Posts Tagged ‘Chick-fil-A’

Sermon 09-20-15: “The Pursuit of Happiness”

September 30, 2015

Fight Songs

Psalm 1 teaches us what we need to be truly happy in life. But it looks nothing like our “American dream”-version of happiness. Indeed, as much as I revere our Founding Fathers, they were wrong: the right to pursue happiness, at least for its own sake, is a dead end street. As C.S. Lewis said, “Aim for heaven, and you’ll get earth thrown in. Aim for earth, and you’ll get neither.” Unfortunately, too many of us have spent far too much time “aiming for earth.” Instead, this psalm tells us, the key to happiness is to fall in love with the Lord. This sermon invites us to do just that.

Sermon Text: Psalm 1:1-6

[To listen on the go, right-click to download an MP3.]

If you were a child of the ’60s or ’70s, you have no doubt seen classic live-action Disney movies such as Herbie the Love Bug, That Darn Cat, and The Shaggy D.A. And if so, you’ll know who actor Dean Jones is. Jones died two weeks ago at 84. When he was at the height of his success in the late-’60s and early-’70s, Jones had more money than he knew what to do with—and spent it on lavish homes, fast Italian sports cars, and exotic vacations. And women. Even though he was married at the time, every night he would have a different Hollywood starlet on his arm—and just as often in his bed.

Actor Dean Jones, who died earlier this month.

Actor Dean Jones, who died earlier this month.

For years, he said, he had deceived himself into believing that the Hollywood lifestyle would satisfy him, but it had only left him depressed and suicidal, especially after his wife finally divorced him and he was estranged from his children. He began to see life as a pointless exercise in futility, to be managed by copious amounts of alcohol and a parade of one-night stands.

Later, after he nearly died in a drunk-driving accident, he cried out to God: “I’ve done everything in this world I thought would make me happy and it doesn’t work. I have everything and I have nothing. I have no choice but to believe [in you, God]. If you don’t exist, then I’m a dead man.” And he surrendered his life to Christ, and he was never the same.

But I like this insight: “I’ve done everything in this world I thought would make me happy and it doesn’t work. I have everything and I have nothing.” You and I probably don’t quite have everything, but, like most Americans, we’re probably a lot closer to “everything” than to “nothing.”

But are we happy? Read the rest of this entry »

About Billy Graham’s recent public statements

August 8, 2012

Fred Clark, a liberal evangelical blogger who blogs as Slacktivist, is worked up because of Billy Graham’s recent public statements regarding gay marriage and Chick-fil-A. Given Graham’s hard-earned reputation (at least since the Nixon White House) for non-partisanship, why would he risk tarnishing his image by speaking out on such a polarizing issue now?

In so many words, Clark writes, he wouldn’t. Other people—like his politically outspoken son, Franklin—must be exploiting the frail 93-year-old. To which I ask, how does he know? While Graham’s physical health has deteriorated due to age and Parkinson’s, no one, to my knowledge, has questioned his mental acuity.

Besides, even if Clark’s allegations are true, does Clark really believe that Billy Graham doesn’t support the traditional definition of marriage, or that he wouldn’t support Dan Cathy’s family at a time like this? Give me a break!

Worst case, wouldn’t Billy Graham’s handlers simply be putting into words what Graham believes in his heart anyway? Again, I’m not saying that’s what’s going on—and if it is, it’s wrong—but worst case

If you’re a Christian who stands on Clark’s side of this divisive issue, have the courage to oppose the convictions of someone like Billy Graham, not the fact that he may actually have given voice to those convictions. I want people to say what they mean. Doesn’t Clark? I want public leaders to be more transparent, not less. Why doesn’t Clark want this, too?

I suspect it’s because he really loves and respects Billy Graham. If you’re an evangelical Christian, how could you not? It’s surely a less bitter pill for Clark to swallow if he imagines that Franklin, the partisan hack, is calling the shots. Don’t ya think?

As someone who supports the United Methodist Church’s traditional stance on marriage and homosexuality, I accept that good Christian people whom I love and respect disagree with me on this issue. And it’s not because they don’t believe the Bible, or they’re not faithful Christians, or they’re not acting in good faith. We simply disagree.

But by all means, let’s talk openly about our disagreement. Let’s not keep it to ourselves.

More on the Chick-fil-A controversy

August 6, 2012

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.

“Ich bin ein Southern Baptist”

July 27, 2012

Thanks to the new controversy, eating or not eating the restaurant’s tasty fried chicken sandwich is a political statement.

Long before he became Disney’s go-to guy for movie music, including Toy Story‘s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” Randy Newman was famous, or infamous, for writing scathingly satirical songs like “Sail Away,” whose majestic opening piano chords sound like a patriotic hymn until you get to song’s subject matter: he’s singing from the point of view of a slave trader, beckoning Africans to slavery in America:

In America you’ll get food to eat
Won’t have to run through the jungle
And scuff up your feet
You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
It’s great to be an American

Ouch. At his best, Newman’s music is sometimes a punch in the gut. His narrators often assume the unblinking, first-person perspective of deeply unsympathetic characters, as was the case with his biggest hit, “Short People.” That song’s refrain tells us that “short people got no reason to live.” “Short People,” however, wasn’t the best example of Newman’s gift for daring to empathize with these otherwise unsympathetic characters.

