By Mitch Albom
Last month, a pastor named Jordan Brown, who is openly gay, went into a Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas, and purchased a cake. He ordered the words “Love Wins” to be written in icing. On the car ride home, he claimed, he noticed an anti-gay slur written on the cake as well.
He called the store, received an apology and was told whoever did that would be fired. He was asked to — and did — send photos of the cake, still sealed in the box.
Brown then received a call saying the store didn’t believe any of its employees had done that.
Brown made a video, showing the cake and making the accusation. He also filed a lawsuit, seeking damages. The lawsuit claimed Brown was in tears after the incident, and it is “impossible to calculate the emotional distress that these events have caused.”
His lawyer also told the media that Brown was concerned that if he didn’t raise a fuss, someone else might go through “a similarly excruciating experience.”
Then, last week, more than a month after his purchase, Brown admitted the whole thing was a hoax.
He was right about one thing. No one should have to go through such an excruciating experience.
Especially when a pastor is perpetuating it.
This story struck me on a few personal levels. First, the phrase “Love Wins” has often been associated with a book I wrote called “Tuesdays With Morrie,” where my old professor, who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, said that life is a “tension of opposites,” kind of like a wrestling match. When I asked which side wins, he said, “Love wins. Love always wins.”
I don’t know if that’s where Brown got it. But anytime I hear those words, I perk up. To see them in the middle of a mess like this was unnerving.
Secondly, just by chance, I happen to know Walter Robb, the co-CEO of Whole Foods Market. I’ve known him to be an absolute standup person for communities and people’s basic rights. He has made diversity and inclusiveness a loudly stated part of Whole Foods’ core values — something grocery store chains don’t often do. In fact, the Whole Foods employee Brown accused of writing the gay slur was in fact a member of the LGBT community — one reason the story immediately seemed fishy.
Which brings us to Brown, 31, who, stunningly, despite knowing he was lying, referred repeatedly to his faith in his lawsuit. He claimed that he’d grown up in a family of pastors, began preaching when he was 14, and founded his own congregation two years ago, the Church of Open Doors, a non-denominational Christian-based church, which delivers a message of “personal empowerment.”
I’m not a pastor. But I don’t think personal empowerment means lying, suing and making false accusations.
Doesn’t the Ten Commandments cover that?
If someone truly had written that slur on the cake, it would be declared reprehensible. Many did just that, as soon as the story broke, assuming it was true.
We must now do even more with Brown. What he did was worse. For whatever twisted reason, he created phony hatred where there wasn’t any, then sought to benefit from it. He besmirched a good organization, and made a terrible false accusation against an innocent person — a member of the community Brown pretended to defend.
Brown issued an apology with his confession last week, saying, “I was wrong to pursue this matter and use the media to perpetuate this story.”
Of course, he did this through a statement, not a news conference like the one he called to shed false tears. What was his motivation? Money? That’s shameless. Attention? That’s sad. Building support for the gay community by inventing discrimination against it? That’s sick.
Brown set back every future case of intolerance, allowing critics to ask if it’s real or fabricated. We’d do well to not jump the gun going forward, instead doing what Whole Foods did: investigate, get the facts, then let them speak for themselves. Whole Foods, admiringly, dropped a countersuit against Brown, essentially declaring the matter over.
Meanwhile, Brown should do more than apologize to his small church. He should resign from it. If he was willing to let his phony accusation cost someone a job, his contrition ought to include the same. Besides, who on earth would listen to a pastor who claims “Love wins” while trying so hard to defeat it?
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.