I was discussing the problem that religious people face when confronted by homosexuality. I was discussing it with someone who could be considered a fundamentalist who was actively lobbying against gay rights.
Now, of course, I am pro-gay and I believe that one can explain away the apparent scriptural condemnation of homosexuality in much the same way as we explain away things like pork, women speaking in church and having long hair. Still, it is quite valid (and even necessary) for a Christian who still feels homosexuality is wrong to be able to still express their Christianity in the way that they feel is most appropriate.
I started thinking about what the scriptural answer to this would be. Here is my highly biased response to her.
Rather than using the very political example of homosexuality, let’s use a simpler one, so that we can look at the situation a little more objectively, then try generalize out to the more volatile case.
There are some Christians who are convicted in the Spirit that eating certain foods (or meat) is sinful. This is not as far fetched as it sounds, you can read more about this here. Certain denominations and even some charismatic movements practice vegetarianism out of religious conviction. Let’s say you and I have a friend Bob who is one such Christian. Nice enough guy, but he has his ways, you know?
Now, you and I both (hopefully) know that nothing we can put into our bodies makes us unclean to God, and so we do not abstain from meat or certain foods. We are not convicted in the Spirit that this is wrong and we happily partake of meats and other foods, knowing full well that we are justified by faith and faith alone (many references to justification by faith which I am sure you already know).
Bob finds himself is in a bit of a quandary: he desires a world in which all people are brought into obedience before God. He desires that all people abstain as he does. Bob might feel like he should lobby his government to pass laws restricting the consumption of certain foods. He may decide to protest peacefully outside butcheries or places where these foods are sold, handing out pamphlets telling people that they are sinning by eating this food.
There can be no doubt there are people like this. They are passionate in their convictions and they fully believe God Himself has convicted them of this particular thing. They hand out pamphlets trying to espouse the horror of meat to all people of all faiths.
Can or should Bob lobby the government to prevent the general (non-Christian) population from eating meat? Can or should he expect non-Christians to abstain from eating meat because of his religious beliefs?
No. Paul is quite clear that we Christians are not expected to judge those outside the faith (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). He also very clearly says that we should abide by the laws of the land (Romans 13). This does not mean Bob has to eat meat. Bob can still abstain. However, Bob is not permitted to steal people’s food and throw it away because he sees it as sinful. Nor should he think he is justified in trying to force non-Christians to become vegetarians. “Put the wicked man from among yourselves.” As far as Bob is concerned, the non-Christians can be judged by God for eating meat, it is none of his concern.
How is Bob to sleep at night? How can he let his children go to a school that not only serves meat in the cafeteria, but also teaches his children that human beings are omnivores and that it is perfectly natural for us to eat all sorts of food, including meat?
Bob, appalled at this situation, might appeal to the good will of the school, to beg them to refrain from exposing his children to this false doctrine, from exposing his children to this temptation. What if they forsake his ways and start eating meat? He can’t be there 24 hours to protect them, after all! The school laughs at him. He is a loony, a fundamentalist. They tell him they have every right to teach his children whatever they like, as long as it’s true and they send him on his way.
Bob could try lobby government for changes to the law, so as to prevent meat in schools. But as we have seen before, God doesn’t take too kindly to mixing one’s religious convictions with politics. Also, the sad fact of the matter is: there is no way the world is going to stop eating meat based on Bob’s religious beliefs.
Surely this is not God’s will for Bob? Surely, though he has to live in the world, he doesn’t have to be of the world? Surely there is a way he can raise his children in the way he feels is the most scripturally sound?
Bob has many alternatives. He could choose to send his children to a vegetarian school. There are many schools which are becoming more and more friendly towards vegetarians, both for religious and health reasons.
Another option would be to take them to a completely Christian school. There are many Christian schools set up for the purpose of teaching students what they need to learn without compromising the religious beliefs of their parents. If Bob doesn’t find any of these solutions satisfactory, he could home-school, or to move to a community of like-minded Christians who share his values and will support a school that is Christian-vegetarian affirming.
