A Brief Review of
Just Hospitality: God’s Welcome in a World of Difference.
Paperback: WJK Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Kate A.K. Blakely.
( Note: Because she passed away before its completion, Russell’s last book is the work of a cooperative effort between her own extensive notes and research and the editorial work of her colleagues and students. )
Letty Russell advances the metaphor of hospitality as a useful tool for Christian interaction with a world of “riotous difference.” Far beyond the image of church ladies laying out coffee and donuts for an after-church reception, just hospitality is a radical welcoming of the “others,” a full recognition of the humanity of people who are particularly different than oneself or one’s homogenous “category.” Russell expends almost a third of her book explaining the paradigm of “post-colonial” thinking, which seeks to militate against such differentiation. The paradigm attempts to take seriously the global effects of exploitation arising out of a standardized valuation of a Western, Euro-centric perspective over and against that of non-Westerns. A non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual, less educated, and less wealthy person is seen as a deviation from the norm. Just hospitality, in contrast, neither sees differences as negatives to be avoided nor standardizes one perspective as the norm by which all others are to be gauged. Instead, it works for what Russell terms emancipatory difference. Emancipatory difference thus sees communication as a group effort where all participate as equals. Welcoming and inclusion are mutual and broad, rather than one-sided, from perceived abundance to perceived lack. Just as God welcomes all people to God’s table, Christians must imitate this broad acceptance, both welcoming and being welcomed.
Russell’s summary work of such feminist post-colonial concepts as colonial imperialism, reframing, the hermeneutic of suspicion, and her readings on Ruth and Amos are very accessible. Her suggestion that all people see themselves in the broader category of “post-colonial subject,” rather than as simply colonized or colonizer, is helpful in that it provides an inclusive framework that allows both to participate in dialogue. Furthermore, it recognizes the complexity of the interconnected web of human interaction. Study questions at the end of each chapter provide further resources for ongoing discussion.
Ultimately, Russell’s book is not very innovative. Russell certainly aims for an audience beyond that of academia, but others besides academicians may find her explanations less extensive than they would prefer. While Russell admits that the reality of differences remains constraining, she suggests that Christians should ignore those differences. Such a simplistic suggestion is not nuanced enough to provide fodder for more concrete discussions on ethical practice and application, nor does it imply an overall conception that takes seriously enough the historical difficulty Christians have had from the beginning in interpreting and applying passages like Galatians 3:28. By framing this difficulty as a lack of transformation, she appears to conclude the discussion before it has really been begun and retain an exclusive tone, rather than an inclusive one. As a discursive resource, study groups interested in familiarizing themselves with some feminist post-colonial thought may find the book useful. As a powerful polemic for advancing liberative work, Just Hospitality is, unfortunately, somewhat lacking.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com