Chick-fil-a and Wondering “Where Have All the Liberals Gone”?

I had a seminary professor who was what I call a true liberal. By that I mean, she really believed in and lived according to the idea that we all have the liberty to hold our own opinion of things, live by them, and express them. Our differing opinions, when shared and engaged, make us wiser and stronger. To her, disagreement was an opportunity for learning and growth. Being a true liberal she was always open to hearing what others said and even when she disagreed with them it was as a learning experience, characterized by respect in the midst of disagreement. The disagreements could at times be serious and important, from the nature of God, to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, or even if the crucifixion was necessary for the forgiveness of sin. In a seminary those are hot topics and could at times produce a shower of sparks in debates between liberals and conservatives. But not with this professor. She had the respect of the conservatives because she would engage in serious dialogue and treat others as people made in God’s image and worthy of being treated with dignity.

During this latest cultural tempest over Chick-fil-a, their position on homosexual marriage, the protests and counter protests, I have often thought of that professor and wondered to myself, “where have all the liberals gone”. You may think that I am just not paying attention because clearly there are lots of them. Many of them are planning a kiss-in protest at Chick-fil-a stores across the country today. But that is not what I am talking about. I don’t mean people who are morally liberal as opposed to conservatives or evangelicals. I am talking about true, philosophical liberals who really do believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion, expression of it, and their version of truth. Those liberals are few and far between today. What I find in their place are people who are morally liberal but philosophically conservative. What do I mean by that? Simply this, a true liberal would not attack you telling you that your position is wrong and you are a hateful person for holding it. They would simply tell you that they disagree, and then tell you what is true for them and works for them. They would simply acknowledge that it is different from what you think or believe. What I see in the outrage against Chick-fil-a is a philosophical conservatism that says, your position is wrong, it is untrue, incorrect, and in fact dangerous, and hateful. In a rather obvious twist, obvious to me at least, I find many liberals engaging in the exact hate speech that they accuse Dan Cathy of spouting. Just this morning I read the report of on Arizona CFO getting fired after he posted a YouTube video of himself berating a Chick-fil-a drive through attendant over the company’s position on gay marriage.  So my request to liberals everywhere is simply this, be a true liberal. Be consistent. If you really want to live as if there are no, or few moral absolutes, as if people should have the liberty to do as they want, then you must allow the conservative the liberty to hold their positions just as you do. You have no philosophical grounds on which to tell them they are wrong for the positions they hold. Liberalism is about liberty, the liberty to think and believe and express whatever you want. Dan Cathy should have that liberty as should anyone else. It even gives mayors of major cities the liberty to say things that they later regret and realize they need to clarify or retract.

But I also want to say a few things to my conservative and evangelical friends. If you truly think that there is right and wrong, good and evil, and that there are moral laws we should follow, then follow them. Start with what Jesus said was the most important, love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Such love is not confined to feeling all warm and fuzzy about someone. The biblical kind of love, the Jesus kind of love, is the kind that acts lovingly, even when you don’t feel like it. If you are a conservative or evangelical then ask yourself these questions. Is there a LGBT person who considers you a friend? Is there an atheist who knows that they can talk to you about anything and that if they were in trouble at two in the morning they could call you without hesitation? Is there a Muslim or Buddhist who respects you because you first respected them? Is there anyone who is of a radically different lifestyle from you who knows that you love them because you have consistently served, encouraged. prayed for them, and treated them with respect and friendship? If the answer is no or you are not sure, then I suggest you skip waiting in line for your chicken sandwich and go do something that builds a bridge and demonstrates the love of Christ. I am pretty sure that Dan Cathy would gladly give up the profit on the sandwich if he knew you were investing in the life of someone who desperately needs to know that Jesus and you, love them.

You see, as much as it makes us feel triumphant that people needed to wait in long lines for a piece of chicken on Wednesday, such triumphalism will not bring people closer to Jesus. Our love and kindness will. That’s not my idea. That’s what the Bible says. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4 It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. It is the love of the Lord that draws us to him. It must be noted that this word kindness is part of Paul’s’ argument against sin in the early verses of Romans. The particular focus of the end of Romans 1 is on homosexual practice and sin. Many Christians trot out those verses and use them to beat over the heads of proponents of same-sex marriage. Yet Paul, for all his strident words against sin, reminds us that kindness is what God most often uses to call us to him. That kindness is first and foremost to be made evident though followers of Christ as we treat others with kindness. That doesn’t mean we say everything is acceptable. It means that we graciously, humbly, lovingly hold to what we believe, including that we believe Jesus calls us to serve and love even our perceived enemies.

