Monday, July 30, 2012

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Mire

Famished after a vigorous workout at the YMCA pool, we decided to momentarily break our regular eating habits and grab a quick bite – at Chick-fil-A.  We dined deliberately out of a sense of protest over municipal politicians’ reactions to Dan Cathy’s expression of free speech.  To our delight, the place was packed with people of all manner of unidentifiable persuasions.

That the other diners' beliefs were unknown to us is important to note, as we found later that we kept surprising company with the likes of New York City Mayor Bloomberg, the ACLU, the talk show The View, and more than a few news outlets who also cried ‘foul’ over responses to public denials of Cathy’s fundamental right to free speech and entrepreneurship in our country.

Ours has become a culture dominated by those who reject the notion of absolute truth – where those of us who believe in absolutes are increasingly seen as “intolerant” and even “bigoted.”  “Tolerance” is becoming the requirement to be regarded as a legitimate citizen.  However, this social movement makes “selective tolerance” the new absolute.  Now who is the bigot?

There is a great fallacy in the failure to distinguish between “tolerance” and “acceptance.”  Drawing from personal example, as followers of Jesus Christ we (the Ellises) tolerate – but don’t accept – the lifestyle of those who do not follow Jesus, yet we love and respect them as fellow bearers of God’s image.  We work, and have close friendships with scores of Christians and non-Christians of varying stripes who disagree with our lifestyle and beliefs.  More to the point at hand, we have entertained (and been entertained) by gay friends, both singles and couples, and will continue to do so.  They know our stance on the gay lifestyle, and we are aware that may or may not accept our Christian lifestyle as a valid.

We don’t avoid discussion of the matter, nor do we presume to know each others’ opinions before they are expressed.  When dealing with issues that are core matters of the heart, we listen intently, tread gently, and speak honestly.  They naturally try to persuade us, and we try to persuade them.  They likely support organizations that promote their values, and we support those that promote ours.  We navigate the difficult waters as mature adults, engage respectfully, make our choices at the voting booth and at the cash register, and then… well then, we enjoy each others’ company.  We share common outrage and grief over cases such as the gay Nebraska woman who was recently mutilated by cruel assailants, and those who suffer global persecution as Christians; acts such as these are true crimes of hate against a person’s humanity. 

To President Obama, whose daughters’ friends helped propel his ‘evolution’ on same-sex marriage, we ask would the parents of these friends have respected him equally if he hadn’t ‘evolved?’  We question whether healthy friendships must remain one-sided on deeply held issues of passion and conviction; mutual care at the most human level should transcend lifestyle acceptance.  Perhaps this should be the next step in our culture’s so-called ‘evolution,’ to enjoy mutual grace among friends without compromise in conviction.  We would fight for the most basic of human rights for all of our friends, and we believe that, having demonstrated mutual rationality in discussing their core humanity, they would fight for ours.

In this current climate of social media firestorms, however, there appears to be little public understanding of, or toleration for the Bible believing community’s values in return.  As seen in the response to Dan Cathy’s personal statements, there is great outrage as “support for traditional marriage” instantly morphs linguistically into “hate speech, anti-gay marriage and homophobia” – and all at the speed of a click.

In the midst of the public din, ‘Christo-phobia’ seems acceptable, and true tolerance evaporates like so much water.  It’s for this reason that we felt the need to eat at Chick-fil-A.

In this age of “tolerance” and “relativism,” from where does Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel draw the authority to state in absolute terms, "Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values.  They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members.  And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.”  

The irony here is not lost: Mr. Emanuel campaigned for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom publicly opposed gay marriage at the time.  And as one Twitter contributor eloquently observed, Chick-fil-A’s values may not be Chicago’s values, but “rd of Chick-fil-A management hasn't been charged with corruption.”  Indeed – Chicago’s political values are clearly shown in what some consider to be a $500 million corruption tax on citizens who bear the cost of their top politicians’ bad behavior — police brutality, bogus contracts, bribes, theft and ghost pay rolling to name a few — and the costs needed to prosecute it.  To endure decades of the imposition of criminal values certainly seems disrespectful to Chicago’s residents, neighbors and family members.

Compare this to the values espoused by Cathy as he leads Chick-fil-A – a company famous among fast-food restaurants for being closed on Sundays, a move that stands as a silent reminder of the value of rest regardless of religious persuasion in shopping malls across the country, and one that (according to the Wall Street Journal) has cost it hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.  This is a company who gives generously to many other charitable organizations that stand outside of politics.  Mr. Emanuel is right – the differences in values, on these levels alone – is staggering.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino went on to say that “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population.”  

