During the first week of August, Chick-fil-A became ground zero for one of the hottest controversies of the day. The fast food giant took center stage in the debate about same-sex marriage, largely due to owner Dan Cathy’s comments about his company’s support of a “biblical definition” of marriage as a traditional partnership between a man and a woman. As a result, August 1 became the day that those in support of Cathy flooded the chain, in many cases waiting hours in line for a chicken sandwich. The event was promoted by many Christian groups, and Chick-fil-A reported unprecedented sales for the day. In response, those in support of same-sex marriage protested on August 3 at Chick-fil-A restaurants throughout the nation.
The comments that follow have less to do with my personal views on same-sex marriage and rather focus on the question, “Is a restaurant really the place for such a theological showdown?” Disclaimer: I am an active Evangelical, though I’m also heavily influenced by my Anabaptist heritage. To some I look conservative. To some I seem liberal. As is usually with these kinds of labels, it depends where you stand. Nonetheless, now that the controversy has died down a bit, here are ten reasons why I think a Chick-fil-A restaurant is a very inappropriate place for this whole discussion (whether you’re Christian, non-Christian, straight, GLBT, health conscious or a junk food junkie).
1. The word “biblical” is greatly overused by Christians. A lot of people are throwing this word around in an attempt to support their own preconceived convictions. It’s classic “prooftexting” – we have a conviction about an issue or doctrine, so we search the Bible with the goal of finding verses that support what we already believe. Hence, our opinions shape our understanding of the Bible rather than letting Scripture influence our beliefs. Another example: Pastors (especially church planters) often refer to their congregations as a “biblical church” or a “first-century church.” The problem is that there is no such thing. There were many biblical churches in the first century. There was one in Thessalonica, one in Galatia, one in Colossae, etc. Each of these churches had very distinct features and was given unique instructions from Paul. This is why the apostle tells women to be quiet in Corinth, but commends them for their leadership in Philippi. We need to be careful that we don’t use the word “biblical” manipulatively. Many cult leaders have done so and have successfully learned to control those who follow them.
2. The Bible is, essentially, a book for believers. The prescriptions of the Old and New Testaments are almost always given to the community of God’s people. As such, there isn’t a sense that the instructions given are for nonbelievers. Paul never lectured to a secular audience. His letters were written for the encouragement, edification and correction of small congregations that huddled together quietly in members’ homes. God’s Word is written to his followers in order to help them be a sign, witness and foretaste of his kingdom. Whatever our conviction might be about marriage, the public arena is not the place for aggressive conflict and argumentation. Such debate between Christians is good and necessary, but should take place in church gatherings, elders meetings and denominational study conferences.
3. Morality and spirituality cannot be legislated. Laws will not change the human heart. Many Christians believe that we must pass laws reflecting our Christian values. This sounds good, but what effect will it have? Forcing someone to live by my moral convictions is nothing more than coercion. If I believe that I am counseled by Scripture to follow a specific moral code, then I ought to be concerned with living out that conviction in the context of the Christian community. The church, then, becomes a testimony to God’s plan for his creation, not the coercive enforcers of doctrine. It’s a mistake to think that non-Christians will ever live like Christians just because they are mandated to do so. When will we learn that coercing people to believe something they don’t will only drive them away from Christ? Examples abound.
4. This isn’t Christian versus anti-Christian. Like it or not, there are Christians on both sides of the same-sex marriage controversy. I have gay and lesbian friends who are committed followers of Christ. It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with their lifestyle, they love Jesus. Unfortunately, many of them will never be comfortable in a church because of the way they have been treated by the church. Many people have cast the recent Chick-fil-A debate as an us-against-them scenario (this could be said of both sides). Rather than in a parking lot, wouldn’t it be better for us to come together and discuss the issues in courteous, honoring and private ways? I saw enough bad behavior through this conflict to seriously doubt some people’s faith on both sides of the debate. Thank God for grace. Thank God for mercy. Without that, none of us would be saved.