The best example of this gift may be “Rednecks,” from 1974’s Good Old Boys album. Wikipedia tells me that the song reached #36 on the Billboard charts, which makes me wish I could hear the always-congenial Casey Kasem introduce this particular song on American Top 40. It begins:

Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart-ass New York Jew.
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox,
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox, too.
Well, he may be a fool, but he’s our fool.
If they think they’re better than him, they’re wrong.
So I went to the park and took some paper along,
And that’s where I wrote this song…”

(The song’s writer, please note, is a Jew from L.A.)

Lester Maddox, in case you don’t know, was a segregationist governor from my home state, Georgia, from 1967 to 1971. Newman says the occasion that inspired the song was watching The Dick Cavett Show in 1970, on which Maddox appeared. Cavett is about as WASPy as they come, of course, but it makes sense that the bigoted narrator would mistake him for “some smart-ass New York Jew.”

Newman said in an interview that watching the host and the audience openly mock the Georgia governor on national TV made Newman indignant on behalf of Georgians: “They had just elected him governor, in a state of 6 million or whatever, and if I were a Georgian, I would have been offended, irrespective of the fact that he was a bigot and a fool.”

To which I say, Good for Newman. Lester Maddox may have been a fool, but he was our fool—my fool. These are my people, people like Lester Maddox—even though I was still an infant when Maddox left office. You think I didn’t grow up in a family and culture that was deeply bigoted, in which the N-word, racist jokes, and racist commentary were part of the air that we breathed? Good heavens! If Lester Maddox weren’t “my people,” too, then I’d have to disown my family of origin, which I’m unwilling to do.

When I was a child of 6 or 7, I consciously tried to root out my southern accent. In the Atlanta suburbs in which I grew up, few of my friends (or friends’ parents) talked the way my family did. I was ashamed. And I’m now ashamed of being ashamed of the way they talked.

I’m hardly a redneck or good old boy, but I’m still a southerner. And sometimes I feel conscious of being a southerner. Like many years ago when I worked for a large corporation, which was headquartered in New Jersey. Once, the president of our business unit, who was from up north, came to speak to us. She said to our audience, “I hope I’m not talking too fast for you to understand me.” We’ll try to keep up somehow, I thought. Grrr. It wasn’t exactly a case study in “how to win friends and influence people.”

And I felt very southern this week, as Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy and his company deal with fallout associated with his recent comments regarding his support for traditional marriage. If you have a Facebook account, you’ve heard about the controversy, from one direction or another. Here’s a paragraph from a Time article about the Boston mayor’s attempt to prevent the restaurant chain from opening stores there.

“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston,” Menino told the Boston Herald on Thursday. “You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against the population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion. That’s the Freedom Trail. That’s where it all started right here. And we’re not going to have a company, Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is, on our Freedom Trail.”

(Don’t you love the way the mayor pretends not to know the name of the fast-food chain. I suspect, as capitalism always triumphs over principle, he and the rest of Massachusetts will know it soon enough!)

Let’s first take a deep breath. No one’s accusing Chick-fil-A of discriminating against anyone. In fact, based on my experience, I’d be willing to bet that gay people who go to Chick-fil-A—like all people who go to Chick-fil-A—will be treated with far more respect, in general, than they will at their friendly neighborhood McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, et al. I’ll bet it’s not even close.

No, Chick-fil-A doesn’t discriminate against gays. Rather, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy has voiced his support for marriage as it has been traditionally defined, between a man and woman. It turns out that he and his family also give money to non-profit organizations that share his point of view—for example, Exodus International, the gay Christian support group that I blogged about last week.

But you know what non-profit organization remains unmentioned in critics’ discussion of the “anti-gay” or “homophobic” organizations that the Cathy family supports? The Southern Baptist Convention. You see, I’ll bet that a very large portion of his charitable giving—if not the largest—goes to support the Cathys’ church, which defines marriage as between a man and woman and believes that sex outside of such a marriage is sin.

Does that make Southern Baptists homophobic, i.e., irrationally afraid of homosexuals? If so, it also makes members of my United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and most evangelical churches and denominations—in other words, the vast majority of Christians in the universal Church—homophobic as well.

Come to think of it, since Boston and Chicago—where Alderman Joe Moreno is also threatening to use his political power to stop Chick-fil-A’s expansion there—are overwhelmingly Catholic, should we expect these crusading politicians to take on the Catholic Church for their stance on marriage and homosexuality? Will they express indignation that Cardinals O’Malley and George are similarly “ignorant,” “bigoted,” and “prejudiced” to support such views? If not, why not? What’s the difference?

I think I know. Dan Cathy is from the South. After all, Cathy couldn’t support the traditional definition of marriage on religious principle. He must be acting out of ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice, right? He must hate gay people. Because, you know… he’s a southerner, and that’s just the way we are.

As for my fellow Methodists who have joined in the chorus of condemnation directed toward Cathy and Chick-fil-A, I would remind them that by their own standards, John and Charles Wesley were homophobes. I know what they would say: “They were victims of their time and place. We know better than them now, don’t we?”

Well, I don’t. I haven’t improved upon the Wesley brothers, thank you very much. I wish I could!

So today, I say proudly, alongside Chick-fil-A and the Cathy family, “Ich bin ein Southern Baptist!”

And I’m also a southerner. Because don’t misunderstand: I’m not mostly bothered by the criticism of Chick-fil-A as a Christian. I’m mostly bothered as a southerner.

Here’s the great Randy Newman: