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Maybe you have seen the story. It goes like this:
Joey and his daughter were in Chick-fil-A in Murfreesboro, TN. A man who appeared to be homeless came in the restaurant and asked if he could have any extra food. The store manager said he would give the man a full meal if he would allow the manger to pray over him. Joey said he was so glad his daughter witnessed this, as “I love teaching my daughter life lessons, and I also love being there to watch other Christians teach her life lessons.”
Let’s break the story down into its component parts.
- A man asks for food because he is hungry.
- The manager of the store has the power to give him food, but says he will only do it if the man lets him pray for him.
- In the middle of the store, the manager puts his arm around the hungry man and prays for him.
- Joey takes a picture of this and puts it on Facebook
- Joey is so happy his daughter watched this, so she can learn what Christianity looks like.
As of this writing, the story has been shared more than 121,000 times. It was picked up by several newspapers. The hundreds of comments on the original post say how powerful and beautiful this story is.
It is none of that. It is abusive. It is wrong. It is spiritual molestation. And speaking as a Christian minister, it undermines and contradicts the entirety of the message and teachings of Jesus. This is not what Christianity looks like.
This is a story of power and control.
One man needed food. He needed it badly enough to risk censure, to risk embarrassment, to risk being thrown out of the restaurant. He knew he was dirty, knew he didn’t fit in, but risked ridicule anyway because he was hungry.
The store’s manager hears the man’s request and offers the man food on the condition that the man let the manager pray over him.
That sounds not so bad, really, until you realize what the manager is really saying: I will help you, hungry person, if you will do what I want you to do. I will help you if you will put yourself in my power.
Imagine if my employee came to me and said, “My kid got sick, and I need to buy her some medicine. Can you advance me $250 against my next check?” and I said, “Sure thing, as long as you will go out with me.” We call that sexual harassment. If I demanded she sleep with me in order to get the money, we would call that rape.
It’s exactly the same scenario. She asks for help, and it is in my power to help her, but I will only do it if she does what I want her to do. It is not “giving.”
It is blackmail and coercion.
That the hungry man benefited from it is not the point, nor does it matter if he was grateful for the food. My employee would likely be thankful for the ability to pay for her daughter’s medication, regardless of what she had to endure to get the money.
In this story, the manager has all of the power. The hungry man has no power. The manager is “giving” nothing away here – he is trading it.
Imagine your wife breaks down in a parking lot and has no options for getting home. I offer to give her a ride, but only if she will accompany me to a bar for a drink first. Then my buddy takes a picture of us and posts it to Facebook, telling everyone to check out the hot chick I am at the bar with.
That is exactly the same scenario.
The hungry man is only a prop in this story.
The man in the story is identified only by his circumstances. It is assumed he is homeless, but as the story is told, we don’t hear that from him. He is only identified by his lack. And it really doesn’t matter who he is, the way the story is told. We only know this man by his poverty and his filth. Any poor, dirty man would work just as well in this story.
In other words, he is replaceable. He is not seen as a human, made in the image of God, but as a prop. He is an extra in a story about the manager and Chic-fil-A and exists to provide a lesson for the daughter of a housed man.
This is spiritual abuse.
The Gospel of John tells us that before Jesus came, God loved the world. God loves the world – in its mess, in its rebellion, and in its chaos. In other words, God loves the world exactly as it is. This is a given to the writer of John’s Gospel.
There are no preconditions to the Love of God. No prayer is needed, no act of supplication, no demands for public piety. As it is right now, in all its mess, God loves the world.
To demand that someone do something that makes you happy before you will give them food is not to show the love of God, nor is it loving like God does. It abuses people in the name of God and bears witness to the idea that God is abusive and power-hungry to someone who has good reason to doubt God’s love in the first place. It is, instead, to work against the love of God and the message of Jesus. It is anti-gospel and, in fact, anti-Christ.
I don’t know any of these people. I don’t know their hearts, and I doubt the manager was a bad man, bent on bending this hungry man to his will. In fact, the manager was probably just repeating what he had seen someone else do, and when he saw it, he was told it was a good thing.
Which is why when we see spiritual abuse, we have to call it out.
Joey shared this story because he wanted his daughter to know what Christianity looks like. I want that for Joey’s daughter, too.
But this ain’t it.