Chick-fil-A, Homosexuality, and Hate
By: Randall Hardman|Published: July 26, 2012 10:40 PM
A few months ago I wrote a blog concerning Amendment 1 in my home state of North Carolina. In the post I mentioned that any future remarks concerning homosexuality would be rare, if I remarked on it again at all. I've quickly come to realize the centrality that this issue has taken in our society over the past three to four years and, with that, the impossibility it is to remain silent on the issue. If you don't raise your own voice, people will ask questions. Pleading the fifth on such a central issue only serves to protect oneself in the dialogue and fails to contribute anything substantial at all. This may be fine, in and of itself, but there may come a point at which responsibility demands that thoughtful contributions become necessary in the midst of assertions, allegations, lies, rants, emotionally charged diatribes, and just plain bad thought. I've seen enough of it the past few days (actually the past few months).
So, here we have it. Chic-fil-a's founder Dan Cathy made a remark about traditional marriage and the biblical foundations of his organization. These remarks have brought about a firestorm of media attention and outspoken remarks from people all over the world. For the past few days it seems like I have heard a thousand different positions on this issue, with many people issuing personal attacks towards either Cathy, Chic-fil-a as a company, Christians, and even each other. Much like the conversation around Amendment One, I fear that some relationships are being hindered or completely dismantled over this one issue. I mean, who really wants to be friends with a "bigot"?
My intent here is not to offer up my convictions on homosexuality or homosexual marriage. They are a good bit more complicated than most people would be willing to hear out, so I will let that be for the moment. Besides, to offer one more opinion in the discussion of whether Cathy was right or wrong in his view of things will only serve to pat those on the back that agree and frustrate those that disagree. I'm currently not interested in throwing grease on an already out of control fire.
With that said, I think it is worth noting that much of the language and rhetoric which has come out of this issue is extremely unfortunate. It is safe to say that homophobia is a word which characterizes many people, both Christian and non-Christian. For the record, homophobia is not primarily a religious problem, though it's often assumed in public discourse that this is a secular versus religious issue. I would suggest that even if we rid this world of religion tomorrow homophobia would not disappear. People would still be mistreated. Hurtful jokes would still be made. These sorts of actions, obviously, have no place in anybody's life. The treatment which people have enacted upon homosexuals, whether based in religion or out of one's mere personal biases, is extremely unfortunate and should be fought against by all who consider themselves civil human beings. Disagreement over behaviour is no excuse for mistreatment from anyone of whatever theological or political conviction.
In fact, abuse against homosexuals should be a major concern of Christians and something which we seek to stop. Redemption is not about proving oneself right and then walking out the door. It is about being incarnational, sitting where people are hurting and healing the wounds which people have received whether from the "religious leaders" or the secular society. I recently watched (and unfortunately could not participate due to my job) as a group from my own Asbury Seminary attended our Lexington Gay Pride event and apologized for the injustices done in the name of Christ. They set up a booth, handed out water, and plaques that said "We don't like homophobia either." In their words, apologies were made, hugs were accepted, conversations were had, and tears were shed. Having had conversations with some of these Christians, I can testify that many of these Christians ministered to people at this event without necessarily adopting an inclusive approach towards their behaviour. Where would Christ be today? He would be having meals with those which both society and the "religious leaders" rejected. For the record, I know many Christians and Christian groups which have spent a great deal of time trying to build burned bridges, provide healing, and love those that they might disagree with over ethical issues. But with that admitted, too much of the Church doesn't handle the issue of homosexuality well. According to a recent Barna statistic, 91% of non-Christians see Christianity and "anti-gay" as synonymous. Now when I read my Bible I don't see 91% of it dealing with the issue of homosexuality. Indeed, there is a great emphasis on many behavioural sins (sexual and non-sexual) which are often ignored by the Church while many promote homosexuality to a level of its own. What did Jesus say? Take the plank out of your own eye before taking it out of your brother's.
Having established that I believe the Church (and much of society) has done a terrible job with engaging the question of homosexuality and that homophobia is, indeed, a real concern let me also suggest something else: not all Christians are "hateful homophobes" and characterizing all Christians as such is merely an attempt to make superior progressive social opinions at the expense of religious integrity.
