Our political system doesn't really speak of love; it's more akin to a battle.
I stood in line proudly believing I was making a difference. I was standing for truth and ready to be persecuted for my beliefs. Other people might not have cared enough to come out and be seen. But not me. I would not be silenced.
Religious liberty and freedom of speech were under attack. In the culture war raging in America, there was a new front line, and I was going to be on it. Even my clothing that day declared my allegiance.
And then it was my turn. All those standing nearby watched and waited as attention turned to me. With great resolve, I clearly and calmly stated why I had come to this place.
"I'll have a No. 1 with a Coke Zero. Oh, and a brownie, too."
Politics can be complicated, but a few months ago, things got much simpler. All it took to be politically engaged was a few dollars and a love for fried chicken sandwiches.
This past summer, Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy made some statements related to his views on marriage. Not surprisingly, the Christian business leader talked about his belief in lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. But despite the fact that Cathy's views echo those of most Americans, his comments, along with news of his company's generous contributions to organizations opposed to gay marriage, ignited a firestorm of media attention.
Politicians expressed disapproval, some even saying that they would try to block the chicken franchise from opening new stores in their local markets. The talking heads of cable media debated whether Cathy was guilty of hate speech and what place, if any, a person's religious views should have in their business.
In response, former Arkansas Governor and current Fox News talk show host Mike Huckabee asked his Facebook followers to consider Aug. 1 "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day." He asked anyone who supported Cathy to visit their local Chick-fil-A on that day to show that support with their wallets.
So there I was, standing in line for a little under an hour to place my order for chicken, waffle fries and justice. I even wore my Chick-fil-A T-shirt to show my support for the company.
And I was pretty proud of myself.
That was until a friend asked me what I thought Jesus might do with this whole Chick-fil-A issue. Up until that moment, I hadn't really considered God's heart or how He might want His children to respond to this situation.
At first, I accepted the media’s premise that there were two sides to this issue. Either you agree with Dan Cathy’s statements (or at least his right to make them) or you believe that his comments and his company’s charitable giving were intended to hurt the gay community. I assumed Jesus must be on the side of Dan Cathy, not only because he espoused a biblical view of marriage, but also because his restaurants are closed on Sundays and they pipe in contemporary Christian music for you while you eat.
But the more I thought about it, the more I came to question whether Jesus would see sides at all. It's not that I wondered what He would say about marriage. God designed it, and it's not up to us to redefine it. And it's not that I think Jesus would be indifferent about free speech, either. After all, our rights come from Him as our Creator.
But I think Jesus' heart beats for those things that bring the Father worship and glory. And those things usually coincide with our loving other people (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34).
Love First, Ask Questions Later
Our political system doesn't really speak of love; it's more akin to a battle. Love seems out of place, foreign even. The political arena deals with "us versus them" realities and "winning" elections, seats and control.
In politics, we tend to label people — "liberal," "conservative," "Republican," "Democrat," "atheist," "tree hugger," "right-wing fundamentalist," "gun nut," "bleeding heart"… the list could go on for a while. But there's a danger inherent in this kind of labeling; it goes against the current of God's love and our new identity in Christ.
Jesus was once asked about labels, and in response, told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). You know the story: A Jewish man was robbed, beaten and left for dead, only to be helped by a kind Samaritan passing by. In our culture, the term "good Samaritan" has come to mean anyone who does a good deed, but the original Good Samaritan did more than a good deed — he showed kindness to someone he should've considered an enemy.
In the first century, Jews despised Samaritans and Samaritans despised Jews. But for the Samaritan in Jesus' story, love took the place of prejudices as he bandaged the man's wounds and carried him to his animal. He didn't regard the broken man as a Jew — as an enemy — but as his neighbor. And that was Jesus' point in telling the story: Love should trump labels.
We have not been given permission to put some people into a box labeled "liberal," "atheist," "tree hugger," "warmonger," "socialist"… or simply "enemy" and disregard them — or merely feign tolerance. Instead, God's Word tells us that everyone belongs in the box labeled "neighbor," and everyone is to be loved. Before we utter one word about laws or policies or elections, we should be known as people who love.
A Perception Problem
A few days after my loud-and-proud, chicken-fueled demonstration in support of free speech, a friend on Facebook posted something that made me cringe — an article identifying Chick-fil-A supporters as "hate-filled gay-bashers."
