Culture / Evangelism / Thinking / August 3, 2012

A response to my Critics

On Tuesday Worldmag.com posted my  article about why I considered today’s Chick-fil-A appreciation day to be a mistake by Christians and I linked to it here.. I suspected at that time that it would generate some response, and boy has it. I have received a deluge of support and agreement as well as whole lot of disagreement, some of it less that gracious. I did two interviews on Wednesday with Christian radio programs, and those further stirred things up.
As I have listened and read people’s reactions to what I wrote and said a few arguments against my points consistently come to the forefront. I am going to address those as clearly and concisely as I can here.

Argument 1: “This is an issue of free speech and religious liberty.”

Yes, it is. I am not denying that. The problem with this argument is that the entire movement of support for Chick-fil-A was not presented clearly as such. It was a muddled sort of event with many conservative Christians attending in order to show support specific views on homosexuality. If the “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” had been a clearly designated public statement to legislators and politicians about religious liberty I would have taken less of an issue with it. Many people went for the purpose of a political statement, but that was not the singular public face on the effort. Thus my concerns.

Argument 2: “The issue of homosexuality isn’t complicated or complex at all. The bible says it’s wrong, so we’re just supporting that view.”

 

I refer to homosexuality/gay marriage as “one of the most defining, contentious, and complex issues facing the church today” in my article. Here is why. The bible is clear on the immorality of the homosexual lifestyle and the pursuit of it. That is undeniable, and on that point I agree with these critics. It is clear what is right and wrong. However, the complexity and challenge arises when one begins to honestly and carefully consider questions such as the following.

  •         How do I respond to the sin of someone who sees that very sin as their identity, as part of their very being?
  •          How does the church genuinely love and welcome members of the gay community in such a way that they can be exposed to Jesus clearly and powerfully but without condoning or brushing away those actions of theirs which are unbiblical?
  •          How do I engage in meaningful, loving relationships with gay people in which I am clear on my biblical convictions yet still maximally caring and loving to them?

The tension of expressing truth with love is never tenser than in these relationships and interactions. It is crucial to remember that truth by itself does not express love. Being right, being moral, being biblical can never be sacrificed. Not ever. But to be these things without love is but a noisy gong and clanging cymbal – a whole ruckus of annoying, meaningless noise that bears no witness to Jesus.

Argument 3: “The battle lines are already drawn. We’re just choosing the right side.”

The people who have used this argument are referring to my saying that we should avoid drawing battle lines over the homosexuality/gay marriage issue. There are two problems with this argument.

First is the tendency it shows toward simple black and white thinking, the idea that there are two sides to this issue and no room for nuance. This way of thinking is pervasive in America – politics, sports, religion, art, family, etc. Something is in or out, right or wrong, good or bad. The bigger the issue, the less helpful this way of thinking usually is. The outcome of black and white thinking is nearly always combative. It is a methodology that promotes victory at all costs and gives little consideration to the actual opponent. But as Christians, we are called to consider our opponents all the time – “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It takes more shades than black and white to love someone well while thinking they are dead wrong.

The second problem stems directly from the first. It is the confusing of moral lines for battle lines. Moral lines are those biblical realities which cannot be compromised, blurred, or sacrificed. Within the borders of these lines Christians must firmly live in order to be faithful honorers of God and witnesses of Jesus. What happens, though, when we turn those moral lines into battle lines? We actually contradict ourselves and the very Jesus we represent by turning those we should love into the enemy. This is the result of an inability to consider allwe are called to be as Christians. We think only of the morals and cultural standards and so we seek to influence those as strongly as possible. And in the process we often forget the implications and influence of our actions on the souls of the “enemy.” In the process of drawing these lines and aggressively fighting at their borders we very well might win the culture war yet lose the souls of our opponents.

Argument 4: Actually this is more of a viewpoint than an argument – Public demonstrations, boycotts, and displays of mass support are effective methods for winning people to Jesus.

