The Daily Office epistle reading today was in Romans 15. I was most struck by the first three verses: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’” That last line in particular really gets me. Jesus said the insults of those who insult us (or perhaps those we insult) have fallen on Him. When we witness insults against other people, do we join in the insulting or do we let the insults fall on us too? What about if it’s Jared or Doug Wilson or the Cathy brothers at the helm of Chick-Fil-A?
This set of verses is very convicting for me. It is so tempting to let the failings of the weak turn into fodder for gossip. This is often true in the world of church culture, where gossip is probably the number one sin. Everyone is so “concerned” about the failings of the weak in their churches that they can’t stop talking about them (because they take great pleasure in these failings). I also find this principle to be true in the Christian blogger world that I inhabit. When neo-reformed blogger Jared Wilson put an offensively sexist blog post on his site a couple of weeks ago that made the complementarian movement look bad, a whole piranha school of bloggers (including myself) feasted with pleasure on his folly. It became especially pleasurable to find that Doug Wilson, the guy Jared was quoting, had written a piece that seemed to justify slavery (which is a gold mine because it amounts to a blanket ideological discrediting).
I’m not questioning the sincerity of any blogger who called out Jared Wilson or saying it was wrong to do so. I recognize that there are women who live in nightmare dungeon marriages that are justified by the kind of theological anthropology that Doug and Jared espouse. The bad theology absolutely needs to be refuted and corrected if we are ever going to grow into the church Paul hoped for when he said that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). But there’s a line between responding prophetically to bad theology from which Christians need to be delivered and “pleasing yourself” with the failings of your ideological opponents. That’s a line that I stumble over time and time again.
Paul says that instead of pleasing ourselves with other people’s failings, we should try to “please our neighbors for their good to build them up.” “Please” is a suspicious word to us. It sounds like something the false teachers do that Paul describes to Timothy who tell the people “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). But I don’t think we have to compromise our obedience to the truth to “please” in the sense that Paul is speaking. It simply connotes evangelistic attentiveness. It means affirming our neighbors’ affinities and showing sensitivity to their weaknesses whenever we share the gospel with them. Imagine what it would be like if Christians with theological disagreements were more interested in trying to help each other resolve their stumbling blocks and hangups in order to experience Christ more fully rather than taking so much pleasure in screaming “HERETIC!” or “FUNDAMENTALIST!” at each other.
Every time we enjoy bashing a brother or sister in Christ, what we are really doing is joining the crowd who yelled “CRUCIFY HIM!” when Jesus stood before Pilate. That’s what it means for Jesus to say, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Christ stands in solidarity with the insulted, whether it’s gay people who are dehumanized or Christians who are dehumanized for believing that the Bible condemns homosexuality. I have been very troubled by the whole Chick-Fil-A controversy which started when Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy (not to be confused with CEO Don Cathy) expressed a view of marriage to a religious publication that isn’t any different than the view of marriage shared by many people I love dearly.
Many progressive Christians who disagree with Cathy’s view have uncritically circulated a claim by gay advocacy organization Equality Matters that Cathy’s WinShape foundation donated $2 million to “anti-gay” activist groups in 2009. Looking at the breakdown on their site, I’m pretty disturbed by what Equality Matters considers an “anti-gay” group. There are some groups on the list which do openly engage in anti-gay activism, like Exodus International and Focus on the Family, but what they received from WinShape totaled around $30,000 rather than $2 million. Not every conservative Christian organization that opposes homosexuality is engaged in anti-gay activism. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which received $480,000 from WinShape, was a big part of my spiritual journey in high school and college. You can’t be gay and work for FCA (or be a Methodist pastor), but that doesn’t mean they’re circulating anti-gay-marriage petitions.
I read a 2007 interview with Don Cathy about his launching of the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund, which was the main recipient of WinShape’s donations in 2009. His passion for creating what he calls “a marriage renaissance” grew out of marriage enrichment seminars that WinShape has offered to troubled couples since 2001. He didn’t say anything about homosexuality in his interview; he’s a lot more concerned about divorce rates, domestic violence, and workaholism. If in fact, the MFLF is funneling funds to anti-gay political initiatives instead of focusing on counseling and support for people in troubled marriages, I would see that as a sadly misguided use of their resources, but it’s overly cynical to see Cathy’s passion for promoting healthy marriage as nothing more than “code language” for opposing gay people. (Now it’s a totally different matter for Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to jump into the ring for their own self-promotional interests and turn eating chicken and waffle fries into a culture war battle).
In any case, Don and Dan Cathy are my brothers in Christ as are Doug and Jared Wilson (who aren’t related). The insults that fall on them fall on Jesus, so they fall on me too insofar as I am a disciple of Jesus. Whatever your opinion on “the issue,” meditate on Romans 15:1-3 as you consider how to talk about people whose disagreement with you doesn’t encompass the whole of their personhood. The best way to ensure that you won’t change other peoples’ minds is to insult them and call them names. Our goal as Christians should be to love each other into the truth, recognizing that we don’t own the truth and we need our opponents to love us into the truth as well.