Chick-Fil-A and Christian Identity, revisited.

In light of the recent Chick-Fil-A controversy I’ve been thinking a lot about Christianity and it’s role in society.  As easy as it is to get caught up in discussions of free speech and religious persecution, there’s a far more important issues that seem to be getting ignored.  It’s not about what other people are doing or saying about Christianity: it’s about who was as Christians are.

Ephesians 5 is a popular passage because it tells wives to submit to their husbands.  Yet here we find the foundation for instructions not just to spouses but to families, masters, and slaves.  It’s about Christian identity and what a Christian’s role in society is based on.  Do you know what these passages say?  They say “Live as children of light (for the fruit of light consists of goodness and righteousness and truth).” They say, “Be careful then how you live.”  They say “Always give thanks to God for everything.”  That’s all in the first few paragraphs, where it also commands Christians to “walk in the way of love”.

It’s interesting, because as much as most people know that the Bible commands wives to submit, the overall tone of the passage is passed over.  It doesn’t just say “Women, BOW DOWN!”.  It tells husbands to love their wives as God loved the church (oh, and ladies- submit some, m’kay?) and it tells slaves to honor their masters, but it reminds masters that God is the master of all.  I mean, pretty much it says, “hey, that’s actually God’s slave.  So you aren’t the boss.”  Just like it tells women, “submit to your husband as you would to God, because after all he is expected to live every day as a mission for your benefit.

You may be wondering right about now why I would be writing about any of this in a post that starts out with Chick-Fil-A.

It’s because we’ve forgotten who our identity as Christians comes from.

Our Salvation doesn’t make us the boss.  We aren’t in charge.  Our role in this world is one of sacrifice, abandon, and honor towards the real master.  Our calling isn’t to beat the world into shape, it is to honor all others above ourselves with the true understanding that God is the Lord, King, and Judge of all.  He’s the redeemer of husband and wife, of child and parent, of slave and of master.  He has commanded us to live as light in this world and He reminds us that the fruit of light is goodness and righteousness.  If we live as the light, we won’t have to beat anyone else down to make righteousness prosper in our wake.  Obedience, conviction, and submission to God are the natural impulse when touched by a true and redeeming love.  If we spread that love with every day of our lives people will be drawn to God like fish to a stream.  Since God’s spirit is the only spirit that can birth conviction, redemption, and change, if we live every day in love we do not need to become distracted by the sinfulness in this world.  By loving our neighbors, we will have already done everything in our power to win their redemption.

It’s just that simple.  The fruit of light is goodness and righteousness.  We produce righteousness if we walk in love.

So why does Chick-Fil-A taste like dust and ashes in the mouths of my gay friends?  Can someone please explain to me how the special sauce of condemnation is supposed to redeem them?

For the life of me, I can’t seem to understand the Christian point of view on this one.

Ephesians 6:12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Our fight is not with flesh and blood.  It isn’t with society or the evils of society.  It certainly isn’t with the gays.  It isn’t with people who boycott our establishments.  It’s with the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil- and do you know where the first battleground is?

Look in the mirror.

Some thoughts on Chick-Fil-A and it’s role in Christian Dialogue

So this whole Chick-Fil-A family values gay kerfuffle is bringing out some really interesting qualities in Christianity. I’ve been party to a lot of debates, and sitting on the sidelines watching many more. I’ve neglected writing a blog post about it because I wanted to watch the dust settle and decide what really needs addressing.

1) “This isn’t about politics, it’s about Christian Values!”

Actually, it’s about both. Chick-Fil-A has directed money towards a number of religiously based Charities. Some, like Focus on the Family, can be seen as more or less neutral as they do a lot of work in several arenas. Others, like Exodus International, clearly demonstrate a sort of bigotry against homosexuality. The language they use to describe homosexuality shows that they view it as a kind of illness humanity is better off without, there can be no question why gay people would be upset to find their money going to a non-profit whose stated goal is to counter-act the bad affects of gayness on society. If this is added to the fact that Chick-Fil-A also funnels money into several “Family Councils” who work to keep gay people from being able to adopt or get married, and these “Family Councils” operate not in the religious but political arenas, there can be no rational argument that this isn’t at least partly about politics. This is about far more than one man defending his Biblical views, this is about several million dollars of money that Chick-Fil-A makes selling sandwiches going to actively prevent the acceptance of gay people in our society. It is personal, and political, as well as religious.

