My concern regarding the current Chick-fil-A flap goes beyond the particular issue at hand. More important, I think, is what the incident reveals about the continuing phenomena of Christians waging culture wars of all kinds.
When the primary lens that we use to view the world comes filtered through the partisanship of left or right, every arena of public or private life becomes politicized by the culture wars. One’s position in the culture wars thus ceases to be a limited political stance and becomes a lens through which one views all reality. In short, it becomes a competitor with a properly Christian worldview.
Some background for those who may be unfamiliar with the most recent battle: Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy ignited a firestorm with an interview with the Baptist Press, during which he affirmed a traditional definition of family. The reactions to Cathy’s statement were swift. The Jim Henson Company, creator of the Muppets, disassociated itself from the restaurant chain and the mayors of Chicago and Boston made it clear that Chick-fil-A wasn’t welcome in those cities. In response, Mike Huckabee launched a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on his Facebook page, which now has more than 500,000 signed up to attend, including 93-year-old Billy Graham.
When a culture-wars worldview overtakes a Christian worldview, one result is that we become unable to recognize that things like food, commerce and the arts operate in a way that should be irreducible to a political stance. They provide goods and services that contribute to human social life, regardless of one’s political leanings. Politicization and partisanship, however, produce a world where a Chick-fil-A sandwich transubstantiates into the ideal essence of family values and watching The Muppets Take Manhattan is a sign and seal of one’s unflinching support for the Democratic Party’s platform. The world created by the culture wars is a sacramental world. The competing gods it makes present are idols that lock us irrevocably in a war, leading us to reduce our neighbors to nothing more than either co-belligerents or enemies to be defeated.
When a culture-wars worldview overtakes a Christian worldview, one result is that we become unable to recognize that things like food, commerce and the arts operate in a way that should be irreducible to a political stance.
In this context, Christians need to disconnect the cultural goods and services provided by numerous institutions (including Chick-fil-A) from the gods of politicization and partisanship. We are enabled to do this when we recognize the true sacramental power found not in ideologies of left or right, but in the waters of baptism and the bread and wine. Christ’s presence produces peace that breaks down the dividing wall of hostility, in the 1st and the 21st century. In response, we can disenchant the sacramental world created by the culture wars by simply carrying on with our activities in such a way that doesn’t compute with the logic of the ideologies of both left and right.
So, if I am hungry for a chicken sandwich, I will eat at Chick-fil-A. What is the meaning of this? Simply that I’m hungry for a chicken sandwich. If I want to watch the Muppets, I will. What is the meaning of this? Simply that I find the Muppets amusing. We typically do not ask about the religious affiliation of our plumbers, grocers, accountants and mechanics because we recognize the reality of common grace. In a similar way, we should recognize that the political positions of our retailers, book-store clerks, Internet providers and pharmacists are not as big of a deal as we are often led to believe.
In the end, being pacifists in the culture wars may turn out to be the best way to embody the Christian worldview. Instead of worrying about winning, we can start to truly seek the shalom of the culture to which we’ve been sent.
What Do You Think?
- Have believers allowed political allegiances/ideologies to take precedence over a Christian worldview?
- What would an attitude of shalom look like in the midst of the American culture wars?