Monthly Archives: July 2012

“Fowl!”

Chances are by now you have heard about the controversy birthed by the comments of Chick-Fil-A Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy. In case you haven’t, here are the quotes taken from a recent Huffington Post article by Juliet Jeske (by the way, I strongly recommend reading her article, too):

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” Cathy said when asked about the company’s position. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Jeske’s article then effectively proceeds to challenge Cathy’s “operate on biblical principles” comment by quoting several bible verses which make it quite clear that Chick-Fil-A does not consistently operate on biblical principles.  During an appearance on the Ken Coleman Show Cathy is also quoted as saying:

“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 try to redefine what marriage is about.”

First, I may have missed it, but whenever photos of happy LGBT couples exchanging vows or leaving courthouses with marriage or civil union licenses in hand are published in the newspaper or posted online somewhere, I’ve yet to see anyone shaking their fists at God, or pumping the air with their fists while saying something like, “Yeah, take that, God! In your face!”

Second, and speaking only for myself, if we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation, I would lean more to reasons like passing legislation that attempts to balance local, state, and national budgets on the backs of the elderly and poor, while the military budget is practically untouchable. After all, you can’t have too many nuclear weapons, now can you? And all these things happen while the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow.

How about inviting God’s judgment on our nation for our support of a culture of violence made far too real in the recent beating and death of an elderly man in Chicago–a beating that was part of some sick game–or a nation that allows people to buy massive amounts of ammunition online with no background checks; or a nation that allows the purchase of assault weapons by people who have absolutely no reason to purchase these types of firearms? Nope; I guess LGBT folks falling in love, establishing stable relationships and seeking equal treatment under the law are what really annoy God.

What I think Mr. Cathy–and his supporters–either don’t understand, or choose to ignore, is the model of biblical marriage they so vigorously try to protect isn’t the only model of marriage in the bible. Owning–yes, owning–multiple wives and concubines was a common practice in the Old Testament. Love may have been an added bonus in some of these marriages; at the same time, it appears marriage during Old Testament times was more about power, property ownership and procreation that would ensure not only the survival of various tribes of people, but also provide them with the potential to develop strong armies to conquer and control weaker tribes–all in God’s name, of course.

When you raise such complicated issues, however, often what you hear resembles some of the theological acrobatics posted in the comments section following Jeske’s article. For example, one person claimed that all the laws from Leviticus she quoted were “pre-exilic,” and there was a new covenant established after the exile in Babylon was over. OK. So I guess that means the Ten Commandments are off the table, too, huh? I’ve also heard the argument that some of the laws in Leviticus were ceremonial and some were moral. So when Jesus came the ceremonial laws were null and void, but the moral laws stand forever. I’m not exactly sure where Jesus made that distinction; actually, I don’t think he did. As a matter of fact, if I remember correctly, Jesus basically said that all the law and prophets could be summed up by loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself.

Disagree with some of these folks, however, and you risk being charged with attacking traditional Christian values, persecuting Christians, and/or violating First Amendment rights to free speech and exercise of religion. Or as in the case of Chick-Fil-A, some people cry, “Fowl!” If you think I’m exaggerating, just read some of the religious-based commentary from people supporting Dan Cathy. Yes, some of the commentary from people who disagree with Mr. Cathy is ugly, too, and such commentary isn’t helpful if we want to encourage healthy debate. At the same time, I get the impression that there are quite a few people on both sides of this issue who have no interest in such debate. They are, as UCC pastor and author Robin Meyers says, more interested in being right than being loving.

And when we are more interested in being right than we are in being loving, we often wind up being neither.

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Merging for Mission

Last month I read an excellent article on the Huffington Post by UCC pastor and author Rachel G. Hackenberg entitled “Letting You Leave Church.” She makes a very strong case for offering people our blessings as they leave our congregations–regardless of the reasons for leaving. Rev. Hackenberg makes very logical points throughout the article. And yet her wise counsel is sometimes so hard to follow.

