In a recent article for The Gospel Coalition, author Karen Swallow Prior has a sensible thesis: “As citizens, sometimes we should offer hospitality to our enemies. Other times, we must rebuke them. It takes wisdom to know which situations call for which response.”
Unfortunately, the road she takes to get to that point is… bizarre.
She begins with a story of recognizing a local abortion doctor while standing at a grocery store checkout line:
Many years ago, I stood in a checkout line behind one of the most notorious abortionists in my city. I knew who he was, because for years I’d been protesting regularly outside a clinic where he performed abortions… Now, unexpectedly, he was mere inches in front of me… Other than my racing heart, I was frozen as he moved toward the register and prepared to pay.
I knew what my role was when I was at the clinic protesting at the site where his hands did their dirty work. But I had no idea what I was supposed to do when I faced him in the clean, well-lighted convenience store, where citizens of all walks of life come together, bonded by our common need to buy gas, milk, bread, coffee, and water.
Suddenly, with no forethought or plan, with his back still toward me, I spoke gently toward his ear, “When are you going to stop killing babies?”
… who does that? In any other circumstance, and in any other publication, that would rightfully be considered creepy as hell.
What did Prior think was going to happen if she didn’t speak up? Was the man going to take out a gun and start shooting up the place, targeting all the babies? Would he secretly put poison in the baby food? She makes it sound like he was a serial killer… which, in her mind, he was.
Understandably, the doctor didn’t have a sudden change of heart after hearing her question.
And that’s when Prior pivots to the point she really wants to make.
I hadn’t thought of this incident for quite a long time. Then came the recent news about a Virginia restaurant owner’s request for Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave the premises. Before that, Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen was jeered by protestors while dining at a restaurant in Washington D.C.
But now California Congresswoman Maxine Waters has upped these antes by urging the public, “If you see anybody from that [Trump] Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”As my opening story shows, I understand this impulse.
But it frightens me terribly.
While I’m no fan of Sanders, I can at least understand the belief that businesses open to the public have an obligation to serve the public, whether they like the customers or not.
You would think, then, that Prior would say the same thing about bakers and florists, right? Ditto about the business owner who refused to serve then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2012 because of their political differences?
Nope. She doesn’t even mention them. Instead, she issues a call for civility, with no acknowledgment of how conservative Christians have often been the instigators of incivility (or, as they call it, their freedom of conscience).
I respect Prior’s suggestion to step out on a limb and extend kindness and understanding to those who are different from us, although the examples she provides are extreme: a black man reaching out to a KKK member, a Jewish student who hosted a known white supremacist at Shabbat dinner, etc. For the sake of mental and physical well-being, it’s important to distinguish outreach done in good faith verses situations when someone’s mind cannot be changed.
Prior talks about the importance of olive branches in her interactions with pro-choice advocates, but regarding her altercation with the abortionist,
If I could go back to that scene in the convenience store today, would I do the same thing? Yes, I think so. I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to offer piercing words, spoken in love, in hopes of pricking a man’s conscience.
For someone who talks about the importance of knowing when to offer hospitality to your enemies and when to rebuke them, she doesn’t seem to know the difference between saying something loving and being a prick.
She provoked the man using deliberately incendiary language, and he understandably left the store in a fury.
The owner of Red Hen who asked Sanders to leave her establishment was far more polite than that.
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