I never thought I would hear so many tweets that sounded like clucks. I also never imagined a fast food chain would become the epicenter of controversy beyond the humorous idiocies of morons who need reminders that coffee is, you know, hot. But lo and behold, the real world strikes again, and the cliche proves true once more about fact being stranger than fiction.
I refer of course to the current chicken crisis America finds itself frying within. There are inarticulate and ill-informed advocates all around the circus tent of the Chick-fil-A brouhaha, representing conservative and liberal demagogues, Christians of all manner of stripes, a legion of commentators from across the postmodern spectrum, and more than a few folks with feet in two or more of those various camps. (One wonders just how many feet these people actually have.) For my part, I still for the life of me can’t see how this ever escalated into the feeding frenzy it has become. Disagreement over gay marriage is hardly news anymore, and yet here we are, up to our eyes in scandal in a brand new arena.
It grieves me to know that simply affirming the Bible’s vision for marriage is enough to provoke such scathing contempt from segments of society, but the point I most take issue with within this controversy is the irresponsible bandying about of some straight up deceitful, self-righteous poppycock. I refer to the intolerance of tolerance (to steal D.A. Carson’s phrase) on display in some of the bitterly hostile spewings we’re hearing from inconsistent critics in the anti-Chick camp. Here’s what has to confronted head-on: I cannot stand how anyone can get away with equating Chick-fil-A with the KKK without a verbal or written reprisal from someone with a better informed historical consciousness and more mature worldview. This is a style of debate ripped right out of the adolescent playbook, totally identifying your opponent with a past evil, thereby dismissing their right to a defense and devastating their overall character for anyone watching who hasn’t sounded out the hollowness of the dirty tactics being employed. This approach, as bereft of credibility and mercy as it is, should be denounced as slander rather than entertained as legitimate, responsible discourse for even another second. The claim strains credulity; it is both intellectually dishonest and a trivialization of the horror of America’s tarnished, bigoted history. This sort of acidic invective ought to be condemned by any reasonable participant in the debate and, praise God, this is taking place to some degree.
It reminds me of the old charge that claiming Jesus took issue with with broad swathes of first century Judaism is the sort of anti-Semitism that breeds Holocausts. Historically this accusation is nonsense; when you examine the scholarly consensus of early twentieth century Germany, what you discover is a radically de-Judaized Jesus, one who had no issues with the Judaism of his day as a faithful (indeed, the faithful) Jew but rather as enlightened, Cynic peasant philosopher. This was the declawed Jesus who was appropriated by the Reichskirche and exploited by the Nazis to legitimize their program of Aryan supremacy and Jewish extermination. The current accusation has about as much a basis in reality as the former.
Now, a concession: Christians haven’t exactly done a stand-up job of imitating their master over the past eighty years. We are deserving of rebuke insofar as any of us have reduced God’s testimony in Scripture regarding homosexuality to demonizing gays and lesbians. It doesn’t take the Spirit of Jesus to denigrate homosexuals or to display blisteringly hateful signs outside of a funeral; the spirit of the world is perfectly adequate for that. Leave that sort of wickedness to the world’s rednecks. God forgive us that we have ever mistaken such vile behavior with the path of discipleship. Now you know what I mean in saying this- I’m not in any way endorsing soft pedaling on the reality of its sinfulness, only calling out evangelicals’ proclivity towards spewing out anti-Christian sentiments and language rather than embodying the gospel. The problem with too many Christians is that they come across as believing that anything short of the most hostile loathing and malice towards homosexuals is a failure to be faithful to Scripture. Not only is this just plain false, it is totally out of step with the truth of the gospel. It must stop. The perpetrators’ Lord would have something to say about all this if they would read the gospels as something other than a long clearing of the throat before the crucifixion account, but I digress.
