Brother Dan wasn’t trying to be controversial. (I’m talking about Dan Cathy, President of Chick-fil-A.) But controversial he was, which you undoubtedly saw last week, unless maybe you were vacationing somewhere beyond Mars. Controversial as in being called a hateful homophobe, and being told by the mayors of Boston and Chicago that Chick-fil-A is no longer welcome in their cities.
And I thought the presidential campaign was getting ugly! Dan is neither hateful nor a homophobe. But his experience is one we can learn from. (And since there’s a lot to learn, get ready for a long one….)
Jesus told his disciples that he wanted them to be “wise as serpents, but innocent as doves.” If we think of the latter as being simply telling the scripture’s truth, then the former points us toward giving attention to how we tell it. How can we get the best possible hearing for that truth? That’s the serpent end of the deal – being judicious and strategic in how we speak about controversial matters.
First, let’s not assume that anything we say about the sexual ethics and marriage controversies is simply “in house.” Dan Cathy was being interviewed by a Baptist publication, and he spoke as to those who shared his beliefs. That can work when we’re conversing with fellow Christians in person. But we must assume that anything which goes beyond this moment and this room – be it printed, cyber, or whatever – will reach a broader audience. And those “wise as serpents” will speak accordingly.
Second, know that the advocates for revising sexual ethics and marriage practices have their own “serpents,” who have successfully cast most such conversations in the mode of “do you agree with me or are you a bigot?” That’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” scam. Rather, choose your forum and form with a view to communicating fully both the truth of the scripture, and the grace that makes the truth life-giving. That pretty much rules out sound byte exchanges. Instead, look for settings where you can have a real conversation, or at least the means of communicating a full message.
Third, let that message begin with our own need for God’s grace – something like, “considering the logs in our own eyes, we’re not crusading to remove specks from others’ eyes. But we do believe that life works best when lived in the ways the Creator designed.”
Fourth, don’t stop with God’s Creator stake in this. Be sure you get to his Redeemer role – something like, “we’re grateful that the One who designed us also redeems us in every area of life. And we need his redemption in our sexuality and marriages as much or more than anyone.”
Fifth, don’t get pulled into the escalation of contempt. As soon as the mayors of Boston and Chicago cast their scorn on Dan Cathy, the web lit up with Christians casting scorn on them. Jesus is not served thereby. Sure, let’s confront those whose voices for “tolerance” are (ironically) intolerant. But let’s not follow them in tone. We are set apart by the kindness and vulnerability with which we speak the truth, not by the correctness of our arguments.
Sixth, let’s find forums for controversial conversations other than dueling boycotts. The Kingdom is not advanced by eating more “chikin” or less Ben and Jerry’s. There is a time and place to speak to corporations about their values. But high volume exchanges about where we’re taking our business does little to win hearts to what matters most, and only plays into the opposing “serpent’s” desire to cast Christians as shrill and simplistic.
Lastly, let’s learn together as we go, and be supportive of each other. We’re going to need it. For however well we join “serpent” with “dove,” in a hateful world we are all guaranteed to get a taste of Dan Cathy’s controversy. And let’s make sure we also get a taste of his wonderful “chikin”!