As soon as reports surfaced about Sunday’s massacre in a gay nightclub, suspicious fingers began pointing to Christian haters. Even after it was reported that the shooter had dedicated his kill to the Islamic State. What grieved me even more was talking to Christians who condemned the killings, but acknowledged they didn’t feel a great sense of compassion on the gay victims because, after all, look what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Thankfully, Chick-fil-A in Orlando rolled up its sleeves, fired up its grills and showed our terribly divided culture how to follow Jesus in such a tragedy. On a day when they normally close their doors and give their employees time off to go to church, they were serving their great food to first responders and blood donors lined up to honor the victims.
Here are 6 reasons why Chick-fil-A got it right and how many Muslims and Christians can do better:
1. Let’s be honest about Islam: The Muslim Hadith says, “Abu Dawud (4462) – The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Lot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.'”
Lot lived in Sodom and Gomorrah. This is why ISIS throws gays off of buildings. They take Sharia dead seriously. The Quran also repeatedly condemns homosexuality. Even for the vast majority of Muslims who condemn ISIS, those who lack compassion toward gays can trace their feelings back to the Quran, Hadith and Sharia law.
Muslims can ask if there is any later teaching from Mohammed himself that clearly abrogates or cancels out these teachings. (I’ve taken a grad course in Islam and read several books, interviewed many Muslims and am not aware of any, but my knowledge is limited.)
They can ask their Imam or spiritual mentor where they might find answers to questions like, “If we don’t believe we are made in God’s image how do we find in our religion the basis for the great value and dignity of outsiders that would naturally result in compassion if they were harmed? Why would we value human life that much? “Where do we see Allah showing great grace and forgiveness for those who reject Mohammed or his law? Where does Sharia show great compassion for transgressors?”
2. How many Christians can do better: We too can get stuck on Old Testament laws. We understand the sacrificial love of Jesus for all sinners, especially ourselves, and the way God’s grace shines out of the New Testament, which we’ll look at more below, but we forget the love and grace behind all God’s laws. Let’s be honest about the Old Testament: Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
The same passage also condemns to death both male and female adulterers, a man who lies with his father’s wife, a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, a man who lies with a mother and her daughter, anyone who practices bestiality and one who curses his father or his mother.
Israel had lived in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years. They had no vision of how to live and worship as a holy, culturally distinct people of God. So he gave them his laws to show them and as a loving protection designed to help them flourish. However, even in the Old Testament we see God’s grace toward transgressors of his law.
David and Bathsheba committed adultery, but God did not prescribe putting them to death, or even removing David from the throne. Out of God’s great love for David and Bathsheba he disciplined their sin with terrible consequences, including the death of their child conceived in adultery. But he spared them. Then lavished more grace on them when, over all his older brothers, he chose Solomon, David and Bathsheba’s younger son, to succeed David as King. Bathsheba would live out her years after David’s death as the Queen mother–a great grace.
3. As Christians we can better understand the love behind God’s judgment. Yes, God reduced Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes. But we forget that the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were not just partying and enjoying gay sex.
They demanded that Lot hand over his angelic guests so they could gang rape them. They had so debased themselves that they had become “irrational animals and creatures of instinct” (1 Pet 2:12).
Out of love God destroyed them so they would not continue to prey upon others. Also, there comes a point when sin is so great that he judges as an example, a warning of what happens when we are in danger of cycling down into depravity.
The Old Testament further shows God’s compassion upon those whose sin he condemns: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11). His goal in judgment is always compassionate redemption.
4. As Christians we can better focus on what it means to live under a New Covenant. In the New Testament we see even more grace toward sinners because we are no longer under the Old Testament law. As Christian theologian John Piper makes clear, “Not everything that the Bible designed for God’s people Israel under the judges or under the kings or that God designs for Christians under the apostles in the New Testament is the same…” Jesus came to fulfill the law and give us a New Covenant of love and grace.
Hebrews 8:13 says, “In speaking of a New Covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Piper again: “dramatic changes came about and hundreds of commands in the Old Testament don’t apply to Christians anymore, because this new phase of redemptive history has come.” God’s condemnation of homosexuality as sin is repeated in the New Testament (Romans 1), but not his command to kill homosexuals.
In fact, when the apostle Paul addresses one of the offenses for which Leviticus prescribed the death penalty, he deals with it in an entirely new way: “It is actually reported that there is a sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among the pagans, for a man has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1).” Showing the clear break between the Old Testament and the New, Paul does not prescribe death. He urges church discipline instead and forgiveness and restoration in his next letter when the discipline served to bring the man to repentance.
5. As Christians we can make a clearer distinction in the ways we should love those within the church and those outside the church. Paul makes clear that “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world but…anyone who bears the name of brother (1 Cor 5:9-11). Out of compassion we are to associate with outsiders and show them the love of Christ. Paul gave himself generously to serve outsiders: “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law (1 Cor 9:21). Surely this includes being friends with them and showing compassion.
And if they die, how much more can we show them and their families and partners compassion? What if we showed the same compassion at their deaths as we did for those who died in the Charleston church at the hands of a white supremacist?
6. As Christians we can get too caught up in the culture wars. We see the LGBT community as territory to be won rather than image-bearers to be loved. The New Testament urges us to love like God loves. God “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
How does God respond to a world full of people he made in his image? God loves. And God gives. He responds with generosity, just like Chick-fil-A. The gospel is God’s radical response of compassion and generosity to those who have ignored or defied him.
In today’s broken, fragmented culture, the more we respond with love and generosity, the more we become agents of healing. We bridge the cultural divide and bring peace. We look like our Father, embracing the prodigal son, melted by mercy, rather than the elder son, frozen in condemnation and anger.
The owners of Chick-fil-A are on the record against gay marriage. But they show the world that just because we believe what God says about sexual morality does not mean we hate or fear those who disagree.
We respond with compassion. And that compassion drives us to love and serve them, just like Chick-fil-A.
How have you responded to the Orlando tragedy? I’d appreciate reading your thoughts in the comments section below…