Blog - Embodying Truth
WORKPLACE HOSPITALITYWednesday, April 29, 2015
You probably watched the recent events in Baltimore. Once again, our attention has been riveted on race-relations in the U.S. As TV cameras zoomed in on the tragic scenes there, I began reading Cynthia Estlund’s book, Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy.
In the book, she argues that "The single most promising
arena of social integration—at least for adults—is the workplace.” By contrast,
she says, "the vast majority of black and white church- and synagogue-goers
report that all or nearly all of their congregation is of their own race.” But "the workplace is where working adults
are most likely to associate with someone of another race.”
As I turned the pages of Estlund’s book, a New Testament word came to mind: hospitality. In Rom. 12:13, Paul instructs us to "practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). Many of us, I suspect, think of hospitality as inviting Christian friends to dinner. Opening our home for a small group. Or entertaining visiting missionaries. Indeed, the New Testament passages do call us to be hospitable to fellow believers.
The main Greek words translated as "hospitality” speak of relating to strangers—loving, accepting, and being open to them. Maybe it’s time for us to stretch our idea of hospitality to include on-the-job relationships. This would line up with the call to "do good to all people” (Gal. 6:10).
In the Introduction to Working Together, Estlund tells of two dissimilar women. One is an African-American woman living in a mostly-black neighborhood and attending an all-black church. The other is a white woman living in a nearly-all-white suburb and part of a completely white church. As unlikely as it seems, they became "good friends. Their friendship began in the hours they spent together working each day.” Both have taken new jobs. One moved far away. But they "still visit each other and talk regularly.”
According to Abby Stocker, writing in the August 19, 2013 issue of Christianity Today, "One out of five non-Christians in North America doesn't know any Christians.” She attributes this to "the apparent apathy among Christians about befriending non-Christians, especially if it means reaching across neighborhoods and towns into more ethnic enclaves.”
Some 78 percent of those in the U.S. identify themselves as Christians. If that percentage holds true in the workforce of 157 million, then some 122 million who call ourselves Christians scatter into the nation’s workplaces each week. Imagine the effect if all Christ-followers were to begin practicing hospitality in our working relationships: loving, accepting, being open to those whose skin-tones differ from ours, whose culture seems alien to ours, and whose values don’t exactly match ours.
Some 2700 years ago, Jeremiah the prophet wrote to Jews scattered into a pagan culture: ". . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7). Race is just one of the issues undermining the wefare of our land today. Christians practicing hospitality in the workplace won’t resolve all those problems. But the salt would check considerable decay and the light would dispel a lot of darkness.