[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on April 25, 2015.]
The article told about a gay woman who’d sent in a cash donation to a Christian-owned pizzeria in Indiana, targeted after one of its workers stated, when asked, that while the restaurant would serve gays, it would not cater a gay wedding.
The Blaze first reported the story of Courtney Hoffman’s decision to join thousands of others donating money to help the pizza joint reopen after a barrage of online threats caused its closure.
Explaining her $20 contribution, Hoffman said that while she disagrees with the owners’ beliefs, she still supports their right to operate their business based on those beliefs.
When a radio host asked her about her gesture, Hoffman responded that she and her girlfriend, small-business owners themselves, see “a difference between operating in a public market space and then attaching a business name to a private event.”
If they’d been asked to set up an anti-gay marriage rally, she said, they’d have to decline.
“We are outraged at the level of hate and intolerance that has been directed at you,” Hoffman said in a message to owners of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind., “and I sincerely hope that you are able to rebuild.”
In an interview later, Hoffman shared her disappointment with the ways we tend to approach one another when we don’t see eye to eye.
“I just think there’s a lot of room for differences and similarities between all of these businesses, all of these communities,” she said, “and if we can remember that differences don’t equal maliciousness … maybe we can move beyond threats of violence and have open discussions of the things that we don’t agree on.”
Hoffman’s sentiments came to me April 8, just a few days after North Dakota House lawmakers denied passage of a bill that would have expanded the state’s prohibitions against discrimination to include sexual orientation.
The previous week, on March 24, a Forum editorial had warned lawmakers not to be bullied into denying Senate Bill 2279, accusing its opponents of acting with a “dark spirit” and trying to impede the process of justice with “narrow religious doctrine,” calling their efforts “anathema.”
They appeared before me the same week a local coffee shop issued a satirical ban on serving legislators who had voted against the bill unless they were accompanied by a member of the LGBTQA community—an “embargo” some locals hailed as “rad,” according to another Forum piece.
Although the bill in question did not directly address religious freedom, the pizzeria incident in Indiana and the proposed change to North Dakota law share common threads. In each, the issue of discrimination erupts. And in each, it seems to me—using Hoffman’s words—a differing opinion has become equated with maliciousness.
That’s why Hoffman’s response stands out. The move of the day seems to be that of squelching anything that looks from the outside like hate—even if the intention is far from that—leading the perceived hater to then become a target of hate in reverse.
But does not agreeing mean hate? And does agreeing mean love?
What if those who voted down the bill desire just as much as its proponents a world of kindness and respect, but believe this particular bill would have fallen short; that another approach could more effectively foster a more gracious society?
I’m glad we’re not all the same. I’m glad we have varying opinions and approaches and ways of being. And I’m glad we live in a country where we can peacefully discuss our respective perspectives.
I’m concerned, though, whether the latter will remain should things continue without a reflective pause.
Let’s keep talking, but as Hoffman hinted, we need to check ourselves for mean-spirited reactions to our perceptions of others’ intentions, especially if we want our shared goal—a just society—to be realized.
Like Hoffman, I yearn for a world in which we would start by assuming the best in those with whom we diverge and go out of our way to seek convergence. This approach could well be what brings our divided world back together again.
I think it’s worth a shot—or perhaps a slice of pizza.