Thursday, January 31, 2013

Conservative Christian Befriends Gay Activist

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
Matthew 5:43-48

A friend pointed me to a Huffington Post article by Shane Windmeyer, a nationally known gay rights advocate and the executive director of Campus Pride, about his friendship with Dan Cathy, President and Chief Operating Officer of Chick-fil-A.

Windemeyer tells of attending the Chick-fil-A bowl on New Year’s Day as Cathy’s personal guest and then notes, “For many this news of friendship might be shocking. After all, I am an out, 40-year-old gay man and a lifelong activist for equality. I am also the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and ally college students. Just seven months ago our organization advanced a national campaign against Chick-fil-A for the millions of dollars it donated to anti-LGBT organizations and divisive political groups that work each day to harm hardworking LGBT young people, adults and our families. I have spent quite some time being angry at and deeply distrustful of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A. If he had his way, my husband of 18 years and I would never be legally married.”

The story is surprising and moving. Dan Cathy initiated the contact. He listened respectfully to Windemeyer’s life journey, and in many ways he accepts him for who he is.

He writes: “Through all this, Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness. Even when I continued to directly question his public actions and the funding decisions, Dan embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear my perspective. He and I were committed to a better understanding of one another. Our mutual hope was to find common ground if possible, and to build respect no matter what. We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people.”

And Chick-fil-A has done two significant things. They have stopped funding organizations or groups that denigrate LGBT persons, and they have drafted internal documents affirming their commitment to treat every person with dignity and respect. Their outside funding now focuses on youth, education, marriage enrichment and local communities.

It is a heartwarming story. Communication and mutual respect are good things and our country could use more of both.

When I first wrote about the Chik-fil-A controversy last summer, I said of Dan Cathy, that I believed him to be “in so many important other ways, a very good and decent person who tries to be a faithful Christian. He teaches a senior high Sunday School class. He lives by four basic practices, of worship, Bible study, prayer, and tithing. His ‘life verse’ is Deuteronomy 6:5, ‘Love the LORD you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ It’s part of the Shema, and it’s also the first half of the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor.”

This story confirms that impression. Dan Cathy takes his faith seriously and he is trying to live it out. I respect his sincerity and his decency. I think he is wrong, but he is not mean, and that counts for a lot.

On the other hand, his choice to “love the sinner while hating the sin” has consequences. His stance gives cover to people with less compassion and more anger. Though it is not his intent, he is encouraging the bullies and the bigots.

And finally, I still expect more from someone who claims to be “a follower of Jesus.” Yes, faithful people can disagree. But only a shallow reading of scripture can sustain an understanding of the anti-gay agenda as growing out of Christianity or biblical faith.

1 comment:

  1. Supposing that we accept - for the sake of the argument - that homosexuality is a sin, just like those few scripture passages seem to say. Given that, I've never understood the special focus on homosexuality as the "sin of sins," meriting the witch-hunt mentality that the Church clings to in increasingly lonely fashion.

    Long ago I had forced upon me by dedicated haters the fact the the United Methodist Social Principles identifies homosexuality as being "incompatible with Christian teaching." That statement is supposed to underscore and justify the ugliness and nastiness that passes for Christian discipleship these days when the topic of homosexuality emerges.

    Along the way, I discovered that the only other activity that we call "incompatible with Christian teaching" in that great document is... wait for it!... war.

    I notice that we don't persecute service men or women, the top brass, Congress or Presidents when they, jointly or singly, commit that sin.

    Why the distinction?