Monday, September 8, 2014
Chik-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and the Lions
Dear Cathy Family and Green Family;
On this occasion of Mr. Cathy’s death, I offer my condolences to his family, adding my voice to, I’m sure, millions of others. My favorite “Truett Moment” was his graduation address at a university where I used to teach. He stood up, regarded all solemnly, then firmly stated, “Eat more chicken!” and sat back down. It was hilarious; everybody laughed, and all were greatly relieved, considering that it was outside, the temperature was climbing into the 90’s, everybody was wearing black robes over layers of other clothing, and had his remarks been even one minute longer, there would have been a real risk of heat stroke for some by the end of the ceremony. I suspect he might have had something more substantive to say, had the circumstances permitted, but as it was, his light-hearted “address” was a great kindness, much appreciated, and fondly remembered.
But I write, also, to offer something more, to ponder in your hearts as we go forward in a world without Mr. Cathy’s integrity, kindness, and good humor in it.
I must admit up front that I almost never eat fast food, so it isn’t out of worry that I’ll miss my quick chicken that I write. I’m also not a big crafter (although in wistful moments I often wish I were). Nevertheless, your two business establishments, Chik-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby, are of vital importance to me. The reason is twofold.
First, whether we like it or not, our culture is absolutely inundated with the affairs of public figures. We take them as role models, we take their words as information, we take their actions as exemplars. While Christians ought to take Our Lord Jesus Christ as the ultimate role model, and that should be enough, in fact we have been conditioned to “look around” rather than “up” for our models, and therefore, even while we strive to center our focus properly, it helps immensely to have public figures who model that very behavior.
Second, in this culture of ease, the history of which has been (until recently) entirely without repression or persecution of Christians of any kind, we as Christians are timid. We’ve never had to defend the faith, and as a result, most of us, even now when it is so obviously under vigorous attack, are still “looking around” trying to figure out what’s going on. We certainly “don’t want to offend anybody,” and now we’re being told that in fact, our faith is an offense, and, not expecting that, we are unprepared to respond. Here again, watching someone respond, with clarity, with charity, but with firmness, is invaluable to us. We must have such models, because it’s only going to get worse.
On that subject: I certainly do not wish to be a “prophet of doom and gloom,” but it seems clear to me that the dominoes are falling and the boulder is rolling in such a direction that Christians will increasingly be under that juggernaut (to thoroughly mix my metaphors).
We may not like to think about it (and many contemporary Christians may not even really be aware of it, accustomed as we are to being part of a culture that was founded on Christian principles), but the first explosion of Christianity was accomplished through martyrdom. The spread of Christianity throughout the Western world was facilitated, was in fact effected by, the spectacle of the public deaths of the first generations of Christians; by, most importantly, the way they died. Witnessing these people being martyred, countless others were struck by the fact that something important was happening in and through these people.
Okay, so we know basically about the early Christian martyrs; we have a general idea of their “martyrdom.” That’s such a clean word, though, and even noble-sounding, so let’s be explicit for a moment.
The first generations of Christians weren’t just cleanly put to death for refusing to deny their faith; for insisting upon living their faith (this notion will become increasingly important as we are increasingly pressured to keep our faith firmly “in the church [meaning, the physical building] or in your private home” but somehow, essentially, be somebody else when we are out in public). The price, for the early Christians, for living their faith, for practicing their religion (which always, in a true religion anyway, includes far more than just attendance of worship services and private practices at home), was to be relentlessly persecuted and heinously murdered, in the wildest array of the most creatively horrifying deaths that the corrupt and debauched Roman Emperors could devise. They were torn apart by starved wild animals, hacked to pieces by trained gladiators, crucified and stoned, lashed to wooden poles covered with pitch and burned as torches to illuminate the garden parties of the elite. Men, women, and children. Neighbors saw their neighbors marched off and hung on crosses to suffocate to death as an amusement, with the crowds betting on who would expire first. Mothers watched their children mauled and eaten by lions. Men witnessed their wives butchered more savagely than any animal.
I don’t anticipate these particular kinds of things happening to us—if for no other reason than “it’s been done” (yawn)—but it’s a definite possibility that we may be given the ultimatum, not “your faith or your life,” precisely (at least, I think not very soon), but certainly, “your faith or your LIVELIHOOD.” In our culture, material wealth has been raised to such an idol that “jobs” outrank everything—every other possible consideration, including the health, and indeed the very survival, of our children. The opponents of Christianity therefore seek to “hit us where it hurts.” It is therefore essential for us to have strong models, as your two businesses have been, to show that there are more important things than accumulating wealth. That how you do business is more important than the degree of worldly success you achieve in it.
Indeed, so far, I think both of your businesses have been shining examples of the fact that Christian ethics need not preclude worldly success. That’s lovely. However, it may not always be the case. Again, not to be a “prophet of doom and gloom,” but here is the ultimate purpose of this letter: the strongest possible ENCOURAGEMENT, that, if it should come to the point that you must choose, if it should come to the point that they find a way to force you to choose, between “your faith or your life” (your livelihood, the “life” of your company, you might say), you will be willing to continue to provide the strong example you have done so far.
The Christians in the cells awaiting death in the arena, the Christians being lashed to the torches, the Christians hanging on the crosses before the jeering crowds for their amusement, went to their deaths singing praises to God and to their Savior Jesus Christ. Should you ever be forced to close your doors, I exhort you to close them SINGING.
Today, I intend to go to Hobby Lobby and buy the fabric we need to recover some furniture in our home. Until this morning, I had been thinking “I need to go to the fabric store. . .“ No more. I realized that I need to consider, every time I need something for my home, whether it can be bought at Hobby Lobby. Even though they may not have as wide a selection of upholstery fabric there as at the specialty store, I will buy this fabric at Hobby Lobby. On my way home, I will drive through Chik-Fil-A and buy a lemonade (I can’t eat your chicken, Mr. Cathy, but I LOVE that you have REAL lemonade!). As I wait in the drive-through, I will sing Psalm 67, in honor of you and your congenially courageous stand for the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Thank you for your examples. May God give your companies the fortitude to persist in providing such role models of integrity and faith. And may God give me the strength, when it is my turn to face the lions in front of the crowd, to sing to my Lord, as you have.