Dear Neutral Christians: You Have Already Chosen a Side

What I find even more annoying than the flap over Chick-fil-A —even more irritating than all of the polarization and heated rhetoric flying about—are the people who try to self-righteously stand aloof from the fray. To me, even more disheartening than the posts about standing up for traditional heterosexist values and fighting a culture war are some of the comments I’ve read like,

“Jesus isn’t honored by this arguing”
“It’s just a sandwich.”
“Jesus wasn’t interested in political correctness.”

This is the rhetorical equivalent of people who said things like

“It’s just a lunch counter”
“Who cares where you sit on the bus?”
“The church should stay out of the civil rights movement.”

I’m not surprised – not one bit – that Christians lined up outside of Chick-fil-a stores yesterday. I’m not surprised that they leapt to the defense of Dan Cathy. There were plenty of God-fearing Christians who lined up behind Governor George Wallace as well. What does disappoint me are all the “neutral” Christians who think it would all be okay if we just didn’t keep talking about it.

FYI – if you call supporters of gay marriage “arrogant,” or say that they are “shaking a fist at God,” (Cathy’s words) you are not just stating your Biblical belief. You are demonizing opposition to your beliefs. So instead of interpreting the Bible differently than you, I, as a supporter of gay marriage, become the enemy of God. Instead of seeing the world through a different lens, instead of merely interpreting the Bible from another perspective, I have a character flaw—arrogance. I take offense at such claims. It is not because I’m being “politically correct.” I am responding appropriately to offensive rhetoric. It is the same offense one might take at the CEO of a major corporation calling women or African-Americans “uppity.”

When you, as a Christian, claim I am off-base for taking offense at his words, you have chosen a side. And that makes me angry. If my anger makes you uncomfortable, I’ll also point out that I am not gay. I don’t have a right to one fraction of the anger my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters feel.

My anger comes from the fact that I am trying to build a church in which all people can know the love of Christ. I want to let people who have been burned by church and turned off by the bigotry of some Christians know that they can believe in Jesus without being a fundamentalist, that the origins of Christianity are in the radically inclusive love of Jesus for women, eunuchs, children, foreigners, uncircumcised Gentiles, and even people of other religions (like Samaritans).

I have been trying to make the case to such folks that the bigots are a loud minority of Christians. All those people who lined up outside of a fast food restaurant to make a point (what was the point, exactly?) just made my job harder.

Please do not tell me, condescendingly, that I should not be offended by the words of a self-avowed conservative Christian to a Baptist press. I have no problem with the president of Chick-fil-a stating a belief. He could believe in young-earth creationism. He could believe that only people baptized by immersion will be saved. He might believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. But if he says that I am shaking my fist at God because I don’t believe in the exclusivity of immersion baptism, or that I’m arrogant for believing in evolution, you’ll pardon me if I don’t eat at his stupid restaurant.

And if my offense at his comment offends you, or if engaging in a debate about symbols and what they mean is somehow problematic for you, or if you want to say that somehow I’m disconnected from God’s redemptive action in the world because I’m angry about it, then you can take your irrelevant gospel and get out of my face. You do not get to speak for Jesus, or tell me that Jesus isn’t concerned about what concerns me while defending the words of someone who is certain – certain! that Jesus is all concerned about homosexuality.

I will not abide that double standard silently. If Dan Cathy can speak for God, so can I. And so can any of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I will keep telling of a God who shows no partiality.

Neutral Christians, I hope your derision of the whole argument is not your attempt to stay above the fray and keep your pretty hands clean. You are just as much a part of the political world as any of us. Paul makes the same point when he addresses the arguing Corinthians. Some said “I belong to Paul.” Some said “I belong to Apollos.” But the really self-righteous said, “I belong to Christ.”

Sorry, you don’t get to “transcend” politics. Even Jesus didn’t get to do that until after the politics and the religion of his day killed him. God was willing to get God’s hands dirty in the politics of our world. Your attempt to avoid taking a position by declaring “a pox on both your houses” or saying “both sides are guilty” is not a witness to the risen Christ: it is a cynical move to side with the powerful against the weak without the courage to say that that is what you are doing.

I understand. I totally do. It is always scary when someone invites you to leave your world of privilege and side with the oppressed. Even if your sympathies lead you in the right direction, your self-preservation instinct is strong. It’s the same reason Peter didn’t wave his arms in the courtyard and say: “Wait! You’ve got it all wrong! He isn’t talking about the kind of revolution that you think!” He tucked tail and ran because he was afraid of being crucified. It’s the same reason Reinhold Neibuhr (a brilliant theologian and someone I admire) told Martin Luther King “wait, you’re moving too fast.”

