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Strangers and Scapegoats

Extending God’s Welcome to Those on the Margins

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We live in a world of oppositional relationships and increasing in-group/out-group divisions. Christian sociologist Matthew Vos explains how the problem of the stranger lies at the root of many problems humanity faces, such as racism, sexism, and nationalism. He applies classic sociological theory on "the stranger" to matters of faith and social justice, showing that an identity in Christ frees us to love strangers as neighbors and friends. The book also includes two guest chapters, one on intersex persons and the church and one on stranger-making in the "correctional" system.


Introduction: Strangers among Us
Part 1: Strangers and Scapegoats in Sociological Perspective
1. Constructing Identity: The Self, the Social, and the Stranger
2. A Stranger World: In-groups, Out-groups, and the Space Between 
3. No More Scapegoats: A Stranger Theology
Part 2: Strangers on the Margins
4. Strangers in the Pew: Girls and Symbolic Exclusion
5. From Stranger to Neighbor: Intersex Persons and the Church
by Val Hiebert, Providence University College
6. Strangers at the Borders: Immigrants and the Heart of the Gospel Message 
7. Strangers behind Bars: Examining the System of Mass Incarceration
by Scott Monsma, Northwestern College
8. Competing in Cedar: Nike, Superstar Athletes, and the Unseen Strangers Who Make Our Shoes
Part 3: Inviting Strangers
9. Challenging the Normal: The Strange(r) Reality of the Gospel
10. Pursuing the Common Good: Three Stories of the Neighbor


"I learned so much from reading Strangers and Scapegoats. The way we view the outsider tells a narrative about how we see ourselves, what we believe, and what we value. We love to talk about diversity and the image of God, but Vos challenges us to consider what that actually looks like, what it costs, and the great reward of extending God's welcome to others. The ultimate freedom is not the ability to serve ourselves but the freedom we give to one another in belonging to Christ."

Aimee Byrd, author of The Sexual Reformation and Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

"The twenty-first century confronts us with profoundly human issues involving race, gender, immigration, incarceration, and other human realities that take us into uncharted territory where fear can incapacitate us and lead us to divide. We've become better at constructing walls than building bridges--and all too often we are driven more by fear than by faith. In Strangers and Scapegoats, Matt Vos shares a wealth of information gleaned from years of scholarship as a sociology professor to help readers better understand the issues. But he doesn't stop with bringing facts to light. His goal is to bring Jesus into the conversation in order to shape our convictions and interactions with others. This bracing book is powerful, eye opening, and hope filled. It empowers us to be good news and a healing force in this hurting world."

Carolyn Custis James, author of Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women and Malestrom: How Jesus Dismantles Patriarchy and Redefines Manhood

"A masterful fusion of classic sociology, analysis of contemporary social problems, and personal experience that will support and stimulate Christians toward loving their neighbors. Sociologists have long pondered the nature of modern society: large scale, diverse, and filled with strangers. Vos brings basic sociological concepts to bear on questions of inclusion, mercy, favoritism, and love. Readers will come away strengthened for living Christian faith in the context of today's social challenges and opportunities."

Jenell Paris, professor of anthropology and sociology, Messiah University

"Thanks to Matt Vos for this great exploration of the truth that being considered a stranger is seldom benign. It is too often accompanied by physical, economic, emotional, and psychological harm. Explaining how this plays out in various spheres of social life is a core strength of this book. Furthermore, Vos asks us to see the gospel not as something that provides social and self-justification but as a call to empty ourselves, particularly on behalf of those who are unfairly labeled as strangers and scapegoats."

Steve Corbett, associate professor of community development, Covenant College

"Weaving personal passion and professional acumen, Vos invites readers to consider the stranger. Vos's integration of Christian faith with sociological theory and research offers a timely response to the widening cultural divides between 'us' and 'them.' This sometimes piercing critique is accompanied with stories, bringing faces and histories to the strangers living near and far, making the stranger less strange. Strangers and Scapegoats reminds Christians of our countercultural distinctive to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbor."

Lisa Graham McMinn, writer in residence, George Fox University

"Winsome, accessible, learned, and practical, this is a book I will come back to again and again. Drawing on insights from social identity theory in conversation with the witness of Christian Scripture, Vos develops a fresh lens by which to consider some of the most polarizing issues in the Christian community today related to gender, race, human sexuality, immigration, economic exploitation, and incarceration. In the end, this book will not only deepen your love for the stranger but help you rediscover your own identity in Christ."

Amanda W. Benckhuysen, director of Safe Church Ministry for the CRCNA

"In Strangers and Scapegoats, Matthew Vos writes a Christian sociological study of the strangers and scapegoats in American and Western culture, holding up both a mirror to show us ourselves and a clear lens to show us how we view others--how we maintain our status by keeping strangers in a position that minimizes their threat to us. While readers may not completely agree with Vos's emphasis or interpretation of events, they will follow his cogent arguments with fascination and find themselves unable to stop reading. He holds us with his thorough research, wide scope of history, vivid narratives and descriptions, overpowering biblical allusions, and depth of insight. This book will be a must-read for sociology courses; it will spark discussion and debate."

Mary J. Dengler, emeritus professor of English and editor of Pro Rege, Dordt University

The Author

  1. Matthew S. Vos
    Steve Glass

    Matthew S. Vos

    Matthew S. Vos (PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville) is professor of sociology and chair of the department at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, where he has taught since 2000. He serves as vice president for the Christian Sociological...

    Continue reading about Matthew S. Vos