Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Helping the chicken get to the other side

I’m not eating at Chick-fil-A.  
My decision isn’t rooted as much in the company’s decision to oppose gay marriage.  I’ve decided to avoid all things in the fast food box.  Every now and then I will backslide and pick up a few pieces of chicken from Mr. Bojangles or that dude from Kentucky, but I care too much for my health to pour that stuff into my body on a consistent basis.
So, I’m not participating in the chicken war.  I understand those on both sides of the battle.  Those on one side want to protect Chick-fil-A from attacks from the LGBT community.  Those on the other side of the fence are furious that the company funneled millions of dollars into fighting gay rights.  The slugfest has gotten nasty after the CEO of Chick-fil-A warned that God is judging America because of gay marriage.
Over the past few years I’ve called for a cease fire.  This battle is getting worse with each development, and I’m concerned that no one is capable of listening beyond their own position. Black pastors have gotten into the hate fest by forming a coalition to dispute President Obama’s support of gay marriage.  Some have argued that Obama isn’t a real Christian or that he should have received approval for black clergy before affirming gay marriage.
Can someone say, that’s gangster? 
As a minister, I find myself in a unique place.  I represent a faith that compels people to love others devoid of conditions.  I’m even challenged to love folks who hate and abuse me.  I’m told to turn the other cheek when a person slaps me in the face.  That’s a tough one to abide by when everyone seems to be throwing punches.  Trust me when I say I’ve received my fair share of slaps and punches due to my support of the LGBT community.
I’m still a man of faith.
Views change over time.  As much as we promote a truth that never changes, it has numerous times.  The Bible has been used to endorse the enslavement of black people.  It was also used to subjugate women by minimizing them as no more than the property of the men they were chosen to worship.  The Bible has been used to legitimize the elimination of Native Americans and wars against anyone who is not Christian.
We wave our flag and sing “God bless America,” while invading countries where men, women and small children are killed.  We claim it all as the will of God despite words that challenge us not to kill the innocent.  A study of the history of faith will uncover a consistent pattern.  All forms of sacred text have been used to validate the claims of those who hold power.
I remember my first battle with Biblical interpretation.  In 1985, I was a young pastor in Columbia, Missouri.  There was a controversy erupting in the Mt. Carmel Baptist Association.  A number of women challenged the group’s exclusion of women ministers.  The old guard stood firm against those promoting the legitimacy of women in ministry.  Their weapon was the Bible.  They claimed the Bible clearly states that God only selects men to preach the Gospel.
Although young, and, at the time, lacking theological training, I failed to see why God would exclude based on gender.  I was able to read the Bible within an historical context with men dominating over women.  I was unable to concede that God is male, and considers men better than women because of their gender. 
My position caused a rift among the men holding the scripture as a weapon against women.  Those who supported women were deemed incapable of reading the Bible in a way that reflected the true will of God.  We were called liberal.  We were told God’s judgment was upon us for failing to abide by the will of God.  I simply didn’t understand.  I still don’t understand.
My issues go deeper than the positions people take.  It’s with how those who stand on the opposite side of those positions are discounted for refusing to follow the views of those on the other side.  Is it necessary for us all to think the same? Is that what it means to be Christian?  If so, there is a serious problem with the walk of faith.  It offers no place to consider how we have failed to listen to the voice of God.  Rather than hearing God, we are listening to the rule of tradition.
If not for those who spoke from the other side, black people would still be cursed due to the sin of Ham.  Women would still be limited to sitting in the pews while wearing head covering.  There would be no space in worship for the blind, the lame, the deaf, the mentally ill, those with skin conditions or those not born Jewish.  We would be forbidden to eat shrimp, lobster and pork.  The faith has changed from what was presented on page one in a book called Genesis. 
There has to be space for a conversation regarding the need for ongoing change.  Or, maybe we should challenge people intent of remaining faithful to the Word of God to take that more seriously than they have.
Tell me how that works for you after you discover how much you have failed to fulfill.
It’s more than chicken, but we need to talk about the chicken who tried to cross the street.
Maybe then we will get to the other side.