2) “If you believe in a Christian’s right to free speech you need to support Chick-Fil-A”/”If you like your gay friends you need to stop eating there”.

For the first sentence, don’t be ridiculous. It isn’t about free speech, it’s about money. If all that had ever happened was Chick-Fil-A’s CEO saying “I don’t like gay people” I would roll my eyes and say that no one should be surprised that there are Christians who don’t like gays. I mean, Westboro Baptist has taught us that one already. But this isn’t about a Christian’s right to free speech, it’s about where a Christian puts their money and their corporation’s money. At the end of the day, he absolutely has the right. But all Christians have the right to decide where they want the money God entrusted to them to be spent. We aren’t obligated to part with God’s monetary gift to us anywhere, except in the churches we choose to be in communion. I don’t *have* to support Chick-Fil-A. And as for the opposing statement, that somehow I owe it to my gay friends *not* to eat there- come on, people. There are far more effective ways to enact political change than where we choose to buy deep fried animal parts shoved in a bun. Whether or not to eat Chick-Fil-A is a personal choice, and I support my friends whether or not they eat there.

3) “All of the people making a big deal out of this are such bigots against Christians.”

I must admit, one of the reasons this post is so behind-the-times is the fact that I can’t write about this without starting to feel all veiny-green-in-the-face-pulse-pounding-hulk-roaring angry.

Christians, who has the burden here? The world to which we’ve been sent to minister like a doctor treating the ill, or US? Are we owed tolerance? Do we deserve it?

Take a moment and think about the motivation behind the opposition. Think about the gay people who have been spat on at every turn, sometimes literally. Think about the people who have felt strange, different, rejected, belittled, hated, opposed, cut out of society, cursed, and reviled. Think about the fact that they find out that here is one more way in which they are isolated. Think about the fact that someone has been asked if that person truly funnels millions of dollars with the express purpose of counteracting the effect that gay people can have on our society and has answered “YEP! GUILTY AS CHARGED!” and that he did so clearly with pride.

Imagine that the shoe is on the other foot, and that a gay person owned a multi-million dollar corporation and just gleefully admitted that he funnels millions of dollars into teaching atheism and counter-acting the negative impact of Christians on society. Feel that blood boil? That anger? That deep and overwhelming sadness? Now think that hundreds of thousands of atheists and gays line up to support that corporation and start posting pictures on Facebook and Twitter where they are swaggin’ their bags of fried goodness around saying “SEE, I THINK THE BIGOTRY AGAINST YOU IS AWESOME AND JUSTIFIED!”

Can you picture it? Can you imagine your response?

Of COURSE people are offended, of COURSE they are calling you close-minded, because you have completely closed your mind to the pain, humiliation, and suffering that your choice is inflicting on the world. Instead of seeing the world as a sick patient to whom you are called as a caregiver, you have chosen to see the world as a criminal for whom you are called as judge and jury, and your greasy bags of fried food that you so gleefully post look more like a death sentence than a show of moral support.

The Bible has this thing where it says that if we judge, we will be judged in kind. The battle lines in this ridiculous debate about Chick-Fil-A are a demonstration of that in action- Christians judged the world.

So the world judges back.

If you don’t like the bigotry you are feeling, don’t dish it out.

Respect for Gay Christians.

When I became a Christian I was a ten year old girl whose dad was a pastor, raised in a home where everyone had always been Christian.  My grandparents on one side were conservative Mennonites, and on the other side were Amish.  Reverence for God and traditional values were in my blood.  Had I not publicly vowed my faith, it would have been shameful for a lot of people in my life.  When I, as a teen, stopped going to church and publicly condemned the church for having abandoned myself and other freaks like me I’m sure my parents did grieve, and I’m sure there was some genuine embarrassment. When I returned to the church it was like going back to the house I was born in, it was warm and comforting.

