The Hoosier Anti-Racism Movement (or HARM) had been handing out literature all over the town letting everyone know of the “bigot’s” arrival. The local law enforcement and media were respectively armed to address what was certain to unfold.
Apparently, everyone knew he was coming except us.
From a city 30 miles away, a white-supremacist and Ku Klux Klan member had announced to his compatriots that he would be coming to our city to protest the gays and the lesbians and the minorities and to champion the white race.
On this Saturday morning in spring, I was walking past our downtown courthouse with my wife now VERY 8 months pregnant. As we strolled, we talked about our plans for our lives and our future: did we still want to name our daughter that? How in the world am I going to finish my paper on “Jesus Christ Liberator” when our baby arrives ? What in the world are we going to do when she gets here?
As we stroll, we notice a small fleet of police vehicles which typically suggests someone’s been shot or the Tea Party has decided to host a gathering on our very-liberal town’s square. Puzzled by what’s happening, we notice the crowd start to gather. Men and women, young and old were shouting. Some of the older individuals seemed well-versed in the art of protesting. They held signs, wore outfits, and some carried bullhorns. Some were there to protest through humor to ridicule such an absurd idea as a superiority of one race or sexual identity over all the rest. Others were there to protest through degradation and jeering.
The younger protesters were similarly motley. Some young hipsters carried their own signs and had their own peculiar dress. There were those who wore masks or lifted their bandanas over their faces intended to cover their identity (some of them had clearly experienced counter-protest initiatives). The masks of others were used to terrify, to elicit fear from those they object to.
Both groups circled around a single man in a trench coat. His shaved hair was covered by a cowboy hat and glasses obscured his eyes. His personal appearance hid his ideas, opinions, and bigoted tendencies save for a single, cardboard backed sign that said “Celebrate the White Heritage.” As the groups ensnared him, they hovered around him as close and as ominous and dark as a shadow. In his protest, he would walk slowly and timidly as any accidental touch by him would prompt rage, finger pointing and shouting “Don’t touch me, you fucking racist!”
Frightened that the crowd may turn to a mob, my wife and I sat off on the courtyard lawn taking in this display of hatred. We both sit there fidgeting. I am keenly aware of my wife and I’ve noted the possible exit points and what strategies to employ if things got ugly.
Tears form in my eyes.
Of course, I weep because I am saddened by this man’s ideology. I’m saddened that somewhere in his life someone or something convinced him of another human being’s lesser worth. Not only am I sad for him for holding such negative opinions but I mourn his inability to see the wonderous beauty that the diversity of humanity has to offer.
Maybe I’d feel differently if he had the sheer volume the protesters had.
It’s the palpable violence and hatred in the faces and words of the protestors that makes me weep the most. In this understandable demonstration against an evil idea, HARM contributed more to the air of hate, stirred more fear in their audience than this man ever could. Parents who were interested in lending their voice in protest slip away covering their children’s ears and shielding their eyes from this demonstration of hate. Almost reflexively, my wife’s hand moves to her pregnant belly, shielding our unborn child.
I weep because I believe that Jesus would have been standing next to that man. When the religious leaders of his day approached with stones in hand, they were, by law, in the right as they ensnared the women caught in adultery. This crime was so heinous that it demanded execution; yet, Jesus stood by her. As if his presence and siding with the guilty wasn’t enough to stay the execution, Jesus’ question makes the Pharisees drop their stones and the crowd disperses.
If I really believe the story of Jesus — about an infinite being wrapping itself up in finitude with all the pain and struggles that come with it and equally loving everything wearing that same outfit and more — I know that that man is loved.
I weep because I should have been standing next to that man.
But, in a small town such as ours, I am known. I am known for the good work that is done through the agency I represent and I’m not ready to out myself as a sincere follower of the Way, someone who really does believe all those radical things the God-made-man claimed and lived and died for.
The man leaves, escorted by the police. As the protest dwindles, my wife and I get up to leave. I help her to her feet because she’s no longer willing (or able) to try that herself. With tears in both our eyes about what we just witnessed, we hold hands and hold each other close and tell each other “I love you.” In silence, we pray and believe that things will be different when our daughter comes. That God’s Kingdom may be more present tomorrow than today, that each day we get a little closer to “as it is in heaven.”
And, if not, we’re grateful for the god/man, Jesus, who showed us what to do.