Yet Chick-fil-A asserts "The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."  Where is the discrimination in that Mr. Menino?  Does non-discrimination require a business to promote a political ideology that violates its core values?  Such thinking is reminiscent of the plight of many Afghans under the Taliban.  Will the current feeding frenzy swell into an attempt to ‘wipe Chick-fil-A off the face of the earth?’  Cooler heads must prevail; we all have much to lose.

Our culture is forgetting that the push for “social justice” requires a pre-existent and transcendent basis for justice, for which the God of the Bible is uniquely qualified.  Without such a basis the concept of justice becomes merely a matter of personal opinion.  If justice does not transcend human opinion, then "might makes right," and thought control tyranny is the end result.  Though they have backed off from some of their comments, the anti-Chick-fil-A sentiments of Misters Emanuel and Menino have already done violence to the very “tolerance” they claim to champion.

As we wade through these murky cultural waters, we recall Friedrich Nietzsche:  “The values of the weak prevail because the strong have taken them over as devices of leadership.”  In other words, the power-greedy (“the strong”) make use of controversial ideas to gain power for themselves.  They subvert a culture that denies them power and push for an alternative culture that gives them power – stripping power from those of the original culture.

In the final analysis, LGBT rights may neither be the root issue any more than tolerance. Much like the Muslim Brotherhood is hijacking the “Arab Spring,” there remains in this country a power-greedy elite that cares nothing about human rights.  They seek to use the LGBT agenda to their advantage, putting all of us at risk of losing our rights and freedoms.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, indeed.  As more and more surprising sources spring to Chick-fil-A’s defense, we breathe a sigh of relief; yet the words of German pastor Martin Niemöller keep those of us who hold the First Amendment dear from fully exhaling into complacency:

“First [the Nazis] came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Karen Angela Ellis, multidisciplinary performing artist and educator.

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr., author and theological anthropologist.

The Ellises lecture together globally. Follow them on Twitter: @CarlEllisJr, @KarAngEllis


  1. Thanks for your comments - very well said.

  2. Great response. Thanks for your "cool head" and your "cool-ness!" I love reading your posts. Keep it up.

  3. Thank you for your insight. It was greatly appreciated.

  4. Outstanding brother Ellis. Should be required reading.

  5. I also love reading your posts. This was an especially good one. Many of us are feeling battered by all the loud voices, coming from so many directions. Thanks for seeking truth and writing truth.

  6. Powerful Carl. This is an issue that is not readily going away any time soon. That is, the issue of "tolerance and hate-speech." Jesus told His immediate followers and all those that would follow, that they would be hated and persecuted. We shouldn't be surprised at the attacks at the level of our core biblical values nor at the intensity of such an attack. What caught me by surprise over the last several years is the avenue (gay rights) that has been used to level such an attack. Ultimately God is still in control and knows the final outcome.
    Thank you for your presentation of truth and boldness to speak it. God bless you.

  7. Carl, thank you. Such a good word and my only despair is that most on the other side will not read it,think about it, and come to some sanity. The bullies of politics, media, and identity agenda will someday reap the whirlwind for where they are steering our country. I am also sad that so many believers think that to speak to these issues is not being Christ-like. I guess they don't want to be in the company of men like John the Baptist. Keep thinking, keep writing.

    Randy Nabors

  8. "Does non-discrimination require a business to promote a political ideology that violates its core values?" No, but it does require a business not actively fight to deny civil rights. See the difference? Christians and conservatives such as yourself keep trying to make straw man arguments about freedoms of speech and religion. This is about civil rights. Period. You want to deny gay unions in your church, from now until the Apocalypse? Fine. Just grant them equal rights under the law. Cathy seeks to deny civil union rights to gay people. He actively works to inject his religious beliefs into a political/civil matter. Frankly I am shocked and amazed at the number of people in minority groups who are forgetting their history and aligning on the wrong side of this issue. And in Christ's name, no less. The hypocrisy is quite literally of Biblical proportions.

    p.s. you betray yourself by saying the "God of the Bible" is "uniquely" qualified to provide the one true definition of social justice. Our courts and our laws are not dictated by the Bible, thank you very much. If they were, we'd still be cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterers. THAT would be "reminiscent of the plight of many Afghans under the Taliban."

    Religion without enlightenment is nothing but dogma.

    1. If you are the author Michael Gray Baughan, we are honored that you both read and commented on our blog, even if we do disagree.

