrong.  Perhaps the form of radical hospitality in ideological conflict, when we invite the other into conversation, is to take a cue from the Girl Scouts: leave them with their arguments better than they came with.  To build up their arguments, to help the other better understand their own. 

Then, perhaps, we can let the questions that follow from the Other either reinforce their belief or cause them to wonder why you would want to know about them.  Who knows...they may ask about yours, or what another ideology or theology might say.

Thoughts?  In these days of theological and ideological echo chambers and town hall shouting matches, the mere coaxing out of thought and argument is becoming more and more rare.  So what if the radical hospitality that Christ calls us to exhibit...what if it can extend to thought as well as deed? 

Thank you for your comments, and welcome to our visitors!


Carolyn August 25, 2009 at 9:24 AM  

In many ways I already have learned how to do this, simply because I am forced to dialogue regularly with people who virulently disagree with me. There is one topic, however, for which I just can't do this:

Women's equality, and the intrinsic equality of all people. I do understand the Chain of Being line of thought, and I know a good Chain of Being argument from a bad one. But I just can't stand to help someone make the case that God made heirarchical relationships, particularly in the gender department.

Perhaps it cuts too deep, because of my family background. But I don't see how this ground can be conceded that each person reflects God's likeness just the way they are... with out an asterisked clause or a trip to straight camp. If anyone can tell me how to deal with this topic better, please do.

Blake Huggins August 25, 2009 at 10:13 AM  

Good thoughts. "Evangelism" without power discourses and coercion is such a refreshing idea. But it's so foreign to the usual mindset that I wonder if it might be best to drop the E-word altogether. What are your thoughts on that?

Stresspenguin August 26, 2009 at 10:50 AM  

@Blake: I think we should take back the word evangelism. Do it non-coercively by throwing out power discourse. If Evangelism was redefined from loving neighbor into hard sales techniques, it can be redefined again.

Lance H August 27, 2009 at 6:41 PM  

We've sort of stumbled into trying this in a little group discussing The Bible is Messin with What I Believe. . . Helping the other develop his thought even though I don't agree, or when scripture might appear to say something else than what we thought it said.

Anonymous,  September 27, 2009 at 6:18 PM  

The Bible is pretty clear that men and women have different roles... but it is also pretty clear that one is not "better" then the other.

The idea of "Hierarchial relationships" is a staw man... the way to deal with it is to not deal with it.

Evangelism--telling the good news-- is what we need to do. But God doesn't hold us responsible for WINNING the arguments... only making them. We can't take credit when we win and we shouldn't feel like we let God down if we loose!

God doesn't need us to win souls... he WANTS to give us the opportunity to share in His work... and we do that by simply being obedient and spreading the Gospel... it will ALWAYS be the Holy Spirit who completes the work.

...which is a big relief for me. It's hard enough to do what is asked of us in the Great Commission... to just spread the good news. I am glad to know I'm not expected to "seal the deal" ;--)

Rev. Jeremy Smith September 27, 2009 at 9:33 PM  

@ Anonymous, Complementarianism is still gender inequality because the roles men and women play are valued differently in society. Saying "the bible doesn't value them differently" has a strong effect on how we seek mutually encouraging roles in a given society.

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