This is a point of tension. Either people believe the viewpoint I just mentioned or they are seeking to do something other than win people to Jesus. As I mentioned earlier, if this was to be a religious liberty/political effort then it should have been explicitly and publicly labeled as such across the board. In that case the mass showing of support could have merit because the aim would be defined as political. However, since it was not explicitly promoted as such, there is a tension here.

Do we believe that people are more likely to follow Jesus because of the mass show of unanimity on an issue? Do we believe that having majority rule will bring more people Jesus? Sure it’s good for society to have a better moral law, but does it actually influence the hearts of the people? Does boycotting display the black/white, battle line, separatist mentality I mentioned earlier or does it draw people to Jesus?

Finally, I know these viewpoints aren’t popular among segments of Christians. I know they raise the ire of many. My goal is not to instigate conflict but rather to inspire thinking beyond black and white and outside of what has become the norm in traditional conservative evangelicalism. I simply want to see believers consider, above all things, how we are representing Jesus to our culture, especially those who are antagonistic.



12 Comments

Aug 03, 2012

Good, thoughtful article.
One thing that is really weighing on me is how much I’ve seen people in the “Christian” blogosphere unequivocally accusing Dan Cathy and those who gave him their money of hatred. This is an important point that Christians MUST refute. Nothing Dan Cathy has said on the record can be considered hateful, and a Christian articulation of the sinfulness of homosexual activity is not hate speech, no matter how much a person or group may fervently say otherwise.


    Aug 03, 2012

    Sam, I agree. In my first article and the subsequent couple interviews I tried to emphasize the fact that I agree with Cathy and don’t want to disparage the motives of those who support him. I have seen little in the way of “hatred” or anything resembling it. It’s the judgment of the supporters that concerns me.


Aug 03, 2012

” However, the complexity and challenge arises when one begins to honestly and carefully consider questions “

Somewhere there’s someone sitting in a little room saying ” these Christians don’t know what or who to believe. Let’s see if we can take advantage of their ‘ niceness ‘ and divide them and conquer.”

Which, of course, they’ve done. Tell the truth, get out of the way, let God go to work.


    Aug 03, 2012

    Barchetta,

    Could you elobarate on how your comments apply? I’m not quite getting the “speak truth and gt out of the way” part.


Aug 03, 2012

Thank you for taking the time to further articulate your thoughts. This confusion of the church and political causes, and the subsequent us vs. them mindset, really lies at the heart of this issue.

Like you, I wouldn’t want to judge the motives of any individual involved in the appreciation day. Yet I wonder what if, as a group, evangelicals took a day, or week, or month, to really get to know their homosexual neighbors. I think it would affect the tone with which these events are conducted in the future.


Aug 03, 2012

This past June I was part of my companies trip for top producers. I work in a travel environment – enough said about the people that I work around. My wife and I had the experience, for the first time but I’m sure not the last, of being introduced, “Hi, I’m _____, I’m _______’s husband”. I was talking to a man.

Don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation? It wasn’t overtly “in your face” but there was a normalcy to it that was disturbing and alarming to say the least. Yes, we’ve seen the ads with guys kissing or holding hands, we can just kind of pretend it’s not there and be done with it.

We had the option – my wife and I – of complete rejection of them as people, but, as we discussed it we decided that our sin is no less than theirs so we desired to minister in any way we could – the broken hearted to the broken hearted. At one point, my wife and I bowed in a simple dinner prayer, not to draw attention – no one was at our table. It was almost like a “drop the spoon under the table” cafeteria prayer you would pray in school. 🙂 We didn’t see the table behind us that had two homosexuals there and they got louder after our prayer about the church and hypocrites.

Needless to say then was not the time to engage them in debate but the best I could do was love them by being silent, at that point. Also, I have a Lesbian supervisor and a colleague that is homosexual in another office that I speak with regularly. Beleive it or not we get in many good debates that end amicably and no less than 4 times in the past 6 years have I spent sharing the Gospel with him – weeping.

