Thursday, January 31, 2013

Choosing to Love

It doesn't take much effort to think of a topic that causes political and social division. In today's world, they seem to be a dime a dozen (I thought of 5 off the top of my head while writing that sentence). As our country begins to bring about change on these issues, people scramble to affirm their beliefs and blast those who oppose them with hateful comments, campaigns and publicity. I've seen friendships ruined and people deeply hurt because people can't let go of their hatred for the other side of an issue long enough to remember that there are people behind that issue. People like them who have feelings and fears just the same. 

So why the random political topic all of the sudden? No, I'm not becoming a political opinion blogger or trying to get people to take sides on an issue. In fact, quite the contrary. This blog is centered around an article I read in the Huffington Post today. 

If you don't want to read the entire article (it is a bit long), I'll give a quick recap. First off, it's written by Shane Windmeyer, founder of Campus Pride and "lifelong gay rights activist." For anyone acquainted with the fissure between the gay community and Chick-fil-A, the title of the article is shocking to say the least: "Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.In a nutshell, Shane tells his story of how he became friends with Dan how they each display a level of humanity and love that has thus far been absent from the "gays vs Chick-fil-A war." Yes, Dan believes in a biblical view of marriage. Yes, Shane believes in marriage equality. But they both also believe in something more important: showing love to others.

It was never new news that Chick-fil-A supported the traditional, biblical view of marriage. But it has recently spawned a terrible battle between Chick-fil-A supporters and gay rights supporters. I have heard people accuse Dan Cathy of being a "filthy bigot" and worse. And on contrary, I have heard Christians call gay rights activist "faggots" and enemies of the American family. At the start of the article, Shane shares his initial feelings towards Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A:

"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...Dan is the problem, and Chick-fil-A is the enemy, right?... I had the background and history on him, so I thought, and had my own preconceived notions about who he was. I knew this character. No way did he know me. That was my view... I had researched Chick-fil-A's nearly $5 million in funding, given since 2003, to anti-LGBT groups. And the whole nation was aware that Dan was 'guilty as charged' in his support of a 'biblical definition' of marriage. What more was there to know?"

Shane goes on to explain his unlikely friendship with Dan Cathy that started with a simple phone call and turned into in-person meetings with Dan and other representatives of Chick-fil-A. While Shane had never heard their side of the story, they had never heard his either:

"It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another. We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities and in our own families. Dan Cathy and I would, together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before."

This part of the story really touched me. Here they were, the leader of a national campaign against Chick-fil-A and the founder of the company taking time to learn about the lives and views of the other. As it turns out, Dan Cathy had never had this kind of open discussion with an LGBT member before and was unaware that the financial decisions of the company were spawning instances of hatred among college students across the country. What they both came to realize was that Chick-fil-A was being used by both sides of the political debate and "the repercussion of this was a deep division and polarization that was fueling feelings of hate on all sides."

The point that stands out to me most in the story is not one about the issue itself. Rather it is Shane's description of how Dan expressed his faith and beliefs. Shane says this:

 "I gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being a follower of Christ more than a Christian."

The difference in the two at first seems obsolete. But when you think about it, it is the most important difference there could be. As a Christian, you may be for or against certain issues. And if that's what is  most important, then hatred and anger towards the opposition is inevitable in the name of standing for what's right. But being a follower of Christ is so far beyond that. It doesn't discount what is right by any means, but rather, it reminds us that Jesus himself spent time with thieves and prostitutes and treated them as human beings and showed them love. He didn't act out in hatred and anger, although he had more of a right to than any of us. So many times we forget the faces behind issues that we have opinions on. And I am as guilty of this as anyone. But we should never forget that of all the commands given to us in Scripture, the most important is to love God and love our neighbor. This doesn't mean we should change or apologize for our beliefs, just as Dan didn't in his interactions with Shane. But it does mean that we should treat people with opposing views with love and respect. If we forget this, we have truly forgotten the heart of Christianity.