Hospitality and the Law

Toward A Biblical Theology of Church Sanctuary in Canada

Jeffrey Metcalfe

The date has been set. The votes have been counted. The deportations will likely begin in January.

On June 28th, the Government of Canada signed into law Bill C-31, the so-called Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act. Under the guise of reforming unfair queue jumping and eliminating what Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenny has termed “bogus refugees,”[1] this new legislation will streamline the current application process, moving away from a reliance upon panels of human rights experts, and concentrating more power in the hands of the Minster.

Under the new legislation, refugees seeking asylum in Canada will have fifteen days to submit a fully researched application in order to qualify for refugee status. Refugees from countries the Minister of Immigration designates, as “safe” – a designation not defined or regulated by the terms of the law but made under the Minister’s personal discretion – would then be deported from Canada with little hope of appeal. Moreover, while such refugees are in Canada, they will be ineligible for health care coverage, denying insulin to diabetics, and preventing pregnant women from having access to doctors or midwives during birth.

The damage such changes will cause to the health and well being of refugees in Canada is well documented and Canadian professional organizations are increasingly speaking out about its dangers. A professional organization of doctors has declared “the detention and other measures proposed in Bill C-31 will have a devastating negative impact on the health of refugees.”[2] The Canadian Bar Association has also decried the law, stating that it “violates Charter protections against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention, as well as Canada’s international obligations respecting the treatment of persons seeking protection.”[3]

Perhaps most striking of all, is the evidence refugee communities such as the Roma have provided, proving that these so-called safe countries “have been found responsible for violating Romani children’s right to access quality education, violating Romani women’s rights by forcibly sterilizing them, and violating Romani people’s rights to security by failing to investigate police brutality committed against them.”[4] To return refugees like the Roma to their country of origin would be to re-subject them to these life-debilitating conditions.

As secular professions and community groups have continued to speak out against these changes, the overall silence of the churches has been deafening. Official opposition to the bill has yet to be voiced by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Anglican House of Bishops. Indeed it seems that any opposition to these new measures will have to be taken up by individual parishes and religious communities. And, as the deportation deadline looms, it is perhaps only these churches and communities that will have the capacity to resist the new legislation through a radical act of hospitality: the practice of church sanctuary.[5]

Yet given the lack of ecclesiastical support and the risk involved in sheltering people the government deems illegal, the difficulty of practicing such hospitality will require a theopolitical commitment deeply rooted in a parish or religious community’s identity. To engender such rootedness, one only needs to turn back to the biblical text, a document that is foundational for Christian identity, and normative to church life. Indeed, the Bible is replete with commandments, tropes, and themes on how the stranger is to be welcomed, many of which could serve to found a movement of sanctuary. For the sake of brevity, I shall pick just one such instance, the biblical law codes in the First Testament, to show how such a biblical theology might be constructed.

In what follows, I shall argue that the renegotiation of the Covenant Code’s law of hospitality in the book of Deuteronomy provides a foundation for a contemporary biblical theology of church sanctuary in Canada. I shall begin by examining the aporia of hospitality in the deconstructionist philosophy of Jacque Derrida. According to Derrida, hospitality is constituted by two mutually exclusive, but equally necessary laws: the conditional laws that actualize hospitality, and the unconditional demand of absolute welcome. Any given act of hospitality will always be a precarious negotiation between these two laws. Turning to the biblical text, I shall show how this dynamic plays itself out in the Deuteronomist’s revision of the Covenant Code in relation to places of refuge, noting how conditional hospitality comes to be renegotiated in a different social and religious space, in order to preserve unconditional hospitality. In conclusion I shall return to the contemporary Canadian context, pointing out how an inverted version of Deuteronomist’s revision could construct a contemporary biblical theology of church sanctuary.

The Aporia of Hospitality

Hospitality: it is a tradition at once ancient and venerable, one of the few truly universal human values, transcending all cultures and times.  It is also precarious, its etymology playing host to its own irreconcilable ambiguities. Hospitality is derived from the Latin word hospes, signifying both host and guest: an identification that can be made only through reference to a wider context. That a language as precise as Latin would preserve such equivocation demands a question: why might the meaning of hospes move so quickly beyond its immediate boundaries, always requiring a context to discern its signification?

