dana l. stringer

Dana L. Stringer

*It took me a while before I learned how to pick my battles wisely, and to finally realize that it was okay to lose a battle if it meant that I might win the war.  My need to be right wasn’t nearly as important as my interest in understanding and being understood even if understanding didn’t necessarily lead to agreement.  But the most important thing was to keep the lines of communication open.

For several weeks now, embattled Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy, has been at the center of a public firestorm over his controversial statements regarding traditional marriage and marriage equality.   And of course, my immediate concern was whether the perpetual battle over beliefs was simply a distraction from the actual war for understanding.  Would his public stance jeopardize his opportunity to effectively communicate with non-religious patrons of Chick-fil-A or gay and straight patrons in favor of marriage equality?

Although some would consider Cathy’s public stance bold and heroic, many patrons of his restaurant chain—who don’t necessarily share his views—find his comments offensive.  His statements reflect an unjustifiable assertion that anyone in favor of marriage equality is anti-God, anti-family and immoral.

Quite frankly, I respect an individual’s right to vocalize what he/she believes with courage and conviction. Unfortunately, the law of the land nowadays is to attack, criticize and vilify anyone with opposing viewpoints.  But I’m not necessarily convinced that Cathy is being attacked for his religious beliefs as opposed to the public outrage over his assertion that the judgment of God would come to America over this one particular issue.   But what if God can find at least 10 righteous people in America?  After all, that was the criteria in order for God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah.

Nevertheless, the public backlash from his statements has led to protestors boycotting his chicken empire and several U.S. cities banning the opening of additional restaurant locations.  I’m not quite sure whether he would sue on the grounds of religious discrimination or free-speech, so for now, let’s just focus on one battle at a time.

With global companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Amazon, Nike, Coca Cola, and the family-oriented Walt Disney Company contributing support toward the campaign for marriage equality, the chicken maestro may be in for a long, arduous battle in what basically boils down to a fight between equal rights and personal religious beliefs.

Cathy states, “…We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”

With subtlety, he raises a doctrinal issue that has remained a source of debate even within the evangelical community.   By including “first wives” at the end of his statement, Cathy also implies that divorce and remarriage are also contrary to God’s original plan.

Scripturally, divorce and remarriage are only permitted as a result of sexual infidelity or the death of a spouse.  Therefore, our modern-day no-fault divorce and divorce based upon irreconcilable differences would have been prohibited in ancient times.   In fact, adultery wasn’t just about a cheating spouse.  It’s defined as something more.  The bible declares:

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual  immorality makes her a victim of adultery,  and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  Matt. 5:32 NIV

11He answered, anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  12And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”   Mark 11:10-12 NIV

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.   Matt. 19:9 NIV

I’ve included these scriptures only to make a point.  Notice that there were no special provisions or loopholes.  There are at least five additional New Testament scriptures that repeat the same thing.  Now is it just me, or has anybody else noticed the peculiar silence surrounding divorce and remarriage?   Just imagine accusing friends, family members and church folks who have been divorced and remarried of being adulterers.  Well, by biblical standards they would be, and adultery was considered a capital offense, punishable by death in the ancient world.  Yet we somehow manage to permit exceptions that were not traditionally permitted.  And if we’re going to stand for some scriptures and not all, then we probably need to figure out how to best work our “pick and choose” system.

Personally, I’ve always been curious about the selection process for determining what’s permissible for some and impermissible for others, and exactly how these exceptions and justifications are made.  How do we arrive at a consensus on what applied to an ancient society as oppose to a modern Western society?

What I’ve discovered in my walk of faith, study of scripture and exposure to church culture is that we often master the art of quoting and decontextualizing scripture while rarely developing the discipline of studying it.  By reciting verses and isolating scriptures from the historical context in which they were originally written, i.e. ancient Jewish society, culture, customs, traditions, their political, religious and social structures, there is greater potential for error and misinterpretation.

In my opinion, Mr. Chick-fil-A seems like any normal religious businessman freely expressing his views.  But if religious expression also entails condemning others, then it comes across as spiritual arrogance and a sense of moral superiority, which inevitably invites controversy, attacks and immediately shuts down the line of communication that could possibly bridge the gap by fostering understanding on both sides of the battlefield.

In all of my comprehensive study of scripture, I still have yet to find one example that illustrates Jesus battling or declaring war against individuals or His opposition.  Perhaps He foreknew that the Tea Party was coming and would “fight” on His behalf and “take America back” to her glory days of free slave labor and segregation when she was a more righteous nation.

Now what I have found in scripture is His consistent reproach of the religious community (Sadducces and Pharisees) for judging and rejecting the people that He embraced.

In all honesty, it’s quite difficult to raise such morally complex issues and address all of the competing views and values which mainly stem from a lack of understanding.  Most of us fail to realize that the overarching theme of the bible is that God and justice leans in favor of humanity—our imperfections, dysfunctions and brokenness.  And most importantly, our free will.  And if we don’t allow ourselves to become so easily distracted in waging a battle over who’s right and who’s wrong, then we may actually have a shot at winning the victory of conciliation that comes with understanding.

Dana Stringer is a writer, playwright, poet and activist based in Southern California.  You may contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @danalstringer.