I say this to illustrate the difference felt by someone I know who came to the church as a teenager already knowing he was gay.  He hadn’t been raised in the church.  He felt a deep attraction to the teachings of Jesus.  He loved the traditions of the church, he loved hymns and communion and the reverance of the congregation.  He also felt an intense connection to creation and felt he’d experienced God’s love in a way that his life would be empty if he didn’t pursue it deeper.  But he was gay.  He wore purple striped sweater vests and spoke in a soft voice and had mild mannerisms that could peg him as effeminate.  He wasn’t ashamed of or embarrassed by his sexuality, he felt he’d experienced God’s love while being gay and had fallen in love with the church while being gay and didn’t feel the need to pretend to be someone that he wasn’t.

I will never understand the guts or the passion or the sheer nerve that it took for him to walk into a church on a Sunday morning and confess his faith knowing that many of the people in that building would happily condemn him for his sexuality and see him to the door.  I will never, ever, understand the depth of the love he shared with his God that would cause him to take the risks that he took in seeking out a church.  It was easy for me to join the church, far easier to join than it was to leave.  Even coming back with my pink hair and tattoo and big ol’ sack of issues was easier than his first time stepping through the door would be.  I may have been questioned, and I continue to have my faith questioned when I raise my voice about the problems that I see.  Yet the questioned raised against me and the hatred I at times experience and the lovely threats and curses that have been spoken against me are a drop in the bucket compared to what an openly gay Christian experiences.

It takes an incredible love for God and devotion for learning to be a part of the body to move someone into the church while they are gay.  It takes an incredible devotion and constitution to stick out the faith while people are calling you a godless sinner, church after church asks you to leave, and heartbreak after heartbreak colors the path behind you red with suffering.  I could never question the sincerity of my friend’s love for God, I know that his faith has cost him far more judgment and condemnation than mine has.  His choice to remain in the faith is one that has to be renewed daily, while mine is one I could easily take for granted.

I see the determination in the eyes of my gay Christian friends, I see their love for God, and I am awed by it.  Is it easy to understand why, if some are so deeply convicted that homosexual acts are sin, my homosexual friends don’t always come to the same conviction?  Some have, some haven’t, some may never do so.  No, it’s not easy to understand.

But when I commune with them, I feel the spirit singing out.  I cannot reject them, because by doing so I would be rejecting the act of God that brought them into the church, and such a thing is unthinkable to me.

Respect.

If grace is only for the saved, heaven will be a lonely place.

“God is holy and in him there can be no sin,” said the man.  I was to understand, from the context of the conversation, that by extension the Church was supposed to be pure if it wanted to be in communion with God, and that’s why all the gays and punks and drinkers need not apply.

My heart has been broken recently, because in conversation after conversation I have confronted a kind of contempt that floors me, often from people of whom I would have never expected such a visceral dislike of certain members of our society.  That contempt has been time and time again defended by the Bible, and I find myself less and less able to respond.  Is this really what the Church has become?  When I was first introduced to the Gospel, I heard it preached as good news.  Call out the trumpeters, there is no longer a system that privileges the elite by making salvation something that must be earned through purchased sacrifice.  Christ died on the cross, and all you need to do is to respond to that sacrifice in love and you, me, all of us can be saved!  This is a miracle!  Holiness is our loving and natural response to our salvation, we become better people simply by loving God and understanding His love for us!  Once we understand the price of sin we’ll leave it gladly!  There is no reason to despair or die in guilt and shame!  Tell the world!