From the mundane act of accepting cookies in your grandmother’s home, to the more radical gesture of granting asylum to a refugee, who the recipients and patrons of hospitality are seems clear to the casual observer. The host is the insider, the one who welcomes the outsider in, making her a guest. But as Jacque Derrida has argued, hospitality is a much more complicated practice always under negotiation. This is due in part to the interrelated conditions of hospitality: space, boundaries, and sovereignty.

According to Derrida, the first and most basic requirement of hospitality is the existence of a space – a home – into which one is able to welcome the other. Indeed, he argues that it is one’s “own home that makes hospitality possible.”[6] To provide hospitality is to provide a space into which an outsider is invited inside to share in the host’s water, food, shelter, and security. Without a space into which an outsider can be invited, no hospitality can be given. While in the contemporary world this space is most often the private bourgeois household, or, in some cases a church, in ancient societies it could also be a city state, a tent, even a temple; it could be any space in which an insider makes room for an outsider.

However for such a space to exist, it must be circumscribed, for it is the boundaries of a space that make welcoming the other possible. These boundaries are physical and social; they function by marking off a space in which the other, a priori, does not belong, but into which he can be welcomed. This is precisely the purpose of the infamous white picket fence of the bourgeois household, which, set up along a family’s property lines, marks the space in which a particular nuclear family belongs and from which all others are excluded. Yet this exclusivity is what allows the bourgeois property owner to extend an invitation to the other to enter in, regardless of his outsider status. As Derrida notes, even more basically, “in order to constitute the space of a habitable house and home, you [….] need an opening, a door and windows, you have to give up a passage to the outside world [l’étranger].”[7] In other words, a home is itself constituted by its ability to grant hospitality, requiring boundaries that are at once fixed and yet permeable.

Yet for the boundaries to be maintained this permeation must be controlled, and so hospitality is equally founded upon the notion of the host’s sovereignty. Derrida argues that the host’s identity qua host is based in her sovereign power to act as the mediator, the gatekeeper between the status of inclusion and exclusion. The host is “the one who receives, […] choosing, electing, filtering, selecting their invitees, visitors, or guests, those who they decide to grant asylum, the right of visiting, or hospitality.”[8] Any form of welcoming requires these operations, for in order to extend an invitation to the other to cross the boundary from exclusion into inclusion, the invitation must be made to a particular other, a person with a proper name and a history. That person must be selected from a series of possible others, and by selecting that particular other, the host is, de facto, not selecting someone else. Thus, there is “no hospitality in the classic sense, without sovereignty of oneself over one’s home, but since there is also no hospitality without finitude, sovereignty can only be exercised by filtering, choosing, and thus by excluding and doing violence.”[9] In other words, while it is necessary to create an opening within a bounded space through which the other can be welcomed, sovereignty implicitly operates through the violence of selection.

Derrida argues that this selection is always a negotiation between two laws: the laws of conditional hospitality and the law of unconditional hospitality. The laws of conditional hospitality are the necessary requirements of the actual practice of hospitality as it has already been detailed above. It consists of particular limited and circumscribed conditions, and through these conditions it opens up a space in which the other can be welcomed.

In contrast, the law of unconditional hospitality is the absolute demand that a person welcome the other without reference to filtration or selection. “Absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner […] but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them either reciprocity […] or even their names.”[10] This is, in a sense, the ideal of hospitality, the notion that governs its practice.

Yet, aporetically, unconditional hospitality is in of itself impossible: its absolute openness to possibility prevents the conditions that actualize hospitality in any real situation. Unconditional hospitality calls for the host to surrender his sovereignty, to welcome all others beyond selection, invitation, or filtration. The host is to be open to all guests without placing any conditions on that welcome, so much so that the host cannot even ask for the guest’s name. This renunciation of sovereignty has the effect of destabilizing the boundaries of a space, for the host no longer has the ability to police those boundaries, making trespass impossible and the boundaries irrelevant.

Thus we can see that these two laws of hospitality are mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, even though they are heterogeneous, Derrida argues, they are also indissociable. “The unconditional law of hospitality needs the [conditional] laws, it requires them.”[11] To do justice to the unconditional law of hospitality, it must be actualized into conditional but real hospitality; otherwise unconditional hospitality would be utopian. The desire to welcome every other, and without condition, would prevent any other from actually being welcomed. “And vice versa, conditional laws would cease to be laws of hospitality if they were not guided, given inspiration, given aspiration, required, even, by the law of unconditional hospitality.”[12] Without the ability to transcend beyond the immediacy and circumscription of conditional hospitality, the act of welcoming would be limited to that art of the possible. That is, hospitality would be inescapably bound to the logic of economics and demographics, stifling political imagination and reducing creative action.