  1. Carl -- So, I've been thinking about this a lot since you first posted it. I wanted to make sure that when I commented in response, it was well thought out, that I was certain that I wasn't being over-sensitive in favor of my own faith home. After a few days, I find that I am in the same place I was in when I first read your post.
    Let me begin by saying that I agree with you. Our limited ability to view the perspective of the other side is divisive, damaging, and leaves no room for actual debate or progress. This is witnessed by the fact that those on both sides of the Chick-fil-a argument have limited ability to see that they are fighting for the same thing – a government sanctioned definition of marriage. We must be able to dialogue openly and honestly about where we stand both on our own moral/faith ground, but also how where we stand relates to those on differing moral/faith ground.
    That said, I am a little surprised at some of the language you use as you discuss this need to see the other side. I have read and reread this one paragraph from your blog: “If not for those who spoke from the other side, black people would still be cursed due to the sin of Ham. Women would still be limited to sitting in the pews while wearing head covering. There would be no space in worship for the blind, the lame, the deaf, the mentally ill, those with skin conditions or those not born Jewish. We would be forbidden to eat shrimp, lobster and pork. The faith has changed from what was presented on page one in a book called Genesis.” I’ve examined my loyalty to my faith position, and attempted to discern whether that loyalty was making me overly sensitive to the language you have used. Again and again, I come to the same point.
    The language you use reeks of Christian supersessionism, and is insulting to those of us who live by a different covenant than Christians do. To list the eating of shrimp, lobster, and pork in the same paragraph as the exclusion of the blind, lame, and deaf is a false parallel. There are millions who refuse to eat shrimp, pork, or lobster who fight diligently and with great passion for the inclusion of all peoples in the worship space. There are many who follow Levitical law who fight for equal rights, equality among races, and the lifting of patriarchal oppression.
    To say, even if just by implication, that the evils perpetuated because of “the sin of Ham”, the oppression of women, or the rejection of those with physical or mental challenges are tied to Levitical dietary laws shows an understanding of Christianity as better than, above, and beyond what those still tied to the Torah and covenant law.
    This paragraph highlights one of the problems I see with our ability to view the perspective of the other side, which is that we are careless with our language. I know you. We have spoken. I feel that you have respect for both me and my religious tradition. However, carelessness with your language shows a lack of understanding of how those on a different side might view your words. Perhaps more care with the way we say things is the beginning of being able to cross the road you so clearly want to cross.

  2. Malachi,
    Point well taken. With that being said, the reason I used it within this context was to unveil how little Christians know about the faith they profess. The truth is Christian have appropriated the Hebrew Bible from the lens of Christian faith devoid of a real sensitivity to the teachings and significance of the text for those it was written. I find it troubling that Christians cling to the Hebrew Bible while affirming it as their own, all while not really knowing what the text says. My point was to lift examples of that ignorance. At the root, this is a conversation about how Christians use the Hebrew Bible versus a disdain for the teachings of Judaism. There is so much Christians fail to understand; therefore, getting the chicken to the other side of the street can only begin when Christians take seriously the way they interpret and misuse what isn't theirs to uphold.

    Your comments shed light on this point in a way beyond what my own were able to do, and for that I am grateful. This is a subject for deeper discussion, but within this context it simply doesn't apply in a way that gets at the gut of my point. That point is most Christians use the Hebrew Bible in certain cases, yet fail to do the same in others. It's all a consequence of what they don't know.

  3. Carl -- I understand your point and I think it's a valid one. However, I don't believe the point can be addressed or changed without getting to the roots of the problem. While I'm sure that the roots are wide and deep, there is no way to address them without addressing the idea of Christian supersessionism. When Judaism is seen as less, it allows for a selective using of the Bible in just the ways you are speaking of. The Torah becomes nothing more than a novel which one can quote at will and at random when it suits. How can one wonder that more Christians haven't read the Torah, that more Christians use only the bits and pieces that they like when the Torah is seen as only the first (and lesser) of a pair of books?
    You're asking for an ability to move beyond the road, to see the other side, but you're doing it in a way that (intended or not) doesn't appear to cross the road. Whether the insult was meant to raise a point, whether you meant some sarcasm or emotion that doesn't come across in text – it appears that you’ve done what you are asking others not to do. You’ve highlighted religious positions that are harmful and linked them to Jewish practices that many see as trite and outdated in order to make your point. You’ve written in such a way as to allow people to see these practices (kashrut, specifically) as more than just trite and outdated. You’ve created a link between them and harmful practices of oppression that may influence readers and the ways in which they view Levitical injunctions. And if seeing the other side is what you are aiming for, if Christians knowing the whole of the Torah is your goal, then this is not going to inspire them to do that work.