By now, you’ve surely heard the story.
In defiance of a government order, a Dallas salon owner opens for business two weeks ahead of the appointed time. Texas governor Greg Abbot, in an effort to “Reopen Texas,” held off on allowing certain businesses to un-shutter their doors in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns.
Shelley Luther was the owner. Her actions caused her to be sentenced to seven days in jail. There was a public outcry. The governor changed his orders, paving the way for the Texas Supreme Court to hear appeals in Luther’s case and unravel a series of events that led to her release.
Like any such event, the news channels all salivated over it and misinformation was spread far and wide on social media. There are a lot of misconceptions about her case.
One thing is for certain — she is primed to make the best of it.
A little over 500 years ago, another Luther made an even bigger public stink. Martin (no relation, that I know of), had clearly had it up to here with the powers-that-be in the Catholic Church. He picked 95 fights with them by nailing a document to a church door (the 16th-century equivalent of posting something on Facebook), and sparked the Protestant Reformation.
Like the 21st-Century stylist with the same last name, Martin’s motives were surely mixed. However, we have the benefit of going on six centuries to interpret those. Luther was vocally anti-Semitic. He was, without question, a bit curmudgeonly, fighting bouts of anxiety and self-defeat. But he was also brilliant, determined, and he saw an opportunity to make a difference.
A difference he most definitely made. He even has a whole denomination named after him, much to his chagrin. In spite of his flaws, and he had many, I do believe church historians are united on this truth — Martin Luther did what he did for the public good. He saw corruption in the Catholic Church’s power structures and unbiblical teachings in their theology. He brought necessary corrective.
He may have stuck it to the man, but he did it for goodness’ sake.
Fast forward five hundred or so years, and the motives of our modern-day Luther are surely also mixed. I have no doubt that Shelley was anxious about keeping her business up and running. While as a salon owner she sub-leased chairs to individual stylists, I’m sure she still had costs of her own to concern herself with. Everyone knows that there is ongoing tension in our country (and other countries, too, by the way) regarding individual liberties and government oversight. It bears underscoring that the small-government Republican Party outlined these restrictions in deference to public health, and only when challenged did Abbott retreat and change course. You can malign the local Democratic judges if you wish, but they were only enforcing what the governor had outlined.
While we don’t have the benefit of 500 years to interpret Shelley’s actions as we do Martin’s, it is quite reasonable to question if Ms. Luther’s motives were aligned with Mr.’s.
Consider that since the hubbub struck all the cable news outlets, Shelley Luther has cut very little hair. She has traveled to Laredo in support of banned business owners there, and recently even flew to Michigan to speak in defense of salon owners in that state. She also took the roughly half-million dollars raised on her behalf and started a non-profit. Entitled The Courage to Stand Foundation, one can’t help but hear echoes of our Reformation hero when he famously said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
The foundation is meant to provide funds for other business owners forced to stay closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. But, Luther’s spokesperson (yes, she has a spokesperson) said, “The nonprofit will also allocate some funds for legal defense if other businesses choose to defy governmental orders like Luther did.”
For me, the key to interpreting Luther’s motives is found in the fact that she re-opened her shop the day after she was approached by the leader of a Houston-based political organization called Woke Patriots.
“Before Shelley opened her salon, we researched her and her cause and decided that we would approach her and offer to support her as our first patriot cause,” [the leader of Woke Patriots] wrote on the GoFundMe page. “She accepted our offer.”
In other words, this wasn’t her idea. Like her Protestant protege centuries before, Luther had an “aha” moment, saw an opportunity, and she took it.
Obviously, opinions on her actions abound based on numerous factors — chiefly one’s own political persuasion. I have no doubt that Shelley believes the stand she is taking is noble, worthwhile, and good. Martin had his vocal opponents, and Shelley will, too.
They both also will benefit from great support.
Martin Luther benefitted from the vocal support of German nationalists. Though he resisted totally aligning with their causes, he was often lumped in with them by his opponents. He was jailed, too, you know.
Shelley Luther is already benefitting from the support of conservative politicians. It is not far-fetched to believe that she will use all of this to launch a speaking career, and her days of doing hair will long be in her past.
Ironically, what she thought was an injustice could result in her quick ascent into fame, riches, and power. A book deal has surely also been offered already. We can argue about whether or not what was done to her was fair.
What she does with it now is entirely in her power.
Speaking of power, a Texas Republican congressman was confirmed as the Director of National Intelligence the other day. His appointment leaves a vacant congressional seat in his district east of Dallas. In Texas, you are not required to live in the district in which you serve as representative.
The lessons of the Luthers are these —
1. You can stick it to the man for goodness’ sake, or you can just stick it to the man for your own sake.
2. Telling the difference between those two is difficult and only eases with time.
As for her candidacy for that vacant congressional seat in Texas, Luther is reportedly “leaving her options open.”