Inspiration: Romans 14, Relationships to Weaker Brethern

Dear Inspiration Seekers,

Now, if the last chapter about obeying leaders and being in debt to love did not miff you enough, Paul continues to heap on the obligations: be a role model to “weaker” Christians.  As we discussed in earlier blogs, God created the potential for evil as well as good behavior.  Then he gave each person certains amounts of abilities.  But, look, Paul suggests that God even gave some people more ability to chose good actions and other people less ability to resist evil action.  “Life ain’t easy, and it sure ain’t fair”, the folksong goes.  And, guess who gets to pick up the slack… 

I think that the concepts that Paul is addressing here are responsibility and respect.  In our form of liberty in the USA, we think that “you can do anything, as long as you do not hurt someone else”.  In addition to sounding like self-justification, this also begs the questions of whether we have any idea of how our actions might affect or influence someone else adversely.

Just this week, we listened to a news report about research that pediatricians are doing with food prefernces of infants and children, and the foods consumed by the mothers.  They have identified that the foods that the mother eats, ethnic foods to fast foods to alcohol and deserts, change the chemical composition of the amniotic fluid in which the fetus develops.  Taste and scent are two of the first senses which fetus and infants respond to.  Would the mothers realize that something as simple as eating anti-pasta and red wine rather than burgers and beer could have a lasting influence of their children’s lives and health, even before trying them out on vegies vs bacon bits?  Any surprise that the USA has an childhood obesity problem, given that mothers have been eating processed food full of high fructose corn syrup for 2 generations now?

Paul addresses the more obvious issue of those Roman Christians who demand that other Christians follow the Jewish laws regarding food consumption.  While Paul has argued earlier and in this chapter that Christ’s gospel has fulfilled the law, and therefor Christians are free to chose what food they eat, he acknowledges that self-restraint might be productive for those stronger in faith to bring those weaker in faith to an understanding of their new liberty.  The objective here is not just to follow some set of rules that give the appearance of righteous behavior, but to demonstrate respect for those who have difficulty choosing good actions.

What I see in this is Paul leaning toward the Aristotlian concept of moderation in action, as opposed to an either-or choice, but at times a strong Christian might chose to abstain from even a moderate amount of something to help another Christian avoid the “or” choice of indulgence.  As dietary restrictions are not so much of an issue in our society, the closest analogy that I can come up with might be not ordering wine or desert with a meal, when your friend has had difficulty with alcohol addiction or overeating.  Nothing wrong with a moderate amount of alcohol (not intoxication) or sweets, but one can have a perfectly pleasant meal without them.  This action demonstrate respect for other person.

I have always felt ambivalence about the Billy Holiday song, “No One’s Business What I Do.”  Like so many other jazz song, I love the tune and the style of singing, but the lyrics make me cringe.  The verses list a series of really awful behaviors and relationship conflicts (i.e. intoxication, promiscuity, domestic violence), and the chorus tell us to stay out of her business.  Billy Holiday’s life is hardly a role model, with her adolescent running the streets, substance abuse, and sexual activity, but then where were her role models?  Who is taking responsibility to help improve the lives of those caught in these generational behavior patterns?  If no one makes it his or her business, the cycle will continue.

Of course, the law, with readily understood do-this, don’t-do that rules, is easy to fall back on, whether you have lots or little faith.  Follow the rules is your only responsibility.  You have liberty to act within those rules.  What do you do when your sense of identity or impulse does not fit within the parameters of the rules?  If you stay within the rules, then you have to live with an internal conflict or possibly hiding an aspect of yourself (begging the question that if you believe that this is an innate part of your personality, whether this might be a gift from God of some sort).  If you act on that part of your understanding of yourself, are you potentially guiding others toward a violation of the rules?

Let us return to the concept of gay marriage.  Most Christian traditions consider homosexuality as a violation of the law.  Paul even mentions women having “unnatural relations” and  men engaging “indecent acts” earlier (1:26 – 27), and again in Chapter 13 directs the Christians to “behave decently… not in orgies… sexual immorality and debauchery…”.  Seems pretty straight forward, right?  Just put that penis in the right place.  No other questions.

I am reminded of a debate that I had with a co-worker some years ago, at at BBQ, over burgers and Smart Dogs.  I let him get one beer ahead of me for strategic positioning.  This friend had a legalistic attitude regarding his view of Christian behavior (he did claim to be a Christian, which I will neither attest to or protest).  Everything fit into neat boxes.  Easy debate.  All I had to do was punch some holes into his boxes.  He denounced homosexuality and gay marriage.  The conversation when something like this (disclaimer, this dialogue contains frank sexual language.  If this does not suit you, just skip to the end of the blog for more abstract discussion):

Hermit, “So what do you see as the difference between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples?  Is it their love and concern for each other?  Is is a legal rights and responsibility thing? Is is sexual acts?”

Him, “It’s just disgusting to think what they do.”

