Christian Hospitality in Light of Twenty-First Century Migration
Becker Sweeden, Nell
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Christian practices of hospitality—theologically conceived as welcome of the stranger or alien within Judeo-Christian tradition and scripture—often involve members of an ecclesial community inviting an unknown person in need into a home or congregation. In Christian communities in the United States, the practice often takes shape as invitation into the community’s life and does not necessarily allow for a reciprocal invitation by the person welcomed. The relationship, therefore, is limited to a one-way exchange often excluding the full participation of marginalized persons. This dissertation challenges Christian hospitality practices in light of twenty-first century U.S. Latino/a migration. It does so by exploring new forms of spatial imagination that lend themselves to a journeying hospitality of accompaniment with and among persons migrating. This re-thinking of hospitality connects with practices within migrant communities and border churches surveyed in the dissertation. I press ecclesiological questions to a Christian theology of hospitality, moreover, by arguing for the nature and mission of the church as uniquely oriented toward alternative understandings of place and pilgrimage on earth. The dissertation begins by introducing Christian hospitality practices and framing the investigation in the fields of practical theology and ecclesiology. It surveys current theological literature on hospitality practice and identifies common expressions of hospitality in the United States’ context. Drawing upon the fields of cultural anthropology and cultural studies, the study examines the global phenomenon of transnational migration while focusing on U.S. Latino/a migration patterns and identifying the particular challenges these migrants face in journeying to and residing in the United States. Drawing upon U.S. Latino/a theologians and postcolonial theologians, the dissertation critically analyzes hospitality, uncovering objections to traditional hospitality practice and re-shaping hospitality toward new patterns of journeying and ways of thinking about place, borders, and identity. The study explores constructive expressions of hospitality practice in light of changing patterns of migration along U.S.-Mexico borderlands and concludes with further ecclesiological implications.