“We will,” Derrida concludes, “have to negotiate constantly between these two extensions of the concept of hospitality”[13] in every particular act of welcome, whether it be a friend, family member, or a refugee into our homes, churches, cities or nations. Therefore, there can be no fixed set of rules for providing hospitality, as the determinations in any given situation will be unique, requiring the conditional laws to be negotiated and renegotiated with the unconditional law differently. We shall now turn to the biblical text to see this dynamic at work in the Deuteronomist’s revision of the Covenant Code’s places of refuge.

The Conditional Laws of Altars of Refuge

As noted above, hospitality was a virtue common to ancient societies, including ancient Israel. From its origins in the Abrahamic witness, the welcoming of strangers has always been a central theme within the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps one of the earliest accounts of the duties of hospitality are those present within the Covenant Code in relation to the provision of places of refuge for the manslayer in Exodus 21:12-14.

While the dating of the Covenant Code has been widely debated, the general consensus among scholars places it prior to the texts of Deuteronomy.[14] Arguing against earlier scholarship’s dating of the Covenant Code in the early to mid monarchical period, Dozeman argues instead that “the agrarian setting, the absence of a king, the lack of taxes or any other central organization”[15] places it in the pre-monarchical tradition. Following Noth, he also posits that its similarity to other Near Eastern law codes suggests “this collection once formed an independent book of law, which had been inserted into the Penatateuchal narrative as an already self-contained entity.”[16]

Exodus 21:12-13 specifies the need for “a place to which the killer may flee” in the event that one person unintentionally kills another person, incurring bloodguilt upon the accidental perpetrator and possibly leading to an escalating cycle of internecine violence. As Childs notes, “whereas in other states, the growth of a powerful centralized state succeeded in replacing clan vengeance, within Israel the older clan law held on throughout the period of the early monarchy.”[17] This means that up until the later monarchical period, the escalation of violence was a serious threat to both individuals within Israel and to the social fabric as a whole. In the social imaginary of the Covenant Code, because the killer lacked mens rea, he was at least half-innocent, causing the one who kills him for the sake of vengeance to be at least half-guilty, incurring bloodguilt on the avenger. By providing a place of refuge to which an accidental killer could flee and be safe from vengeance, the Covenant Code created a kind of pressure valve that prevented the escalation of violence.

It is interesting to note here how dependent this pressure valve was upon the laws of both unconditional and conditional hospitality. The conditional laws are well specified, if briefly, in Exodus 21:12-14. First a space is offered to the other, a “מקום” (v.13), or “standing place.”[18] While the exact nature of the word מקום  is ambiguous within the text, Doseman posits that it “likely indicates a sanctuary or altar as the location of asylum.”[19] Stackert’s analysis agrees with this conclusion. He notes that 21:13’s proximity to the altar laws in 20:22-26, which do use מקום  in reference to altars, suggest “the most natural reading of מקום in Exodus 21:13 is as a cultic site at which there would be an altar.”[20] Stackert’s point seems to be confirmed by 21:14, which specifies “if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.” The removal from the altar before execution implies that the place of refuge in which the killer was residing was the sanctuary in which the altar was present. Thus, we can conclude that the place of refuge was the altar and that a manslayer could seek refuge wherever an altar of the LORD might lie.

Furthermore, we can see how the altar itself acted as the boundary line between those who are inside the place of refuge and are thus granted its security, and those outside who are not. “Milogram writes that the basic premise of asylum is that those who touch the altar absorb its sanctity and are removed from and immune to the jurisdiction of the profane world.”[21] Yet the boundary created by the altar is not only social and religious, it is physical. Indeed, 21:14 casuistically stipulates the condition that if it is discovered that a killer does in fact posses mens rea, the killer is first to be removed from the altar, then executed. Execution is not to occur in proximity to the altar, for that proximity would transgress its sacral character, defiling the altar, as well as negating its functionality as a place of refuge.

