On February 11, 2014

Civil Religion: Whose Future?

Screen-shot-2011-01-25-at-7.52.40-AMThis past week, I sat down with my friend Luke Norsworthy for his podcast to talk about this blog series. Luke is a great interviewer and I highly recommend subscribing to his podcast. He has interviewed Scot Mcknight, Shane Hipps, Ian Cron, and every week has a great new podcast.

For those of you who don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, there’s a couple of stories from it, I’d like to share with you.

In his great book, FutureVille, Skye Jethani tells about participating, a few years back, in two days of talks with religious leaders around country and leaders in the LGBT community. The meeting was off the books and so people were able to talk candidly with their feelings toward each other and their perceptions. One side envisioned a future of traditional marriages and re-inforced traditional values, and the other side envisioned a future where the idea of marriage expanded to include same-sex couples.

And here’s what he said about those two days:

The anger and wounds displayed by both sides at the off-the-record gathering were not merely a result of holding different convictions on a complicated issue. The worst damage was the result of seeing the other group as the barrier to creating the “right” future for the country. It was never said explicitly, but the message was clear: the future of our society would be brighter if you were not a part of it….Words like bigot, ungodly, depraved, and homophobic were mentioned as leaving deep and lasting wounds by both sides. Decades of anger and scars came out into the open… The name-calling and dismissive labels used by each side were deemed justifiable because those on the other side were the “enemy”; they were to be defeated with overwhelming political, cultural, and economic force to achieve a “greater good.” After all, if the other side won, progress (however each side defined it) would be lost. What both sides of the culture war forget is that when we label another person or group as the “enemy” because they oppose our vision of the future, we also reduce their value. We diminish, at least in our eyes, some of their God-given worth by viewing them as objects to be removed rather than people to be loved. Whenever we diminish the value of people created in God’s image, we cannot be moving closer to Shalom.

The most heartbreaking sentence in there is “Both sides believed that the future would be brighter if the other group wasn’t a part of it.”

But there is another way.

People of Reconciliation

Remember last year when the Chick-Fil-A “event” happened? The founder and C.E.O. of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Kathy, had made a comment in an interview supporting the traditional definition of marriage. In a matter of a few hours, the world had been divided up into people who were for love and people who ate at Chick-Fil-A, or we carved it up as people who stood for truth and wouldn’t eat there.

We carved up the world into the question, “Which side of the Chicken biscuit are you on?”

But that didn’t work for Dan Kathy or Shane Windmeyer.

In the middle of all the controversy, Windmeyer received a phone call from Dan Kathy. He took the call very cautiously, sure it was going to be some tactic to escalate the situation. Windmeyer, an openly gay man and founder of the LGBT program “Campus Pride” found himself talking to a man who was kind and curious about his perspective.

Before the phone call, they each were enemies, and a few weeks later they both found themselves as friends. Both men, at great risk to their reputation in their respective communities, reached past the talking points and sound bytes and found a way to re-humanize each other. They found a way to realize how much they have in common, without pretending like they didn’t have significant differences.

Windmeyer wound up saying that he started to see Dan Kathy the way he does his own uncle, the Pentecostal Preacher. He knows his religious views aren’t supportive of his lifestyle, but in all his years he’s never doubted his uncle loved him. And so when Dan Kathy invited Shane to the Chick-fil-a bowl a few weeks later, he went.

And a few weeks later, he came out of the closet as Dan Kathy’s friend.

In his wonderful article at Huffington Post, Windmeyer says this:

[We were] sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue. Dan would probably call this act the biblical definition of hospitality. I would call it human decency…

I would call it being like Jesus.

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  • Christ Follower

    Enemy simply means someone who is actively opposed to something or someone. It is a fact of life that humans will perpetually encounter other humans who are actively opposed to their way of thinking or doing things. Fully aware of this reality, Jesus gave His followers precise instructions on how to respond in way that is pleasing to God.

    Luke 6:27-36

    Love for Enemies

    27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

    32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

    Unfortunately love for enemies is not a widespread Christian practice. Far too many believers choose harsh words and aggression over love. Even worse, when they find their thin skin chaffed by opposition they cry “persecution”.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Well said. I think it’s important to realize and acknowledge distinctions and even competing values, but like you said, and this is the most unique thing about Christianity in the world religions, we are to be loving and good for the people who we disagree with. Thanks!

  • TerryC

    I remember reading that article last year about Windmeyer and Cathey and thinking, “Wow, so that’s what Jesus wants us to be like.” It’s a challenge for many of us that goes way beyond turning a phrase like “Hate the sin and love the sinner.” We say things like that with the best of intentions, but putting it into practice is much harder. Dan Cathey showed us how, and he could have easily beat his own drum with it. He hasn’t, as far as I can tell. That’s another lesson for us.

  • Christ Follower

    Far too many Christians think the Great Commission means when they encounter resistance to their belief system their obligation is to provoke a brawl on God’s behalf to bring unruly unbelievers into compliance with “Christian” morality. God has given mankind volition for a reason. Not only are we not God’s enforcers but it is putting the cart before the horse to bludgeon unbelievers with the bible before winning them to Christ. The Great Commission calls us to make disciples and then teach those disciples Jesus’ commands. That is the order of things. Unbelievers don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ so why on earth would they feel bound by His commands? Who is going to accept the authority of some dead guy from antiquity? But if our focus is on showing unbelievers the very real power and impact of Jesus Christ in our own lives they are more likely to see the clear evidence of His Divinity and mankind’s place in relation. Acceptance comes before willing submission. Once people are redeemed the filling of the Holy Spirit and bible study will guide them toward an understanding of righteous behavior.

    Our purpose beyond focusing on our own obedience to God is to convince people that following Jesus will bring them peace, happiness and eternal life. The best way to do that is by modeling in our own lives. In other words if an unbeliever looks at me and I am obeying God and producing fruit of the Spirit what they should see is a
    person who is full of “…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness,
    faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Gal 5:22-23

    The appropriate Christian response to resistant unbelievers is this, “…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, 1Peter 3:15

    The appropriate Christian response to a believing brother or sister who has wandered from the path and is caught in sin is to “…restore that person gently.” Galatians 6:1

    Self-righteous judgment, coarse language and provocation make people angry and defensive. The end result can only be greater resistance to our Savior’s message of love and redemption. Our words have an impact. Christian Chik-fil-a customers responded to opposition by drawing battle lines and any thought of winning the opposition to Christ evaporated. The only winner in that skirmish was Satan.
    The Duck Dynasty interview/marketing scheme and the subsequent reaction of their many Christian fans was even worse. To understand the problems inherent in Phil Robertson’s approach, one need look no further than the bible.

    Proverbs 12:18-19

    18 The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

    James 1:26

    26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

    James 3

    Taming the Tongue

    Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

    3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

    7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

    9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

    Two Kinds of Wisdom

    13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

    17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

    Ephesians 4:29-32

    29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.