Off The Deep End

I returned from being on vacation today.  It was a great vacation – spent with some of my very favorite people on the planet.  But I came home with a very heavy heart, and with a feeling of sadness like I haven’t felt in a long time.  We had a lot of downtime over the past 24 hours with airport layovers and the like, which provided an opportunity for some text, email, and in-real-life conversations, as well as some trolling scholarly review of social media.  And I find myself having difficulty sleeping again tonight.

Many people have written about this topic over the past week, and done so much more eloquently than I will.   But I feel compelled to write about it nonetheless.  Anyone who lives in America, and does not reside under a rock, has been following the ongoing Chick-Fil-A saga over the past week or so.  And even though we were on vacation and were many miles away from our local chicken franchise, my cousins and I followed it as well.  And it has broken my heart on a deep level.

It’s not the comments from the Chick-Fil-A CEO, the reaction by various city officials, or the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day itself that have caused me to feel this heaviness.  I have various feelings about each of these elements, as it appears that most everyone does.  But what has resulted in this sense of heaviness for me is the response by the Church across various social media outlets over the past week.  This week, while the country watched, we had an opportunity to show love, grace, and compassion, and in my humble opinion, we did not love well.

Many Christians have tweeted or posted on Facebook that they are standing up for free speech or traditional marriage, and that they do not intend to communicate any disrespect to other individuals by exercising their right to express their beliefs.  And I truly believe that the intention for most people was to stand up for convictions and not to communicate disrespect for other human beings.  Nevertheless, the events of this week left my precious and dearly loved gay and lesbian friends, who are infinitely valued by God, feeling devastated, rejected, devalued, and heartbroken.  Some were brought to tears.  And whether or not the communication of hate was the intent by the majority of people, it was the perceived effect.  And this matters.  And yet, rather than meeting people where they are, acknowledging their feelings of hurt, and demonstrating compassion (all of which can be done while still exercising the right to stand up for one’s convictions), many Christians flooded the airwaves of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest with pictures of them jubilantly holding up a chicken sandwich, or statements such as, “Wow, the line is all the way around the corner!” (which can be loosely translated as “Wow, look how many people are on OUR side!”)  People entered into debates which at times became mean-spirited and hurtful, made statements that were smug and self-righteous (some even followed by “LOL” or “HAHAHA”), while real, live, flesh-and-blood human beings experienced real, live pain.  And I struggle to see how Christ was honored in this.

Many Christians did not participate in this behavior, and many exercised their right to show their support for a company whose values are similar to theirs, and did so in a peaceful and respectful way.  But there was a lot of damage done this week.  It appears, once again in my humble opinion, that the gap between the Church and the gay and lesbian community was widened, and I have yet to speak to or run across one person who was drawn to the love of Christ by our actions this week.  As a mental health professional, I am reminded of the fact that gay and lesbian teens attempt suicide 4-6 times as often as straight teens – which translates to the fact that a large number of today’s youth would prefer to end their lives rather than go on living in a world they perceive as devoid of hope.  I cannot imagine that this does not break the heart of God; and therefore, it should break our hearts too.

As Christians, we are called to live according to a Biblical standard.  And we seem to be very good at taking a stand on various issues and standing up for our convictions.  However, it seems that in the area of loving people the way Jesus loved people, we need a little work.  I find myself wondering if we as the Body of Christ would stand in line for several hours in the hot sun to sponsor a child through World Vision or Compassion, or to care for the poor and the hungry, as Jesus repeatedly commands us to do.  We cannot ignore the fact that over 20,000 precious, created-in-the-image-of-God children died from starvation in the 24-hour period that was Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, and I ask myself where the outrage and passion is over this issue, which is so clearly close to the heart of Jesus.  I have read the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” several times this week – and it makes me wonder whether we see other issues which are clearly identified as sin in the Bible (pride, arrogance, greed, gluttony) as being as worthy of our time and attention as we found this issue to be this week.  Given the fact that we all struggle with sin as part of the human condition, do we hate the sin within ourselves enough to allow ourselves to be transformed by God into the loving people who can truly change the world?  My prayer for us as the Church – and for myself – is that we will hold fast to the truth of the Bible, while never placing a position or an issue above human beings.  That we will dedicate our lives to loving in the way that Christ commanded us to love, when He told us that the greatest commandment is to love Him, and the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor.  If we can love like this, God truly can change the world through us, and we can make an eternal difference in the lives of our fellow human beings.  If we can’t, then we’re sort of reduced to being just (wait for it)…chicken.