More on the Chick-fil-A controversy

I was pleased that Methodist Thinker, who only seems to think about once a month (surely Methodists think more often than that!), nevertheless affirmed one of the points that I made about Chick-fil-A: If what Dan Cathy said about marriage and homosexuality was bigoted, prejudiced, homophobic—whatever—just get a load of what we United Methodists say in our Book of Discipline! Dr. William R. Bouknight writes:

The United Methodist Church has a much stronger position on sexuality and marriage than Mr. Cathy expressed. (Language from the UMC’s Book of Discipline is excerpted at right; the full text of ¶161B is here; ¶161F is here.)

But the homosexual lobby exploded in outrage, and some politicians joined in.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago’s values.” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino accused Chick-fil-A of practicing discrimination, though the restaurant chain has no apparent record of practicing any kind of discrimination.

What if the mayors of Chicago and Boston get hold of a United Methodist Book of Discipline? They might declare that no new UM churches are welcome in their cities!

On Facebook, meanwhile, where my Facebook friends seem evenly split between pro- and anti-Chick-fil-A sentiments, one liberal Christian friend called this blog piece a “nice perspective on the Chick-fil-A thing.” I politely but emphatically disagreed.

The author, Eric Reitan, says that the Christians who turned out last week during “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” did so because they have an “allegiance to an untenable theory about the Bible, a theory about how the Bible’s words are connected to divine self-disclosure, a theory that, as I see it, cannot stand up to any serious engagement with the Bible’s actual content and history.” They are, he says, inerrantists. 

Really? For the record, while I’m not aware that my position on marriage and homosexuality differs from Dan Cathy’s, be assured, dear reader, that I am not an inerrantist. John Wesley wasn’t an inerrantist. Neither was Calvin, Luther, Aquinas, Anselm, Augustine, Athanasius, Origen, or St. Paul, for that matter.

Inerrancy is a thoroughly modern concept. It begins by accepting the premise of the Enlightenment, with its reliance on modern science and reason as the basis for determining truth. Then it judges the Bible’s authority against these standards. For the inerrantist, the Bible passes the test, of course, but that’s beside the point: the authority of scripture, I argue, doesn’t depend on whether or not it contains “errors” as defined by 18th- and 19th-century philosophy and science. For example, I don’t believe the Bible is in error by reporting a six-day Creation, even though, at the same time, I’m happy to accept the scientific conclusion that our universe is billions of years old.

All that to say, Reitan is way off base to suggest that only inerrantists could possibly believe that homosexual practice is a sin or that God intends marriage between a man and woman. But it gets worse: in the name of charity, he condescends to us. Referring to us misguided yahoos who accept the Church’s traditional stance on marriage and homosexuality, he writes:

But these people aren’t biblical scholars. They often don’t realize they are endorsing a controversial theory about the Bible when they equate every passage with the Word of God. They’ve never seriously considered any alternative view. Their failure to recognize that they could be wrong in their theory about the Bible isn’t the result of a pride so great they don’t think they are capable of making mistakes on matters as profound as the nature of divine revelation. It’s more a result of simply failing to see that there is a controversy here.

Because of course there are no Bible scholars who accept the Church’s traditional stance? As I’ve written elsewhere, this is very much untrue. Does Reitan want to go toe-to-toe with N.T. Wright on New Testament exegesis? Of course, if I pressed Reitan on this point, he might make a fallacious “no-true-Scotsman”-type of argument: in other words, anyone who claims to be a scholar who nevertheless endorses the Church’s traditional understanding of the Bible on marriage and homosexuality isn’t really a scholar.

As I’ve said elsewhere, people like Reitan would have us non-scholars believe that the clearest and most straightforward reading of scripture is wrong; that the Bible is a hopelessly obscure document inaccessible to all but the privileged few. As I went to the Candler School of Theology, where we weren’t even required to learn Greek and Hebrew, the meaning of scripture is obviously beyond me.

But Reitan makes his biggest mistake when he calls Chick-fil-A “bad fast food.” Are you kidding? Unless he believes that all fast food is bad by definition, he’s being disingenuous—like the Boston mayor who pretends not to know the name of the restaurant chain. I don’t eat any fast food very often, and I never do so to make political statements, but—good heavens!—Chick-fil-A tastes great.

Leave a Reply