When Paul said “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he did not say it to a secular world that didn’t want Jesus. He said it to a religious community that was not sure how they could accept uncircumcised Gentiles as equal members of their church. So to all you appeasers who think you are being peacemakers, I level this charge: you are ashamed of the gospel. You do not believe in the power of Christ to include your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as co-workers in the kingdom. You have sided with the powerful against the powerless, because that’s the safe place to be.

I’m not saying you are bad Christians. Some of you are wonderful Christians. But we all make mistakes, and sometimes we do what we do out of necessity. Even Paul played both sides of the cultural arguments of his day. Though he didn’t believe eating meat sacrificed to idols would cut you off from Christ, he wasn’t going to press the issue for the religious sticklers (1 Corinthians 8:8-9). Peter likewise buckled under pressure from the religious conservatives of his day (Galatians 2:11-12). And though Paul stood up to the religious conservatives for Titus (Gal 2:3), he did not do so for Timothy (Acts 16:3). We pastors know that it is often important to buy time in the middle of social change.

But I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of Christ for salvation, for both straight and gay, for God shows no partiality. I am not ashamed to say that Dan Cathy’s version of the gospel is different from mine. I’m sure he’s not a bad guy, and he loves Christians who think like him. But, like Paul, if eating such meat offends my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, “then I will never eat a chicken sandwich again.” Because that’s what Christians do.

9 thoughts on “Dear Neutral Christians: You Have Already Chosen a Side

  1. I admire your passion and obvious desire to include everyone in the hearing and deliverance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, it appears to me that your passion has overridden very clear teachings in Scripture about repentance. While I agree the grace of God is available to all, Christ Himself was very clear that repentance was a key condition for salvation. “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mt 9:13b.

    I share your love for people and have an abiding burden for those who do not know, truly know, the saving grace of Jesus Christ. However, when we discount very clear teachings in Scripture (some call that interpretation) we cheapen the sacrifice that was made by Christ on the cross. Yes, everyone can be saved, and we know from scripture that God is “unwilling that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Hmmm… There’s that word again… Repentance.

    The turmoil created by somone simply stating their beliefs should not distract us from doing the real work that needs to be done in the world. Your job and mine is to teach that which is clearly written (unless we decide that what was written is not what was really meant, as is the case in some minds) which includes repentance. I want, really want, to be able to show those who call themselves Gay that God loves them and that I love them too, but I cannot accept that God will provide His salvation to anyone who is unwilling to repent, so in love I must walk down the road with my arm around sinners of all kinds, whether homosexuals, heterosexuals, drug users, alcoholics, etc and unashamedly share in all love the WHOLE truth of the gospel, not a watered-down version which says that God will wink at sin.

  2. Roger, thank you for your thoughtful reply. The status of homosexuality as “clearly” a sin is exactly where we disagree. But you are able to disagree with me without telling me that my disagreement is arrogant or that I’m shaking my fist at God, or otherwise consigning me to hell for not being persuaded of the same beliefs you have. That’s the primary difference between what I believe Dan Cathy said and what you just said, and the attitude expressed in your comment vs. the attitude of people lining up outside of a restaurant in visual support of those words.

    Again, I feel the same way about other disagreements over Biblical interpretation. If someone said you were opposed to what the Bible clearly says because you didn’t believe in Calvinist predestination, or because you used musical instruments in worship, or baptized infants, and that such behavior was sin, I expect you would object. Imagine hundreds of people lining up outside a restaurant whose president had expressed anti-Methodist beliefs. Imagine other people telling you that you were wrong for being bothered by it, and that you should be silent because they were just exercising their first amendment rights.

    I could lay out the various arguments about why I disagree that God condemns homosexuality as sin, but you’ve probably heard most of them. I think of it like circumcision and abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols, both of which were very clear in the Hebrew Bible and caused conflict in the early church (Acts, Corinthians, Galatians, Romans). In that situation, religious conservatives balked at letting uncircumcised Gentiles into their club. Scripture was “clearly” on their side. Where would we be if they had won? How is this argument over homosexuality different from theirs?

    I also believe in the words of Jesus: that as the church, whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Jesus has given the Spirit-led church the power to interpret scripture, to consider which commands of the Hebrew Bible are binding and which are not. If we, led by the Spirit, discern that homosexuality (or eating unkosher meat, or remaining uncircumcised) is not a sin, then according to scripture, it is not. Can I not claim, as you do, that scripture is very clear about how we interpret the Bible? That Jesus tells religious leaders not to lay on others a burden that they are unwilling to bear themselves—in this case, lifelong abstinence? See, it’s not that I don’t believe what the Bible clearly says. It’s just that I think the Bible is very clear about different things.

    If I were arguing along the lines of Dan Cathy, if you disagree with my interpretation of what scripture “clearly” says, then you are “arrogant” and “shaking your fist at God.” But you will notice that I do not argue that way. I think that kind of talk is cheap and insulting. I likewise believe you are a sincere and devoted Christian who is doing your best to follow the example of Jesus. It’s the inability of some folks to recognize this that gets my dander up. So I thank you that you do not talk this way. I will not either.

