Insults, Jared & Doug Wilson, and Chick-Fil-A (Romans 15)

The Daily Office epistle reading today was in Romans 15. I was most struck by the first three verses: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’” That last line in particular really gets me. Jesus said the insults of those who insult us (or perhaps those we insult) have fallen on Him. When we witness insults against other people, do we join in the insulting or do we let the insults fall on us too? What about if it’s Jared or Doug Wilson or the Cathy brothers at the helm of Chick-Fil-A?

This set of verses is very convicting for me. It is so tempting to let the failings of the weak turn into fodder for gossip. This is often true in the world of church culture, where gossip is probably the number one sin. Everyone is so “concerned” about the failings of the weak in their churches that they can’t stop talking about them (because they take great pleasure in these failings). I also find this principle to be true in the Christian blogger world that I inhabit. When neo-reformed blogger Jared Wilson put an offensively sexist blog post on his site a couple of weeks ago that made the complementarian movement look bad, a whole piranha school of bloggers (including myself) feasted with pleasure on his folly. It became especially pleasurable to find that Doug Wilson, the guy Jared was quoting, had written a piece that seemed to justify slavery (which is a gold mine because it amounts to a blanket ideological discrediting).

I’m not questioning the sincerity of any blogger who called out Jared Wilson or saying it was wrong to do so. I recognize that there are women who live in nightmare dungeon marriages that are justified by the kind of theological anthropology that Doug and Jared espouse. The bad theology absolutely needs to be refuted and corrected if we are ever going to grow into the church Paul hoped for when he said that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). But there’s a line between responding prophetically to bad theology from which Christians need to be delivered and “pleasing yourself” with the failings of your ideological opponents. That’s a line that I stumble over time and time again.

Paul says that instead of pleasing ourselves with other people’s failings, we should try to “please our neighbors for their good to build them up.” “Please” is a suspicious word to us. It sounds like something the false teachers do that Paul describes to Timothy who tell the people “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). But I don’t think we have to compromise our obedience to the truth to “please” in the sense that Paul is speaking. It simply connotes evangelistic attentiveness. It means affirming our neighbors’ affinities and showing sensitivity to their weaknesses whenever we share the gospel with them. Imagine what it would be like if Christians with theological disagreements were more interested in trying to help each other resolve their stumbling blocks and hangups in order to experience Christ more fully rather than taking so much pleasure in screaming “HERETIC!” or “FUNDAMENTALIST!” at each other.

Every time we enjoy bashing a brother or sister in Christ, what we are really doing is joining the crowd who yelled “CRUCIFY HIM!” when Jesus stood before Pilate. That’s what it means for Jesus to say, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Christ stands in solidarity with the insulted, whether it’s gay people who are dehumanized or Christians who are dehumanized for believing that the Bible condemns homosexuality. I have been very troubled by the whole Chick-Fil-A controversy which started when Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy (not to be confused with CEO Don Cathy) expressed a view of marriage to a religious publication that isn’t any different than the view of marriage shared by many people I love dearly.

Many progressive Christians who disagree with Cathy’s view have uncritically circulated a claim by gay advocacy organization Equality Matters that Cathy’s WinShape foundation donated $2 million to “anti-gay” activist groups in 2009. Looking at the breakdown on their site, I’m pretty disturbed by what Equality Matters considers an “anti-gay” group. There are some groups on the list which do openly engage in anti-gay activism, like Exodus International and Focus on the Family, but what they received from WinShape totaled around $30,000 rather than $2 million. Not every conservative Christian organization that opposes homosexuality is engaged in anti-gay activism. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which received $480,000 from WinShape, was a big part of my spiritual journey in high school and college. You can’t be gay and work for FCA (or be a Methodist pastor), but that doesn’t mean they’re circulating anti-gay-marriage petitions.

