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One of the possible functions of Christian beliefs and practices in teaching and learning contexts is to act as framing devices. When concern for student wellbeing is named as pastoral care, when environmental responsibility is connected to stewardship or creation care, or when language learning is understood as a way of welcoming strangers, theological and ethical discourses rooted in biblical motifs are drawn into creative interaction with learning practices, at least if the act of naming is more than perfunctory.

The Civic Hospitality Project, developed by the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin University ( is a recent North-American curriculum project rooted in the conviction that the familiar appeal to tolerance is insufficient as a frame for approaching the polarization and inter-group hostilities that seem rife in contemporary society.1 The call to tolerance assumes a generic individual autonomy and an ethic of non-interference that asks me to put up with your differences in exchange for you being willing to put up with mine. From a Christian standpoint, this asks not too much, but too little. As Bretherton notes, “tolerance, unlike hospitality, involves no imperative to protect and care for the innocent and the weak.”2 A Christian frame asks for more, extending the idea of love of neighbor to vulnerable strangers, even to enemies. What if our need as those who must live with people who are different is not just to tolerate them, but to learn a civic hospitality that does not make conformity a precondition for loving others as our neighbors?3, 4

A shift of frame has the potential to generate fresh questions, and the frameshift from tolerance to hospitality quickly nudges us towards some pedagogical questions. If our need is to develop a capacity to practice hospitality even when it is tempting to substitute indifference or hostility, then we need more than information, discussion, or procedural strategies. We need ways of working on the interpersonal skills, attitudes toward others, and shared ethical commitments that can sustain hospitality as a communal practice. If we want students to internalize hospitable dispositions, then neither those modes of teaching focused on information transmission and correct answers nor those designed simply to foster open-ended discussion seem like an ideal fit. If we want students to think of hospitality in terms closer to Jesus’ practice of welcome than to the displays of affluence and refined taste associated with hospitality by current lifestyle gurus, we will need ways of helping them to think ethically and theologically about the concept and its practical implications.5, 6, 7 If we change the frame for the civics classroom to the pursuit of hospitality in public spaces, the common emphasis on knowledge about government structures and skills for participating in political processes soon feels insufficient.

Kelli Boender, a team member in the Civic Hospitality Project, describes the experience of developing and teaching social studies classes framed by a call to civic hospitality at a Christian high school.8 Students studied and discussed Jesus’s practices around table fellowship and inclusion, and developed a shared class list of “daily hospitable acts” to which they held one another accountable. One subsequent activity involved having students read news reports on a controversial issue in groups and then discuss their findings, only to discover when they compared findings that different groups had received different articles displaying different biases. They debriefed the experience together, analyzing their reading process and how they responded to encountering contrasting accounts of the same events, relating the whole process to hospitality, imago dei, and the question of how well we are able to listen to others’ stories and tell stories about others. As the semester progressed, Boender reports, “I saw a shift in our class norms where students became uncomfortable with a one-sided narrative as they recognized that as inherently inhospitable.” She describes this fundamental reframing of her social studies teaching as challenging, yet ultimately rewarding work:

Placing hospitality at the forefront of your mind when planning lessons and designing curriculum is tiring. I can attest to that after this school year. But this was a different kind of tiredness than the way I have felt before as I engaged in politically charged or conflict-ridden topics. Hospitality made conflict exhausting but also fulfilling. I found my faith restored and strengthened over this past year of teaching as I saw the work in our project bear fruit with my students. I felt confident addressing conflicts with parents about curriculum or class content and I even had parents reach out to me and say thank you for bringing ideas to their own dinner tables.9

This process started with an act of reframing. Civics education was placed in a fresh context framed by a Christian understanding of hospitality. Such acts can, of course, be glib and superficial, a quick Christian gesture before we return to business as usual with little really changed. They can be moralizing moves that tell students to be good people but fail to connect with the wider complexities of their learning. They can be moments of oddity, offering a frame that is not well grounded and that sits at best awkwardly with the course content. In such cases, little that is of much worth will be achieved by changing our words. Yet they can also be ways of helping us to see differently what we are doing and so to begin to do it differently. The kind of process that Boender describes is one where the act of renaming is taken seriously enough that the teacher invests their own identity in the way of being for which it calls and works it through into the fabric of classroom practices. That kind of reframing has the potential to become transformative. It is more than a momentary shift of label or pious aside. It becomes an embodied invitation to move together in a shared direction, sustained by a shared naming of the destination for which we are aiming.

{This piece was originally published as the editorial to International Journal of Christianity and Education 28:1, March 5 2024.}


  1. Den Dulk, KR (2023) “Civic Hospitality and the Challenges of/to Pluralism.” Christian Educators Journal, 63(1): 13-18.
  2. Bretherton, L (2004) “Tolerance, Education and Hospitality: A Theological Proposal.” Studies in Christian Ethics 17(1): 102.
  3. Kaemingk, M (2023) “Our Civics and God’s Hospitality.” Christian Educators Journal, 63(1): 9-12.
  4. Watson, M  (2023) “Hospitality, Politics, and Human Nature.” Christian Educators Journal, 63(1): 22-25.
  5. Pohl, CD (1999) Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  6. Jipp, JW (2017) Saved by Faith and Hospitality. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 
  7. Bretherton, L (2023) A Primer in Christian Ethics: Christ and the Struggle to Live Well. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Boender, K (2023) “Don’t be a Jonah.” Christian Educators Journal, 63(1): 35-38.
  9. Boender, K (2023) “Don’t be a Jonah.” Christian Educators Journal, 63(1): 38.

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