The culture wars wage on. It seems just about everyone has an opinion on Chick-fil-A these days. The “Do you like their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries?” discussion has been traded for asking whether or not you’ll be boycotting the fast-food-chicken chain for their stance on gay marriage.
From the maker of The Muppets to the Mayors of Beantown and the Windy City, the list of folks cutting ties with the chicken chain is growing. The culture wars are in full swing, complete with protests, blog posts, name-calling and threats of glitter bomb violence. As you probably know, a couple weeks ago, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy made comments in an interview with the Baptist Press that have brought some attention from groups advocating equal rights for same-sex couples. This, on the heels of a report from LGBT equality group Equality Matters, which stated that Chick-fil-A had donated over “$2 million to anti-gay groups in 2010.” Newsy politics picked up on the interview and made this video, and that’s when things started to really heat up. Roughly 6,000 people have signed a pledge to boycott Chick-fil-A, while others rallied behind former Arkansas governor and one-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabees’ declaration of August 1st as “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Christian opinions emerged all over social media networks and the blogosphere.
As often happens, these voices led to a flurry of other voices from both sides of the aisle. Some reasonable and well-intentioned. Many not. Unfortunately, the discussion has brought out the worst in American Evangelicalism. Clear, balanced conversation has been traded in for simply shouting past one another. Even the most helpful dialogue starters seem to be inevitably overrun with hate-filled comments slung back and forth across perspectives.
In short, this thing blew up.
If only Jesus had said something specifically regarding how to treat people who think differently than we do.
Imagine the scene. Jesus just finished what is now his best known teaching—the Sermon on the Mount—a practical manifesto for this new Way. He’s just touched on nearly everything, and their heads must have been spinning as they tried to make sense of it all. Key phrases still lingered in the ears of the listeners, now making their way down the rocky path.
“Treat people the same way you would like to be treated.”
“Don’t just love those who look, act and think like you—love your enemies, too.”
As the Great Teacher led the way down the mountain, perhaps in an effort to put skin on his words, Matthew in his gospel describes a leper approaching. One who is unclean. Rejected. Perhaps even sinful. From beyond the borders of community the outcast approaches, asking if this “christ” would be willing to make him clean. And what does the rabbi do?
He touches him.
This leper’s dying flesh was literally eating away at him, and Jesus breaks Jewish custom and law, reaches out his hand and touches the man. In front of the crowds who followed him, watching. His contact immediately brings healing and restoration—life to that which was dead.
What did his followers think? Did this encounter change how they viewed the next leper they saw, shunned by the masses as he crawled through the streets declaring, “Unclean! Unclean!”?
Does it change us?
The last time the church’s dirty laundry got aired with this type of excitement was in 2011 when Rob Bell was just about to release a book and let a teaser trailer slip in which he asked the now infamous question, “Ghandi is in hell? He is? And someone knows for sure, and felt the need to let the rest of us know?”
That question unleashed a slew of blog posts prior to the book’s release declaring that Rob Bell was a heretic, claiming he doesn’t believe in hell. For many within Christendom, Rob Bell became untouchable.
It was an interesting debate that certainly got people thinking about an important subject, but it too often devolved into bickering and line-drawing. Interestingly, the same week western Christianity was abuzz about whether or not Rob Bell is a universalist, a 9.0 earthquake and devastating tsunami hit Japan, killing over 25,000 people and injuring some 10,000.
But we wanted to talk about Rob Bell.
And it seems, in the midst of worldwide pain and heartache in recent weeks—the tragedy at the premier of The Dark Knight Rises, the Colorado fires, the Penn State abuse report, the Syrian massacres, unrest in the Middle East or even the drama surrounding the Olympics, that Christians would have plenty to not only talk about, but plenty in which we have an opportunity to participate with God in his redemptive plan for the reconciliation of all things.
But we want to talk about Chick-fil-A.
This begs the question—if Jesus were leading us down the mountain today, where would he be leading humanity? Probably not into the ring to fight each other over this issue. The seeming inability of many Christians to appropriately engage the LGBT community is merely symptomatic of a much deeper issue—how we view “the Other.”
The issue is not homosexuality. We do the same with Muslims and Hindus, with Atheists and Agnostics. We do it with Christians that think differently regarding heaven and hell, baptism or remarriage, or those who get a little too charismatic when their favorite worship song is played. We do it with anyone who we view as “the Other.”
The real issue is us. We struggle to “put skin” on the words and message of Christ with anyone who thinks differently than us. Too often, we demand conformity prior to connection. When we approach one another as brothers and sisters—image bearers of the God we claim to serve—and celebrate what we have in common, we better position ourselves to helpful dialogue in the midst of disagreement. We carry divine potential for healing and restoration. We have an opportunity and responsibility to allow our words and actions to surge with the power and energy of a life of love.
Here’s a question: what it would look like if we, instead of taking sides in the Chick-Fil-A debate, simply stretched out our hands and touched the Other?
Michael J. Kimpan is the author of the WayWard Follower blog, designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and intentional movement among followers of Jesus Christ. Michael worships and serves on staff at Richwoods Christian Church in Peoria, IL.