Mission: Impossible 18 October 2012

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The truth is a virus, but not so with ignorance: exchanging Christian witness for chicken sandwiches.

In the classic 1990 movie Pump Up the Volume an incensed high school student spread the gospel of reform, resistance and anti-conformity over the airwaves of his hometown.  Those who can recall the rants of Hard Harry might remember his assertion that the ‘truth is a virus.” A virus, unlike the common cold, is hard to get rid of because it has a unique way of staying in the body. It finds its way into the cells of the body and replicates itself sometimes to the point that it takes over control of its host. The virus of truth is innocuous. Truth has a way of overcoming any situation when it is real truth. Real truth is grounded in the attributes of Jesus Christ in whom we live and move and have or being in the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.

Ignorance can also mimic the qualities of a virus. It makes its way deep in the hidden places of the body. Though it may appear to be a virus in the end it is not a virus at all, yet it causes great harm to the body. Left unattended the virus of ignorance can easily incapacitate the strongest of persons. The virus of truth never needs an antidote. The virus of ignorance needs immediate attention so that it does not further infect the body.

At the time of writing this commentary, a little more than a week has passed since the uproar over comments made by leadership of the American fast-food restaurant Chick-fil-a injecting the issue of same-sex marriage into the public limelight once again. The result of the superfluous media frenzy created unnecessary conflict between many Christians and non-Christians supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage.

As a pastor of an urban micro-church numerous people have boasted that though they were unsure of how the issue began they participated in the protest because they wanted to make a personal statement opposing the issue of same-sex marriage. Having been frequently asked to offer my critique of this current cultural conundrum many assume that my theology would align with their ideology, however, my response has been one of disappointment and, frankly, has not been well received. My disappointment is not with the moral stance that was taken, rather my disappointment is a result of the way many Christians in the U.S. responded to what I believe was a tremendous opportunity to exemplify Christian witness. Blinded by ignorance incited by media outlets Christians overlooked an opportunity to engaged in dialogue with a growing segment of society. It is said, that truth will out, but not so in this situation, instead, truth was amassed in chicken sandwiches.

Sociologically, the interest of this issue is that both Christians and non-Christians have been caught up in a polarizing battle of wills based solely upon a generalized answer to a simple interview question. How else is a Christian businessman expected to respond to a question asked by a Christian interviewer, for a Christian publication? Why then did his answer cause such a stir? With just a little objectification an innocuous comment has caught like wildfire in all forms of the social media realm. Like Pavlov’s dog, an enormous number of Christians responded to the media’s stimulus and began salivating at the opportunity to make their position known. Prepped, ready and right on cue, television and social media began buzzing, and, as if it couldn’t get any better for the media, a larger number of Christians organized to support a restaurant owner by eating at one of its thousands of stores on the same day!

Missiologically (i.e. from the perspective of the science of Christian Mission), it is a matter of concern that hundreds of thousands of Christians have allowed themselves to be caught up in fallacy, ignorant of the golden opportunity they were served as a platform to bear witness. Ephesians 4:15-16 encourages us that even in the days where evil is permissible, followers of Jesus are still called to follow the ways of Jesus Christ thus taking advantage of every opportunity to be messengers of redemption and reconciliation. Clearly, the mission of Christ is to redeem those whom the Adversary has enslaved through sin and reconcile them to their Creator. Should we also as followers of Christ be about this same mission? We should, but we cannot if we spend our time creating opposition.

Research cited in the recently published second edition of Unchristian, (Kinnamon & Lyons) remains consistent with previous data in the book’s first edition indicating that outsider perceptions of Christians are considerably unfavorable. Christians have their work cut out for them because outsiders have concluded that Christians need to find someone or something to oppose. The perception of outsiders, persons described in the research as those who do not claim Jesus Christ as personal savior or claim to be reborn, should matter. If the data offered in this book is a true reflection of how outsiders perceive Christians, Christians are not helping to change comprehension by contributing to the perpetuation of us-verses-them distinction.

Perhaps I’m mistaken but I do not recall Jesus ever advocating for his followers to make enemies? The necessity to have an enemy, to justify “us versus them” manifestations indicates that ignorance has spread like a virus that has that without proper treatment will allow for the chasm between the saved and unsaved to grow ever wider. Distinguishing opposition is not at all helpful in showing outsiders the truth that Christians really believe. Conversely, a virus has spread in the body of Christ that has weakened our ability to witness to the world, if the true response of Christian characteristics is best expressed by purchasing chicken sandwiches.

Truth perpetuates truth. Likewise, ignorance perpetuates ignorance.  Let us consider why one of the most successful food chains in the United States would intentionally alienate a client base simply because of sexual preference? Think about it. Does one have to be straight to enjoy a chicken sandwich? Does it taste even better if you ascribe to traditional marriage and the values of fundamental Christianity?  It doesn’t make sense. Truth is that Chick-fil-a wouldn’t intentionally disenfranchise a particular client base simply because it’s bad for business. Their words and actions have an effect upon what they hope to gain. Why then would the Christian want to do the opposite and alienate a group of people potentially willing to follow a Savior who accepts them as they are, perhaps even as they were created to be?

You may be thinking that I’m absurd, but if that is the case, then reflect once more upon the ways in which many Christians recently responded.  The result? In the end, the media and the restaurant experienced great gains, but not so for the church.  The damage from the virus will take an enormous amount of treatment to heal. To its detriment more harm was caused to outsider perception of Christianity than good. Once again the opportunity to engage in healing discourse has been infected not by truth but ignorance. Not ignorance in what is believed to be true, no ignorance because many were unable to identify the rouse that provoked an ingenious response. Let us learn that ignorance fueled by the need for opposition is all the more debilitating to the mission of reconciliation and spread of Christ’s redeeming truth.

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About Michael Woosely

Michael Woosley has a BA in Sociology, an MA in Theological Studies and an advanced graduate degree in Theology of Missions as well as pastoral ministry experience in the US. He runs a theological discussion group called Theology on Tap as well and has a particular interest in emerging church cultures.