I read a 2007 interview with Don Cathy about his launching of the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund, which was the main recipient of WinShape’s donations in 2009. His passion for creating what he calls “a marriage renaissance” grew out of marriage enrichment seminars that WinShape has offered to troubled couples since 2001. He didn’t say anything about homosexuality in his interview; he’s a lot more concerned about divorce rates, domestic violence, and workaholism. If in fact, the MFLF is funneling funds to anti-gay political initiatives instead of focusing on counseling and support for people in troubled marriages, I would see that as a sadly misguided use of their resources, but it’s overly cynical to see Cathy’s passion for promoting healthy marriage as nothing more than “code language” for opposing gay people. (Now it’s a totally different matter for Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to jump into the ring for their own self-promotional interests and turn eating chicken and waffle fries into a culture war battle).

In any case, Don and Dan Cathy are my brothers in Christ as are Doug and Jared Wilson (who aren’t related). The insults that fall on them fall on Jesus, so they fall on me too insofar as I am a disciple of Jesus. Whatever your opinion on “the issue,” meditate on Romans 15:1-3 as you consider how to talk about people whose disagreement with you doesn’t encompass the whole of their personhood. The best way to ensure that you won’t change other peoples’ minds is to insult them and call them names. Our goal as Christians should be to love each other into the truth, recognizing that we don’t own the truth and we need our opponents to love us into the truth as well.

About Morgan Guyton

I’m the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA.

  • http://twitter.com/johnleek John Leek (@johnleek)

    A good word Guyton.

    (I’ve been sitting on several things that I’ve “discovered” that could embarrass more liberal members of our denomination and potentially inflame the discourse. Part of me thinks that these things need to be addressed, after all, I reason “they do it to conservatives all the time.” Then I wonder if my desire has more to do with starting things and page views, than it does about pointing out legitimate things. And so I wait…)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice Morgan Guyton

      Ain’t it crazy how Satan gives us that itch? Fighting for justice and truth so quickly turns into slander and self-promotion. Story of my life.

  • erin hackney

    I agree mudslinging and hatefullness on either end is wrong. But unfortunately we have seen in this country as well as the world that sometimes to make a change a war is needed..When businesses were doing this to the black community it took a civil war, in my book refusing to hire someone or allow them to be part of a group because of their sexuality is the same thing. If Chick Fil A, came out and said they didn’t care for black people, everyone would be upset. This isn’t about liberal or conservative. I have many many republican friends and they support gay marriage. This is about basic human rights, and haven’t we been teaching our kids for the last couple years to stand up to bullys. Chick Fil A, is entitled to do whatever they want with their profits, but I also have the right to quietly and without insult take my money elsewhere.

    • Morgan Guyton

      I hear that, Erin, and I don’t have any criticism of your decision not to eat there. My beef is with people (like myself) who get lazy and don’t do any fact-checking before they write blog posts about issues. I was going to write something completely different than what I ended up with, but when I started digging around, I found that the Chick-Fil-A guy wasn’t really an anti-gay activist so much as somebody who felt really bad when his employees’ marriages went south on account of them working too many hours and that sort of thing. So he started this whole marriage enrichment thing first for his employees and then he expanded it. The religious right culture warriors like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum pounced on this as an opportunity to create drama and rally the base. But I have not found any evidence that Chick-Fil-A itself actually discriminates against gay people.

    • http://www.johnleek.com John Leek (@johnleek)

      Chickfila has gay employees, gay customers and even gay store owners.

      They’re definitely not “refusing to hire someone or allow them to be a part of a group.”

      I don’t know if it was your intent to imply that they are doing those things, but that is the clearest reading of your comment.

    • Darren

      “This is about basic human rights”. I have to disagree with that as the basic premise of following Christ and making decisions. It is about the submission of your will to Jesus. It is about giving up any “rights” we think we have. So regardless of the Orthodoxy you embrace it shouldn’t be based on what we think are our “rights”.

      And for the record, “refusing to hire someone or allow them to be part of a group because of their sexuality” is not a Chick Fil A practice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.wolsey Roger Wolsey

    Here’s what Snopes has to say about this: http://www.snopes.com/politics/sexuality/chickfila.asp

  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.wolsey Roger Wolsey
  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.wolsey Roger Wolsey
  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.wolsey Roger Wolsey

    I provided those links to help others make up their own minds. I just appreciate your intention and effort to help folks to fearlessly appreciate the nuance at hand. That’s a hallmark of progressive Christianity.

