I want to respond to some of the legitimate criticisms people raised in response to my suggestion that Christians shouldn’t participate in Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. The day is past, and people already made their decisions about whether to participate, but I think it’s worth revisiting the controversy so that we might consider any possible future rallies more critically. What I hope we can learn from yesterday is that if Christians are going to continue utilizing visible demonstrations and social media to engage our culture on controversial issues, it’s absolutely essential for us to communicate our message more clearly to outsiders.
Some have pointed out that many who participated in Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day were doing so in support of free speech and not in protest of same-sex marriage, and I’d agree that’s undoubtedly the case. I doubt there were many Christians yesterday who thought to themselves, “I’m going to eat at Chick-Fil-A today, and that’s going to prevent people from marrying other people of the same gender.” I understand people’s desire to protect the right of an individual (Dan Cathy) to say whatever he wants and to run his business however he wants. Nevertheless, the point of any Appreciation Day or protest or rally is to send a message, and I believe Christians inadvertently sent a message yesterday that may have been different from what they intended to communicate. (I’m doing my best to give Christians the benefit of the doubt.)
One of the major issues with Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day as an event was its lack of a clear purpose. The prominent Republican politician who organized the event specifically called people to eat at Chick-Fil-A peacefully on August 1 in order to “affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse,” which suggests his intentions were more about supporting that company’s positions than about supporting that company’s right to express its positions. I’m pointing this out to suggest the lack of clarity surrounding the event left the door wide open for people to misunderstand and misinterpret what the Christians—because, again, I’m only concerned here with what self-professed Christians communicated—who lined up for hours were hoping to express. Many Christians who participated didn’t have same-sex marriage in mind, and they certainly didn’t intend their patronage as an affront to their LGBT neighbors.
Nevertheless, because same-sex marriage has become such a contentious issue in our culture in the year 2012, I’d contend that most efforts utilizing the phrase “traditional marriage” are necessarily going to carry connotations (intentional or not) associated with same-sex relationships and LGBT people. Regardless of whether Christians wanted to make a protest against same-sex marriage and bear the heat of that position, many outsiders (by which I mean, quite literally, “People who were not inside a Chick-Fil-A”) interpreted their actions as anti-gay. I don’t believe this is a situation in which Christians can legitimately argue, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (I Corinthians 1:18), as if we’re falling in line with the countless saints who have suffered persecution at the hands of people who misunderstood their message. When it comes to interactions between Christians and the LGBT community in our present setting, it’s the responsibility of Christians to ensure we’re communicating precisely what we want to communicate, always keeping in mind that many of the messages we’ve historically communicated have been inordinately harsh and unloving. As I’ve said before, the burden of reconciliation falls squarely on the shoulders of Christians.
If I can be completely honest, it pains me to see how, in my opinion, yesterday went so wrong, because so many of the people I saw participating in Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day were wonderful, well-intentioned (and I don’t use that term in a patronizing sense) people who love others with profound compassion and care. If they were supporting traditional families, it’s because they think traditional families are God’s very best for all of us. If they were supporting free speech, it’s because they understand what a rare and precious privilege that is, one that’s worth defending and supporting. If they were supporting Chick-Fil-A itself, it’s because they appreciate a company who has placed more value on faithfully upholding certain principles (principles like allowing all of their employees to rest on the Sabbath day) than on doing what other experts might recommend as fiscally responsible.
It pains me because as often as I saw a Facebook status from a friend who had just finished eating a chicken sandwich with pride, I saw another status from a friend who felt enormously hurt and frustrated. Yesterday afternoon, I saw a tweet from a friend with a concise assessment: “Pictures like this only affirm my atheism.” You may not be surprised the picture attached to his tweet was not a picture of a child with cancer or a war-torn civilization; no, of course, it was a picture of a crowded Chick-Fil-A with a line of people wrapping around the building and a line of cars stretching out into the street. By my assessment, Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day was a classic, ugly example of the way (for whatever reason, but the problem is ours) the messages Christians are trying to send do not match the messages outsiders are hearing.
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