      First of all, we share your passion for justice. Our (the Ellises’) sense of justice is based on the moral character of the infinite personal Creator who is transcendent, immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good. Humans were created in God’s image, therefore we not only have intrinsic worth, we also share a common moral consciousness. Mankind was created good but fell into sin and abnormality, defacing God’s image. However by God’s grace much of the moral consciousness remains.

      Now, we must ask what is the basis of your sense of justice? Since we don’t know you, we have to make a deduction: your objections seem to come from an atheistic perspective. If true, then absent a personal Creator, reality as we know it is the product of impersonal forces like chance; there is no moral character and no basis for a moral consciousness or justice. These notions are illusions, and we’re left only with human opinion. No basis for justice undercuts the fight for justice, and itself becomes a “dogma” of your own.

      Your assertion that “this is about civil rights...period” indicates to us that the Constitution is the basis for your sense of justice. Webster defines civil rights as “the nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especially: the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to United States citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress.” But the Constitution is predicated on the assertion that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their CREATOR with inalienable rights....” So following your own presupposition, you’ve run right smack into God in the document on which your judgment rests. As our old spiritual says, He’s “so high you can’t get over Him, so low you can’t get under Him, so wide, you can’t get round Him – you must come in by and through the Lamb.”

      The Qur’an – not the Bible – prescribes “cutting off the hands of thieves.” The remedy for theft in the Old Testament was restitution. Further, by lumping us into the same category with conservatives, you build a “straw man” of your own. We understand that no one is perfect … for better understanding of our political and social position, see our previous blog post titled “Neither and Both: Conservative vs. Liberal.”

      Dogma without enlightenment is religion – the religion of atheism.

      To continue dialogue offline, feel free to email us at

    2. “all men are created equal and are endowed by their CREATOR with inalienable rights....”

      This quote is actually the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. If Michael does use the Constitution for the basis for his sense of justice, your assertion that "god [is] in the document on which [his] judgement rests" is incorrect. The Declaration is historic, but it is not law.

    3. Thanks for the observation, m5roberts. We did indeed discuss your exact point as we were writing our response. We are aware that the Creator language we cited comes from the Declaration of Independence (1776) which predates the Constitution (adopted, ratified, and put into effect in 1787-89). The DOI provides the rationale for the founding of the country, and articulates core values upon which the Constitution was written. First came the articles of Confederation that actualized the principles in the DOI, but they proved to be inadequate. That’s why the preamble to the Constitution contains the phrase “in order to form a ‘more perfect’ Union.” (Since your delightful blog is titled “WordPlay,” to have a little fun with it we’ll say they sought a “mo’ better” union … see our post on Ebonics, titled “’How We Be’ – An Offbeat Look at Ebonics.”) The core values of the DOI are foundational to the core values upon which the Constitution rests. This is why we say in our response to Mr. Baughan that the Constitution is ‘predicated’ on the Creator language. We stand by our comment.

    4. It may be true that the Declaration of Independence predates the Constitution, but the framers of the Constitution deliberately left out creator language because, as later stated in the Treaty of Tripoli, "...the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."

      The Constitution mentions religion in Article 6 when it says that religious tests cannot be required as qualification for any office or public trust in the U.S. It mentions it again in the first amendment, in the form of freedom of. If they had wanted any god to be a part their nation's law, they would have carried him over from said Declaration.

      In our country, we definitely RESPECT the Declaration of Independence, but it is essentially a breakup letter, whereas the Constitution is the plan we set for how to live our lives after the end of a bad relationship. God may be mentioned in the breakup, but he did not quite make it over to the plan.

    5. Thank you for this. Use of the Treaty of Tripoli is a popular contemporary approach to advocate that the framers sought a purely secularist state. We feel the actual historical answer can be found through a more robust analysis of the documents than can be given in this limited space, but we’ll take a stab at a synopsis.

      We will pick up where your quote of the treaty of Tripoli continues: “…—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

      This treaty was negotiated with the Barbary nations with whom we were in conflict, shortly after the Revolutionary War. These nations were at war with what they claimed to be the “Christian nations” who had participated in the Crusades; they assumed America was in cahoots with these nations, and declared war against the US in 1801. In seeking retribution for America’s perceived involvement in Crusade-like activity, the Berbers frequently attacked American merchant ships, seizing their cargo and capturing and enslaving American seamen. To secure the release of the hostages and to guarantee security for Mediterranean Naval commerce, American diplomats negotiated several treaties with the Barbary nations. However, these treaties’ terms resembled a protection/extortion racket, as the US was required to pay thousands of dollars or face attack. Article 11, which we’ve both quoted, was inserted to demonstrate that America had not been involved in a Christian Crusade against them, and that they were not fighting to impose Christianity on anyone else.