The presuppositions of the anti-Chick extremists need to be questioned in order to expose the emptiness of their platform. This is simple enough, I think: If you can’t discern any substantial, ethical difference between not supporting gay marriage on the one hand and the programmatic suppression of the constitutionally mandated rights of an ethnic group to the point of even murdering some of them on the other, then your position is morally untenable. What moral authority can you claim as a basis for your judgments at all? Relativism has so blinded your ethical outlook that right and wrong are no longer really the issue; safeguarding the kumbaya free-for-all of hard postmodernism by hijacking the legacy of the 60’s civil rights movement is. This has to be confronted and called out for what is rather than continuing to pretend it carries any ethical weight. There are people across the Christian/non-Christian divide who see through the fog of glaring inconsistencies and recognize that the heavy handed bullying in the name of tolerance simply doesn’t hold water, and they too are being marginalized for their pains. Even more secular observers who side with Chick-fil-A are being maligned and accused of being accomplices in some sort of human rights disaster. This is one reason I’m confident this will turn out to be a teapot tempest: As potential allies are alienated due to the caustic abuse of language and reason by these more extreme elements, the whole thing will fizzle out as no one with a brain wants to side with them anymore. “Not with a bang, but with a whimper,” as T.S. Eliot wrote.
Now, the reason I felt so compelled to chime in on this hullabaloo. I won’t lie; controversy like this used to really unsettle me. It’s always been easy for me to bold when it comes to silly, secondary matters, but when weighty, truly significant things were up for debate, I’d try to find a back alleyway out. I like having the approval of men, and I’m too quick to predict the demise of the Church whenever someone is irate about something a believer somewhere has done or said. Something’s different now, though- radically different, and it stems from my reading of Revelation over this past month. Through this my understanding of the Church’s witness in the world has been revolutionized. As I’ve taken inventory of the Church in the past, I had always viewed us as a ragtag collection of weaklings with no brains to boast of, worthy of either scorn or of pity, but certainly not of respect. Now, from a certain standpoint, this is so- we are a pretty motley crew. 1 Corinthians 1 still sums us up pretty accurately. My cowardice, however, had blinded me to the reality of God’s power working within the Church, rendering us more than what we simply are in ourselves.
In Chapter 11 of Revelation, God promises to protect Jesus’ people from spiritual assault and apostasy but necessarily their physical well-being (symbolized through the measuring of the Temple’s innermost section but not the outer court- measuring was an ancient symbol for taking stock of all that you will protect to the uttermost; furthermore, the Temple was a picture of the universe, with the outer court representing the earth, the Holy Place representing the heavens, and the Most Holy Place representing God’s own realm- if the outer court is not guaranteed protection, this renders the physical, earthy parts of ourselves susceptible to destruction).
After this, John is shown two witnesses who testify against the world’s sinfulness, and can unleash drought, fire, and plague upon the unbelieving world whenever they desire. These two witnesses are Jesus’ Church! They are described as lamp stands, bringing us back to the initial vision at the beginning of the book of seven lamp stands, the seven churches John delivers messages from Jesus to. Crucially, only two of these representative churches are faithful. The two witnesses are the faithful Church upon Earth, witnessing to Jesus’ lordship, the light of the world in Jesus’ own words from Matthew 5, working in conjunction with the Spirit to convict the world of sin as in John 16.
This is what has bolstered my fortitude and made me deeply thankful for this controversy- Jesus’ Church has an opportunity to convict the world, to represent their Lord as ambassadors, and call rebels to submit to that Lord and find forgiveness and healing. It has become my conviction that every believer, regardless of their political leanings, is called upon to pray for those segments of the Church who are granted moments in the spotlight in which they can courageously testify to Jesus’ lordship over the world and simultaneously declare his will and extend his grace. Knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others, for we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation by God who makes His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5); at the very same time, Jesus is subjecting every foe beneath his feet. These are being accomplished both through his Church’s agency as they wage the warfare of witness
I don’t know all that the proprietors of Chick-fil-A believe, but in a way it doesn’t matter all that much- I’m too quick to scrutinize things from a factional angle before committing my heart to a cause Christians are embroiled in.* What is important is that fellow believers are presented with a chance to be faithful, and I need to be praying that they will do so. We have nothing to fear in controversy so long as we listen to the Spirit’s prompting and guard our hearts against both spiteful sectarianism and proud triumphalism – if God is for us, who can be against us? Sure, we might be killed, but Revelation assures us that the death of the saints seals their victory over the Evil One. So take heart, and pray that the courage of Jesus’ ambassadors will hold strong and be deliciously replenished by the Spirit. Don’t court controversy, but don’t shirk away from it either when the time comes. Pray that they and you and I will remain faithful, that we all will fix our gaze upon our Lord leading the vanguard, inspiring us through his own example to joyfully face the derision of the world.
*Watch that come back and bite me in the butt when they turn out to be Socinians or Pelagians or something.