Whatever Happened to Southern hospitality?

My devotional this morning reminded me that today, September 15, 1963, that a southern man named Robert Chambliss placed a bomb under the steps of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, and killed 4 children, injuring 22 others.

The devotional book reminds me of God’s cry in Matthew — “A  voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more”

I can’t help thinking of this verse and this example as I think about what is going on in my state right now.

I am a born and bred North Carolinian, but my heart breaks as I think about the way in which as a state we are letting our fears lead us to neglect and hurt God’s children in our midst.

Right now our state is waging a war on the poor and minorities.  We have passed a number of laws recently which cut support for the poorest and most disenfranchised among.  We have put barriers to the voting booth, and have repealed a law requiring no one to be executed for the color of their skin.   God is like Rachel weeping for her children, mourning.

We just a few years ago spoke loudly to the children of parents in same-gender partnerships that their family is under threat by our state, not protected because they are different.  Recently a teacher in one of our schools fired for trying to teach tolerance and understanding toward gay and lesbian peers, who are often bullied into depression and suicide in our schools.   God is like Rachel weeping for her children, mourning.

Just this past month, the homeless ministries such as Love Wins in Raleigh, NC, were told it is against the law to follow Jesus’ mandate in Matthew 25 to the feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the hurting in the capitol of our state: and that if they do not stop their feeding programs for the least of these, they are going to jail.   God is like Rachel, weeping for her children, mourning for their pain.

When I think of all that is going on in our state I cannot help but think of a question a lady from the Mid-West in my home church asked, after moving here.  “I keep hearing about all this southern hospitality.  Where is it?”   I have to shake my head and wonder.

Where is the southern hospitality, that welcomes the stranger as friend, that says “there is room at the table for you, come put your feet under it with me over sweet tea and corn bread”?  We need this so badly right now.  What we are doing is denying the basic truth we claim to celebrate as a culture — hospitality.

This hospitality is at the heart of the Biblical message.  In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us that when we are hospitable to the stranger, we extend hospitality to God who is already present in their life.   In Hebrews we are told to welcome the stranger is to welcome God’s ambassadors, God’s angels come to visit us.  This is what Abram, the fore-father of not just our faith but also Judaism and Islam, did.  Ultimately Scripture tells us Sodom fell not because of what went on in people’s bed-rooms but because of their lack of hospitality to the least of these.

I want to challenge all of us to embrace true hospitality.

I also want to mention some initiatives some southern progressives are involved with that are a start:

First, the work of Moral Mondays has continued.  Consider following and supporting work by groups like the NAACP in raising the cry of the poor and disenfranchised.

Also, support the cry going up to hear the voice of the poor.  We have hobophobia, to use the term coined by the head of Love Wins homeless ministry.  He outlines some things we can do to help with “biscuite-gate” in his recent blog:

“The City’s next move to satisfy the seemingly predetermined conclusion to their public relations and policy nightmare is a public meeting on Monday, September 16, in Marbles Kids Museum, the president of which openly voiced her disapproval of food distribution in Moore Square at the Law and Public Safety Committee hearing on August 28. She also asserted in her statement that the business the museum has brought to Raleigh is more valuable than the people who hang out in Moore Square.

“Oh, and this is the third year in a row that Marbles has received funding from the City of Raleigh Arts Council. So you tell me if this seems choreographed to you.

“Because the deck is stacked against us, it’s important that people like you show up at the meeting to support the rights of those of us who are poor. Meeting time and exact location are here.

“The meeting’s format will differ from that of a public hearing. What we know is that the audience will split into small groups, each with a facilitator, maps, easels, and a City employee documenting the conversation. We’re not sure who the facilitators will be. The small groups will brainstorm. We’re also not sure where or to whom that information will go.

“It’s important to remember that the meeting is only about food distribution. It’s not about shelters, transportation, or health care. Knowing that, a few key ideas to keep in mind while in your small group:

– This is a geographical issue. It is not acceptable that distribution locations exist solely or even primarily in areas off of the bus line, like north Raleigh, or in areas already struggling with poverty, like southeast Raleigh. We will not accept a solution that further pushes poor people out of the downtown core, and we certainly won’t let the City push people into the largely ignored part of town just because it thinks that poor folks already fit in better there anyway.

– The temporary non-enforcement of the ordinance prohibiting sharing food in the park is just that– temporary. Another decision will come at the November 26 City Council meeting. It is by no means a long-term, sustainable solution to ignoring and devaluing Raleigh’s most vulnerable citizens for decades.

– By not already having installed a weekend food distribution solution, the City has shifted the burden to the private sector. Namely, nonprofits and religious groups. The City has refused to claim its most vulnerable citizens, and then it placed constraints on the very people who try to pick up its slack. Most of whom, by the way, are also citizens of Raleigh and pay the taxes to keep up Moore Square. The City needs to take ownership of a weekend food distribution solution instead of disempowering the people who try to show compassion for their hungry neighbors.

“At some point the City will form a task force of interested organizations that will meet three times before the November 26 City Council meeting. The task force will make recommendations to the City Council on how it should handle the apparently very complicated issue of making sure that all of its citizens are taken care of.

“Remaining Hopeful

“We are, as you can imagine, beyond frustrated. No one likes being lied to. No one likes being the target of a systemic plot to keep you out. No one likes to think they live in a city where that would be tolerated, let alone carried out by City officials.

“Regardless, we remain prisoners of hope. We hope that the City will call the plotters into account. We hope for the day when the only hope of the hungry is not some church lady from the ‘burbs to bring a sandwich. Heck, we hope for a day when there are no hungry. But right now, we are just captivated with the hope that one day we will see a Raleigh that is for everyone.”

Finally, another southern progressive preacher, Rev. Katharine Royal from the Progressive Christian Alliance, is spear-heading an event on the same Monday, which focuses on practicing hospitality toward GLBT youth.  She can reached at reverend_katharine@yahoo.com.   Here is her write-up about her initiative:

“As some of you may know, this past week a teacher in NC was suspended for showing his students the music video to Macklemore’s “Same Love.” I truly hope millions of others are as outraged by this as I am. Parents and administrators seem unfazed by students listening to music about drugs, gang violence, promiscuity and excessive drinking, yet a song about acceptance and love elicits this horrible response. Well, we aren’t going to sit idly by. Wherever you are Monday, whether it’s at your work place or at your own school, take time to play this song on your ipod, mp3 player, phone or computer for EVERYONE to hear.”

These are not the only paths to practice hospitality, but they are a place to begin.

Learning to live out hospitality is so key.  As Martin Luther King once wrote, Unless we learn to live together as brothers, we will all die together as fools.

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive Redneck Preacher,

Micah Royal


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