Last week, on the way home from classes at TEDS, I listened in on a radio conversation on Moody Radio (90.1 FM). The host was my friend, Chris Fabry. Chris told the story of a listener who write in to express his appreciation for Christian radio. The man had come across Moody in a roundabout way. His car was in the shop for repair and the mechanic had not done the work in the time the customer thought appropriate. So he berated the mechanic quite forcefully.
What caught this angry customer off guard was the response of the mechanic, a Christian. He didn't return fire. He responded with kindness. This unusual display of love completely threw the customer off guard. Upon leaving, he noticed a "fish symbol" somewhere in the shop. And after starting up his car to go home, he heard Moody Radio playing on the stereo. Somewhere after this time (I wasn't clear from Chris' telling of the story), this angry customer, who berated and verbally abused a Christian businessman, put his faith in Christ.
This story made me think long and hard about my response to injustice done to me. It particularly made me think about the current brouhaha over gay marriage. Like most evangelicals, I hold to the biblical position of marriage and am offended when those who disagree consider me a bigot or hateful. I am offended by the words of Starbuck's CEO Howard Schultz, who essentially told us we can "take our money elsewhere." Starbucks is a company and a brand that prides itself in diversity, a biblical, kingdom value, so I'm curious about the intolerance toward conservative Christians.
But there's another side to this we need to consider before we take up a protest against Starbucks. I respect those who will say, "I choose to invest my money elsewhere." That's a perfectly legitimate and biblically defensible position. I've done this with some of my investment choices over the years. But here's the rub: however we handle Starbucks and other such controversies, we have to ask ourselves the questions: how does the Great Commission inform our public engagement.
Somewhere at a Starbucks is a lonely, seeking, hurting employee whom God just may want you or me to love into the Kingdom. Perhaps there is a family member struggling with same-sex attraction who is looking for someone to walk him through these struggles--with both truth and grace. Somewhere there is an unbeliever watching our public pronunciations and asking himself, "I wonder what Christianity is about."
There is a place for firm resistance to unbiblical values. You can oppose gay marriage because in loving your city and community and country, you hope for a culture that embraces the family unit. And yet, we must ask ourselves the question, always, "How does what I'm doing fit the mission of God to seek and save those who are far from Him?"
I think this informs the way we engage. Personally I'm choosing not to boycott Starbucks. You may choose differently. We can disagree on that charitably. But what we must not do is allow our protest against values with wich we disagree overshadow our responsibility to show Christ's love for the world. Our posture, when offended and maligned, should be like Jesus' response. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). It should not be to "return evil for evil" (1 Peter 3:9) and seek to win short-term cultural skirmishes that surrender the long-term battle for someone's heart.
Like Jesus we must hold truth and grace in tension (John 1:14). We must be both courageous and civil (1 Peter 3:15). Because it may very well be the person who offends us the most in that moment whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). You can find more from Dan at his website DanielDarling.com.