You wouldn't gather this from much of the way this debate is going. I've unfortunately seen Chic-fil-a thrown up alongside the Westboro Baptist Church, Hitler, and many others who would wear the term "hate" much better than Mr. Cathy. I've seen people repeatedly and vehemently talk about how Dan Cathy and the majority of Christians are "anti-gay" or "hate gays." People are talking about the need to "punish" Chic-fil-a for the founder's private beliefs and the organizations he chooses to donate. The mayor of Boston has stated that Chic-fil-a will never enter into his town. Ever. (Let it be said I don't think that this will actually hold as even the ACLU has noted.)
Now, like I mentioned above, perhaps you have received the idea that all Christians are hateful ignorant bigots. There are some out there (indeed, Fred Phelps called me a "fag" and told me I was going to Hell once because I'm a male and have ear piercings). Perhaps you have run into a bad flock and received this impression. For that, let me say, I'm sorry. There's a point at which we certainly need to be prepared to strip such people of the title "Christian" for the simple reason that everything they say goes against the message of Christ. At the very least, we should be prepared to point out that certain actions or statements are non-Christian as they represent the complete opposite of what Jesus would have said. But unless you can say with full conviction that you believe Jesus was "anti-gay" and "hated" gays, then you cannot make all encompassing remarks regarding anybody that takes such a position. In other words, are you prepared to read the Gospels and say Jesus hated gays? Obviously if you are willing to say he was, you run into a major paradox. If Jesus "hated" gays because he believed the Jewish concept of sexuality and marriage, then he would equally hate anybody for which he disagreed with their behaviors. This means that Jesus, while offering grace and forgiveness and eating meals with prostitutes, adulteress people, tax collectors, drunks, the possessed, and all sorts of other "rejects" (according to the standards of society), did so while knowingly hating them. Again, really? Are we going to go their? Are you seriously going to entertain the idea that Jesus hated the sinners and yet chose to fellowship with them? Remember, his message was not "everybody's okay." It was quite the opposite. He ate and drank and walked and lived with those who were rejected and stigmatized by the religious establishment, yet he did this with the call towards repentance. But this call towards repentance cannot be synonymous with hate. It is a great secular lie that change means hate.
Now, I don't know Dan Cathy. For all I know he could be a homophobe. But I also guess that he comes from a generally conservative background which interprets scripture as having a view on homosexual behavior. He interprets Scripture as having a view on what marriage is. If the debate is going to continue, then it needs to do so on his interpretive credentials and whether they are correct ways of reading and interpreting the text, not his opinions which naturally arise out of it. Otherwise we're suggesting that wherein society and the Bible disagree, the Bible by default bigotry takes the backseat. Has anybody actually thought that maybe Cathy (and many evangelical Christians) are not homophobic or hateful but merely trying to stay true to what they read in scripture? That perhaps when we say God's Word is authoritative that it is an issue of trust in that statement, not confirmation of our own biases? Or is having a commitment to Scripture okay so long as it doesn't step on the toes of society? (My guess is that most here are not suggesting we chuck the Bible in the trash but, rather, the parts of it which society disagrees with.) This automatic response that religious "subjective" values are inferior to societies "objective" values at the end of the day is completely unwarranted if, indeed, one of these subjective worldviews ends up being true. And that's the important point! Christians believe that scripture is authoritative, that ethics are binding from God, and that what it says cannot just be pick pocketed for anything we might currently find valuable while throwing away the rest! The idea often promoted in matters such as this one is that it's okay for you to be a Christian, but once we as a society get past some of your viewpoints you better be ready to reject them...otherwise you're a "bigot" and "hateful."
