Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you’re probably aware of the controversy surrounding Chick-Fil-A. Even if you have been sleeping under a rock, you might have heard about this. Lots of people are upset because Chick-Fil-A’s owners support the traditional view of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Billy Graham has gotten involved. Philadelphia councilmen have urged the company to close shop in their town. They’ve even garnered the scorn of the Muppets for crying out loud. This has become a pretty big deal.
I don’t want to offer an opinion on this matter. Everyone knows we’ve had enough of that. Instead, watching this whole thing unfold has prompted some ancillary thoughts and observations that I’d like to share. It’s so easy to be so sure of your side that we lose the forest for the trees. Though we are dealing with immensely important cultural issues, we also need to step back and ask what the current webisode is telling us about our larger culture.
- The “definition” of “tolerance” has changed.
The idea of “tolerance” was once understood along the lines of the quote often attributed to Voltaire: ”I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” After all, what is there to “tolerate” if you don’t respect differing opinions? It’s not tolerance when you won’t even entertain an alternate view, which is exactly what’s on display here. James Kenney, Philadelphia Councilman “At-Large” has told Chick-Fil-A that there’s no place for their type of “hate” in Philadelphia. Really? Have you ever felt condemned while your smiling Chick-Fil-A workers assured you that it was their pleasure to serve you (this is really the last observation – the two sides are not necessarily having the same conversation).
The real issue is that Chick-Fil-A’s leadership holds to a view of marriage that Councilman Kenney and others disagree with and Chick-Fil-A is being condemned as intolerant and even hateful in the process. But what does tolerance mean if it doesn’t mean defending differing opinions? Apparently now it means that we can no longer speak out against anything. We can’t say anything is wrong (except saying that something is wrong), which leads directly in to my next observation:
- The “posture” towards Christian belief is changing.
We’ve already alluded to this, but there was a time when Christians were thought of as “goody two-shoes.” We’re now being presented as hateful bigots. We used to be the slightly annoying goody goodies who didn’t drink, didn’t chew and didn’t go with girls who do. Now we’re being called “hate-mongers.” This is profoundly important and will only be magnified as these issues are being pushed to the fore of our cultural context. Just as the idea of tolerance is being redefined, Christians must be aware that our claim to be a loving people will be disparaged the moment we identify any behavior as sin. Without tangible actions of love from the Christian community, this will not change any time soon. We cannot let groups like the Westboro picketers or Pat Robertson to be our public face.
- Christians must learn from this and move forward differently.
No one likes being bullied to change their beliefs. And yet, that’s so often how we Christians have tried to deal with the surrounding culture. In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott Disney because of what they called Disney’s “anti-Christian and anti-family direction.” Christian leaders have called for the boycott of Starbucks over the issue of gay unions. And now it’s happened to a company led by Christians. I hope we see how silly it is to try and force other people to conform to our understanding, no matter how right we may be and certainly think we are. This type of cultural bullying does no one any good and only fosters bitterness and widens the divide between us so that conversation must become shouting. We Christians must humbly admit that we have been just as guilty of trying to bully others into conformity as we are now experiencing.
- The two sides are not necessarily having the same conversation.
As I’ve tried to formulate a humble and loving but confident and bold response to this situation, I am continually confounded by the real divide between the two sides. Those supporting gay unions view this as a continuation of the civil rights movement’s fight for equal rights while those supporting traditional a traditional understanding of marriage view this as an issue of sin. Which leads us to another divide: traditional marriage supporters view “marriage” as a God-ordained and ordered covenant which means that God has the right to define its boundaries. Supporters of gay unions view marriage as a civil right which means that the government has the say over its boundaries, not the church.
Because we have redefined tolerance and promoted cultural bullying, neither side is actually talking with one another. We’re simply yelling at each other through culture’s megaphone, the media. In the meantime, real people with real stories are being cast into meta-categories of being either “tolerant and progressive” or “old-fashioned and bigoted.”
There is certainly much more to be said here and I look forward to your feedback.
- Read why Barnabas Piper believes “Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Day” is a bad idea.