5. We just read the parts of Scripture we like. Why do we ignore the passages that condemn those who steal, those who lie and are dishonest, those who are unfaithful to their spouses, those who gossip, those who are greedy and those who are gluttons (yes, that means “eat too much”). These are all concerns Paul mentions with equal force alongside the issue of homosexuality. When will we stage an anti-gluttony event at a local eatery? Obviously, it’s not going to happen. Enough said. (See 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 for context.)
6. We judge people guilty by association. This works two ways. First, if I support opposite-sex marriage, I risk being labeled as a conservative right wing fanatic. But, if I’d come out and support same-sex marriage, I’d probably be branded as a godless progressive liberal. Either way, I’m likely to be stereotyped because of my association with a particular group of people. The problem: stereotypes are weak, shallow and simplistic ways of judging people’s true character. Second, there is a strong pressure in the Christian community to favor and associate with anything that’s labeled “Christian.” The subtle message is this: keep the money in the Christian family, don’t give your money to those pagans. Thus, we think we are better Christians if we use the services of those who have an ichthus (fish) on their business cards. Stated negatively, I’m a bad Christian if I don’t buy the Christian chicken sandwich.
7. Christian consumerism isn’t the way forward. Does buying stuff, especially from other Christians, really fulfill us and the mission of God’s kingdom? One of the greatest ironies of the Chick-fill-A controversy is that many people think they were doing something righteous and noble by patronizing a Christian business. Why do we keep thinking that buying things (food, possessions, health, security, power, etc.) will make us, or society, any better? Furthermore, is it really godly to stuff ourselves with a sandwich that has 56 different ingredients including a host of industrial substances like monosodium glutamate (MSG), whole powdered egg, dimethylpolysiloxane, fully refined peanut oil, calcium peroxide, artificial flavor and color, etc. The website caloriecount.com gives the sandwich a nutrition grade of D+. Add a shake and fries to that holy meal and you’ll take in a whopping 1410 calories and 54 grams of fat.
8. Time, money and resources could be used in much more productive ways. Here in Fresno, people stood in line for an hour or two to buy a sandwich. I saw traffic on a major street in gridlock with people waiting to get into the parking lot. That’s an amazing amount of money and human resources at stake. I recently received a plea from a Christian organization asking for money because they used up their budget of ten million dollars in the fight against same-sex marriage. I know ten million dollars isn’t a lot when it comes to political initiatives, but I could only dream of ways my community could use that money to effect positive change. If we poured that kind of resource into every elementary school in Fresno, we could see dramatic transformation in the city.
9. Initiatives that work against any group of people—even “Christian” ones—do more harm than good. Back in 2000, Proposition 22 was placed on the California ballot and called for a heterosexual definition of marriage. It was wildly popular among conservative Christians. I remember the strong pressure to put a sign up in my yard in support of Prop 22. But I chose not to. Why? Because my next-door neighbor was a lesbian. I’d already had numerous conversations with her, and had learned of the pain and hurt in her life, much of it caused by several bad church experiences. I knew she and her partner were watching me, and I knew they were watching my lawn. Long story short—about a year later, after numerous conversations and Bible studies, (yes, Bible studies!), I baptized my neighbor. Now I look for every opportunity to build healthy, positive relationships with ALL of my neighbors.
10. Evangelical correctness can be as dangerous as political correctness. PC is chic these days. But there is also a new EC—“evangelical correctness.” It’s a belief that anything a liberal says is suspect or wrong or evil. It’s the subtle pressure to support a whole array of issues, politicians and causes that are deemed acceptable. And, as a self-identified Evangelical, if I don’t support the same exact agenda as the majority of Evangelicals, I’ll be watched, questioned and marginalized. Here’s the strange irony: The Bible contains the story of God’s people, a minority people on the fringes of society without power or prestige attempting to be faithful in the face of oppression and persecution, but our modern Christian subculture seeks power, champions the strong voice and disregards minority opinions of dissent. In the end, the Chick-fil-A debacle was an exercise in evangelical correctness on one side and political correctness on the other. Sadly, it’s just another fad that will actually change very little in the discussion.
That’s my set of reasons for thinking that a restaurant is a bad place to enforce theological beliefs. I have ten points—there could be more, maybe there should be less. I’m still forming my thoughts around the issue. I’d love to hear yours.