Duck Dynasty, Pope Francis, and “Seasoned Speech”

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

Gracious speech has been a struggle for believers for as long as we’ve been around. Sometimes we get so caught up in truth that we forget to treat people like people. We ignore that many will be turned off by stale speech, instead preferring the seasoned words of the practiced rhetorician. But some of our truths are rather unpalatable to the modern ear. Children may not care for vegetables, but adults stomach them, regardless of whether or not they enjoy them: the goodness requires our action. And so it is with truth: sometimes we won’t like what is true, but must find a way to stomach it, for our own good.

Seasoned language, much like seasoned food, ought not cover up the subject entirely, but rather accent and enhance it, according to the palette of the listener. Some rhetoric seeks to cover the topic at hand, winning the listener over with sweetness; good rhetoric, however, ought to enhance the subject, rather than covering it up.

Perhaps I’m late to the game to discuss Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty clan. But if ever somebody spoke some truth (mixed with some falsehoods) that wasn’t well seasoned, it was probably him.

That’s a bit of hyperbole. Phil isn’t the first harsh speaker to hit the world, and he won’t be the last.

So let’s not talk about Duck Dynasty and the unsurprising statements from backwoods Christians. Let’s talk about how we ought to speak our minds day-to-day. How do truth and sensitivity interact? Must we silence our beliefs in order to win souls?

Pope Francis lands on the opposite spectrum from Phil, and not just in his beliefs concerning the nature of a church service. The Pope has been making news by stating what the Church has always believed, despite what caricatures of Catholics believe. But he’s also carefully answering questions. When he is asked flat-out what he believes about homosexuality, he says we ought to see everyone as people first. That’s far smoother than the Duck Dynasty version (which likens homosexuals to idiots who don’t know what they’re missing). And Roman Catholic doctrine hasn’t changed regarding homosexual activity.

However, if you use too much seasoning, at some point the dish itself doesn’t matter: all you taste is the topping. Some seem to think this is the way to go with Christianity (“If we make Christianity attractive by only talking about love and not judgment, maybe people will convert!”), but that is an offense to the Gospel. Francis has been accused of seasoning his words too much, but I think he has a robust dish to land on, so to speak. Catholicism is the sort of religion that changes far more slowly, if at all, even if Protestant Christianity has shirked that particular reputation.

So if you say “I’m Catholic”, people probably know where you stand on the issue. But if you say “I’m a Christian”, suddenly the world is without clarity on your stance. If it is our job to lead the world from sin and towards Jesus Christ, it is (at least partially) our job to point out sin. But many who claim Christianity do not believe that homosexuality is a sin, regardless of what Scripture makes clear (and not just Old Testament passages). So, what do we do? Do we speak our minds and offend, or keep our mouths shut and make friends?

The answer comes down to context, more often than not. If asked flat-out what you believe about homosexuality, you should have the strength to stand by and speak your convictions. If you are misunderstood, you may need to follow Francis’ example and remind yourself and others that those in the LGBTQ crowd are, first and foremost, people made in the image of God.

But if you aren’t asked directly, should you ever bring it up? Short answer: maybe. If your friends don’t have a clue where you stand (or even that you are a believer), perhaps you aren’t living your life for Jesus as strongly as you thought. But if they know you are a believer, and even know where you stand on homosexuality issues, it isn’t worth trumpeting every time you talk to someone. Really, it won’t do you any good. Don’t serve the same dish at every meal; it gets tiresome.

If you never seek to soften your words, if you only ever speak offensively, you cannot claim that you are being attacked for your faith. The world may persecute you for Christ’s sake, but if you are attacked because you never considered your words or your actions, you are being persecuted for your own sake. And, unless you’re already perfect, that’s not going to fly.

So, step back and consider your words. Don’t be needlessly offensive, but don’t avoid all offense. The gospel is worth losing friends over, but your unnecessarily brash language isn’t. Season your words carefully, but remember to vary them as needed.

The Gay Marriage Round-Up: Thoughts from Around the Web

Same-sex marriage has been a major topic of discussion across the web, especially in evangelical circles. I thought it might be helpful to give our readers a round-up of some of the best and most interesting stuff around the web.