So, to say that I have some agenda against the homosexual lifestyle or that I’m unsympathetic would betry what I’m about to say. I disagree with you because I think you’re stacking the argument on the wrong side. Everything is just about political free speech or being a sin contextualizor (just made that word up). 🙂 But what I don’t see is any interaction with Gal. 6:1 – does that come into play in your mind? That’s a real question, is it okay to support a brother and “do good” to his business if many people are eschewing his character and making him to be an evil hater? And, not just because you don’t like a certain sin but because you want to “do good”.

I’m not a “patriotic cross” kind of guy, so that I want to “throw it in someones face” but I’ve been face to face with this issue – it’s messy but we need to stand up in gentle ways, in love, together and individually. I like most of your positions – just disagreeing on this one.


    Aug 03, 2012

    Tim,

    I have to say, I don’t completely understand your question. Based on what you’ve written it seems like you are engaging the issues as well as a person can. It sounds like you are trying to love your neighbor and hold firm to the gospel, even when then neighbor is at odds with the gospel, which is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote.

    Could you explain what you mean about me stacking the argument wrong and making it about free speech?

    Barnabas


    Aug 04, 2012

    Barnabas, I don’t want to speak for someone else of course, but I read Tim’s comment to mean that he wants to stand by a persecuted brother. I think that’s an interesting point of view.


Aug 03, 2012

I appreciated Kevin DeYoung’s thoughts on the issue:

> “In the face of controversy and opposition, it’s always tempting to withdraw into friendlier confines. But working for the public good is part of loving our neighbors as ourselves. The pietistic impulse to simply focus on winning hearts and minds does not sufficiently appreciate the role of institutions and the importance of giving voice to truth in the public square. Conversely, the progressive impulse to stay quiet for fear that we’ll invalidate our witness is a misguided strategy to win over the world by letting them win. Either that or a disingenuous attempt to hide the fact they’ve already sold the ethical farm.”


Aug 05, 2012

Barnabas,

I appreciate your heart.

I am in my 50s and am old enough to remember the rise of “the Christian Right” under Falwell and others. I believe it was a good thing at the time because Christian, as citizens, had been quite too long and the rising up sent a clear message to the political left that there were people in the country who disagreed with where they were taking us.

Wednesday night, my wife and I ate at Chick-fil-a, not in response to the gay community but because there were politicians who were trying to cow Dan Cathy into silence.

That said, I wonder if, as American believers, we have come to put greater trust in the ballot box than in God to deliver us from an increasingly godless culture. I rarely hear that we need to fall on our knees and petition God but I hear a whole lot of talk about getting out the vote. Please understand that I am not against taking full advantage of the citizen privileges God has given us but I fear that we in the church are proving ourselves “godless” inasmuch as we think we can change this nation and forget that it is God who raises up and puts down rulers.

I agree with your concerns about what we are communicating to the gay community. My experience has taught me that a lot of gay guys carry deep hurts in their hearts and are hungry for acceptance by other guys. One of my best friends in college came out of the gay lifestyle after ending up on in dorm surrounded by whole-hearted followers of Christ who accepted him as an individual and loved on him big time. He said that the his decision to follow Jesus was made harder by the realization that he was leaving one community that would reject him for his decision but was not sure that, given his background, he would be accepted by the one he was entering.


Aug 06, 2012

barnabas: really appreciate your take on this. fully support you bro. serving as a missionary in third-world poverty, another point regarding these “defend our rights” movements by christians is the classic overkill response towards things that, when put in perspective, just don’t measure up. seems that we as american christians can cry “victim” when in reality there are far too many real victims out there who are truly suffering. i see this as an unfortunate misplacement of passion from good people who want to do something right… just missing the target. my blog is here: http://www.deepstreamblog.blogspot.com/


Aug 08, 2012

It is easier to eat a chicken sandwich than it is to love those we disagree with. If people are really passionate about the issue of homosexuality then get to know some gay people and love them. Our time would be better spent confessing our “acceptable sins” to the gay community than using fast food consumption as some sort of statement about our moral superiority. I doubt that most of the protestors were focused on loving God and loving their neighbor as they Value Sized their lunch.



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