No, wait, don’t tell the world.  Because if we did THAT, ANYBODY might think they are welcome here.  So now the message is changed.  Grace is, apparently, something that people think that we earn by being holier than our brethren.  Gay people need not be welcomed, because simply by being Gay they have demonstrated their complete reaction of the “natural order” of things.  Poor people are either lazy and thus rejecting the Bible’s command to earnest work, or they aren’t “prospering” because God won’t “bless them” because of sin.  So we don’t need to worry about the poor people, either.  All of the punks and scattered remnants of society aren’t welcome, because their rejection of the popular way of thinking and life shows a contempt that must mean they’ve rejected God’s spirit, too.  Pretty soon there’s no one new coming to the table, and the people who are there whisper and plot to try to gain position.  The Disciples did that, too, but Jesus had a pretty crazy response to that, “the last will be first, the first will be last.”

There’s something missing, here.  When Jesus was going around performing his miracles, he was constantly telling people their sins were forgiven.  He told them that before those people did anything to earn his forgiveness.  The people whom he told to sin no more were people on the verge of destruction:  the lame man at the pool, the woman who was about to be stoned.  What he did was an act of mercy.  He told them to sin no more not out of condemnation, but out of concern.  If those people had gone back to their old ways of life, they would have ended up back in the same place at death’s door.  Jesus didn’t need to preach them a sermon about the risks of their old lives entailed, he instead  lived out the sermon, he showed them they could receive God’s mercy and they responded in joy and love.  We see this in the story of Zacchaeus, who gave half his possessions to the poor and promised to repay everyone he’d cheated by double after Jesus asked to stay at his home and embraced him.  Notice that Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ community prior to Zacchaeus’ acts of repentance.  The repentance was a loving response to Jesus’ fraternity, not the other way around.

The places where Jesus does offer some kind of teaching, or puts pressure on people to change, are places where they come to him asking what they need to do to be saved.  One example of this is the rich young man in Mark 10.  When he asks Jesus what he needs to do to be saved, Jesus tells him to give all of his possessions to the poor.  The man walks away sad because of his immense wealth.  Why would Jesus show such mercy and extravagance to some, and such difficulty to others?  Or is there a lesson for us to learn in both of the ways that Jesus acted with the people that came to hear him teach?  For some, the destitute who came out of hope and desperation, Jesus gave much so that they, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7, would “love much because they were forgiven much”.  For others, Jesus tested their motives, as well he should have.  If the rich young man came to Jesus not out of sincerity but out of greed, isn’t the best lesson Jesus could teach him the necessity of generosity?

I feel like there should be so much more to say, at this point, but I can’t think of what it is.  Gay people ought to feel God’s grace.  Poor people ought to receive his blessing at our hands.  The punks, the goths, the rejects and those who reject society all ought to know that they are desired in God’s kingdom.  There is a place at the table for everyone who comes wanting a meal.

Where is the Gospel?

I find myself more and more at a loss for words.

Yes, I call that judging.

I was recently asked “when did disagreeing with a lifestyle become being judgmental?” I think this is an important question, and one that I want to give the best possible response to. I respect the fact that Christians need to honor their convictions, and that many Christians believe that the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are sinful. I have no desire to tell people with that conviction that they are wrong. So I will ask that as this post is read that anyone with that conviction keep in mind that I will honor it, and don’t simply respond, “but it’s sin.”

Let’s look at a not-so-hypothetical situation. “Jim” has an anger problem, and everyone knows about it. Jim often goes off in rages, to the point that it embarasses his wife and children. He’ll scold his kids loudly in church and he’ll admonish his wife to the point of tears in front of others. It seems fair to make a judgment that Jim needs to deal with his anger, right? In that situation a lot of people would say it would be appropriate for the pastor of Jim’s church to call on Jim and offer him up a big heaping helping of conviction.

Here’s the problem: Let’s say that the pastor takes Jim out for lunch and tells Jim exactly how his rage issue goes against God’s plan for his life and that it needs to change. What happens then? Let’s imagine for a minute that his rage stems from something far beneath the surface. Jim is addicted to pornography and has for years been neglecting his wife and even his responsibilities to his children to feed his habit. He has a hunger that is not sated by anything and his rage stems from that need that he seeks to meet through porn- but porn isn’t enough. So he rages at the world, and as he digs himself deeper into the cycle the explosions of his hurt and need and anger become more intense.