A flurry of posts immediately followed The Atlantic‘s story “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss,” so that’s as good a starting point as any. In it are a number of arguments, many of them speculative, considering what sorts of things a gay couple may be able to teach a heterosexual couple. There are lots of statistics from various surveys and studies, but many of the claims for future knowledge come down to separating the sexes in order to learn what is ‘uniquely male’ and ‘uniquely female’ in relationship settings.

In direct response, First Things offered up the similarly titled “What We Can Learn from Same-Sex Couples.” Here, Glenn Stanton works through the research behind the provocative story from The Atlantic, in order to tease out the implications. The findings are less optimistic than the Gay Guide would have us believe, to say the least.

The Atlantic may just have been capitalizing on the topic, but they followed up The Gay Guide with a piece written by a gay member of the Catholic Church. She speaks to the difference between believing in God abstractly and believing in God concretely; the former is likely not tied to any particular church, while the latter has some visible historicity and beauty to it. Even as an evangelical, I certainly understand and appreciate the point of view.

While I don’t agree with the position of the person being interviewed, John Corvino still makes some really important points regarding debate, broadly speaking. Especially worth noting is his rejection of the idea that all positions are equally valid–a common yet absurd notion–which is an important reminder in fields other than gay marriage (often, same-sex marriage debates agree on but one thing: both sides can’t be right, and one position is clearly superior to the other).

If you’re not familiar with the topic at all, however, the above may have been overwhelming. Joe Carter offered up some definitions regarding LGBTQ issues, which are helpful for those who haven’t researched any of it. He also works through the positions of those who have embraced gay-marriage while still holding to some form of Christianity.

Not every question is new, however. On the topic of giving up the fight against gay marriage, at least publicly, Timothy Dalrymple simply asks: when is the cost too high? In answer to the question, Matthew Lee Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy points out that not every socially conservative movement has looked bleak; in fact, he argues that we should learn the right lessons from the pro-life debate, which is gaining traction. While there are clear differences between the movements, there’s something to this approach. Brad Littlejohn also addressed the question of a tactical withdrawal, but argues for a shift in those tactics, rather than running away entirely.

That’s a lot of reading. And some of it is pretty heavy. While I stand with the traditional Christian view on homosexuality, I also recognize that a lot of the ways that Christians have interacted with the gay community have been harmful, and I’d like to find a way to change that without sacrificing what I believe is Biblical truth. We should be known for our love, after all.

Heads I Win, Tails You’re a Lying Bigot

I just read a fascinating article on Huffington Post. It’s written by Shane Windmeyer, a “Nationally recognized LGBT leader in higher education; bestselling author; executive director, Campus Pride,” and it details his contact and eventual friendship with Dan Cathy, of Chick-fil-A “Guilty as charged” fame. Shane discusses Campus Pride’s opposition to Chick-fil-A, the initial surprise phone call he received from Dan (and the hour-long personal conversation it preceded), the numerous in-person meetings he had with Dan, and the “respectful, enduring conversations” they had and the “kindness and openness” Dan constantly and consistently showed. The story culminates in Dan inviting Shane to the Chick-fil-A bowl, which was apparently quite a meaningful experience for Shane. It ends with a call for hope, for the respect, kindness, and “human decency” evident in this relationship to continue and grow between people on both sides of the issue.

Now I know what you’re thinking:

How dare Dan Cathy pretend to befriend a homosexual? Right? And how naive must Shane be to be taken in so completely by this idiotic bigot’s cunning and guile?  The nerve of Dan, to claim to respect someone as a person and still believe that person is living a sinful lifestyle? How dare he?

At least, that’s the response of a significant portion of the comments. While the comments section seems to have mellowed over time, there are still many, many gems to be discovered: A quick skim of the comments during the writing of this post revealed these fine specimens.

  • “D Cathy got what he wanted by giving you a feel good moment, and he got none of the downside. He got his pocket gay just as he wanted it. Smart.”
  • “Please don’t use your Leadership and Influence to dupe others in the same way that Mr. Cathy has duped Shane. “
  • “They’re using you, sir. They are still giving to anti LGBT groups. They still hate you. They’re worried about the impact to their bottom line. They aren’t your friend.”