Likewise, the sovereignty that controls and maintains this boundary is expressed in Exodus 21:12-14 as both human and divine in character. Unlike the majority of the Covenant Code, the law regarding refuge is spoken by the LORD in first person: “I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee” (21:13). It follows that insofar as theמקום  is referring to the place of the altar, and this place is both called for and appointed directly by the LORD, then the boundaries of the space of refuge are constituted by the sovereignty of God. Nevertheless, the sovereignty that maintains the boundaries, while ultimately lying upon a divine foundation, is to be enacted by the people. “You shall take the killer from my altar for execution” (21:14, my italics) the LORD commands. It is the community’s responsibility to properly maintain the boundaries of the places of refuge by removing those who deserve punishment, preserving the altar as a place of hospitality for those who qualify for its refuge.

Having described the conditional laws of hospitality in Exodus 21:12-14, we can now appreciate the unconditional law of hospitality that stands behind it: God demands that God’s people are to grant hospitality to the other fleeing death. As we have seen, this comes to be qualified in the conditional laws that actualize this absolute welcome, defining who counts as the one legitimately fleeing death, and where and how such spaces are to be provided.

Yet as Derrida might have predicted, the conditional laws of hospitality in Exodus 21:12-14 are not static. Indeed, while the unconditional law of hospitality stays the same in the Deuteronomist’s revision of the Covenant Codes, the conditional laws are renegotiated in Deuteronomy 19:1-13 to preserve the unconditional law. Although the exact dating of Deuteronomy is still debated, there is a safe scholarly consensus that the book was in existence during the monarchical period, with some scholars suggesting it originated in the Northern Kingdom and was carried to Judah and redacted after the Northern Kingdom’s fall.[22] This would place the writer, the redactors, and the audience in a vastly different social and religious space then the Covenant Code, which as we saw earlier, was addressed to a pre-monarchical, and thus, a less centralized society.

Perhaps one of the most significant differences between the Covenant Code and the legal corpus of Deuteronomy is, as Levinson points out, that Deuteronomy’s laws function to centralize Israelite cultic life by prohibiting “all sacrifice at the local altars prevalent throughout the countryside,”[23] limiting sacrifice to one place that shall be appointed by the LORD. This presents a problem for the author of Deuteronomy, as the Exodus account includes provisions for the use of multiple altars. Levinson goes on to detail how the Deuteronomist, using inner biblical exegesis, innovates these provisions in relation to animal sacrifice by “seculariz[ing] the local sphere” of animal slaughter and “do[ing] so at exactly those points where cultic centralization conflicts with norms and with texts that presuppose local cultic activity.”[24] This allows the Deuteronomist to alter specific provisions within the Covenant Code without negating its authority. In other words, through this legal innovation, the Deuteronomist is able to take up the Covenant Code in a new social and religious space.[25]

While Levinson crafts his argument solely in relation to animal sacrifice, a similar argument can be applied to the laws regulating hospitality for the manslayer. In Deuteronomy 19:1-13 the conditional laws of hospitality change quite dramatically, referring to “ערים” (Deut 19:2) or “cities”[26] of refuge, instead of מקום. Stackart, following Levinson, applies the inner biblical exegetical method of analysis to this change, noting that “Deut 19:1-13 invents the concept of the cities of refuge on interpretive grounds in its creative engagement with its textual patrimony, Exod 21:12-14.”[27] By exploiting the ambiguity of the word מקום in the Covenant Code, the Deuteronomist can interpret it’s meaning as ערים in Deuteronomy’s legal corpus, allowing the author to imply through his revision that מקום  had always meant ערים. Thus “in Deut 19:1-13 […] the author […] revises his source, secularizing what is explicitly cultic in Exod 21:12-14.”[28] That is to say, where in the Covenant Code the space in which hospitality is offered is sacred, marked by the boundaries of the altar and grounded on the sovereignty of God, in Deuteronomy’s legal corpus, the space is reconceived as a secular city, the boundaries no longer cultic but geo-political.

