“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” [Luke 14:12-14 (NLT)]
I recently read about Derek Black, a young man who grew up immersed in white nationalism. The heir apparent to the WN movement, by the age of twenty, he’d already created a racist website for children and was co-hosting a national radio show advocating prejudice and hostility toward blacks, Jews, immigrants, and other minorities. During college, Black gradually recognized the ugliness of his beliefs but it wasn’t confrontation, heated debate, or ostracism that led to his transformation; it was the hand of friendship!
One of those who reached out to Black was Matthew Stevenson, an orthodox Jew, whose father had advised him to “reach out and extend the hand, no matter who’s waiting on the other side.” Each Friday night, Matthew welcomed friends at a Shabbat dinner. Only one other guest was Jewish; the rest were an assorted mix of faith, race, and nationality. Realizing the best way to enlighten Black was to introduce him to another way of thinking, the orthodox Jew invited this man—someone who regularly spewed anti-Semitism—to Shabbat dinner! Shunned by nearly everyone else on campus, Black accepted.
This was not an effort to ambush or “convert” Black and politics were not discussed. The group simply shared Shabbat prayers, wine, kosher food, and casual conversation. Derek Black’s thinking didn’t change overnight and, after more than a year of such dinners with no change in his views, one of the group suggested no longer inviting him. Matthew wisely responded, “The basic principle is that it’s our job to push the rock, not necessarily to move the rock.”
White nationalism was embedded in all of Black’s childhood memories, his sense of self, and nearly every relationship he’d ever had. Extricating himself from all that he’d known, but gradually recognized as wrong, was not easy. Eventually, however, the rock was ready to move and Derek Black publicly disavowed white nationalism.
This message isn’t about white nationalism. It’s about extending our hand “no matter who’s waiting on the other side” in the same way that Jesus extended His hand to tax collectors, Gentiles, sinners and those considered “unclean.” Every person we meet has been made by God in His image and can teach us something about life. The only label we should use for anyone is that of “neighbor” because everyone (regardless of race, religion, or politics) is our neighbor and someone we are to love.
If we expect anyone to listen to us, we must be as willing to listen to them as the Shabbat group was with Derek. While we may consider some people’s beliefs to be in error, we must remember that they think them to be true and, most likely, find reassurance in them. We can’t berate or condemn people into belief and, if we expect our beliefs to be respected, we must respect those held by others. In light of the increasingly polarized political climate in our nation, we must learn to extend our hands “no matter who’s waiting on the other side.”
Looking beyond his label of white nationalist, Black’s dinner companions didn’t see him as a problem needing fixing and the non-believers we meet are more than projects needing salvation. The Shabbat group was patient, not pushy and, while they never were false to their own beliefs, they never condemned Derek for his. While the end goal of Christian evangelism is conversion, our job merely is to give the rock a push. Whether or not the rock moves is between that person and God. We may be the messengers but it is Jesus who saves!