And these are the mild ones. Let’s take a closer look at the article and see what could have sparked such a strong reaction. First, Dan Cathy takes it on himself to personally contact a high-profile LGBT activist to talk one-on-one with him, during which he comes across as “awkward at times but always genuine and kind.” Dan talks honestly with him, “listening intently” to Shane’s concerns and real-life accounts of the negative results of Chick-fil-A’s public stance. Dan even confesses naivete concerning the unintended consequences of his actions. Dan “embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear [Shane’s] perspective,” expresses “a sincere interest in [Shane’s] life,” and “expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-A.”

Now, I know this sounds a lot like what the LGBT community has been asking for: respect, understanding, a recognition of mutual humanity. But one single detail makes all of this meaningless: that Dan “offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.” This fact, seemingly a source of respect on the part of Shane, becomes incontrovertible proof to the HP community that Dan Cathy is a villain of absolutely epic proportions, unknown outside of bad books and worse movies: His out-dated beliefs and his obvious, hateful bigotry are outdone only by his sheer animal cunning in so completely hoodwinking a member of the LGBT community for the purposes of either damage control or increasing sales even further.  (Ironically, Shane Windmeyer, by consequence, becomes the unwitting dupe, the naive chump who is taken in wholesale, who needs to be rescued from his delusion of mutual respect and friendship with the dastardly enemy.)

Let’s leave aside the fact that, sales-wise, there’s literally no damage to control. Let’s leave aside the fact that the easiest way to sell still more sandwiches would probably be to go progressive and adopt a catchy, universalist slogan. Let’s even leave aside the fact that conservatives are under fire for demonizing the LGBT comunity, and now a homosexual man is under fire by the same people for not demonizing Dan Cathy.

I’m not going to go into that, because at heart, this is yet another mixup of love and tolerance. Because Dan Cathy does not tolerate homosexuality, because he calls it wrong and sinful, it literally doesn’t matter at all what else he does. As long as that one fact remains true, the secular world will affirm that Dan cannot love a homosexual man, cannot even be friends with him. Because Dan does not tolerate homosexuality, he cannot truly befriend someone who engages in it, who identifies himself as a homosexual. Because Dan believes homosexuality sinful, any appearance of friendship or respect towards Shane is false, deceitful, and manipulative, using Shane as no more than a pawn.

This is because the world sees love and tolerance as one and the same thing. This is obviously false, however, and everyone, even the angriest HP commentator, can see the difference in day-to-day life. If a friend has a broken arm, it is tolerant of me to leave him be: However, it is loving of me to insist that he see a doctor, even if he doesn’t want to. If my grandmother has a mental disorder, it is tolerant of me to affirm her when she says she doesn’t need medication, that nothing’s wrong: But it is loving for me to see that she gets help. Now, love entails a lot more than just that, clearly: it entails care and compassion, a real, personal, and selfless investment in the beloved by the lover. My point is merely that in these cases, and countless others, love is not only distinct from tolerance, but actually diametrically opposed to it. The difference is obvious: Tolerance is apathetic and passive, willing to leave things be, while love is urgent and active, seeking always the good of the beloved. Tolerance is merely the world’s straight-to-VHS rip-off of love: The picture on the cover might be similar, but the content couldn’t be more different–or more disappointing.

The same holds for this situation. There is no doubt in my mind that Dan Cathy loves Shane Windmeyer. And his love is revealed exactly where the HP community sees it as ending: In affirming that Shane’s life is not right, and offering to show him what is. We Christians believe that sin–all sin–harms the sinner. We believe that homosexuality is a sin, and that it harms the one who engages in it. Dan Cathy’s love for Shane shows in the fact that he respects Shane as a person, values his friendship, and still does not tolerate his homosexuality–not out of fear, or bigotry, or hate, but out of love.

Reclaiming ‘Gay’ and Rainbows

Late last week, Pastor Ken Hutcherson spoke out and made a rather surprising claim: he wrote that he is the “gayest man [he] know[s].”

This, of course, brought on a bit of controversy. His closest friends, including his wife and kids, all knew this about him, apparently. What he meant, however, was not what I expected. Continue reading Reclaiming ‘Gay’ and Rainbows