Here are a few quotes from that article:

Dear Christians, both wounded and worried, leaders and laity, trend-watchers, naysayers, pastors, and all who pray for the Church’s health and behavior to improve…

Departure is a sensitive and greatly feared concern in Christian congregations and denominations. Churches and pastors don’t want their parishioners to leave. Denominations fret when churches threaten departure. Across the Church, we view departure as an indicator of division or a foreshadowing of demise.

As statistics continue to reveal the Church’s numerical decline, the impulse of congregations and denominations is to resist, to fear, to fight against membership losses. For the sake of survival, we plead: “Don’t leave.”

Desperation is never pretty, is it?

I think the author’s phrase For the sake of survival, we plead: “Don’t leave” says a lot. I believe people can often sense desperation in a community of faith: the overly exuberant welcome as you walk in the door or as you pass the Peace of Christ–or whatever your community calls this welcoming moment; asking you to consider getting involved in the life of the community on your first visit (yes, it happens); grabbing your hand during community prayer time or during the singing of the closing song because, well, that’s just what we do here. So sometimes in a genuine attempt to be friendly we can come across as desperate for love and attention.

There’s financial desperation, too–and it seriously concerns me when I hear some of the comments that are born of this fear. Please don’t misunderstand me; as someone whose paycheck is quite dependent on a stable and reliable flow of income from generous congregants, significant and extended decreases in cash flow are legitimate causes for concern. The comments to which I am referring, however, give me the feeling the people who make these comments see primarily dollar signs leaving the church, and not real people with whom we have broken bread and shared joys and sorrows in community for a certain amount of time. And if my concern is correct–if congregants are more concerned with dollar signs than helping people and making a positive impact in our communities and world– then why are we even bothering with church, anyway?

With all the challenges facing religious congregations today, I’ve recently started wondering why more groups don’t consider merging with other like-minded groups as a viable option for their communities? And when I say “merge,” I don’t mean merging merely for the sake of survival–although you can never totally eliminate that reason–I mean merging primarily for the sake of shared mission.

I’m sure this suggestion isn’t new; still let’s consider it for a minute. Take  two–or a few–smaller congregations or groups whose primary mission it is to feed hungry people. By themselves they struggle to maintain the administrative and worship structures necessary for their individual communities, which in turn negatively impacts their mission to feed hungry people. Combine, consolidate and share their resources–including clergy, worship and administrative boards–wherever possible. What was once two or a few structures is now one, releasing at least some resources for shared mission that were not available before.

And the cost?

Well, there are definitely some costs involved with this suggestion. First, professional religious people like myself will have to check our egos because the requirements of our positions will certainly change–if our positions survive, that is. Leaders at all levels will have to do the same. Congregants who have an unhealthy attachment to “the way things have always been,” or who just can’t imagine being anything but “First Church of ABC,” will have to be willing to celebrate the contributions of First Church, and then release those contributions to the Universe so a “new thing” that is better suited to meeting the world’s needs today might be born in our midst. And birthing is a messy process, isn’t it?

Can merging for mission–and not merely survival–work? I think it can; in fact, I bet this idea already has and is working in different forms and in different places in the world today. The question then becomes, “Are more of us willing to experiment with different forms of religious community, even if it means rethinking everything we’ve assumed and been taught about how church is supposed to work and why?”  That is, are we willing to lose our lives in healthy service to a Greater Good? Or are we going to continue to circle the ecclesial wagons in a desperate attempt at self-preservation?

Is there hope in this suggestion? I think so. Is it scary? Sure! Threatening? Could be. Exciting? Well, I guess that depends on who you are.  Still, haven’t we been operating in survival mode long enough already? Besides, didn’t Jesus say something about what happens when we seek to save our lives for our own benefit rather than lose them in service?

Just a few things to consider…

Blessings on your journeys!