Alternatively he could very carefully explain to his children (with justification) that what they learn in school is the way of man and not the way of God, that although the other kids may eat meat, this is wrong. This is my preferred approach. When Bob’s children grow up, they will have to make their own decisions about partaking of meat. Bob should convince them in their own hearts that meat is morally wrong, not by “hiding” meat from them. Because after going to a vegetarian school all their lives, what is the first thing his kids are going to be curious about? Meat, of course.
These are all scripturally sound responses to the situation, where Bob can retain his religious integrity and still abide by the laws of the land.
What about us? Should Bob be permitted to judge those of us within the faith, who disagree with his religious convictions?
Well, here it becomes a little more like give and take. Paul actually uses the example of vegetarianism in Romans 14 to make one of the most profound statements of the whole book. We are fortunate indeed to have used the same example:
“Now accept one who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. 14:2 One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 14:3 Don’t let him who eats despise him who doesn’t eat. Don’t let him who doesn’t eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. 14:4 Who are you who judge another’s servant? To his own lord he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for God has power to make him stand.”
Wow! That’s pretty explicit there! Bob is what we would call a Christian of “weaker” faith. “Weaker” is a very emotive term and it’s not meant to be condescending. I have the utmost respect for vegetarians. These are Paul’s words.
Bob is not to judge us for our eating meat, but is there any responsibility placed on us by this freedom? Yes, there is:
“14:12 So then each one of us will give account of himself to God. 14:13 Therefore let’s not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion for falling. 14:14 I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself; except that to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 14:15 Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 14:16 Then don’t let your good be slandered, 14:17 for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 14:18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 14:19 So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. 14:20 Don’t overthrow God’s work for food’s sake. All things indeed are clean, however it is evil for that man who creates a stumbling block by eating. 14:21 It is good to not eat meat, drink wine, nor do anything by which your brother stumbles, is offended, or is made weak.”
Wow! Though we may be permitted to eat meat, we should not do so in a way as to cause Bob to stumble. Does this mean we should abstain from all meat? No. It does, however, mean that we should not “flaunt” our liberty to Bob so as to cause him to stumble. We should humble ourselves and refrain from doing or saying anything that would make Bob falter in his faith. This is the responsibility of those with “stronger” faith.
Next, Paul makes quite a bold statement:
“14:22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who doesn’t judge himself in that which he approves. 14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because it isn’t of faith; and whatever is not of faith is sin.”
This is an admonishment to us. We must be absolutely certain, when we eat meat, that we do so with complete faith. Only then are we not condemning ourselves by our actions.
How does Paul’s “weaker faith” argument apply to other situations? Well, Paul mentions the Sabbath in the same terms as eating meat in Romans 14, so we can see it applies even to the 10 commandments.
I would hazard, however, that it doesn’t apply to the commandment to love. I think we are all called to love, there is no amount of faith that can make up for a lack of love. After all, if I have faith to move mountains and don’t have love, I am nothing. So, murder, stealing, lying, all those sins are covered under love (as Paul explains in Romans 13).
Does it apply to homosexuality? Is it possible that while you are convicted that homosexuality is wrong and I am convicted that it is right, we can still both live together as Christians under the banner of love and tolerance? Under the banner of “judge not” and “do not cause to stumble”?
Yes, I think so.
Does Paul anywhere equate the eating of meat with marriage? Yes, he does:
1 Timothy 4:1-6: “But the Spirit says expressly that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, 4:2 through the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; 4:3 forbidding marriage and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4:4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving. 4:5 For it is sanctified through the word of God and prayer. 4:6 If you instruct the brothers of these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine which you have followed.”
You are well within your rights, having diligently studied scripture and prayed about it, to be convicted in the Spirit that homosexuality is wrong for you. You are not within your rights to impose your religious conviction on any non-Christian. As far as Christians are concerned, you should also not judge, but remember that we too are justified by faith and we too will stand alone before God to answer to Him. In turn, I must do everything in my power so as to prevent my freedom from the bondage of sin to cause you to stumble.