What stays consistent in both Exod 21:12-14 and Deut 19:1-13, is that the conditional law is still grounded upon the sovereignty of God. Although the conditional laws that enact this sovereignty do differ – mainly, that the Covenant Code assumes priests enact sovereignty whereas the Deuteronomic legal corpus specifies it is the city elders – they are nevertheless both constituted by the divine command of unconditional hospitality. As Weinfeld notes, “the book of Deuteronomy, […] with the abolition of provincial altars and sanctuaries, removes the institution of asylum from sacerdotal jurisdiction,”[29] and in fact, must do so in order to preserve the unconditional law of hospitality. If the Deuteronomist were simply to transplant the altar law from the Covenant into his legal corpus, the centralization of the cultic system would limit the places of hospitality to one: the temple. This would make it difficult for those geographically distant from the temple to reach the place of hospitality before being overtaken by their pursuer, making them much more vulnerable to blood vengeance. This is why the Deuteronomist secularizes and redefines the boundaries to be geo-political, as it ensures that there will be a space of hospitality “assigned at equidistant locations so that the fleeing manslayer may reach the place of asylum with the maximum speed.”[30]

We can now see how insightful Derrida’s philosophy of the negotiation between the conditional laws and the unconditional law of hospitality is, and how deeply it penetrates the construction of the biblical text. Clearly, the Deuteronomist’s secularization of the Covenant Code’s provision of hospitality was an artful attempt through inner biblical exegesis to actualize unconditional hospitality in a new socio-religious environment: the centralized cult of monarchical Israel. What remains to be answered is how this might provide a foundation for a biblical theology of the contemporary church sanctuary movement in Canada and it is to this question that we now turn.

Towards a Foundation for a Biblical Theology of Church Sanctuary

Although a great gulf exists between both the Covenant Code, the Deuteronomical legal corpus, and contemporary law, a significant similarity remains: the unconditional law of hospitality. In the Canadian context, this is perhaps best displayed by section seven in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which declares “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”[31] While on the surface, this law might seem to differ from the unconditional law of hospitality as it was found in the biblical law codes (i.e. that God demanded the people grant hospitality to the other fleeing death), it does upon a closer examination signify the same imperative.

Here it is important to point out the deceptive nature of determining a precise formula for the unconditional law of hospitality, as any particular linguistic statement is already a translation of the unconditional into the conditional. That is to say, in order to speak of hospitality at all, it must be spoken of in particular words, which, by holding one linguistic nuance, de facto exclude another. Thus even the description of unconditional hospitality is itself a conditional codification: a circumscription of possibility through linguistic actualization.

This is why it can be said that section seven of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms signifies the same unconditional law of hospitality as the biblical law codes, even though they are articulated differently, as both provide an absolute directive to provide the other with a safe space in which their lives are persevered. Indeed, section seven of the Charter and posits an absolute welcoming of the other through its use of the word “everyone,”[32] a word that self-consciously refuses to distinguish between the host and the guest, the foreigner and the citizen. All are equally accorded the right to life, liberty, and security in the space named Canada, and it is the role of those who maintain its borders to ensure those rights.

Moreover, as in the biblical law codes, the imperative to maintain Canada as a space in which the life of the other is protected is ultimately grounded in the sovereignty of God. This is made clear in the opening preamble of the Charter, which states “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law: [sic]”.[33] Here the colon is a critical mark of punctuation, for it is a semantic declaration that all subsequent codes of law are founded upon the more primary principals of the supremacy of God and the rule of law. Of course, this raises a significant problem for the Canadian citizen and church member in the contemporary context: what happens when the conditional laws of hospitality inhibit rather then actualize unconditional hospitality?

Such is the situation since Bill C-31 was given royal assent, for, as we noted in the introduction, both doctors, lawyers, and the refugees themselves have testified to the radical harm this legislation will inflict on those who flee to Canada for their lives. In this way, the new immigration law – which is to say the conditional laws of hospitality in Canada – actually inhibits the unconditional law of hospitality as it is articulated in both the biblical law codes and the Charter.

Yet, as the philosophy of Derrida makes visible in Deuteronomist’s revision of the Covenant Code, the answer to such contradiction is not despair, but renegotiation. Indeed, the necessity of and methodology for renegotiating the conditional laws is precisely the lesson that the modern sanctuary movement can learn from the witness of the biblical law codes. Just as the Deuteronomist secularized the Covenant Code’s provision of places of refuge to preserve the unconditional law of hospitality found there, so too the church can sacralize Canada’s conditional laws so as to preserve the unconditional law of hospitality as it is found in section seven of the Charter.

