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On Monday it came out that Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy has been privately fostering a friendship with a gay man who is a nationally-known LGBT activist. Following the Chick-fil-A protests of 2012, Cathy had a national platform to stand for traditional marriage. We now know that, when Cathy could have been promoting biblical views in the national media, he was sharing meals with one of the nation’s most outspoken gay activists.
Should conservative Christians be in tears?
Yes. Tears of joy. Cathy’s intentional and gracious friendship with Shane L. Windmeyer is a model of how all American Christians, high and low profile, should begin in dialog with the gay community.
The fury between America’s LGBT and Christian communities has ignited as the cultural flashpoint of our day. From the Chick-fil-A protests to the ousting of Louie Giglio from the presidential inauguration, Americans on all sides are frustrated, angry and afraid to broach this fiery clash.
Cathy’s friendship, chronicled from Windmeyer’s point of view, is a refreshing picture of what Jesus Christ might do—were he physically here with us in America today. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the Apostle Paul tells Christians “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” On this matter, I say to American Christians, “Follow Dan Cathy’s example, as he follows the example of Christ.”
Conservative and evangelical Christians often speak of our “response” to homosexuality. But, when we look at the life of Christ, we see that his outreach to humanity was not reactive. It was proactive. “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God did not claim to love from a distance. He humbled himself and stepped physically into our lives (Philippians 2:3-11).
If we are serious about following Christ, we must begin loving first, with humility. We must initiate literal get-togethers, as Cathy did. We must reach out, not with public statements and position papers, but with incarnate friendship. Love was the leading edge of God’s invasion into humanity (John 3:16).
Love, we know, is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4), and this is where many conservative Christians falter in dialoging with homosexuals. Fear makes us defensive, constricted and impatient. But Scripture tells us that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). As Christ’s agents on earth “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Cathy modeled a relationship driven by love and humility rather than fear. Windmeyer describes how Cathy put “respect ahead of fear” and “built trust.” Few of us have experienced death threats against our families, but Cathy did (and perhaps still does). Few of us know the secret sorrow of being slandered, accused, misunderstood and hated by thousands. Cathy does.
Think of the humility required to initiate love from that position, to choose the role of restorer rather than victim. Here Cathy’s example shines. Like Jesus, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth”—at least not in public (Isaiah 53:7). And in private, when he could have confronted Windmeyer about genuine concerns about rhetoric around hate speech, Cathy instead listened with humility and patience, with “regret and genuine sadness.” Windmeyer writes that “Dan expressed a personal interest in my life” with a “demeanor of kindness and openness.” In other words, Cathy acted a lot like Jesus.
Christ calls his followers to be known—not for our judgments but for our good lives. “Live such good lives among the pagans [or unbelievers] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). For conservative Christians today, the key word in this verse may be “among.” As I have written previously, these “good lives” cannot be lived from a distance, from the stage of a press conference, from a church building, or even from a Facebook post. God calls us to live “among” the unbelievers.
We are placed on earth not to alienate those outside the church, but to invite them into the church. God’s game plan for reaching unbelievers is clear. We are to show and tell the Good News—not from a distance—but up close and personal, through our “good lives.” Dan Cathy has done this with true humility and love.
May his example ignite a national shift—led by each one of us—towards gracious invitation and unconditional love for our gay neighbors. One by one, let us all follow this example–at family reunions, in workplaces, in our communities and, when necessary, even in secret friendships.
Scripture calls believers the “body of Christ.” Meaning, we are today his physical presence in the world. If we all follow Cathy’s example, perhaps the body of Christ will behave as Christ himself would behave.
John S. Dickerson is author of the book “The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare”and senior pastor of Cornerstone in Prescott, Arizona. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter @JohnSDickerson.
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