Politics & Policy

Radical Hospitality and Generosity, Bipartisan Values

(Photo: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Dreamstime)
What our politics should reflect and enhance

‘Radical hospitality and generosity.” That’s a phrase I heard last fall from Carter Snead, a law professor at Notre Dame, and I can’t get it out of my head. It’s an attractive phrase. It draws you in. It suggests home and flourishing. It seems to call out “You are not alone” a little, like a tender siren, one that suggests a path and a door and a friendly face of welcome, an ear to listen. It’s a phrase that radiates hope and promise. It’s also a call to action.

They are in the same family of words written by Emma Lazarus and engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty: 

Give my your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the lonely, the tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Are we going to resemble, in the foreseeable future, the kind of people who would live by those words?

That’s a real question people have on their hearts. There’s an uncertainty about the world, and a mix of emotions centers on a Washington in transition. And with the Republican party in the majority in Congress, one of the first issues that has come up is defunding Planned Parenthood. There are many columns about the merits of this; this is not one of them. I’m grateful for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s commitment here. But winning this issue also should be beyond Republican-versus-Democrat dynamics. It should be about “radical hospitality and generosity.”

In the flurry of headlines about Planned Parenthood and the politics of defunding, this phrase should prod the consciences of a nation.

The problem with the abortion issue — one concerning matters of life and death and the most intimate decisions and violence there is — is that it so often seems to come down to this: headlines about one side and the other, with talking points that can often be like salt on open wounds for the people the politicos are talking about and addressing and affecting. One upside of the whole new world we’ve seemed to enter into with the Donald Trump celebrity-businessman presidency is the opportunity to make such a contentious issue that defines in many ways who we are as a nation more of a complete story about who we are and what we want to be and how we can help, not hurt.

As a new Congress was sworn in, the March for Life Foundation announced a scorecard for keeping track of who is helping the pro-life cause and who’s not. Encouraging members to not merely be vote-casters but “pro-life champions,” the foundation pointed to the example of the late Henry Hyde, the longtime congressman from Illinois.

Radical hospitality and generosity are what motivate everyone who does pro-life work on the front lines.

In a speech in 1987 marking the 200th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention, Hyde talked about hospitality as “a key public virtue,” which had been violated by abortion. “Americans have traditionally been a welcoming people,” he said. “Virtually everyone in this room is here because his or her parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were welcomed to these shores as to a new home of freedom and opportunity.” He pointed to “the give me your tired” words and contrasted them with “the cold, inhospitable” reality of a country where abortion is legal. We become accomplices to this inhospitality when we allow human lives to get lost to talking points and angry words. 

“Radical Hospitality,” as it happens, is “the cornerstone” of Women’s Care Centers, a network of 24 centers serving some 23,000 women annually in eight states. The phrase is in their handbook for counselors, and you see it before you even walk through their warm, welcoming doors. “Hospitality is an attitude of heart that opens us to others and receives them on their own terms,” the handbook explains. It quotes from Henri Nouwen: “Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. . . . Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”

#related#Radical hospitality and generosity are what motivate everyone who does pro-life work on the front lines. It jumps off the screen every time I see a Facebook update from Cheryl Calire about the Mother Teresa Home she helped found for single mothers in an old church rectory. Radical hospitality radiates like a beacon from the Sisters of Life, who run a Visitation Mission downstate from her, in Manhattan.

When Snead used the phrase, he was talking about the Notre Dame Vita Institute, which works with pro-life leaders across the country, making sure they all have access to some of the same resources and knowledge. It’s just these people — on the front lines of helping women and families — that Washington needs to look to, highlight, and help. It would get us beyond our tired politics and give new life, quite literally.


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