Today I wish to direct your attention to a story that went viral on Facebook last week. Perhaps you saw it: A father was on a lunch date with his daughter at Chick-Fil-A in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, an outlying suburb of Nashville, when a man who appeared to be homeless walked in and asked for any extra food. The store manager offered the man a full meal on the condition that he could pray over him. The father snapped a pic of the encounter and posted it to Facebook, and it went viral. Most of the comments are overwhelmingly positive, praising Chick-Fil-A and the manager for their handling of this. Here is the link to the original Facebook post, and here is a link to a news writeup complete with pictures.
But I would like to come at this story from a different angle. Think about this: What role does the apparently homeless man play in this story? In the story as we have told it to this point, none. He is basically just a prop. His role was basically just to stand in and let the store manager pray over him and get his meal, while the store manager got all the props for being such an outstanding Christian, living out his faith in an exemplary fashion, and Chick-Fil-A got all the props for supporting him in this. Any homeless person would have done just fine in this story. There is no reason on earth why it had to be this particular person.
Let us be clear: It is not my purpose to criticize the manager or Chick-Fil-A for any of this. They did an excellent thing. They did what we are all called to do as Christians when we have the opportunity to help someone in need.
My purpose here (and I know this probably seems like a very fine distinction but please try to track with me) is to make a point about the stories we as evangelicals tell ourselves when we have the opportunity to help others who are in need.
In these stories, typically it is we who are at the center of it all. The others who are being helped exist to be the recipients of our generosity, and these others are basically interchangeable. It is as if we are saying “We have everything you need, come to us and get your needs met”. In these stories, it is we who hold all the cards, all the power, and others who come to us to get their needs met.
Contrast this with how the early Christians living in the Roman Empire helped people. They routinely rescued and adopted babies who were left to die in the city dumps. Not because they had any illusions about how great they were or about how society would recognize what awesome things they were doing. Far from it. Christians were viewed as the stinking armpit of Roman society in that day and age. It was very dangerous to be a Christian, and they routinely feared for their very lives. Yet they went on doing good, because they believed that these unwanted babies were people created in the image of God and were worthy to be treated as such.
I’m sure the store manager believed this about the person he was helping that day. I’d like to think he did. I hope he did. But that gets lost in the story as we evangelicals tell it to ourselves. What comes through instead is a story about how great we are and what awesome things we are doing and how the world needs to come to us to have their needs met.
It is as if we are the ones in power, and the rest of the world needs to come to us. But power is being taken from us. We no longer have influence to set the political and cultural agenda in our world; that is evident from that Supreme Court decision and the cultural shifts of recent years which made it possible.
We need to come to a place where we see others not as interchangeable recipients of our generosity, but as fellow humans, created in the image of God, who are worthy to be treated as such. If power has to be taken from us in order for that to happen, then so be it.