We conservatives and evangelicals need to take a page out of the playbook of that liberal seminary professor. We need to treat people, no matter how much we disagree with them, with kindness and respect. We need to demonstrate that we love them and will serve them and sacrifice for them in order to show them the love of Christ. I suspect that if more of us lived that way, there would be a true dialogue and not a parade of useless protests, counter protests, showing support by buying sandwiches or showing disdain by boycotting sandwiches.

I bring this all back to the point of this blog site, provoking a response to the sake of Christ. According to 1 Peter 3:15, Christians should be living life so differently, so hopefully, faithfully, and lovingly, that people who are not following Christ become intrigued by our faith, hope, and love and want to know the reason for it. It is then that we can point people to Jesus and say, “He loves me and because of that, I love you, and He wants you to know that He loves you too”.

God, Football, and the First Amendment

I read a news article about a Georgia high school forbidding certain Christian statements and Bible verses being painted on banners that the cheerleaders made for the football team. (School bans Bible Verses) Having played football and served as a coach for 20 years, I have seen my share of cheerleader produced banners. Most of them are wonderful and inspirational. Occasionally they cross the line, like the one that encouraged our team to “Castrate Trinity” the opponent for the night. What it gained in poetic flow it lost in the details of the encouraged activity. But such was not the case at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. Instead the banners said things like, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus” (Philippians) and “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline” (II Timothy).

The problem arose when someone who loves Jesus raised a concern. According to the law of the land, since the cheerleaders are a school sponsored group serving at a school sponsored event, they could not “promote” a particular religion with the clearly Christian sentiments. So the cheerleaders had to stop making and displaying those kinds of banners and resort to the more typical ones encouraging determination and teamwork. I assume they did not call for the other team to be castrated or even circumcised.

But a law that applies to the cheerleaders does not apply to the fans. They can say whatever they want on their banners. As a result this town of 9,600 people now has not one but dozens of Bible verse banners at every game. Of course there are also lots of banners about not being silenced and not be ashamed of Jesus. So in one sense by following the law they went from one banner about their faith to dozens. I think that most people following Jesus would think that the added number of Bible verses was a good thing. The more scripture people see and read the better.

Of course there are some people who are furious with the person who raised the concern about the banner. Some of the reactions are less than charitable. What they don’t understand is that the woman who raised the concern was trying to do the school a favor and save them from a law suit that was sure to come someday from people who really objected. It would be a law suit that the school would certainly loose. You really can’t have cheerleaders at a football game holding up a banner about Jesus for the team to run through. Imagine if by some twist of fate most of the cheerleaders happened to be Hindu and they made a banner that said “Shiva is our strength, He will destroy our Opponent”. I suspect that lots of Christians would freak out over that. Well there is that old saying about something being good for the goose as well as the gander. Jesus said something about loving your neighbor as yourself.

What is appropriate is not that the cheerleaders, but that private citizens exercise their first amendment rights and make whatever banners they want. One of my deeply held convictions is that for far too long Christians have leaned on the government and government related institutions to help prop up and promote our faith. Arguments about prayer in school and “In God We Trust” on our money fall into that category as does cheerleader produced banners. The idea of being a Provocative Christian is that our lives are such a compelling witness for Jesus that we don’t need such artificial supports for promoting Jesus. According to 1 Peter 3:15 people should see the hope we have in our lives and be provoked to ask us about the reason for it. So I like the fact that the Christians of Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School are relying on their on ability to witness and not that of the cheerleaders.