So the pastor meets with Jim. Jim doesn’t respond in brokeness and repentance, he responds in even deeper rage. Because his rage is just an expression of something else, a far deeper chasm between he and his Savior. By judging Jim, the people in his life neglected to discover the true place of need in his life. They cut themselves off from God’s heart for Jim and made Jim’s alienation even worse. Imagine a different situation, one in which the pastor simply acknowledged that Jim needed to feel God’s love in order to be convicted. One in which the pastor pulled Jim aside and lovingly stated “things seem awful rough for you, want to talk about it?” One in which Jim’s deeper need, the need for intimacy and regard, was met. One in which Jim was made safe enough that he could open up about the true wounds that drove his rage. What could happen, in that situation? Who could Jim become?

This is the problem with saying, “gay people live in sin” or “poor people are lazy and deserve it”. You make yourself their judge, you simply do. While in essence your statement may be truthful, at least in your own eyes, you still aren’t justified in making it. There is simply no way to make such a statement without the inference of motive. If you want to say, “gay people live in sin”, you infer that they know and understand that their actions offend God and don’t care. I don’t know of any gay people for whom such is the case, many of them express an intimate relationship with God that I am frankly jealous of, and feel a deepness of love and acceptance I am in awe of. Many of them state, and I believe them wholeheartedly, that if they had even the slightest inkling that expressing their sexuality offended God they would set it aside in the second. The problem with saying, “they are sinning” is that it implies your own personal knowledge that they need to stop. That comment is often followed by a second comment that we are meant to judge the behaviors of our brethren. That likely comes from verses like these:

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

Context: those verses follow a statement that it is known that one of the members of the church is having an affair with his father’s wife. Paul calls it something “even a pagan would not tolerate”. While I will admit that in some extreme cases where the actions of one person are so extreme, they ought to be expelled so that they, as Paul said, “hand him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved.” But that was a case of incest, not a case of gay. While there are some verses that caution Christians to judge the actions of each other, the Bible is far more full of verses that caution against it. Such judgments are only to be made, as 1 Corinthians 5 stated, in mourning. Jesus himself said, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.” (John 8:15) If God’s own son was reluctant to judge, how much more reluctant should we, as sinful humans, be?

We can’t just idly judge entire subsets of our population and feel that we are justified in doing so. We must seek after God’s heart first and foremost. We must take on a mantle of mourning when we are called to judge, knowing that seperation from the Church brings destruction. If your heart, reader, is for the destruction of the gays or the poor then you bring condemnation on your own head. I, for one, withhold any judgment. I will speak God’s love until my dying breath, knowing that in my own life more conviction has been birthed from love than from judgment.

Oh, freedom.

Today all over the USA people will be celebrating their freedom, as well they should.  I would like to say “I hate to mar such happy festivities with anything solemn”, but that would be lying.  So, that being said, try to remember as you exercise your own freedom that God is the Author of all things free.  He first gave Adam freedom in the garden, He gave the Israelites freedom from slavery, He gave my own ancestors freedom from martyrdom here in this great country, and He gave all mankind freedom to turn from sin and seek salvation.

Yet, too often we honor that gift with condemnation for our fellow man and hard heartedness.  We continue to believe that it is our duty to police our society’s sins and limit the freedoms of those we believe do wrong.  We continue to heap condemnation on the heads of the gay, the poor, and those who hold belief systems we believe contradict our own.  I have a very hard time enjoying this holiday, because I see the premises on which the Declaration of Independence was written trampled in the name of God, while at the same time people claim the Declaration itself was inspired by the Spirit.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Obviously certain limits must be made- if one person’s pursuit of happiness means raping my daughter I am happy to see his rights abolished.  But what about the rights of the children of the poor?  Are we truly justified in cursing them to destitution because of their parents wrongs?  And by not allowing gay people to make house and home together with the protection of marriage, whose rights are we protecting?  I am as angry about these things today as I was the day I first wrote this blog.  No, wait, that isn’t truthful.  I’m angrier today, because I continue to see people for whom I have no end of love and respect continue to justify the most cynical of condemnations with the Bible, using words meant to convict their own hearts to curse the broken hearts of others.