      So the Treaty of Tripoli wasn’t intended as a declaration that America’s founding documents were not predicated on theistic core values – though that’s how it’s often used today; rather it was intended as a statement that America was not a participant in any religious war against Muslims. Under the terms of the treaty, each country was to recognize the religion of the other in order to prevent the conflict from escalating out of control. In the case of this document, context rounds out our understanding.

      Note: we’re not advocating in the other direction, that the founding fathers intended to create a system where Christianity was forced on all citizens; quite the opposite. The framers were not making God a part of their laws, but the laws they made were based on what they believed to be God’s revelation. It is precisely because of our country’s original documents’ theistic understanding of justice – based on a Transcendent Reference Point – that religious freedom and liberties are able to flourish for everyone, regardless of religious persuasion. The freedoms in the documents you’ve mentioned – Article 6 of the Constitution, The Treaty of Tripoli, and the First Amendment, bear this out.

  9. It is all about power - I have been recommending "Wisdom, the Feminine Side of God" by Daniel Berrigan, SJ (he is one of the Catonsville 9 from the Vietnam war era.) He preaches non-violence and respect for all. We may look difffernt, have differnet values, cultures, etc. but we are all part of God's family and as humans, we desearve to be respected and honored. Too bad that some of us who profess to follow Jesus can carry such self rightousness - we have all sinned and are in need of a Savior. I learned a long time ago while working in an inner city hospital, to look at the person I was caring for and beyond the color of their skin, their lifestyle or their culture. I had to treat my patients as part of God's family. I pray that we can rise above the hatred and name-calling and treat everyone as we would like to be treated. I too have gay friends, friends who are not Christian, friends who attend other churches. We just enjoy being together. Thanks to my cousin who posted this article on face book. I'm so glad I read it - well said.

  10. It’s difficult to discern how same-sex marriage is about civil rights, or as Mr. Baughan claims, “equal rights under the law.” It’s also confusing to detect why Mr. Baughan would be “shocked and amazed” at the volume of “people in minority groups” (e.g., Blacks; Women) who are allegedly forgetting their history of oppression and discrimination. Many people and civil rights leaders have correctly rejected the comparison between advocating for same-sex marriage and the fight for civil rights. As one civil rights leader has aptly noted, “Gays were never declared 3/5 human by the Constitution, and they never needed a Voting Rights Act.”

    Furthermore, Mr. Baughan presents a false dichotomy between “religious beliefs” and “political/civil” matters, stating that Cathy, “actively works to inject his religious beliefs into a political/civil matter.” Well, it really isn’t possible to know what we “ought” to do unless we know what is the “transcendent [ultimate] basis for justice.” Secular humanistic presuppositions are persuasive in our culture. Neutrality for how we obtain our bases or establish such determinations for justice (right or wrong) really is a myth. One cannot, rightly, separate political/civil determinations about right and wrong from so-called “[Christian] religious beliefs” (which are really founded on fact and ultimate knowledge by the way, see John Warwick Montgomery’s, Faith Founded on Fact). As Professors John Whitehead and John Conlan noted, “In the latter part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century the American legal order released its hostility against the theistic foundation of American law and developed a secular humanist religion to replace it….The Supreme Court’s theory of neutrality by the State is merely a hopeful illusion. Neutrality presupposes objectivity, but value determination between right and wrong is a moral principle and establishes a religious concern. Therefore, all laws promulgated by the State are enforced morality, which is based upon moral principle, and therefore, is a religious concern.”

    (Anthropologists tell us that natural marriage—a union between a man and a woman—is humanly and historically universal. As Randy Hicks has pointed out, it wasn’t until the last few milliseconds of human history that any society advocated homosexual marriage.)

    Grace to you,
    William E. Beckham

  11. Well written article Carl. I often wonder why some Christian choose to make a stand on some social justice issues but is blinded and aloof to others. I wondered why Mr. Cathy chose to give voice to this issue yet there are so many racial injustice issues in the news such as the Trayvon Martin case and yet there was no voice given to that. In fact I don't hear any voice to support racial equality and a condemnation of racial injustice that is front and center in the media everyday. The scripture tells us to cry aloud against all injustice. I just wonder how some are able to pick and choose which one they will cry out against.

  12. Thank you for this blog post. It makes a lot of sense.