It’s not often that something I read on Huffington Post gives me “hopey-changey” goose bumps. But CampusPride director Shane Windmeyer’s post about “coming out” as a friend of Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy is one of the most hopeful things I’ve read in a long time. I challenge you to put your ideology aside for a moment, whatever it is, and consider the witness of love that has happened between these two men.Throughout the Chick-Fil-A drama last summer, I was frustrated by the outrage-spinners on both sides of the conflict. I always had a sense that the Cathy brothers (CEO Dan and COO Don) themselves were good guys who just wanted to have a work environment that supported their employees’ families in a world where so many families are strained by economic pressures. Based on what I researched, I couldn’t see any evidence that the the primary beneficiary of their foundation, a marriage enrichment non-profit, was a front group for anti-gay causes like Equality Matters had suggested. They did send (a lot less) money to Exodus International, Family Research Council, and other explicitly anti-gay groups, which they have now stopped doing.
Of course, I was also extremely perturbed when Mike Huckabee and other outrage provocateurs hijacked the conflict and turned into a hill for culture warriors to plant their flag on. Huckabee’s fake (personal platform-building) “solidarity” with Chick-Fil-A unfairly projected his agenda of perpetual outrage provocation onto Dan Cathy. Shane recognized this in his piece:
During our meetings I came to see that the Chick-fil-A brand was being used by both sides of the political debate around gay marriage. The repercussion of this was a deep division and polarization that was fueling feelings of hate on all sides. As a result, we agreed to keep the ongoing nature of our meetings private for the time being. The fire needed no more fuel.
What blessed me in Windmeyer’s piece was seeing the spirit of Christ exuded in both men as they tried to build trust and understand each other. Dan reached out to Shane in August of last year and they started a series of meetings and conversations that culminated in Shane attending the Chick-Fil-A bowl with Dan on New Year’s Eve. I’m sure you can decide to interpret the whole thing cynically and say that it was all about rehabilitating Chick-Fil-A’s public image or something. Windmeyer takes great pains to shoot down this interpretation.
Through all this, Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness. Even when I continued to directly question his public actions and the funding decisions, Dan embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear my perspective. He and I were committed to a better understanding of one another. Our mutual hope was to find common ground if possible, and to build respect no matter what. We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people.
There are many ways to spin this. You can be outraged at Dan or at Shane for “selling out.” Or you can say, see, my side has always been reasonable and loving even while the other side has been determined to be angry and call us bigots or religious persecutors. Or maybe you can just say that this is what it looks when Jesus happens between people. Shane writes the following in conclusion of his piece:
In the end, it is not about eating (or eating a certain chicken sandwich). It is about 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. So long as we are all at the same table and talking, does it matter what we call it or what we eat?
Of course, as a Christian pastor, it does matter to me what we call this table. I call it communion. And the way I understand sin is that it’s not just breaking rules written in a book somewhere that have nothing to do with whether we get along with other people. Sin is whatever keeps us from worshiping God in spirit and truth so that we treat other people with perfectly hospitable servanthood. When love of God and love of neighbor come together through Christ, things like Shane and Dan’s friendship happen.
The information age has caused so many of interactions with other people to take place in the form of disembodied words. I think this is why many Christians have come to define holiness as ideological correctness rather than faithful discipleship. When ideology substitutes for discipleship (and it very often does!), then having the correct position becomes the sinful basis for our grace-mocking Pharisaic prayer: “I thank you, God, that I’m not like other people.” Our goal as Christian disciples should be to live faithfully enough to Jesus’ commandments that we are made capable of building loving relationships with people who ought to be our enemies according to worldly terms. This is perfection according to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-48:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[o] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Thanks to Shane Windmeyer and Dan Cathy for their witness. I pray that the day will soon come when the outrage industrial complex loses its relevance as people are inspired by this kind of ideology-shattering love.