UPDATE: In this post I argued that Christians, as followers of Jesus, should be first to lay down their arms for the sake of reconciliation. After all, that is what we see Jesus do. It makes me extremely joyful to see that Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-a, exemplified that. This article is a beautiful witness to the power of reconciliation. I praise both sides for the courage and self-differentiation they exhibited. May this be an example for many in our culture where polarization keeps people from understanding the other.
I know I am late coming to the party, but it has taken me a while to really formulate my thoughts. When the uproar regarding Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy became national news, I payed little attention. It’s not that I don’t care about the issue of marriage and homosexuality, I do, but it isn’t something that is going to elicit a passionate response from me. I realize this means people on both sides of the issue will find me naive or not taking a stand for the things that are right (the authority of scripture on one side, and civil rights on the other), but I’m more interested in people than issues. No, that is not semantics because when I say “people” I mean individuals, and dealing with individuals who have stories forces me to hold my beliefs in tension with my love for the person. Pure doctrine apart from the love for a specific individual can be a blunt sword used to maim many.
No, the reason I haven’t jumped into the fray is because I haven’t really figured out what I really thought. There were a couple of blogs that were helpful. Barnabas Piper’s warning about the secondary messages Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day could send articulated something I was feeling, but couldn’t put words to. Rachel Held Evans, in her blog, urged Christians on both sides to watch the speech and reaction to those who disagree with us, lest we hurt our integrity to the gospel. These, and other articles, said things better than I could, but still left me desiring something when it comes to how we might respond to this day.
And then the cliche question came to mind, “What would Jesus do?”
Would Jesus wait in line to buy his juicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries?
Would he boycott the restaurant chain and call its president a bigot?
Or might he take an option none of us expect in order to dispel the escalating demonization present in this debate?
I’ve noticed that much of what either side of this debate does is in reaction to what the other side has done. So Dan Cathy says he believes Biblical marriage is defined as marriage between a man and woman. This, along with money he has given to groups who support his beliefs, upsets those who hold a differing opinion so they react by boycotting the restaurant and, in some cases, saying they won’t let the restaurant in their city. This provokes those who side with Cathy to go out like a ravenous army to eat chicken and waffle fries, and on the cycle goes.
How did eating or not eating chicken sandwiches become a theological act? When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples, teaching them everything I have commanded you,” was he intending us to stand in line for 75 minutes for a chicken sandwich? Or boycott?
Or is it possible that what we witnessed today had more to do with escalating reactions against those who disagree with us, and had little had do with the Bible, marriage or homosexuality?
It’s the same thing we see on the playground. One kid bumps another kid, who pushes the kid who bumped him, who shoves the kid back, who hits the kid, who punches the kids, who tackles the kid and we have a full blown fight. It’s the USA and the Soviets threatening to blow the other to kingdom come so both build more bombs capable of even more destruction. It’s the campaign that smears the opponent, who smears back and on and on to the point that voters only know the negative of each candidate instead of what they really are about. Escalating demonization is the modus operandi of our culture and I fail to see how today was any different.
I realize people will think I fail to see the importance of their side of the issue. I get that. But I also think it doesn’t matter. We may have the right stance on the issue, but our reaction to people who disagree with us is just as important. The US thought its stance was right in terms of dealing with the Soviets, but their reaction was to build more bombs. Which led the Soviets to build more bombs, which led to, you guessed it, more bombs! But what if one side, either the US or the Soviets, said, “Enough is enough,” and stopped building bombs? Might we have less nuclear weapons in the world today?
To stop escalating reactions against others one side must be willing to lay down their arms against the other side. That seems counterintuitive and a sure fire recipe for defeat, but it is the only way. And guess what? The gospel is completely counterintuitive!
That Jesus would tell Peter to put away his sword is counterintuitive. That Jesus would tell us to pray for our enemies and do good to those who persecute us is counterintuitive. To carry the cloak of a soldier farther than required is counterintuitive. Giving away things just because you have two of them is counterintuitive. We could go on and on. Much of the teaching of Jesus is counterintuitive to how we believe the world works.
That doesn’t mean we give up what we believe. It simply means we stop reacting to the other side in such a way that it begets more reaction. It slows down the rhetoric. It stems the tide of regrettable, unhelpful behavior.
In order for both sides to be able to converse and constructively handle their differences, one side is going to have to lay down their “arms” and say, “No more.” I believe, and this is where it gets hard, that side should be those who profess to follow Jesus. Because that’s what it means to be a minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20) in the midst of a situation that continually escalates. Again, that doesn’t mean a concession of beliefs or an affirmation of behavior. It simply means we react to those who oppose us or our beliefs in a manner consistent of the one we say we follow. Jesus willingly laid down is life in the name of reconciliation. Does that mean he compromised his beliefs? Of course not! Refusing to participate in an exercise of escalating demonization doesn’t mean you never take a stand for what you believe in, it means you won’t react in such a way that it encourages escalation.
When I look at Jesus and how he responds to those who question his healing on the sabbath, or his response to those who bring the woman caught in adultery before him, or arrest him, or spit and mock him it makes me think: In the face of escalating reactions, that’s what Jesus would do.