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July 27, 2012 | ,

In the Basement

BY Jen Hatmaker

I lived in Kansas from 8th-12th grade. In that time, I became well acquainted with Mr. Tornado and all his little friends: Siren, Tornado Watch, Basement, and False Alarm.

In April of my junior year, our house was hit by a tornado. The end of our street was flattened; we lost our fence and roof and trees. And evidently I lost my sense of security (21 years later, and I still have a tornado nightmare about once a month).

The most visceral memory of that day was crouching in the basement with my family and friend, Andrea, as we heard the tornado approaching. Everything started shaking, and the sound grew until it was deafening. I remember looking at my sister, both our mouths open, screaming, and we couldn’t hear each other. We were inside a train engine.

I’ll never forget hunkering down in the basement while the storm raged overhead.

This is precisely how I feel about the Chick-Fil-A debacle and all the other accouterments of the culture wars. I am so over it. I’m so over the fear mongering and hate propaganda. I’m over the political posturing and power plays. I’m over the finger pointing and name-calling. The storms are raging overhead, and let me tell you something:

I’m going to the basement.

This is obnoxious. So a business leader is no longer entitled to an opinion, even one that roughly half of America shares? Is that where we’re at? Now the mayors of Boston and Chicago and San Francisco are suggesting Chick-Fil-A be denied permits in their cities, and just like that, a hot-blooded difference in personal opinion – not lewd remarks, not discriminatory actions, not company policy – has turned into punitive legislation.

Mayor Bloomburg, also a supporter of gay rights, condemned the statements, saying “cities should not ask about political beliefs before issuing a permit.” Of course they shouldn’t. Where would it end? The CEO of the Phoenix Suns is gay; shall we all boycott their basketball games or deny their right to play in the public sphere? Is it time to quiz small-business owners on their positions on gun control, abortion, and immigration reform, and decide if their companies are “welcome in our cities”?

Because this will swing every way, you know. Perhaps Chick-Fil-A is banned in Boston, but we will also stand by if a Muslim business owner is banned from operating in Huntsville, Alabama? Mark Zuckerberg is an atheist; should Christians all delete their Facebook accounts? This affront to democracy is infinitely more dangerous than a CEO with an opinion, which, if you’ve ever paid attention, we are supposed to have the freedom to hold and express in this country without threat of commercial retribution.

Truett Cathy is a citizen; he has a right to an opinion. He gets to have that. He isn’t peddling theology…his currency is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich. There are certainly tens of thousands of gay folks who work for and patron CFA. No one has ever been asked to procure proof of their heterosexuality before dipping into their Polynesian sauce.

If you don’t like his personal policy, don’t eat there. Problem solved.

And lest you unfairly brand me as a mouthpiece for the right, I hate the culture wars on both sides of the party line. Christians, do you really think posting pithy statements on Facebook about “standing firm in our values” and “resisting the liberal media” is helping? The lines we draw in the sand do absolutely nothing except assure everyone else: YOU’RE OUT. When we turn to politics and power to legislate our brand of morality, we take the opposite approach of Jesus whose power was activated in the margins with the outcasts…humbly…peripherally.

I’m sick of the Jesus forwards and judgment. Sick of majoring on gay marriage. Enough, everyone. With every hate Tweet and finger jab and Bible bludgeon, you are telling my gay friends they are indeed unwelcome, unloved, unvalued, and uninvited. If your agenda is to battle homosexuality, how’s that going? How many gay folks read your Prop 8 yard sign, knocked on your door, and said, “Thank you for voicing your opinion to the neighbors in this manner. Would you kindly invite me in and teach me how to be straight? And do you have a Bible study I can join?”

When we resort to the same tactics being leveled at Truett Cathy, we sink to the least common denominator and – this is important – we make everything worse. How are these culture wars working out for us? Well, the church is losing around 50K folks a week, and the next generation downright refuses to come. The gay community is ostracized entirely (oh, they’ve gotten the message alright), and Christianity has turned into white noise.

Digging our heels in even harder is the problem, not the answer.

Love is, if you believe anything Jesus ever said or did.

Everyone is screaming and swearing at each other, pointing fingers and posting clichés on Pinterest. The storm is out of control. What happened to civil discourse? What happened to basic human respect? What happened to good men and women pulling up a seat at the table together and navigating differences with dignity and regard? What happened to listening? What happened to humility?

I’m done. I’m going to the basement, and I invite you to join me. Here is what we hate down in the basement:

We hate injustice.

We hate our own sin and pride and arrogance, and we grieve at how it has wounded, sliced, slashed, and humiliated.

We hate that 25,000 people will die today of hunger and we’re arguing gay marriage again.

We hate how the Gospel has been turned into a bludgeoning tool.

We hate pointless arguments that widen the gap and devalue real human people.

We hate abuse and violence and crowded orphanages and trafficked sixth-graders.

And it’s not all hate, lest you imagine the Basement Dwellers are a sorry lot indeed. We love some things down in the basement, too:

We love people. Because Jesus does. All of them.

We love grace, because it rescued all of us sinners.

We love healing and redemption, and we get to be a part of that every day, if we are brave enough to say yes.

We love that Jesus uses broken people, because that is our zip code and He chooses us anyway. Mercy is our only sane option.

We love the Body of Christ, when she isn’t being a bully or a tyrant or trying to take over the Oval Office and the Red Carpet. I swear, she can be beautiful.

We love Jesus, who was always in hot water with the religious folks for eating with sinners and offering scandalous grace not just to the leper but to the tax collector.

We love love, and we believe in its power.

If you are weary of the storm, come on downstairs. We’re going to get on with the business of loving people and battling real injustices and caring for the poor and loving Jesus. We’re going to go ahead and offer mercy to one another, even if it is viewed as “soft” or “cowardly” or “dangerous.” (But once I conquer all my own demons definitively, I’ll be happy to turn a critical eye on everyone else’s. Good?) We’re going to trust that Jesus is actually at work in this world like He said, and when he promised that “His kindness leads us to repentance,” we’re just going to believe Him.

Sure, the storm will rage on up there. But you can find refuge just down the stairs. We have a whole thing going on underground. Gay friends and family, you are welcome down here. Marginalized women, come on down. Isolated and confused by organized religion, afraid your questions aren’t welcomed? Join us. Activists and bleeding hearts, you are our heartbeat. Plain, old, ordinary sinners saved by grace, you belong here. Misfits, ragamuffins, and rebels, bring the party. Reformed legalists, you are my people. Pastors contending for God’s glory and people, help lead us. Dissenters, dreamers, visionaries, we need you.

Come on down to the basement. I ordered a Chick-Fil-A nugget platter.

[FOLLOW UP: “The Basement Manifesto”]

You want to join me in the basement? You are loved down here. Kindly do not turn my comment feed into a culture war. I’m not here to argue issues, only the love of Jesus which has netted infinitely more converts than judgment. Tell me why you’re retreating from the storm.