Can we learn anything from the Chick-fil-A squabble?

Protesters held signs and shouted slogans outside a Chick-fil-A food truck in a demonstration organized by the Human Rights Campaign in Washington on Thursday.By Alan Bean

In an effort to enjoy a genuine vacation this summer, I left off blogging for ten days and am just now back in the saddle.  As a consequence, the Chick-fil-A controversy has run its course without benefit of my insights (how does the world keep spinning when I’m not paying attention?)  I have been keeping abreast of the fire fight, however, and have decided to share a few highlights.

Fred Clark, a progressive evangelical, is perplexed by the guy who decided to counter the folks who are protesting Chick-fil-A’s gay-unfriendly stance by going after General Mills, the folks who market Honey-nut Cheerios, a product deemed to be near and dear to the hearts of the gay community.  Maybe its because Omar, a cold killer made famous by The Wire, was a gay man with a predilection for that particular confection.  At any rate, this guy decided to protest the gay-loving General Mills by taking a match to a box of Cheerios and ended up starting a grass fire.

The video went viral.

Here’s Fred Clark’s reaction:

The odd thing, though, is that everywhere I saw this video linked and posted initially, the man was identified as a Christian or a preacher or some kind of evangelical protester.

I assumed that everyone assuming that was correct, but it was odd because nothing the man says or does in the video identifies him as such. He doesn’t mention God or the Bible or in any way identify himself as a religious person. There’s nothing sectarianin the video at all.

So why did everyone assume that this man was an evangelical Christian?

Because he’s anti-gay.

More specifically, because he’s disproportionately concerned with being anti-gay and he’s choosing to express that concern in a goofy, obnoxious and destructive way.

And in the present age, in 2012 in America, all of that marked this man as an evangelical Christian just as surely as if he were wearing a Jesus-fish necklace and a Newsboys T-shirt.

Please let that sink in. Please contemplate what that means for the witness of evangelical Christians in America in 2012. Please consider what that means for the reputation of the church.

Next, I direct you to Elizabeth Drescher, a religion professor who thinks the hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians who flocked to Chick-fil-A in support of the boldly anti-gay views of the fast food chain’s owner deserve to be described as haters.  Professor Drescher is responding to pastor Rick Warren’s oft-quoted statement:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

That sounds fair and balanced, Drescher admits, but the word “lifestyle” suggests that being gay is a matter of personal preference and everyone knows, or should know, that sexual orientation is not chosen.

Here’s her argument:

You can think you “love” me personally all you want, and you may enjoy my winning personality endlessly. We can disagree all day long about whether taxing the wealthy is the best way to heal the economy or which direction the toilet paper roll should go and still be the best of friends. But when you speak and act in ways that seek to limit the civil liberties, increase the risk of discrimination and violence, and damage the psychological and spiritual well-being of me and people like me as a group, you are not being loving. You are not being compassionate. And, for what it’s worth, you don’t come off as particularly Christian, either—at least not the kind of Christian that anyone would recognize through a cursory scan of Jesus’ teachings.

Furthermore, when you call me “unbiblical,” “unnatural,” and say I’m bent on destroying society with my “sinful lifestyle” and then complain that you’re being judged unfairly because I call that “hate” and I call that “phobic”; when you want to lean on the First Amendment for your own opinions then try to call up Miss Manners when I object—well, that’s just nonsense, too.

Finally, I bring you Andrew Marin, the President and Founder of The Marin Foundation which works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church.  Not surprisingly, Marin isn’t pleased to see the two groups he is trying to bring together flinging mud at each another.  The LGBTQ community held a kiss-in in front of Chick-fil-A outlets after evangelicals bought as much chicken as the budget could bear to show their support for marriage, morality and free speech.

In Marin’s view:

This Chick-Fil-A situation got out of control really quick, in no small part to a number of pundits on both ends of the spectrum adding unnecessary fuel to the fire. They made this situation more than Dan Cathy voicing his support of traditional marriage. They made it a highly structured fight; setting it up as the battle lines must be drawn because the winning worldview will immediately take its place as the dominant majority in culture.

This makes for a terrific culture war showdown, Marin says, but in a nation as diverse as America neither side can expect to overwhelm the other.

The main question today must be how we relate to each other with strongly held convictions, rather than continually try to force everyone into theological, social or political alignment. That will never work, as highlighted by the last three days.

If the gay rights community doesn’t like Dan Cathy’s opinions it has every right to eschew his brand of fried chicken.  If conservative Christians decide to flash a thumbs-up by supporting the fast food chain, that is their privilege.  But, like Marin, I doubt this will go down as one of America’s teachable moments.

When evangelicals talk about “the gay lifestyle” I’m never sure what they mean.  Are they opposed to casual sex in bath houses (and other stereotypical depictions of gay sex), or are they suggesting that everyone is born with a God-given heterosexual orientation and a few perverted individuals decide to swim against the biological current in a twisted act of defiance?

As Ms. Drescher implies, the use of the word “lifestyle” is an intentionally ambiguous stratagem designed to skirt this question.

Unless we make it very clear that we hate them, gay Christians will attend our churches for the same reasons straight people do–they have a hunger for God and they love Jesus.  The church I attend, Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, has been excommunicated by the larger Baptist constituency in Texas and the South because it refuses to take a position on “the gay issue”.    In the process, Broadway has lost hundreds of members and gained its soul.  We may not have a formal position on some big issues (the church is too diverse for that to happen quickly), but while we work things through we are committed to loving everybody without qualification.

Down the road, Christians of all sexual orientations need to have a prolonged conversation about the meaning of sexual covenant in the Christian life.  But so long as basic civil rights are being withheld from American citizens strictly on the basis of sexual orientation, we aren’t ready for the deeper conversation.

2 thoughts on “Can we learn anything from the Chick-fil-A squabble?

  1. I do not share Mr. Cathy’s views regarding LGBT or same sex marriages. LGBT people should have their civil rights. So should Mr. Cathy. For governmental entitities to try to deny Mr. Cathy the right to have a store in Boston or any other location based on his views about anything is a violation of Mr. Cathy’s first amendment rights. I don’t have to like his views. I don’t have to buy his product. But he has a constitutional right to his views, and to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without governmental interference, whether government at local, state, or federal level.

    Long live freedom, for everybody.

  2. I am fascinated that being anti-gay is a definition of being evangelical Christian. This is all so weird.

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