Under the current conception of providing refuge to the stranger fleeing violence, it is the state’s role to maintain the boundaries of the country, preserving Canada as a space that can provide food, water, shelter, and security to those in need. This is done through the office of the Canadian Minister of Immigration and the Immigration Refugee Board of Canada, which maintains the boundaries by scrutinizing, filtering, and selecting those refugee applicants it deems credible, and having the Canada Border Services Agency arrest and deport the ones it believes are not (i.e. “bogus refugees”). The church may be involved in this process tangentially by agreeing to privately sponsor a refugee, but the apparatus that actualizes this provision of refuge is secular, much like the ערים in the Deuteronomist’s revision.

Yet, as we have seen, due to the new legislation, this apparatus no longer functions adequately. In this situation, the church has the opportunity and the capacity to renegotiate the conditional law by providing sanctuary through its own ecclesiastical apparatuses. In the same way the Deuteronomist interprets מקום  to be ערים, removing the temple out of the system of refuge and replacing it with cities, the church can interpret section seven of the Charter to be fulfilled not through the secular state but through its own structures. It could develop its own criteria of those it considers legitimate seekers of refuge, and provide those refugees with food, water, shelter, and security within the confines of its own sacred spaces. In other words, by inverting the Deuteronomist’s method, the church would re-conceptualize the current secular system of refuge as a sacred one, binding hospitality to the sacred spaces of a church community in a way similar to the places of refugee found in the Covenant Code.

Such a revision would not be a rejection of the nation-state as such, nor even of Canadian law, for it would draw justification for its seemingly transgressive actions on the legal patrimony of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and on the sovereignty of God which the Charter itself is founded upon, and which compels the church to welcome the stranger. Indeed, any reinterpretations the church might make to the conditional laws of hospitality would be for the sole purpose of preserving the tradition of the unconditional law of hospitality in Canada.

Thus we can see that the renegotiation of the Covenant Code’s law of hospitality in the book of Deuteronomy provides a foundation for a contemporary biblical theology of church sanctuary in Canada. As Derrida revealed, hospitality is constituted by two mutually exclusive, but equally necessary laws: the conditional laws that actualize hospitality, and the unconditional demand of absolute welcome, which are always and already under a process of negotiation. We then traced this dynamic in the Deuteronomist’s revision of the Covenant Code in relation to places of refuge, noting how conditional hospitality comes to be renegotiated in a different social and religious space, in order to preserve unconditional hospitality. By utilizing an inverted version of the Deuteronomit’s method of revision within the contemporary Canadian situation, we then saw how the church could preserve the unconditional law of hospitality as it is described in both the biblical law codes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by providing church sanctuary.

While this account might provide a foundation, a starting point, for the construction of a biblical theology of church sanctuary in Canada, it is important to emphasis that it is nevertheless an incomplete task. A fully developed biblical theology of church sanctuary would also have to take into consideration the narratives of the First Testament and the Second Testament’s view of hospitality in the gospels and in Saint Paul. Furthermore, a more comprehensive Canadian contextual theology would be needed, taking into account the complexity of offering hospitality in a colonialist context. What I have done here is simply to suggest one way in which this larger project might be initiated. That the lives of the many men, women, and children we call refugees might depend on churches that are willing to provide such radical hospitality, should compel us all to continue this work in both theory and in practice.

Jeffrey Metcalfe is a deacon in the Diocese of Quebec. While he completes his theological studies at Trinity College in Toronto, he serves as the assistant curate at the Church of the Redeemer. He is a co-editor of Catholic Commons.


Ajzenstat, Oona. “The problem of the promise: Derrida on Levinas on the cities of refuge.” Cross Currents 52, no. 4 (December 1, 2003): 474-482.

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. 5th Edition. Edited by R. Kittle. Regensburg: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997.

“Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Department of Justice Canada. http://laws- (accessed June 17, 2012).

“CBA says Bill C-31 lacks fairness and should be withdrawn.” Canadian Bar Association.     eng.aspx (accessed June 11, 2012).

Childs, Brevard. The Book of Exodus: A Critical Theological Commentary. The Old Testament Library.Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1974.

Colwell, Matthew, Myers, Ched. Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2012.

Csanyi-Robah, Gina. “Roma Refugees IN Canada and Bill C-31.” Roma Community Centre. Bill_C-31.pdf (accessed June 11, 2012).

“Department of Justice Canada.” Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. http://laws- (accessed June 17, 2012).

