I’m motivated by the recent Chick-Fil-A controversy this summer to address a sort of “meta-issue” regarding the church’s response to cultural conflicts. I’m not referring to the public debate but the more intramural conversation happening among believers. That conversation was sparked by a blogger named Matthew Paul Turner here. Turner indicted the church for their support of CFA. He accused the church, or the part of it that supported CFA on Aug. 1, of putting up walls between ourselves and the homosexual community. There have been a few good responses. Most notably, J.P. Moreland responded over here.

I’ve already typed a great deal about the “protest” itself, what it represented, and why it was a good thing on the pages of friends who’ve linked Turner’s post and CFA’s own facebook page. I’d like to address a different point here. We are often quick to propose universal prescriptions for the body for situations in which multiple responses may have good outcomes. This is a mistake. We are a diverse body, with diverse gifts, and diverse vocational callings. For example, in our marriage my wife is “the protector of relationship”, while I tend toward being a “truth-teller.” These are overly simplistic and I use them illustratively, However, they do happen to capture two very similar roles that believers can have in the church, and those roles are related to the CFA controversy.

Here’s an example related to vocation. In 2004, the movie Hotel Rwanda came out. A friend of mine posted in a forum that all believers had a duty to not only see this movie, but act upon it. At the time I was just beginning to pursue our family’s calling to church plant among the immigrant population of Europe. I had no strong sense that the Spirit was calling me to help Rwanda. I had another calling. Many don’t have a deep sense of vocation and can be vulnerable to pressure to respond to these kinds of public “calls.” Our own circumstance made it easy to see the error in my friend’s post and dismiss it.

It seems like a really simple thing to say that there are multiple goods worth pursuing, and different people can be called to pursue different ones. Certainly there are “better” goods and that’s something every moral theory will affirm. How we figure that out is a more rigorous conversation than I want to have here (because I haven’t put the time in yet.)

Some people were really motivated to publicly reject political bullying and to affirm biblical values in the public forum, freedom of speech, and really good chicken. Others were motivated to avoid Chick-Fil-A for fear that this event only confirmed stereotypes about the “political Christian.” If we remove ourselves from as many disagreements as possible, says the anti-political Christian, we will present fewer obstacles to the gospel.

I’ll be writing another post soon that locates our fear of that stereotype in the evangelical failure to make a rigorous and systematic connection of our theology to politics. As a result, we have a body with splintered and compartmentalized political views, little leadership on the topic and few accessible resources to be had by the average parishioner.  This is not helped when public leaders engage in bumper sticker political theology on social media and from the pulpit. Statements like (A) “Jesus is king regardless of who wins elections” and (B) “you can’t legislate morality” need further explanation. Statement A is obviously true. It also has enormous value as an emotionally corrective claim. But does it remove the sting of present government evils? How does the answer to that question impact our activity regarding government evils? Should we care less (not at all), and therefore do less, about present public moral concerns? Or if we should act, should we only act on those concerns that are directly related to the spread of the gospel? Perhaps we need some work on our moral theology as well. (By “work” I mean corporate study and dissemination of existing moral theology, as well as new research in the area.)

Statement B has always confused me…at least in regards to the meaning of the author. For instance, does she mean that laws can’t change people? Or does she intend to say that laws cannot reflect real moral values? If the first question, it seems self-evident that laws do play a role in public moral ecology, even if we should say that they do not in personal moral formation. If the second, then what do we mean when we say that murder *should* be illegal?  It seems clear that without careful corporate reflection, either of these “bumper sticker” claims are apt to be misunderstood and misused by the body to make broad and unwarranted prescriptions. We may not end up agreeing after that reflection, but at least we will have a better understanding of where and why our disagreements remain.

So what was the proper response to the CFA event? I believe that we should have worked, and should continue working, through this issue with each other with grace. Turner probably shouldn’t have condemned a significant portion of the body on a blog. I recognize the irony in this statement. I’ve just condemned Turner, and those who agree with him, on a “blog.” I don’t have much in the way of a defense for that. It may turn out that the consequences of my view are that Turner’s blog was the best expression of his vocational calling. I can live with that because the primary point still stands. Unique circumstances, gifting and calling play an obvious role in individual moral obligations. Again, this gets into that area that I need to spend more time in. But please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that *all* obligations are relative or that there aren’t objective values. I’m only suggesting that it is the nature of obligations to be conditional upon the context of the moral actor.

Specifically, the obligations of believers in effectively achieving the Great Commission are conditionally related to the gifts and calling of each believer. That same relationship also extends to the role of the believer in the pursuit of public goods. While I may be rightly motivated to pursue political purposes, others may very well be rightly motivated to avoid them.

Finally, some might object that Rwanda and church-planting are not good examples of conflict. Church-planting and social justice don’t seem to be at odds with each other. Support for, or dissent from, CFA are explicit contradictions. Either go to CFA and support stereotypes or stay home and don’t. I tend to believe that this is an oversimplification. The various goods and consequences of attending or staying home from CFA day are a bit more complex than that. For instance, one might also say,”either go to CFA and affirm biblical values, or stay home and don’t.” Both goods are achieved through contradictory activity (if we take both statements to be true.) This should motivate further reflection and conversation about the relationship of those goods. At least it’s not clear to me that the goods we achieved directly negate each other.  I believe this supports a view that our diversity may exist in order to allow the achievement of different goods through various activity (even those that seem contradictory.) I tend to think that the Body of Christ, united in motivation by the Great Commission and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit, will offer both truth and relationship as each of its members act according to their gifting (and the perspectives attendant to that gifting)…as long as truth-tellers don’t tear down relationship-protectors and vice versa.

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