August 15, 2012
Currently, there is a growing trend of hyper-sensitivity about offensiveness among many Christians. For example, many Christians have become so consumed with not being offensive toward the homosexual movement that they over-criticize strong public stands against it by other Christians, even good-natured, legitimate ones. Behind this criticism is the widespread assumption that Christians cannot both make a strong statement about the sinfulness of sin while also effectively evangelizing sinners.
Barnabas Piper’s criticism of the strong showing of support for Chick-Fil-A is a clear example of this hyper-sensitivity.
In his piece, Piper offers an explanation for why he believes the recent show of support for Chick-Fil-A to be a “bold mistake.” Though the emphasis of the day was to show silent support by purchasing food from Chick-Fil-A restaurants, Piper suggests that the coordinated effort was misguided, divisive zeal.
After clearly stating his full appreciation for Dan Cathy’s marriage stance and for Chick-Fil-A as a business, Piper begins to explain his reason for offering criticism: “We cannot sacrifice our biblical convictions but neither can we sacrifice the church’s ability to serve people of opposing viewpoints and lifestyles.” This is a vague statement, since it is not clear what Piper means by “serve people of opposing viewpoints and lifestyles.” He continues, “The 452,000 people supporting Chick-fil-A are delivering more than one message, and the message the homosexual community and its supporters see is ‘us versus you.’” So Piper’s is fundamentally concerned over the homosexual community’s reaction to this large-scale show of support. He is concerned that the church will lose ground in reaching the lost for the sake of making a statement about its convictions.
His next paragraph gives the main substance of his reasoning:
“Convictions, especially biblical ones, will divide people. That is inevitable, but not desirable. The separation of believers and unbelievers, when it happens, must be a last resort or an unavoidable result. Actions to the contrary, those that clearly promote an ‘us versus them’ mentality, are most often unhelpful. There is a time for Christians to engage in boycotting, such as when a business deals in obviously immoral areas or is clearly unethical in its methods. But for a mass of Christians to descend upon Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country tomorrow to support the leadership’s view on this issue is, I believe, a bold mistake.”
Though Piper acknowledges the need for convictions, he simultaneously criticizes the expression of them. I believe his article is an example of the trend of over-paranoia about being offensive. I say “over-paranoia” because there of course, should be an appropriate desire not to offend those outside the church unnecessarily, but “over-paranoia” occurs when the church criticizes even legitimate stands for morality simply because they may be taken as offensive to many. On the one hand, many Christians acknowledge the need to hold to biblical morality, but on the other, they deem it often unwise to openly express such morality in the public square simply because it might be offensive.
With Piper as with many other Christians, this mentality is held in the name of evangelism. The logic goes something like this: When Christians collectively take strong stands against homosexuality, they build a further divide between homosexuals and Christ. Therefore, Piper concludes his article by appealing to this logic: “Marching on Chick-fil-A tomorrow like an army will produce nothing more than defined battle lines, and the result will be greater contention and fewer softened hearts.”
Piper’s article is an especially potent example of hyper-sensitivity about offending the homosexual community for two reasons:
First, in this case, the demonstration he questions is primarily silent. Yes, there were explanations given and articles written, but the basic tactic of those who supported Chick-Fil-A was the mere purchasing of food. It was fundamentally a quiet show of support. The vast majority of those who participated did nothing more than arrive at a restaurant and make a purchase. So Piper is not criticizing an organized group of Christians going out and speaking clearly against homosexuality. He is going so far as to criticize what was fundamentally a silent statement of support for a fellow Christian.
Second, Piper does not criticize the show of support for being ugly, rude, or anything else along the lines of the sinful nastiness that flows from notorious groups who spew hatred toward the homosexual community. He actually recognizes the good intentions of those involved. He is simply criticizing the bold stand for being a bold stand, regardless of the demeanor portrayed by those involved.
I suggest that there are numerous problems with Piper’s logic. Here, I only touch on a handful of them.
1. Behind this logic is the assumption that Christians cannot both make a strong statement about the sinfulness of sin while also effectively evangelizing sinners. However, biblically, evangelism is predicated upon strong statements against sin and strong statements for what is right. If people can’t look to the church and say, “Yeah, those people take a strong, collective stand for biblical family values,” then the church has lost its witness to the world. Outsiders might hate it, but the church had better be clear where it stands. We cannot glorify God through the proclamation of the gospel if we do not also glorify God through the proclamation of his moral will. The ten commandments came before the incarnation because they effectively condemn people and, thus, prepare us for grace. Take away the moral stand; take away the gospel.
2. So though we don’t ever want to offend the lost unnecessarily, we do want to live lives and speak words that offend the forces of darkness. If not, we are not being salt and light to society, and we cannot preach the gospel. Though Christians err in many ways concerning how they express their convictions, it seems to me that the church often takes too much flak from the church for being the church and it resulting in offense. To hope for something less than polarized division between the church and the homosexual agenda is dreaming. But that is not to say that Christians cannot still lovingly proclaim the gospel in intentional relationships with the lost. In fact, it seems to me that the whole point of the gospel is to say something like, “There is a kingdom of darkness and a kingdom of God’s beloved Son. The divide is unavoidable and unmistakable. Hear me clearly. You are currently in the kingdom of darkness, but you are gladly invited to join with the Son.”
3. I also wonder if there is an over-sensitivity about offending the homosexual community that stems from not adequately recognizing other priorities. Winning the homosexual, as well as any other lost person, is a part of the church’s agenda, but there are other priorities as well. We should not seek to win the lost at the expense of innocent victims. Micah 6:8 tells us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” Justice, kindness, and humility demands that the church protect children and families from the aggressive advances of darkness. In Genesis 19, the emblazoned homosexual community tried to beat down Lot’s door, and today, they are beating on the doors of every home in America through the avenues of the media, the education system, and tax laws. I desire to see the lost saved, but I will also fight a lost person if he attacks an innocent victim. If the church is silent, the alternative is to allow the militant homosexual agenda to kick down the doors of our homes, schools, and churches and have their way with the next generation. In such a circumstance, our children don’t need strategic silence nearly as much as they need bravery and boldness. And I would suggest that God is more concerned that the church protect the weak and vulnerable than not offend the aggressor.
4. It seems to me that Piper’s logic could be extended to criticize all bold political participation, which is the only kind that wins elections. I don’t enjoy politics any more than the next guy, but I understand that elections have major social justice implications. I understand that traditional marriage is not just a scriptural belief, but a societal benefit. I understand that a country should exclusively promote marriage between a man and a woman because it is clearly best for children and the whole of the society. A faithful man in marriage to a faithful woman cannot be guaranteed, but it should be esteemed and rewarded. And beyond marriage, the right to free speech is a massively moral issue. Yet Piper, at least in this instance, would not have Christians express bold unified support for such things even in a good-natured manner.
5. It is simply upside-down to criticize Christians for rallying, in a perfectly legitimate way, to the side of another Christian who is being wrongfully maligned. The expression of support for Dan Cathy and his stand for the Bible is a beautiful thing, not a “bold mistake.” This was not a hateful spitting at homosexual community, or even a unified proclamation against sin, but a strong silent statement of unity among Christians. I personally rejoice that there are a half-million Americans to make such a significant statement by rushing to the side of a man who took a biblical stand. Such a large-scale statement might not be possible twenty, even ten, years from now. The reason is that the next generation is being taken captive by those who kick at the doors. The other reason is that a growing number of Christians are deeming boldness in the face of sin unwise.