Ben Dunlap was President of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina until 2013. When he started teaching there, in the early 90’s, he found, among the auditors in his classroom, a 90-year-old man, a Hungarian named Sandor Teszler, and he loved to tell his story. Mr. Teszler was a widower whose children had already died and whose grandchildren lived far away. He had been born in 1903 in the provinces of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, in what later would become Yugoslavia. He was ostracized as a child, not because he was a Jew, but because he had been born with two club feet, a condition which, in those days, required institutionalization and a succession of painful operations throughout childhood. He went to the commercial business high school as a young man in Budapest, and after graduation he went into textile engineering and became a successful business man. He married and had two sons.
Once he was summoned in the middle of the night by the night watchman at one of his plants. The night watchman had caught an employee who was stealing socks – it was a hosiery mill, and he simply backed a truck up to the loading dock and was shoveling in mountains of socks. Mr. Teszler went down to the plant and confronted the thief and said, “But why do you steal from me? If you need money you have only to ask.” The night watchman, seeing how things were going and waxing indignant, said, “Well, we’re going to call the police, aren’t we?” But Mr. Teszler answered, “No, that will not be necessary. He will not steal from us again.”
Maybe he was too trusting; he stayed long after the Nazi Anschluss in Austria and even after the arrests and deportations began in Budapest. He took the simple precaution of having cyanide capsules placed in lockets that could be worn about the necks of himself and his family. And then one day, it happened: he and his family were arrested and they were taken to a death house on the Danube. In those early days of the Final Solution, it was handcrafted brutality; people were beaten to death and their bodies tossed into the river. But none who entered that death house had ever come out alive. In a twist you would not believe in a Steven Spielberg film the official who was overseeing this beating was the very man who had stolen socks from Mr. Teszler’s hosiery mill. The beating was brutal. Midway through the brutality, one of Mr. Teszler’s sons, Andrew, looked up and said, “Is it time to take the capsule now, Papa?” And the official, who afterwards vanishes from this story, leaned down and whispered into Mr. Teszler’s ear, “No, do not take the capsule. Help is on the way.” And then resumed the beating. Shortly afterwards a car arrived from the Swiss Embassy and they were spirited to safety.
At the end of the war, Mr. Teszler managed to take his family first to Great Britain, then to Long Island and then to the center of the textile industry in the American South, Spartanburg, South Carolina. And there, Mr. Teszler began all over again and once again was very successful. And then in the late 1950s, in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, when the Klan was resurgent all over the South, Mr. Teszler said, “I have heard this talk before.” And he called his top assistant to him and asked, “Where would you say, in this region, racism is most virulent?”
“Well, Mr. Teszler, I reckon that would be Kings Mountain.”
“Good. Buy us some land in Kings Mountain and announce we are going to build a major plant there.”
The man did as he was told, and shortly afterwards, Mr. Teszler received a visit from the mayor of Kings Mountain, a white man. He greeted Mr. Teszler and said, “I trust you’re going to be hiring a lot of white workers.” Mr. Teszler told him, “You bring me the best workers that you can find, and if they are good enough, I will hire them.” He also received a visit from the leader of the black community, a minister, who said, “Mr. Teszler, I sure hope you’re going to hire some black workers for this new plant of yours.” He got the same answer: “You bring the best workers that you can find, and if they are good enough, I will hire them.”
Mr. Teszler hired 16 men: eight white, eight black. They were to be his seed group, his future foremen. He had installed the heavy equipment for his new manufacturing process in an abandoned store in the vicinity of Kings Mountain, and for two months these 16 men would live and work together, mastering the new process. He gathered them together after an initial tour of that facility and he asked if there were any questions. There was hemming and hawing and shuffling of feet, and then one of the white workers stepped forward and said, “Well, yeah. We’ve looked at this place and there’s only one place to sleep, there’s only one place to eat, there’s only one bathroom, there’s only one water fountain. Is this plant going to be integrated or what?” Mr. Teszler said, “You are being paid twice the wages of any other textile workers in this region and this is how we do business. Do you have any other questions?”