  3. David,
    Thanks for the passionate response to the events of the week. It was a painful reminder of all those years that I him-hawed around on the issue, using the appropriate language about us all being sinners and no one should cast a stone. I am ashamed of those years now. I was a coward.

    But I finally got tired of the sickness of soul (and stomach) after such a self-righteous and totally unhelpful stance. So, I finally quit doing that. Now I simply say that I don’t believe that sexual orientation and the healthy, loving expression thereof is a sin.

    I also experienced this week most of the thoughts and feelings you shared, and expressed far better than I, so thanks. I know you are not looking for gratitude, so, I will just say I will do my best to express in love what I perceive to be the truth.

    Bob

  4. Well, now I’m just going to have to read your book! 🙂 And now, here it comes, BUT when you say God shows no partiality,does that not included everyone; anyone and everywhere? By writing this post, you have done everything that you so dislike Cathy for doing. And you have made God partial through your very argument. If one, such as Cathy, interprets the bible differently than you, is there gospel then irrelevant? If those who, like myself, choose to stay out of the argument for numerous reasons, now must “choose a side” in oder to avoid being cycnical, weak, and ashamed of my faith? Well, now you have reversed the roles, “your not just staing your biblical beliefs, you are demonizing opposition to your beliefs.”

    I am one of those Christains who has chosen not to take a stand not just on Chick-fil-A, afterall, it IS just a chicken sandwich. And it IS just one man’s opinion who happens to own a chain of restaurants. If I had to spend my time figuring out the Chrisitan and political opinions of the hundreds of business owners that I inadvertently support on a daily basis, I wouldn’t have time for anything else. If I abstain from chicken sandwiches because it offends my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, would I then have to abstain from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because it offends my right wing bible thumping friends. Where is the line drawn? And what exactly is that line? Are certain people allowed to be offended and others not?

    I am fine admitting I don’t know the answer to whether gay marraige is right or wrong christian or unchristain. For every one of you telling me it is right, there is another one telling me it is wrong. And for every bible verse you can use to support your claim, someone else can pull one to support their own. So, in all honesty, I don’t care. Why are people, especially those in the church, so damn tuned in to one “alleged” sin. Does it even matter? We all sin. We’re all forgiven. Who cares if it is or isn’t a sin. Now, if you want to open up an argument about how we treat others, then that would be a whole other argument, one completely void from Chick-fil-A. I have my own walk with God, that I fail at miserably every single day. I have so much work to do on myself, I wouldn’t dare try to handle and ascertain what another believer needs to do to get it right. And, we don’t have to “do” anything. Its already been done. If everyone would shut up about this issue and a multitude of others, and just work on their own walk and relationship with God, reading the Word and being Spirit led, this world would be a much better place and the church would grow exponentially. But when you have some people wagging their fingers at gays and lesbians, and then you have others, wagging their fingers at this conservative right-wingers; your all screaming that God is indeed partial, only being impartial to those that share your respective beliefs.

    So, I commend those who like to stay out of it, who don’t want to stir the pot even more, who don’t want to distract from the Word, who like to keep the main thing, the main thing – CHRIST. If that makes us weak or cynical in your eyes, thats okay. I may have to tell you to take your irrelevent gospel and get out of my face 🙂 ; but I won’t because, we are blessed to serve a GOD who IS impartail – to all . including Cathy . including you . including me!

  5. Mary Michael, thank you for your candor and your reply. First, I should probably clarify something that may be misleading in my title. My beef isn’t really with Christians who hold their tongues about this issue. It’s with Christians who tell me I should hold mine for the sake of harmony and unity, or who claim to be “neutral” while supporting the status quo. Again, when I read tweets or comments like “Jesus didn’t preach politics,” I imagine someone saying “I don’t like racism, but that Martin Luther King Jr. is a trouble-maker.” I don’t see that by pointing out the Christian hypocrisy in such behavior that it in turn makes me a hypocrite. But perhaps you are right and it does: logs and splinters in eyes, and all that.

    Still, these kind of comments sound a bit like standing up for a bully to me, and blaming the tiny kid with glasses for provoking him. Lots of earnest Christians who dislike fighting have told slaves not to rebel, and women, poor whites, and black people not to get uppity, and abolitionists that they were *responsible* for the Civil War. When “neutral” Christians say such things, what is the appropriate response from the woman suffragist, the abolitionist, the slave, and the Civil rights protester? How should Martin Luther King, Jr. have responded to people who said he was being unChristian by calling out the segregationists for their unChristian behavior? Was Martin being self-righteous when he compared himself to Moses, and the segregationists to Egyptians? I would truly like to hear your answer. Looking at these event of history, do you think they responded appropriately, and if so, how is my approach in the blog post above different?