Derrida, Jacque. Of Hospitality. Translated by Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

_________. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Translated by Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Doseman, Thomas. Commentary on Exodus. Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.

“Interim Federal Health Program Cuts and Bill C31 – UofT Psychiatry Position Statement.” University of Toronto. (accessed June 12, 2012).

Levinson, Bernard. Deuteronomy and the hermeneutics of legal innovation . New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Meskin, Jacob. “Misgivings About Misgivings and the Nature of a Home: Some    Reflections on the Role of Jewish Tradition in Derrida’s Account of Hospitality.” In Hosting the Stranger: Between Religions. Edited by Richard Kearney and James Taylor. New York: Continuum, 2011.

Phillips, Anthony. Deuteronomy. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Sobrino, Jon, and Walter, Jr Petry. “Sanctuary : A Theological Analysis.” Cross Currents 38, no. 2 (June 1, 1988): 164-172.

Stackert, Jeffrey. “Why does Deuteronomy legislate cities of refuge? asylum in the covenant collection (Exodus 21:12-14) and Deuteronomy (19:1-13).” Journal Of Biblical Literature 125, no. 1 (March 1, 2006): 23-49.

Weinefeld, Moshe. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1972.

[1] Jason Kenney, interviewed by Jim Brown, The Current, CBC, March 19, 2012.

[2] “Interim Federal Health Program Cuts and Bill C31 – UofT Psychiatry Position Statement,” University of Toronto, (accessed June 12, 2012).

[3] “CBA says Bill C-31 lacks fairness and should be withdrawn,” Canadian Bar Association, (accessed June 11, 2012).

[4] Gina Csanyi-Robah, “Roma Refugees IN Canada and Bill C-31,” Roma Community Centre, (accessed June 11, 2012).

[5] Church sanctuary is the practice of hosting foreigners who may be harmed if they are deported by the government. For the sake of brevity, I will not provide a history or analysis of contemporary church sanctuary here. For such a background see Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell, Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2012) and Jon Sobrino and Walter Petry, “Sanctuary: A Theological Analysis,” Cross Currents 38, no. 2 (June 1, 1988): 164-172.

[6] Jacque Derrida, Of Hospitality, translated by Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 53.

[7] Ibid., 61.

[8] Ibid., 55.

[9] Ibid., 55.

[10] Ibid., 25.

[11] Ibid., 79.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 135.

[14] Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library(Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1974), 458.

[15] Thomas Doseman, Commentary on Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 498

[16] Ibid.

[17] Childs, The Book of Exodus, 470.

[18] BDB, 879.

[19] Doseman, Commentary on Exodus, 532.

[20]Jeffrey Stackert, “Why does Deuteronomy Legislate Cities of Refuge? Asylum in the Covenant Collection (Exodus 21:12-14) and Deuteronomy (19:1-13),” Journal Of Biblical Literature 125, no. 1 (March 1, 2006): 29.

[21] Doseman, Commentary on Exodus, 532.

[22] Moshe Weinefeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1972), 7.

[23] Bernard Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Hegal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 23.

[24] Ibid., 51.

[25] While the answer far exceeds the scope of this paper, the question must nevertheless be asked: was the Deuteronomist’s revision taking up the Covenant Code to allow it to speak to new times, or, was it an attempt at creating these new times through a cultic reform?

[26] BDB, 746.

[27] Stackert, “Why does Deuteronomy Legislate Cities of Refuge, 49.

[28] Ibid., 45.

[29] Weinefeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 236.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Department of Justice Canada, (accessed June 17, 2012), 2.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid., 1.


One thought on “Hospitality and the Law

  1. The biblical mandate from the Hebrew Scriptures and the mandate which springs from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does indeed converge as regards the “needs of stangers” or aliens. An even more comprehensive formulation of contemporary concern for “the other” is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly in Sections 1,2,3,5, 28 and 29, of which Canada was not only a signatory but played an important role in the drafting of the document.

    Your timely and cogent article help us in the Church to prepare for the conflict that lies ahead as the Government of Canada begins to implement this socially destructive piece of legislation. I would also point out that as the Canadian Charter acknowledges that: ” Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law” we in the Church have not only a right but a responsibility to set forth clearly and definitively where the Federal Government has been remiss in their lack of adherence to the Universal Charter and inhumane in their application of this new law.

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