Tuesday (Jan. 15) was the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King, more than any other person in my lifetime, has challenged our nation to break down the walls between “us” and “them.”
His work was focused on the racial divide between blacks and whites often labeled the Civil Rights Movement. However, anyone who reads Dr. King’s writings will see that his call for justice is rooted in his commitment to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Christians know that in Jesus there is neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, neither black nor white; we are all one in the family of God. Jesus came to bring the love of God to every human being on the planet. No exceptions.
Into this context I read a fascinating story on the Huffington Post website last week. The story was one of those that spread like wildfire across the web. Joel Diaz and his friend Ethan White were standing in line, waiting to buy pizza from a late night pizza truck in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. They were holding hands and standing close because it was cold.
A man started harassing them and spewing anti-gay rhetoric. Then a wonderful thing happened. The crowd, both gay and straight, stood up for Joel and Ethan. They told the man to cut it out, saying more or less: “In our neighborhood, gay people are welcome, and we do not tolerate hatred.” The owner of the pizza truck asked the man to stop being so hateful and warned him that if he did not stop that he would be asked to leave. The man did not stop, so the owner kicked him out of line and sent him home pizza-less.
I cheered when I read the story. As a supporter of LGBT rights, I was glad to hear a story where the good guys won for a change. The Joels and the Ethans of the world have suffered ridicule, oppression and violence for long enough. For once, here was a situation where someone spoke hate, and was not allowed to prevail. He was sent home, hungry for the best pizza in town.
However, as I think about Dr. King, something keeps nagging at me.
You see, Jesus came to bring God’s love to everyone, but I am cheering because the man got sent home in shame by the crowd. As much as I understand that judgment is part of the Christian tradition, something just does not sit right with me.
I keep thinking about the one who spewed hate. I was not there on the scene that night. I don’t know firsthand how the man acted. I don’t know the look in his eye, or the tone of his voice. But I do know that Jesus came to bring God’s love to everyone: to break down the walls of “us” and “them.” That was the power of Dr. King’s movement.
I wonder what would have happened, if by some miracle, Joel or Ethan might have been moved to say to the owner of the pizza truck, “You know what? Let the man stay and we will pay for his pizza.”
Perhaps the man would have left anyway. He may not have been able to receive a gift of such mercy and grace. I am certainly not judging Joel and Ethan for their lack of grace that night. I am not bold enough to say that I would have had any generosity in that moment.
I simply wonder if such an act of generous mercy could have brought about a sudden moment of realization for a hate-filled man. Might he have changed his attitude? Could a wall have begun to come down that night? The question leaves me to ponder, who is the “them” in my life? And who sees me as “them”?
Cheri Holdridge is energized by faith communities that love to serve and she writes about creative ways we can make a difference in our world for Toledo Faith & Values.