    (I will add that I am not comparing myself to MLK, either. I’m posting on a blog, for heaven’s sake, not facing down riot police. I’m just comparing rhetoric.)

    And I will say, I would be honored if you did read my book. One my main arguments in it is that this is no different than the issues that faced the early church. The Christian Pharisees declared that only those men who had their penises circumcised and ate kosher could be Christian. These are the primary issues in Acts 10 & 15, Romans 1 & 2 (including the bits purportedly about homosexuality), and the entire letter of Galatians. Paul used very harsh language in his condemnation of their position: “Since they are so concerned about other people’s genitals, I wish they would just castrate themselves!” (Galatians 5:2 – my paraphrase). Was Paul being unChristian? Was he stooping to the level of the Pharisees when he used such vulgar language against them? (Compared to Paul, I think I have showed remarkable restraint: I have not said that I wish Dan Cathy would castrate himself!) Again, no one has yet explained to me how my language or arguments are different from Paul’s. If someone can show this to me, I will repent in sackcloth and ashes for my bad attitude and unchristian, hypocritical words.

    • Dr. Dave,
      Let me first say that before I commented back I did click on your link. However it was on my phone and it took me straight to the top. So I thought you referred me back to the original blog post. Though now I see what you intended me to see. I read it through and through as well. Your argument is strong and noble. Your words are also very strong. By me posting this I don’t want you to think I disagree with the cause that you are fighting for. I believe all people are equal. I believe in equality for all people. I believe that Jesus came to die for the reconciliation of sin for all people. I do believe that anyone who believes in Jesus shall not spiritually perish (the most important part). My question to you is that while you are advocating for a large number of undoubtedly oppressed and underprivileged people, how did you win over the other side of this ordeal for Jesus? I go back to my second statement that love always wins. Just like Andrew Marin says, “Love is an orientation”. From what I’ve learned from studying the scriptures and examining white/ straight privilege and social oppression as an undergraduate and graduate student, I must say that we must stand for what is right without drawing hate from the other side. Anger never solved anything. (My discipline is Social Work)

      Like I originally said I am not stating my side. I don’t want to do that publicly. It’s not because I might become labeled, but because I will by default lose my witness to a group of Christians. You can take what I have to say however you want. This is what I had to say about all of this over facebook: “I’m paraphrasing a friend by saying, no matter what side you are on about all of the Chick-fil-a stuff, “how many hearts did you win over today?” Jesus came to save not condemn. To everyone on either side: do not react out of anger. You burn Godly bridges by reacting out of anger.” (Although I don’t view your argument as a reaction because I know you’ve studied this for many years… you are seeking action)

      I do not have any type of biblical degree. I can’t say that I am a spiritually mature Christian because I believe it is impossible to become mature in a walk of faith. There is always something to be learned. We can never know enough. What I am proposing is that we should love both sides no matter what happens. Loving both sides is not neutral. I’ve come under fire many times for loving both sides. What I propose is not complicity either. You should check out The Marin Foundation… http://www.themarinfoundation.org/ . The Marin Foundation does not necessarily push to love both sides but it is clearly his mission with emphasis on the LGBTQ community.

      And yes Paul’s argument in Galatians 5:2 obviously helped matters though I don’t perceive it as anger. Look at where we are today… Our world is not completely free from privilege and oppression but it is a work in progress.

      I leave you with a challenge to love both sides because our Lord does (John 3:16-17, Romans 1:16).

      • Hi, Ray,
        Thanks also for you thoughtful reply. I think you are right, and it’s good to ask the critical question, “Is what I’m saying loving? Does it win people for Christ?” I also appreciate your desire to respond sensitively to a tough situation.

        I guess what I want you to hear is the counter-question: What part of love tells an oppressed minority to stop complaining?

        I’m not unsympathetic to Christians who dislike conflict. I understand that it is uncomfortable and generally annoying to hear people complain about injustice. But I think that someone with power and privilege telling someone without to stop complaining and love their enemies is a distortion of the gospel, one of which we have been *particularly* guilty in the South. I believe people who say such things are talking not to the issue, but to their own discomfort. I do not think pointing this out makes me unloving. But, as I said, I could be wrong.

  6. David, I appreciate your message and it helps inform what I and disciples at Stepping Stone have been processing. I plan to buy your book right away; and, I know you’re busy–but have you considered leading group sessions on this concern?

  7. Thank God for this post. Social media has been thick with self-righteous “neutral” comments over the past few weeks. Even Rachel Held Evans wrote a post chastising “both sides.” I guess it gives the illusion of impartiality and good judgment, but you’re comparison to the Corinthian situation is spot on.

    Thanks, Dave.

Comments are closed.