    • Morgan Guyton

      That’s cool. I hear that:

  • Pingback: Are we an interest group or a kingdom of disciples and evangelists? « Mercy not Sacrifice

  • Tan

    Gotta say, there are a lot of progressives in my Facebook newsfeed. None of them have cited Equality Matters or a figure anywhere near the $2-3 million. I don’t doubt that happens, but are “progressives” as a whole slandered for the comments of a few? Rahm Emmanuel says something nutty, and is taken to task by the ACLU, the NYTimes, etc.–but his comments will forever stand for the opinions of “liberals.” But hear this: I’m sure it happens on the other side too. Do we really “Do it to the other side all the time?” as John Leek says? I think that’s unlikely. But do our sides paint each other with broad brushes? Well, sure.

    I suspect it doesn’t matter to many of us Christian liberals how much Cathy gave, it was any contribution at all, combined with statements like this. “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.” Like Morgan says, people just don’t like to be called prideful, arrogant or audacious. (Its like being called bigoted.) In our skins, we don’t feel like we’re any of those things. And for some of us, there’s a knee-jerk reaction to any association with FRC, which many of us think went way too far in this discussion a long time ago.

    And finally this comment of Mr. Cathy’s: “But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles. So that is what we claim to be. [We are] based on biblical principles, asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have. And He has blessed us.” That too can make us liberals go to Crazytown. Because, you know some of us think we’re doing our best on “biblical principles,” we just don’t agree with Mr. Cathy about what they are. And we bristle when he tells us he knows “what God thinks about marriage.”

    Morgan, Romans 15 still leaves me where I was. The Roman gentile Christians, who were being implored to welcome the Jewish Christians, would have heard this as a stern word, a corrective, a judgment in fact. “On some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder,” he says some verses later. The ministry of Jesus (and Paul) clearly ticked off some people, and left others feeling embraced. I see that Jesus went far to try to avoid that, but finally, it was unavoidable.

    *Cathy quotes from Baptist Press

    • Morgan Guyton

      Fair enough. Not all progressives were citing the $3 million figure, but everyone in my news-feed was. I really wasn’t trying to make a political commentary when I sat down with Romans 15. I was honestly trying to avoid drama by just blogging about the Daily Office. But then I started thinking about the VP of Chick-Fil-A who had a heart attack and died. And so I did some digging because I wanted to understand the humanity of the people in charge of Chick-Fil-A. Then I felt guilty because I’ve definitely mindlessly forwarded on articles that I didn’t really fact-check before. I’m really not wanting to establish some kind of false moral equivalence so much as genuinely try to appreciate the humanity of someone whose perspective I don’t share because all too often I don’t. All too often I just say “You fundamentalist!” and leave it at that.

      • Tan

        Thanks Morgan. I just looked at the Equality Matters website and breakdown of the numbers, and wrote them a letter about how I thought their numbers obscured some complicated facts, ie, the sort of activity FCA spends most of its time on, and therefore may seem exaggerated, and might hinder rather than help their cause. I don’t think I have parsed all this quite as well as you have, so you might want to write and make the case yourself. Reading their lengthy description made me wonder if they were being deliberately misleading, or simply talking about organizations they don’t know much about. But I’ll grant you — not every check to FCA is a vote about gay marriage.

        And right after I did that, I saw a link to their page from a Salon article, so yep, this stuff flies fsst. The web moves quickly, its easy to see how misinformation, or partial truths, get picked up and passed along.

        • Morgan Guyton

          Thanks for doing that. I’m assuming they didn’t know much about the organizations they were talking about, but did some kind of Internet word search for “FCA” and “gay” and found some FCA participant who said he had been cured of his gayness at an FCA event. Best I could tell, there are no events that exist to pray out people’s gayness. It was rather the experience of one participant.


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