It is shameful, and sadly, that is what I will find tainting the color of the fireworks in the sky tonight.

I’ll leave you with these words:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and  pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.  (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

If you cannot hold the hands of the poor or the gay or the forgotten or the single mothers or the drug addicts, so be it.

But pray for them, and pray for your own heart to follow God’s in the way that you view them.  Pray that they can feel the same spirit of celebration that you feel, of thankfulness and gratitude, of love for Creator and Nation.  Pray with all the sincerity that you use when you pray in your own regard.

Love.

Brave, Gender Identity, and my personal hatred of stereotyping.

So yesterday I saw something very interesting.  It was an article about whether or not the heroine in the new movie Brave is gay.  The argument was that she wasn’t interested in marrying one of the three ill-matched potential husbands her parents had lined up for her, was athletic, and liked hunting.  So, obviously, gay.  As the writer of the article argues, clearly she could be gay because she’s not interested in her traditionally proscribed gender role.  I had to do a Scooby double-take for that, because for some reason none of my gay friends have ever explained to me that the motivating drive behind their self-identifying as homosexuals is their lack of interest in traditional gender roles.  Here I thought that being gay was defined by one’s sexual indentity, not choice of hobbies.  How naive!

I’m bothered by the whole idea of Merida being gay.  Not because I think it’s a bad thing for anyone to be gay, but because I think it’s a bad idea to work off of mistaken stereotypes.  Merida’s struggle to define herself as strong, capable, and worthy is cheapened if the only reason she doesn’t want to get married is because she’s gay.  Making her a stereotype deadens the impact of her experience.  Not only that, but it more narrowly defines what a straight girl ought to be.  Are women not allowed to be athletic unless they want their sexuality questioned?  Are they not allowed to be brave?  Individualistic?  Are they not allowed to balk at tradition?

Human sexuality is a huge and complex thing.  Sociologists for decades have been pointing out that rather than being a distance between two poles of “gay” or “woah buddy definitely not the slightest bit gay”, sexuality is instead a plane of many spectrums, which as many possible manifestations as there are people.  Most humans, it’s been demonstrated, find themselves as a mixture of the attributes we assign to genders.  Women aren’t just “feminine”, they have some feminine and some masculine traits.  They can be athletic and domestic, compassionate and decisive, and the list goes on and on.  The same is true of men.  They don’t have to be physically strong brutes who negotiate like bulls and scorn the idea of washing up or cooking dinner.  I know men who can throw punches like it’s Fight Club and then cook a mean pasta primavera and help their significant other with the laundry.  (Straight men.)

Here is when the traditional side of me pipes up and says, “but men and women are fundamentally different!  Everyone knows this!”  To a point that is definitely true.  It seems impossible to argue that there isn’t something objectively masculine or feminine about the genders.  For the purposes of this particular discussion, though, I’m throwing that out of the window.  Why?  Because God was both masculine and feminine, and so was Jesus.  Jesus, the man who athletically overturned the tables of the moneylenders and also called himself a mother hen.  If God himself births creation like a mother and rears it like a father, who are we to say that just because He created us as Male and Female that somehow masculine and feminine were isolated and divided evenly between those genders?  Personally, I think that after the fall everything got a bit muddled up.  I think that masculine does need feminine to soften it, otherwise it becomes brutish.  I think that feminine does need masculine to strengthen it, otherwise it becomes too indulgent.  I think that we, as genders, need each other to create equilibrium in the world.  But I don’t believe that we are defined, individually, by our physical gender.  I think that we define ourselves by how we live it out.

In any case, when I take my daughter to see Brave I’m not going to tell her that Merida makes her own choices because she’s a lesbian.  I’m going to tell her that Merida was brave because she wasn’t afraid to be herself.  Then, I will tell my daughter to be brave and be herself.  I will buy her popcorn, and that will be the end of it.

Things don’t have to be any more complicated than that, for now.