Over the month or so, some of the divisions that have lived for so long in America came out from hiding in a battle over family values, free speech, LGBTQ rights and chicken sandwiches.
For my neighbors across the pond who might have missed the hub-bub, Dan Cathy, the president of the successful Chick-fil-A fast food chain, made comments in support of traditional family values in an article that was published in The Baptist Press.
Shortly thereafter, he gave a clarifying comment on radio to the Ken Coleman Show suggesting that the move to redefine marriage was inviting God’s judgment on the U.S.
“As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,” Cathy said. “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.”
As national media outlets picked up the quotes, online petitions and calls to boycott the restaurant chain began. Soon the Mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco were making statements saying that Chick-fil-A was no longer welcome in their cities.
As the firestorm grew, many evangelicals and conservative politicians rushed to Cathy’s defense.
Former Baptist pastor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called for a national Chick-fil-A day on August 1, to show support for Cathy.
“The goal is simple: Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1,” Huckabee wrote on his Facebook page. “Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant.”
With that, the lines were drawn in the sand.
By the time August 1 rolled around, it didn’t matter what your motives were, you were either pro-LGBTQ or pro-Chick-fil-A.
On August 1, my Facebook feed was flooded with photos of friends standing in line at their local Chick-fil-A, while a smaller minority blasted the right for their “ignorant and hateful” views.
Many friends said they were simply standing in line to stand up for free speech and it had nothing to do with the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, I don’t think that was the message that was communicated.
I cried as I drove by one of our local Chick-fil-A restaurants and saw police directing traffic and cars lined up in the drive-thru easily stretching a block or two long.
I knew many of the people in line were genuine, God-loving and people-loving individuals but I also knew their actions were sending an entirely different message to others.
Free speech or not, the message the LGBTQ community saw was a group of people so bent on protecting certain values that they would stand in line for an hour or more so they could show their allegiance by buying a chicken sandwich.
One commenter on Twitter said, “Today we showed the world we care more about chicken sandwiches than loving our neighbor.”
Now I can criticize both sides for how they handled this situation. Both sides could have taken a more gracious route.
I also believe both sides have a right to express their beliefs and both sides have a right to back up those beliefs with boycotts or support of a company.
However, the breakdown I see is when people on either side refuse to take the time to listen and understand what their words and actions are truly saying to the other side.
We see this break down in our online and offline conversations every day.
Words are misused. Emotion isn’t expressed fully. Or simple cultural barriers block true communication from taking place.
We tend to think that as long as we say what we mean, our job is done. If the other side doesn’t understand us – they’re to blame. We did our part, it’s not our fault they couldn’t understand us.
But communication is one-half what’s being said and the other half is what’s being understood by the receiver.
No matter what you may think you’re saying (or not saying) doesn’t matter. What matters is how the person on the other end receives your message.
And it’s up to us – the ones sending the message to make sure the message is being received clearly.
If I say I love my neighbor and yet refuse to answer the door when he comes knocking, what does that tell my neighbor?
If I say I love my wife and yet I refuse to help when our boys are screaming, what does that tell my wife?
If I say I love my enemy and yet I’m still calling for my country to drop bombs on his home, what does that tell my enemy?
(The list could go on.)
So how do we communicate effectively?
A few things…
- Be in a relationship with others. Being married for five years, I can tell when my wife is upset with me or when she’s questioning what I’ve said or done. On our first few dates, I would have had no clue. But now that I’m in a relationship with her, I have a better understanding of her and her reactions. If I want to know how my neighbor (online or offline) feels about something I’ve done or said, it’s going to be far easier if I’m actually in a relationship with them where we sit and talk and share life together.
- Clarify. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard on ensuring proper communication is taking place is to simply clarify. Ask the other person to summarize what they understand you’ve said. Or if you’re not sure you understand them, ask. Try, “What I think you’re saying is…” and then summarize what you understand.
- In all things grace and love. Regardless of what you’re communicating or the other side thinks you’re communicating, it’s all bankrupt without love. Love doesn’t point fingers or blame, it simply accepts and works to perfect. Ultimately, as followers of Jesus, I believe grace and love should be the first and foremost thing we communicate with everyone. So if we’re not communicating that, on many levels we’ve already failed.
It’s not an easy thing to live in a multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-background, multi-religious community but we can go a long way in sharing the love of Jesus if we slow down and truly make sure that He’s the message we’re communicating.
“No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” - 1 Corinthians 13:7