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What is equity-based hospitality?

Equity-based hospitality is embracing the biblical practice of welcoming both friends and strangers in generous, kind, respectful, flexible, barrier-free ways. It takes people’s needs into account so that they can find space to truly belong, live into their God-given gifts and callings, and contribute to the body of Christ in unique, strengthening ways. This practice embraces the mutual hospitality of guest and host and can be readily adapted to different contexts. 

Definition of hospitality

Practicing equity-based hospitality starts with a foundational understanding of what it means to be hospitable. 

This is how Merriam Webster defines hospitality:

Hospitality: hospitable treatment, reception, or disposition

To understand what hospitable behavior means, we can look to the dictionary’s definition of hospitable (underlining, italics, and bold added):              

Hospitable: 

1 a: given to generous and cordial reception of guests b: promising or suggesting generous and friendly welcome c: offering a pleasant or sustaining environment 2 readily receptive: OPEN, hospitable to new ideas  

The concept of openness in the second definition named for hospitable adds a valuable layer to our understanding of hospitality. To be open is to be without barriers, readily accessible (bold and italics added):

Open

1 a: having no enclosing or confining barrier b: accessible on all or nearly all sides; being in a position or adjustment to permit passage c: not shut or locked 2: having a barrier (such as a door) so adjusted as to allow passage (be able to adjust in the moment) 

What is biblical hospitality?

Biblical hospitality: A sacred duty to treat strangers and friends alike, welcoming one another into our homes, communal spaces, and lives. As reflected in Scripture, we ought to be ready, at a moment’s notice, to welcome people into our home and/or church community, God’s oikos (household). This article from Concordia Theology provides helpful insights on the theology of hospitality. 

Equality vs. Equity

Equality: Two things that are the same or have a similar value. When we treat two people or two groups of people the same, we make sure they have or get the same things. 
Equity: Giving everyone what they need to be successful; it is NOT giving everyone the exact same thing. If we give everyone the exact same thing expecting that this will make people equal, it assumes that everyone started out at the same place.

For example, equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.

Nine Scriptural Values of Equity-Based Hospitality 

These nine characteristics describe an environment that embraces the practice of equity-based hospitality. Think about how you can create a culture of equity-based hospitality in your church, family, friendships, and work environment.  

Each practice is supported by a key passage from Scripture. Reflect on these passages of Scripture. Consider what God reveals to you through Scripture about equity-based hospitality.

1. Sense of belonging and ability to contribute

Everyone has the opportunity to participate, contribute, and belong, since every member of Christ’s body is essential and fulfills a unique function in the body. 
Reflective Scripture: 1 Peter 4:10

2. Access for all

Provide all people with barrier-free access to God and God’s community, removing any barriers we create and could change. 
Reflective Scripture: Luke 8:40-55

3. Intentional diversity

Actively pursue and intentionally embrace diversity and equity in race, gender, ability, age, vocation, ethnicity, and more. Be conscious of who is invited, who leads, and who is not in the room. With no distinction between tribe and nation, the Lord is the Lord of all. 
Reflective Scriptures: Romans 10:11-12 and Revelation 7:9

4. Authenticity, vulnerability, and humility

In your behavior, leadership, and overall presence, model mutual respect for one another through vulnerability, humility, and grace. 
Reflective Scripture: Micah 6:8

Related: How to Apply Micah 6:8 to Your Life

5. Trust

Building a shared commitment of mutual trust and equity, respect the needs,  values, beliefs, and voices of all, acknowledging we are members of one body.
Reflective Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 

6. Care for content and context

Exercise care and practice intention in who leads, plans, and presents, and customize your content and approach according to the audience and their context.
Reflective Scripture: Luke 24

7. Attention to power dynamics

Do not ignore what a person or smaller group of people might need to participate fully just because their needs differ from the preferences of the majority. Instead, anticipate the varied needs of all so that each one can participate fully. Be proactive instead of waiting for people who are in the minority to speak out. They may not always feel comfortable doing so, and it can be tiring and vulnerable for them to be expected to advocate for themselves in every situation.  
Reflective Scripture: Acts 6:1-7

8. Prioritizing the needs of others

Actively listen, observe, understand, and respect the needs of the people around you. Align what you do and how you communicate with the unique person or group of people with whom you’re trying to communicate—not simply based on your personal preferences.
Reflective Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

9. Respecting participation levels

God made us with a variety of learning styles, and different people will have different modes of engaging. Additionally, there are external and internal circumstances that impact how fully a person might be able to participate. For example, a traumatic past experience can make certain activities harder for someone. Be respectful of individual choices and create space for people to come and go as needed. 
Reflective Scripture: Mark 10:17-31

Ultimately, being hospitable to the whole body of Christ requires us to recognize that different parts of the body have different needs. We need every single part, and we honor that every one of us is made in God’s image and is worthy of love, respect, and encouragement to live out our God-given callings. The practice of equity-based hospitality is about embracing each person with the hospitality that they need to participate fully. By honoring our differences, we can draw nearer to the unity in Christ that God envisions for us. 

This guide to biblical and equitable hospitality emerged from the Reformed Church in America’s equity-based hospitality ministry, which focuses on hospitality in the areas of race, gender, age, socioeconomic background, and disability. Email ebh@rca.org to learn more and connect with the ministry.

Rev. Liz Testa

Rev. Liz Testa is coordinator of equity-based hospitality and Women’s Transformation and Leadership for the Reformed Church in America. She also hosts the Lavish Hope Podcast. She is passionate about creating a sense of belonging and nurturing the gifts and leadership of others.