The Stigmatized Church

Stigma is a means of excluding or discrediting someone that is deemed by the majority culture as socially deviant and is usually identified with bodily deformities, moral or behavioral differences, and difference in ethnicity, culture, and religion.

I’m a third of the way through the book Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua Jipp, who is assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He says, “Hospitality is the act or process whereby the identity of the stranger is transformed into that of guest. The primary impulse of hospitality is to create a safe and welcoming place where a stranger can be converted into a friend.

Jipp wrestles with this hospitality as it comes to life in Jesus, who he says “grants divine hospitality to the ‘other’ without distinction, exemplified in his welcome to sinners and the religious, men and women, rich and poor, and Jews and Gentiles….Jesus’ extension of divine hospitality appears as indiscriminate — which is precisely the feature of Jesus’s ministry that annoys so many of the religious leaders of his time.” (p.18)

All well and good. We’re wrestling with that welcome all the time.

But then he says this: “The church is called to participate in Jesus’s hospitality among sinners and outcasts by embracing a stigmatized identity that follows from sharing life together with all of God’s people. the Church must embody God’s hospitality by considering what it might look like to embrace a stigmatized identity.” (p.19). This is a fascinating thing to ponder…that to follow Jesus and minister in his name means to accept and even embrace a stigmatized identity in the world, and often even in the religious community! He quotes Heather Vacek, who says “religious stigmatization is evidence of faithful practice.” (p.42)

Over the past few years, we as a local Church have been wrestling with what it means to be a stigmatized community. In our deep discernment and earnest struggle to embrace the hospitality of Jesus, which is about embrace and welcome, we have been stigmatized by our own larger Christian community, experiencing our own exclusion and unwelcome as those seeking to be inclusive. Again, Jipp in reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son and his brother notes that “Jesus tangibly extends God’s friendship to those who, in the eyes of others, are not righteous, have a low status, and are viewed as unworthy of friendship with God… and the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling, and saying, “this one extends hospitality to sinners and eats with them! It should not escape the reader that the charge brought against Jesus (extending hospitality to sinners and tax collectors) is exactly what Jesus himself described as the very purpose of his mission (“to proclaim the year of the Lord’s welcome”)...Jesus compassionately extends God’s hospitality to any of the religious leaders who might relate with the elder son and be in need of a reorientation in their understanding of their relationship with their merciful Father AND fellow neighbors who are being welcomed into God’s family.”

Here, two thousand years later, as the ministry of Jesus’ welcome unfolds in a new way, the religious part of us still is resistant, dismissive, and largely unwilling to follow his lead. And those who do are stigmatized. I’m praying today for colleagues and churches on deck for church trials and likely dismissals, because they are trying to love like Jesus does.

And as painful as this is, we must with all earnest desire continue to follow Jesus wherever his love reaches, which is after all, everywhere! May we always and forever embrace Jesus’s stigmatized identity for the purpose of God’s love that he embodies.

Love from Here!

Peter Hawkinson

P.S. This book is to be the subject of a lenten zoom study led by Rev. Jason Mohn and Exodus World Service, which is a ministry of welcoming refugees in our midst. I hope you’ll get a copy and join the discussion. Info is here:

The words “saved by faith alone” are a hallmark of the protestant movement. Yet have you ever wondered if there is more to the Christian faith than a simple mental accent to a curated list of theological concepts? What place does hospitality play in the Christian faith? Exodus World Service is hosting a six-week virtual Book Club during Lent on the book “Saved by Faith and Hospitality” by Joshua W. Jipp, Associate Professor of New Testament at TEDS in Deerfield, IL to explore these questions.  

The Book Club will be hosted virtually starting Thursday, February 23rd from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. (the day after Ash Wednesday) and gather weekly for six weeks, concluding on Thursday, March 30th (the Thursday before Holy Week). Interested participants can sign up to participate via this form. Participants who register will receive the link for the virtual meeting after registering. Each participant should purchase the book and read the first chapter before the first meeting. 

Questions about the Book Club can be directed to Jason O. Mohn, Director of Church and School Engagement at Exodus World Service (



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