I’ve been quietly observing the flap over Chick-Fil-A’s CEO, Dan Cathy, and his remarks about marriage and homosexuality. Predictably, people are expressing their approval and disapproval of the company by either choosing to boycott the company or to follow Mike Huckabee’s lead and grab a meal on August 1 to appreciate a business that supports their view of family.
Many words have already been written about America’s food fight. I’d be hard-pressed to top Rachel Held Evan’s insightful post or James William’s rationale on why, in spite of his conservatism, he’ll be passing on the opportunity to ring in August with a chicken sandwich. I also have a reasonable assurance that my readers’ aren’t curious as to where I dine on Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.
Instead I’ll limit my comments to two observations:
- Using meals to draw define in-/out-groups is nothing new.
- Jesus used meals to communicate grace.
People have used mealtimes to define their tribes from antiquity. In the Ancient Near East, warlord and kings would throw feasts for their subjects. Partaking of the king’s meal then was akin to pledging allegiance to the flag today. This is why the dispersed Jews, Daniel and friends, were willing to work in the King Nebuchadnezzar’s government but would not eat his royal food. Doing so would have signaled their complete assimilation into the Babylonian culture and unfaithfulness to their preexisting covenant with the God of Israel.
In Jesus’ day, the religious lawyers used to meals to pronounce moral judgment on their neighbors. They ate with those they deemed to be keepers of Moses’ law and shunned those they considered to be sinners. Tax collectors, shepherds, adulterers, drunks were all considered to be unworthy dining company. To eat with the unrighteous was to endorse their behavior.
So forgive me if the boycotts and the “Appreciation Day” both evoke déjà vu. We’re using Chick-Fil-A to draw clear lines over who our tribes are. We’re discovering which people share our views of family and politics. We’re discovering who the Sinners are, who we’d rather not break bread with. Truthfully, the wrangling whether to eat or not eat at Chick-Fil-A is not interesting or skillful. We’re all falling into dusty, tribal meal rituals traceable all the way back to the Book of Genesis.
Jesus, on the other hand, found a far more interesting way to make a point with meals. He used meals to communicate his radical love for the moral misfits. The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus eating with Sinners: People who made careers by stealing from others, people who worked in shady occupations and people who even ignored God’s rules about the use of their sexual organs. He ate with them all. By doing so he communicated that a Heavenly King wanted to extend his protection and Lordship to these people, knowing full well who they were.
Eating with the moral misfits also communicated that Jesus enjoyed them. He loved their smiles, their ideas, jokes, and dreams. He was for them.
Naturally, the professionally religious didn’t understand Jesus was subverting their rules concerning hospitality and their moral boxes. They just mistook him for a drunk and a glutton. But those who ate and drank with Jesus discovered a precious secret: God was for them.
So here’s my modest proposal for this Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. Have a meal with someone very different than you. Choose someone with political views that make you see red. Choose someone whose religious beliefs anger you. Choose someone who dropped their moral compass on the rocks one too many times. It’s okay. Jesus’ life teaches us that sharing a meal with someone isn’t the same thing as endorsing them.
Don’t try to fix or change that person. Laugh with your friend. Ask questions. Just enjoy that person.
Enjoy your meal at Chick-Fil-A or at that Middle Eastern restaurant you’ve been meaning to try out. Eat at a tavern or on a park bench. It doesn’t matter. Find whatever common ground you can find and enjoy it.
Simply use your meal as an avenue to communicate the reality Jesus doesn’t grade people’s beliefs, sexuality, theology, or politics before choosing to enjoy them.