What I find a bit disconcerting is that the banner production and overwhelming displays have taken on a defiant tone. It seems motivated more by outrage that the cheerleaders have been silenced than out of a love for God and neighbor. Unfortunately that is usually what motivates many Christians to start speaking out for their faith. We get outraged at some perceived injustice to our faith, some supposed removal of rights we think we have, and we react just like an indignant world reacts. We protest.  For starters I am not at all convinced that such displays and protests really lead anyone to ask about the reason for the hope we have in Christ. In fact I think most people who don’t follow Jesus are more put off than brought in.

So while I am glad that the proclamation of the faith has not been left to a cheerleader produced banner that a group of teenage football players run through and tear to shreds at the start of a game, I am concerned that we still haven’t gotten it right on how we should proclaim Jesus. I am thinking that having hope in the face of economic downturns, cutting the lawn or shoveling the snow of the widow next door, sitting for hours with the person grieving a death and simply being a strength with your presence, inviting international students to your home for Thanksgiving Dinner and using the opportunity to tell about being thankful to Jesus, these are the things that will change the world for Christ. But I forgot, it is easier to let the cheerleaders make banners, and if that fails we will make banners and hold them up in a crowd of other people with similar banners and be certain we are standing up for our faith and showing what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Is Anybody Asking?

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:15

When is the last time, if ever, that someone who did not follow Christ asked you why you were always so hopeful? It seems to me that it rarely happens. A vast majority of people I know have never had someone approach them and ask about their faith after seeing in them a life of hope and joy. How sad is that. Peter seems to think that this should be a common occurrence. It should be something that happens with such frequency that we are always ready with an explanation. It is this verse that is at the heart of what it means to be a Provocative Christian. Our lives should be so running over with hope that people are drawn to us and want to have that hope. Our lives should provoke the question, “why are you so hopeful, or loving, or joyful, or kind, or whatever?”

In the off chance that we get asked, Peter says that we must be prepared. If this verse ever gets dealt with in sermons and Bible studies it is usually to focus on this part. Usually we focus on what kinds of answers to give people to convince them to follow Jesus. Sadly we usually focus on answers to questions that nobody is asking. Trust me, the average person who is not following Jesus really doesn’t care about things like, the rapture, how Jesus is present in communion, or if the King James is the only reliable translation. Don’t get me wrong. Truth in all it forms is important. But arguments about truth is not what attracts most people to Jesus. Lives well lived, following Him who is the Way, Truth, and Life, will attract people and provoke them to ask questions about our hope.

So why doesn’t it happen much? Part of the answer is in the first phrase, “in your hearts set Christ apart as Lord”. If we really loved the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength then our hope would be assured and it would shine through. So if no one is asking about the hope you have, maybe you need to take a closer look at whether or not Jesus is in fact set apart in your heart as Lord. Is your day filled with thoughts of how to serve Him and love him and serve and love others in His name? If so, your hope will be obvious. Do you find yourself thinking of Jesus and talking to Him throughout your day? If so, your hope will be contagious.

Another reason why people may not be asking you the question is found in the last phrase, “do this with gentleness and respect”. Far too many people have the picture of Christians, not as people of hope, but of angry people who are mad at the world. We have got to learn how to disagree with someone and be gentle and respectful. If you want a role model for that just look at Jesus when we dealt with people like the woman at the well, or the one caught in adultery, or Peter after the denial. I think that often the person who argues the loudest and goes on the attack is the person who is most insecure in what they believe. I think we have a lot of insecure Christians out there. The person who is prepared in their faith and has Christ set apart in their hearts is a person who can be gentle and show respect.

Finally, if you feel like you have set Christ apart in your heart and you are gentle and respectful, and you do shine forth hope and still no one is asking about it, there may be a very simple solution. Stop hanging out with so many Christians all the time. Let me put it another way. Start rubbing elbows with people who do not know Jesus. Most people who have been following Jesus for more than two years, have no significant relationships with non-Christians. Oh you may know some and have a passing acquaintance, but you don’t share life with them. People aren’t asking because they don’t see enough of your life to see the hope in times of trouble, or the love for others in time of suffering. You need to get closer to them and let them see your life. Invite them over for a barbecue. Get tickets for a sporting event and make them your guest. Offer to babysit their kids so they can have a date night. Find some way to serve them in Christs love and build a relationship. Oh, and make sure you are ready with an answer for the hope you have, because trust me, if you live that way, the questions will come.