Well, I’m sure by now many of you have heard of Dan Cathy’s friendship with Shane Windmeyer, leading gay activist opponent of Chick-Fil-A. Windmeyer contributes to the Gay Voices corner of the Huffington Post and recently published a piece providing the details of the surprising relationship. Many Christian evangelicals have referred positively to this article and praised Cathy’s decision to cultivate this friendship. The consensus has been that this is a positive, healthy thing that will help “heal division” and further lay to rest the caricature of Christians as “hateful” towards the gay community. Even conservative evangelicals like Denny Burk are reacting this way.
As usual, I’m going to be the lone dissenter. But I don’t want to downplay the significance of this story. On the contrary, I agree that it’s significant. But I disagree regarding how we, as Christians in the trenches of the culture wars, should receive it.
According to Windmeyer, Dan Cathy made contact with him privately during Windmeyer’s Campus Pride campaign against the restaurant chain. Eventually, they began to get together for regular face-to-face conversations. Although Windmeyer admits that Cathy didn’t back down from his beliefs about marriage, he does take pride in the fact that he was able to make Cathy feel guilty for some “hateful” behavior that was only tangentially related to his business:
Dan listened intently to our concerns and the real-life accounts from youth about the negative impact that Chick-fil-A was having on campus climate and safety at colleges across the country. He was concerned about an incident last fall where a fraternity was tabling next to the Chick-fil-A restaurant on campus. Whenever an out gay student on campus would walk past the table, the fraternity would chant, “We love Chick-fil-A,” and then shout anti-gay slurs at the student. Dan sought first to understand, not to be understood. He confessed that he had been naïve to the issues at hand and the unintended impact of his company’s actions.
In short, some frat boys took Chick-fil-A’s name in vain while behaving like frat boys. And Windmeyer’s point was… what, exactly? Why, exactly, should Cathy feel personally guilty/responsible for this particular incident, or similar incidents? There’s no moral sense in which it was his “fault.”
On the flip side, Cathy could have provided ample examples of direct “bullying” on the gay activist side that have had far more damaging consequences for people’s careers and livelihoods. These are Christian students, Christian business owners, Christians in the public square who go about their daily lives fearing what might happen if their biblical views on this matter were made fully public. Some of them have been unable to avoid making known what they believe and are suffering the consequences. The most recent example was a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple. Instead of thanking the baker for his straight-forward answer and taking their business elsewhere, this couple is choosing to sue him for all he’s worth. Best-case scenario from their perspective? He loses the suit and his business with it.
That’s serious bullying. There are many, many more examples like it. There’s the girl who nearly lost her college career because she wouldn’t complete a class assignment that involved writing and signing a letter to the state legislature that affirmed gay adoption. There’s the woman who is even now being pursued by the authorities as a “kidnapper” for removing her biological daughter from a lesbian relationship, while the Mennonites here and abroad who have helped her are interrogated and imprisoned. And if you’re just looking for some good old-fashioned schoolyard bullying, just ask the little old lady who was assaulted by gay activists at an anti-Prop 8 protest.
If Cathy had had the motivation to offer these cases as a response to Windmeyer’s weak accusations, he could easily have done so. But he chose, instead, to be “nice,” which translated meant meekly accepting the artificial “blame” being foisted upon him without offering any push-back whatsoever. If I were in Cathy’s shoes, I would have laid them out, one by one, then looked Windmeyer in the eye and said, “Sir, this is the work of your people. Now what do you have to say for yourself?
People may respond, “But Cathy may be the only Christian Windmeyer’s gotten to know well in his entire life. Think what a great witnessing opportunity this friendship is. Who knows, maybe a little of Cathy will rub off on Windmeyer.” This is unlikely, for two reasons. First of all, Windmeyer himself describes his long relationship with his Pentecostal Christian uncle in some detail, so Cathy isn’t the first. Second, Windmeyer makes it clear that to his mind, one of the great successes of this relationship was the very fact that both of them walked away without budging an inch on their core beliefs. He opines in magnanimously smug tones:
And in that we had great commonality: We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could — or would — change. It was not possible. We were different but in dialogue. That was progress.
You heard it from the man himself—change is impossible as far as he’s concerned. So there go any grand hopes of his imminent conversion to Christianity. Whatever God’s plans may be for him, we can be confident that it sure ain’t gonna happen any time soon.
So, having established that all hopes of Windmeyer’s becoming a Christian as a direct result of this friendship are ill-founded, what are we left with at the end? What, precisely, has happened here? I make it three things:
1. We’ve learned that Chick-fil-A no longer funds legitimate, reputable pro-family groups like the Family Research Council, Exodus, or Eagle Forum. (And no, getting vilified by hate-groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t count as being “disreputable.”) We know this because Chick-fil-A chose to share their tax forms with Windmeyer, which revealed that “the most divisive” organizations had been defunded even before the whole ruckus erupted last year. Let that sink in a minute. People were showing up in force to support Chick-fil-A partly for their financial backing of groups they were no longer supporting. But Chick-fil-A chose not to let that fact get out at the time, for obvious reasons. Now that Windmeyer has confirmed this, he’s calling back his minions from their protesting. Why? He’s gotten what he wanted. Whatever motivated Chick-fil-A to withdraw support for these groups earlier, this is incredibly sad and a big gain for the gay activists. It’s one more ironic example of Christians who are actually falling all over themselves to meet the left half-way even as the left is protesting them as fringe loonies.
2. Windmeyer has gotten an ego boost out of the feeling that he’s made such a gracious gesture in deigning to be friends with a member of the new ostracized societal group—evangelical Christians. Look how tolerant he is! Let’s be honest, is that really good for his soul? For Cathy to have formed this “non-judgemental” relationship, wherein all the apologizing comes from his end, is only to make this man more self-congratulatory, more smugly entrenched in the loftiness of his own life and (evil) activism.
3. Windmeyer has walked away thinking Dan Cathy seems like a very nice man. But does that mean anything? Does it have eternal significance? Any hypothetical “missional” fruit from this relationship is just that, hypothetical. We don’t have any reason to think he’s any closer to accepting Christ (in fact we have reason to believe he’s not). Meanwhile, he remains proudly “married” to another man, while his aggressively perverse campaign to corrupt society and youth continues on undeterred. The good news is good, but it isn’t “nice.” The gospel is good, but it isn’t “nice.” It is quite the opposite, in fact. This man is no closer to seeing himself for who he truly is than he was before. Hence, he is no closer to seeing Christ for who He truly is.
So ultimately, Cathy’s decision has proven pointless at best and helpful to the gay community at worst. There’s nothing to be gained from it from an earthly or an eternal perspective, and there is definitely something significant to be lost. Why have a discussion when there’s nothing to discuss? Why attempt to find something in common when there is nothing to be held in common? Why heal a divide that Jesus himself came to create? One wonders how far this treatment would extend under different circumstances. Suppose the cultural zeitgeist was leaning towards acceptance of pedophilia? Would Christian leaders like Cathy then feel a duty or obligation to “befriend” known, unashamed pedophiliacs, to prove that we’re not “haters”? Would he make friends with a man living with an eight-year-old boy as his “husband”?
Ostracism must begin somewhere along this line. It seems like proud, active, aggressive perversion is a legitimate place to start. If I were in Cathy’s shoes, I would have objected loudly to the proposal to de-fund these pro-family groups. Maybe then Windmeyer’s goons would still be camped out around my restaurants. But I would rather have it that way if that is how it must be. War borne of principle is a far nobler thing than peace bought with compromise.