On Love and Chicken Sandwiches
Dear Cathy Family of Chik-Fil-A Fame, Recent Donors of Chicken Sandwiches to Honor the Orlando Victims, in Spite of Their Gayness, or Perhaps Because of It, I Don’t Know:
You might not remember me, but I remember you and your 15-passenger van unloading what seemed like four dozen children at our Christian family camp in Colorado every summer. I remember the square dances, the mountain hikes, and the singing of cheesy worship songs. I remember the kindness and love that your family shared, both with each other and with those you encountered. I remember thinking, these guys love Jesus AND they make those delicious chicken sandwiches? Right on!
But I also remember the limits placed on that love and kindness, not only by your family and chicken sandwich company, but also by so many in the Christian communities of my youth. When it came to LGBT people, our generous unconditional adventurous love suddenly became restricted to the quip, Love The Sinner and Hate The Sin. There was, within the gays, something to hate. Buried beneath the sin of homosexuality, we believed, there was a straight child of God just waiting to be saved. It made so much sense when I was a child, rationalizing our hate in such simple terms. But as 1 Corinthians says, it is long past time to put behind childish ways. Love The Sinner and Hate The Sin is an equation that will never add up.
Cathys (or is it Cathies?), I think it is fantastic that you have made such a powerful statement, a goodwill effort by putting aside your personal beliefs this week for the sake of, well, breaking bread (bread holding your delicious chicken) with those whom you deem sinners. Perhaps you imagine Jesus is fist-pumping for you right now. I recognize this action is a big step for you, and I absolutely thank you for your goodwill and kindness.
That said, I know too well the belief system that continues to be the undercurrent of such efforts to Love The Sinner. I don’t claim to know your hearts, and maybe something deeper is shifting for you. But I do know the poison that has been in the well of Christianity for way too long. I was there with you to pray the gay away for so many friends and family members. I was there with you in Apologetics classes, learning how to win arguments over what the Bible says about the gays. I was there when we would all weep because people we loved would burn in hell unless they recognized that their life of sin was a choice they could quite simply un-choose.
I was there with you, Mr. Cathy, when you spoke out against same-sex marriage by saying that those who “have the audacity to define what marriage is about” were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.”
I was there when we would pray for them, say Amen, then turn around and call them fags and queers. I was there with you as leaders discussed legislation that would protect us from the homosexuals. I was there with you as we tolerated the more extreme versions of ourselves, because we were ecumenical after all, and even the folks talking of God’s wrath and the need to cleanse the earth of sin, the folks we knew had guns and a chip on their shoulder willing to stand up for God, even they still loved Jesus, right? I was there with you, ignoring the inherent violence of our particular brand of faith. I was there with you, always insisting that Love The Sinner and Hate The Sin was ordained by our Creator.
I was there with you until I finally did the math and decided I’d rather join the sinners I loved rather than live with this rationalized and institutionalized hate. I took the risk of moving outside the confines of your equation, and am thankful to have discovered a greater Love.
I hope this does not come across as shifting blame of a horrible massacre and laying it at the feet of All Christians Everywhere, beginning with the Cathie/ys. That’s not my intention. I realize right now there is plenty of blame flying all around—blame for guns, blame for Muslims, blame for politicians—whereas you guys actually did something quite kind. But I’ve struggled for many years with keeping one foot inside my beloved Christian community and another foot squarely in the world you have deemed sinful, and like you, I want so desperately to dissolve that division. But it won’t happen by offering chicken sandwiches while you continue to pray the gay away.
Today in Orlando, people who lived on the wrong end of your equation are dead, killed by a man who incarnated hate, hate with hands clutching an assault rifle, aimed at the sin he sought to destroy. The sin just so happened to be contained in the bodies of the sinners you claim to love.
It is long past time to put behind childish ways and embrace our LGBT brothers and sisters as full human beings, full members of our beloved creation, and worthy of our love just as they are. If they are not embraced, fully embraced in our families and churches and communities, then they will continue to be the targets and scapegoats of a nation gone mad with violence.
I’m pretty darn sure there is some wild God of Love holding this universe together, and I owe my understanding and encounter with that Love to you and others in the Christian community. I’ve encountered the radical love of Jesus because of you. And it is because of that encounter that I now write back to you, across all of this time and space and interwebs and chicken sandwiches, in order to say this: The Source of Love is even more radical than we can imagine. It is a Source so powerful that it contains my beloved brothers and sisters who happen to believe and behave outside the limits of your narrow definition of love. And it is not by praying the gay away and eradicating homosexuality that will bring the kingdom to us. It is by doing the hard work of extracting hate from every corner of our world, beginning with our hearts, our words, and our actions.
Peace to You in the Name of a Jesus Who Would Most Certainly Dig Your Chicken Biscuits,
Andrew Johnson is the author of the essay collection On Earth As It Is. His work has appeared in Guernica Daily, Crazyhorse, MAKE, Sonora Review, Killing the Buddha, the Kansas City Star, and elsewhere. He was a writer-in-residence at Vermont Studio Center in 2018, where he received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.