Some would respond, like The Young Turks (who have been a major source of media on this issue), that if we accept homosexuality than we also have to accept the dietary laws of the OT and all those other things we tend to reject. But to suggest such a narrow authoritative grid is to suggest the only choice is to accept all or reject all. But that's actually not how things work. As my professor Ben Witherington has remarked repeatedly, we see a basic rule between the covenants: what is renewed in the NT from the OT is still binding and that usually has to do with ethical behavior, not legalism. A Biblical view of sexuality, for many Christians like Cathy, is merely renewed in the NT. So the issue is not whether we are homophobic or intentionally hateful but whether we are being true to our faith. If you hate the faith, then fine. But we must understand that if we're choosing to attack Christians as hateful and bigoted and homophobic than you must do the same thing with the New Testament. And, as I noted above in the case of Jesus, disagreement over behavioral ethics does not insist that we call someone or something hateful. It would be a hard thing to defend to say that Jesus or Paul or any of the NT authors, despite accepting the Jewish holiness code of sexual ethics, were hateful towards homosexuals. Indeed, the Scriptures testify that Jesus died for those who sinned. He remarked that we should love those that we disagree with. And he espoused an unconditional love that said that love was free for anyone and everyone but that God still wants us to live as close to the imago dei as possible. Sometimes this is instinctual. Sometimes it's not. But going against our instincts cannot be taken to mean hate.
Hate is a strong word. Let us be cautious in using it. Let's presume here that Cathy is not saying a person is diseased if they're a homosexual (a claim which I don't think he's made). Let's presume that Cathy has not been funding violent organizations (a claim I also don't think has been substantiated). Let's presume that he is not walking around searching for homosexuals so he can tell them that God hates them and they're going to Hell. Let's presume that he merely reads the Bible in a certain way which supports the traditional family structure and suggests that this implies that if marriage is a religious sanction primarily (and only secondarily a government one), then what scripture says about it is binding. Let us also presume that Christians for centuries have not just been misreading its statements about sexuality. Let us suppose that the Jews and the early Christians had no concept of orientation (a multifacted concept at that) but of behavior in its relationship to God's created order. Assuming all of this than the issue at stake is not that Christians are hateful but, instead, the issue at stake is the Bible and those in it like Jesus who would've agreed about sexual holiness. Again, can we say that Jesus hates gays? I don't think so. So let's not play this game that all those who disagree with homosexuality as a legitimate behaviour are homophobic or hateful. Perhaps, instead, its an attempt to be true to Scripture.
Mayor Menino's decision to ban Chic-fil-a from Boston is interesting for no other reason than it represents his rejection not just of Cathy but for the Bible. If, indeed, Scripture does make statements regarding homosexual behavior as immoral, then the Boston mayor's decision is not just a ban of Chic-fil-a but of Christianity. And if it is true that Jesus also, in line with a Jewish sexual ethic, disagreed with homosexual behavior as a moral behavior, then he is not just legislating Cathy but he is legislating Jesus. Going beyond Mr. Cathy, Mr. Menino might suggest that Jesus would "have to do a complete 180"
The point of all of this is not to say that this is how we read scripture or interpret the passages dealing with homosexuality. I think there are better ways to read it and worse ways to read it. For instance, Scripture does not suggest that a homosexual orientation is a concious choice of individuals. But it does say something about it and many intelligent (and sympathetic) biblical scholars and theologians argue that the position it holds is an ethical one, not a cultural or situational one. Richard B. Hays essay on homosexuality in the excellent book The Moral Vision of the New Testament is a great place to understand the perspective (by the way, Hay's best friend was a homosexual, so let's not suggest he's just a "hateful bigot").
But the point is to say that we cannot disassociate Cathy from scripture and insist that he (and other Christians) are "hateful" and "bigots" and "homophobes" because of their stance on homosexuality. Such language is merely an attempt to silence those that disagree (nobody likes to be a "bigot") in much the same way that banning a restaurant because of its views is merely an attempt to punish those who hold to different political and theological opinions than yours. If the debate is going to continue, let us not suggest that Christians are evil or hateful or inhuman. Let us ask whether their interpretations of scripture are genuine and do it justice. If that's not the case, then certainly many Christians will be willing to move ahead and adopt a more accepting view of homosexual behaviour. But for many Christians I know, the strict issue is over one's fidelity to scripture. If that's bigoted, than you have merely insisted that society, not God, should be more important in the mind of the individual. In my view, this is a dangerous road to take and it includes more than a lack of chicken sandwiches.
The Point on Facebook
Sign up here to receive the weekly digest for The Point!