“No, I reckon I don’t.”
Two months later when the main plant opened and hundreds of new workers, white and black, poured in to see the facility for the first time, they were met by the 16 foremen, white and black, standing shoulder to shoulder. They toured the facility and were asked if there were any questions, and inevitably the same question arose: “Is this plant integrated or what?” One of the white foremen stepped forward and said, “You are being paid twice the wages of any other workers in this industry in this region and this is how we do business. Do you have any other questions?” And there were none. In one fell swoop, Mr. Teszler had integrated the textile industry in that part of the South. Ben Dunlap called it an achievement worthy of Mahatma Gandhi, conducted with the shrewdness of a lawyer and the idealism of a saint.
It’s an encouraging story, although this being the Sunday before Labor Day, we can’t help but remember that most of the mills in the Carolinas are closed and those jobs are gone. The story also describes part of the context in which we hear the letter of James.
“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” The question is as old as the church and it still makes us uncomfortable. The word translated ‘favoritism’ is the biblical expression closest to our concept of discrimination. James wants us to think about what we’re doing when we treat people differently based on their outward appearance. The man in fine clothes, with rings on his fingers, is welcomed with a hospitality that comes across as a little too much, too submissive, too desperate. And the woman who walks in off the street, in dirty clothes, carrying a couple of plastic bags and pulling a little carry-on suitcase behind her? No one, including the preacher, assumes she’s here to worship.
“Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” asks James. I’m glad he’s not sitting across from me. If he were sitting across from me and talking like that, I could only become defensive. But he’s not here, and he’s not asking his questions in person, and that allows us to hear them and to let them question us and to discover how much we respond without much thought to people’s outward appearance – their size, their age, their gender, their clothes, their hair, their skin. The little boy with two club feet in big orthopedic shoes. The black man in the parking lot. The fat girl in gym class. The quick judgment. The easy judgment. And the responses that follow, triggered by assumptions deeply embedded in our mental and cultural fabric. “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James doesn’t ask his questions to expose and shame us. He asks to encourage us to speak and act and think against the grain.
On June 17, it was a Wednesday night, and this is another story from South Carolina that is not just about South Carolina, on June 17 a young white man walked into a church in Charleston, just in time for Bible study. The good people of Mother Emanuel welcomed him just like Jesus welcomes any of us, as a human being made in the image of God, as a beloved child of God, as an heir of the kingdom. They spoke and acted against the grain. Some of them, perhaps, thought, we will never know, if perhaps he had meant to go to the church down the street, one of the churches where white folk went in Charleston, but they welcomed him. They spoke and acted against the grain. They fulfilled the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” They didn’t know and we didn’t know, until we heard the news, that this neighbor was intent on death. Few of us will ever forget the horror of the murder of nine church members in Bible study – in church. Love that doesn’t discriminate is a dangerous path to follow when racism, prejudice, and hate are so deeply embedded in our mental and cultural fabric. But love that doesn’t discriminate is also the power that heals us. Love that doesn’t discriminate is the love of God. “Mercy triumphs over judgment,” James reminds us. That is why he asks his questions, to encourage us to speak and act and think against the grain of judgment, especially the quick judgment, the easy judgment.
Leaders in the African Methodist Episcopal Church are determined to make the murder of the nine faithful witnesses at Mother Emanuel the moment that the church leads the United States into a genuine commitment to end racism – not just the direct, individual racism that causes one person to pick up a gun, but the broad systemic racism that nurtures such a motivation in the first place. Our brothers and sisters in the African Methodist Episcopal Church have called all Christians to offer prayers of confession with them today, to repent with them, and to commit ourselves with them to end the reign of racism and racially-motivated violence.
So this is where we are.We welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save us, the word that questions us, not to expose and shame us, but to save us in mercy. Love that doesn’t discriminate is a dangerous path to follow when racism, prejudice, and hate are so deeply embedded in our mental and cultural fabric. But love that doesn’t discriminate is also the power that heals us.
 TED talk 2007 http://www.ted.com/talks/ben_dunlap_talks_about_a_passionate_life
 See James 1:21