It troubles me that someone would think that my support of Dan Cathy was really an angry jab at gay people. Of course, this accusation is not true, and it's not true of most of the people who stood in line that day. But as they say, perception is everything.
The problem with perceptions like this one — as wrong as they are — is that they do, in fact, exist. That's because we live in a world where not everyone is a follower of Jesus. While that may seem like an obvious assertion, it also means this: People who don't follow Jesus consider many of His ways to be foolish. While God has opened the eyes of believers to see His truth, people outside of His kingdom are still blinded. So to blinded eyes, taking a stand against homosexuality or abortion means trampling on someone's freedoms. And in the eyes of a nonbeliever, that is an egregious offense. As St. Augustine wrote, "All men agree in desiring the last end, which is happiness." In other words, all people seek those things they believe to be good for them; it's just that apart from Christ, people can't always see what's truly good. God does not call us to back down from every conflict to avoid offending nonbelievers, but He does call us to love these people, regardless of our ideological differences.
Be Able to Give a Reason
How do we love people who look at the world through a completely different set of lenses? The apostle Peter wrote to early Christians suffering persecution, saying they should be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). If that's to be our attitude when suffering for Christ, how much more should we be able to give reasonable, loving answers when questioned about our politics?
Our explanations should always be seasoned with grace, and we should spend more time listening. When we have the opportunity to speak, we must resist the urge to generalize, to use sound bites, and to assume the worst of those on the other side of an issue.
What exactly does it look like to love people in our politics? Which battles should we choose to fight? Is there a point where standing for truth gets in the way of loving sacrificially? These are some of the questions I'm still wrestling with, but here's what I do know: Our political activity will take on the flavor of the cross if we remember to love while being ridiculed and if we strive to love people the way God does — sacrificially and without expecting to be repaid. This is no small task, and I don't believe it can be done well without continually coming back to Jesus to talk with Him about our struggles.
Some issues appear easier to love through than others. For example, if we say we’re pro-life, we should vote for candidates who are also pro-life, and we should take a (loud) stand against this incredible evil that has been allowed to fester in our society. But there are also plenty of hands-on things we can do to help young mothers who are struggling financially because they chose not to have an abortion. We can donate diapers, bottles or money, or we can volunteer our time. Some of us may even consider adopting. But with other political issues, it’s not always as easy to see what love should look like.
As I wrestled with where love and Chick-fil-A might intersect, I thought about the gay people I know. Were they offended by my standing in line that day? Did they really think I hated them? What did all of this make them think about Jesus?
So, in love, I reached out to a friend of mine who happens to be gay. I was ready to hear that he was offended by my support of Chick-fil-A, as I assumed he would be. And I was ready to explain my position with gentleness and respect. So when I asked him what he thought about Dan Cathy and about all that was going on, to my surprise, he told me he supported Cathy’s right to say anything he wanted about marriage, even if he didn’t agree. He wasn’t angry, and he didn’t think I hated him. He even told me he wouldn’t stop eating at Chick-fil-A (he really likes their waffle fries). But here’s the truly amazing thing: By talking with him, instead of assuming his thoughts and feelings, I was able to shed labels and stereotypes, for both of us.
As we edge ever closer to another presidential election, and our nation divides along political lines even more starkly than normal, let's remember that our hope doesn't rest on the outcome of that election, but on Jesus and His promises. Jesus is King, and as His followers, we are citizens of two countries — our nation and God's kingdom. We should be responsible, involved citizens of both, but remember that only one will last forever.
The people we engage may never be won over to our way of thinking, and we may never fully escape the labels given us. But our calling is to speak truth, to love and to represent Christ well to a watching world. Knowing this, politics should be more than a battle for public policy, and people on the other side of an issue, more than political enemies.
Every political stance we take should be grounded in love for our great God and in love for our neighbors. Whatever the political cause, whether chicken-related or not, let's be slow to speak and quick to listen. Let's take a stand for those things God’s Word tells us are good and true — like His design for marriage — but let's not forget to love. Above all, let's seek to be fully engaged with Christ whenever we choose to engage in politics.
Copyright 2012 John Greco. All rights reserved.