I get that we live in a morally complex world, but I want us to do better. The Chick-Fil-A drama has been a series of disappointments for me on all sides. I’m disappointed at progressives for uncritically circulating misinformation about what Chick-Fil-A’s Don and Dan Cathy actually said and who their foundation actually supports (only several thousand of the alleged $3 million in donations can truly be said to go to “anti-gay” activist groups). I’m disappointed at the mayors of Boston and Chicago for inappropriately responding to something that shouldn’t have merited their attention in a clumsy gesture to a segment of their donor base that turned this into a “free speech” issue for culture warriors to rally around. I’m disappointed at my fellow evangelical Christians for letting themselves get baited into reinforcing the stereotype that all Christians care about is policing the sexuality of other people. I’ve already spoken to several other aspects of this issue. Here’s the question I want to ask my fellow Christians: are we an interest group or a kingdom of disciples and evangelists?
As my brother Jonathan Martin at Renovatus Church said way more eloquently than I could, Jesus doesn’t need us to stand up for Him. He didn’t stand up for Himself. He let Himself get crucified, so that He could stand up for sinners like you and me who don’t deserve to be stood up for. Being a disciple of the Crucified One doesn’t mean becoming a sports-fan of the Jesus team, buying up all the right paraphernalia, and jeering the fans of the other sports teams. When we think that the way to be a Christian is to get a bumper sticker or buy a chicken sandwich on a certain day, we are contributing to the redefinition of Christianity as a cultural tribe rather than a kingdom of disciples and evangelists.
One of the rawest blog sites out there is called “Stuff Christian Culture Likes.” Formed as a parody of Jon Acuff’s “Stuff Christians Like,” it goes through a humorous but often uncomfortably true list of all the fads of contemporary evangelical Christian culture with its soul patches, “frosted tip” blonde highlight hair, pipes (but not cigarettes), “relevant” skinny man-pastor jeans, etc. When “Christian” turns into just another sub-genre of pop culture, then it’s no different than all the other manufactured “identities” that capitalism sells us like jock, prep, skater, or goth.
Christian discipleship doesn’t have anything to do with whether you eat chicken sandwiches or not. When you make Christianity about eating chicken sandwiches and doing other superficial things to demonstrate tribal loyalty, you’re making it not about discipleship. Discipleship is about following a savior who ate and drank with sinners, stood up for them to the religious authorities, and got crucified as a result. The purpose of the spiritual disciplines we undergo as part of our discipleship like prayer, fasting, Bible study, etc, is to forge us into people who deny themselves and exist for the sake of others just like Jesus did. It is to make us a disciplined body that doesn’t easily get baited into stupid arguments by the drama manufacturers in our worldly media.
True disciples of Jesus Christ do not whine about the so-called “persecution” that occurs in the circus world of the culture wars. True disciples welcome persecution, if it really happens, as a means of their spiritual refinement. They “rejoice [whenever they are] counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). As Peter writes, “Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:13-14).
The more you have been refined into a selfless disciple completely devoted to the advancement of God’s kingdom, the more that every concern you have about your public appearance is shaped by the goal of evangelism. Political gurus talk about the importance of “staying on message.” How spectacularly have evangelicals failed in this regard over the past thirty years in which we sacrificed the focus of our message in order to gain status as a powerful special interest lobby? The message we’re forgetting to mention is that God loves everyone and offers a means through Jesus’ cross for all of us to be made clean and enter into an authentic community that’s unlike all that fake superficial tribal crap that the world has to offer. The best way to “take a stand against sin” is not through publicity stunts that “send a message” to a world of strangers we aren’t interested in knowing or loving, but in the context of our own struggle with discipleship and the journey we share with fellow disciples.
So please stop redefining Christianity as a superficial cultural tribe that self-identifies through its particular tastes in facial hair, “relevant” fashion, political stances, and the culture war loyalty test of the week (despite what it says in the picture your friend shared with you on facebook, you really won’t burn in hell if you don’t share it with 10 other people). Instead of all the superficial tribalism, be disciples who take a stand against your own sin. Be evangelists who are acutely attentive to navigating around other peoples’ stumbling blocks and loving them into the truth. Be witnesses of the beauty you have seen in Jesus Christ. Don’t let anyone trick you into being any less.