Thursday, August 09, 2012

What does Chick-fil-A have to do with evangelism?

Michael Sherrard
For the last few weeks, it seems like I can't open my computer without coming across the ongoing controversy about Chick-fil-A, which donates millions to organizations that oppose marriage equality and spread lies about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Perhaps that's not surprising -- after all, I'm 29 and I work in progressive politics. But looking at what my secular acquaintances are posting about the fast-food chain, I'm surprised by how many people are engaging with the Bible to press their point.

Many of them can cite chapter and verse to challenge whether there's such a thing as a single, unified "biblical definition of marriage." And they're pretty sure that the Great Commandment doesn't entail waging an ugly campaign to turn other people into second-class citizens.

My peers know that what Chick-fil-A is doing isn't Christian. Many of them have a deep respect for the moral teachings of Jesus. But they still don't have much interest in darkening the door of a church, even one that fully welcomes and includes LGBT people.

I know this because I've seen how people react when I mention church. Typically I'm greeted with a raised eyebrow, while I quickly stammer something defensive about "very progressive" and "gay priests" and "Glenn Beck's worst nightmare." Someone politely changes the topic of the conversation, and next thing I know my churchgoing is seen as a mere personality quirk -- unusual, sure, but only a little weirder than that other guy who won't stop talking about his cat.

If I'm honest with myself, I kind of like things that way. I don't risk coming off as backwards, uneducated, or narrow-minded, like those other Christians. I don't have to answer any awkward or difficult questions about Jesus, the Bible, or prayer. And I certainly don't need to evangelize.

I don't think I'm alone, especially among Episcopalians, in not knowing quite how to talk about my faith with unchurched people who don't see the point. The precipitous drop in our numbers is proof enough of that.

Our reluctance to share our faith isn't doing any good for our friends and neighbors. Like so many others, I'm surrounded -- both professionally and socially -- by smart, thoughtful people who want to change the world and who often struggle to find community and a sense of hope along the way. That's pretty much exactly what drove me back to church in the first place, yet I still struggle to find the words to talk about it.

And in the end, if we want the way of Jesus to be something more than a weapon in the chicken-sandwich wars, we'd better find our voices -- and fast.

Michael Sherrard is currently the Senior Warden of St. Stephen's and the Incarnation in Columbia Heights.