Hermit, “It’s not so much a matter of whether they share a residence and take care of each other, or even rear children.  What you don’t like is the idea of where they’re sticking what, huh?”

Him, “Yeah, just repulsive.”

Hermit, “It’s one thing to say someone who wants to have gay sex may.  It’s another thing to ask you to participate in this when you don’t find it enticing.  But, is that a reason to tell someone else that they need to follow your desires?”

Him, “No one should have those desires.”

Hermit, “Let me back up here and figure out exactly what you find perverse.  Okay, if you see a man and woman holding hands does that turn your stomach?”

Him, “No.”

Hermit, “But, if you see a two men or two women hold hands, yuck!?”

Him, “You got it.”

Hermit, “It is probably not just the holding hands bit, but probably the suggestion that they are doing something else, just like the heterosexual couple might be getting it on later that night.”

Him, “You’re right on.  I don’t want to even have to think about it.”

Hermit, “Do you get upset about thinking about that heterosexual couple having foreplay, you know kissing and caressing.”

Him, “Not at all.  That’s natural for men and women.”

Hermit, “But, homosexual foreplay makes your hair stand on end.”

Him, “Makes my skin crawl.”

Hermit, “From here on, the only other difference between heterosexual and homosexual couples is whether they can put a penis in a vagina, right?”

Him, “Basically.

Hermit, “Let me inventory some sexual options to see where to draw the line.  How about mutual masturbation, sex toys, and the like.   It’s okay for heterosexual couples to attend Pleasure Partys to stock up on vibrators and oils, for a little love play, as long as both find this appealing.”

Him, “Sounds good to me”

Hermit, “But, two men jacking each other off…”

Him, “Don’t even mention it.”

Hermit, “Oral sex between a man and woman?”

Him, “Delicious.”

Hermit, “But, two women taking a lick?”

Him, “Distasteful.

Hermit, “A man having anal sex with a woman?”

Him, “Not my thing, but some guys and gals might find it a better way to reduce pregnancy.”

Hermit, “But, guys butt-fucking?”

Him, “Repulsive.

Hermit, “Okay, let me get this right.  A man and woman can basically do anything sexual act, as long as both agree to it, but the same sexual acts carried out by a homosexual couple is out of bounds.”

Him, “You’re catching on.”

Hermit, “Does it matter what the relationship of the heterosexual couple is?”

Him, “What do you mean?”

Hermit, “Well, what if they are into SnM.  You know, they get off on bondage and power scenarios?  I know of heterosexual couples who do this.  Is that okay?”

Him, “As long as they both agree to it.”

Hermit, “Does is matter whether they are married?  In other words, anything goes as long as the man and woman agree and are acting within their marriage relationship?”

Him, “I’d prefer it, but they don’t have to be married.  It would be better that they are both not married though.  No need to mess up a marriage with extra-marital sex.”

Hermit: “The Catholic Church includes procreation as a necessity to consider sex sacred?  Where does this put post-menopausal sex, or vasectomies?  In those situations, the heterosexual couple cannot have children, thus would not meet a procreation standard.”

Him: “As long as they had children before, then they can have as much sex as they want… You know, kind of like withdrawing from their 401k.”

Hermit, “So, any sex act is okay between a man and woman, regardless of whether they are married, but the same acts are not okay between a man and man, or woman and woman, even if they are in a long term, stable relationship (this conversation occurred before any state legalized gay marriage). What about multiple partners of men and women?”

Him, “That’s probably a guy thing, and maybe if he is upfront with the women that he has other partners, it’s okay.”

Hermit, “So mutual promiscuity is okay between men and woman, if they acknowledge they are players.  But, gay men hooking up is not.”

Him, “Yup.”

We were not even talking about a slippery slope here.  I just pushed him off his gravel pile.

Back to our discussion, when I read sections of the Bible, which denounce sexual behavior, usually vague words such as “indecent” and “perverse” are used.  The Bible is not a manuel of technical terminology.  However, many Christians, whom I talk to who do believe that homosexuality is on the wrong side of sin, transform these general concepts into specific acts.  The modern church is becoming split over the issue of homosexuality.  Some Episcopal churches in the USA defect to the Anglican Convention of Nigeria, because it holds a firmer line on prohibiting homosexual relationships, while the Church of England as taken the stand of welcoming gay parishioners to join their congregations.  Some Methodist churches have voted to be “welcoming congregations” to gay members, while most other evangelical denominations either say “no way”, or encourage gay members to remain celibate, while seeking counseling to transform their desires to the opposite gender.

How might we view Paul’s discussion about respecting those with less faith, and acting responsibly, in this contemporary challenge?  Homosexual culture, in it’s current form, does present some risks, especially for young, sexually desiring people.  Heterosexual culture presents similar risks, with the pretense that marriage will fix all that.  It would be easy to “Just say, ‘No’ “, but this usually just pushes the conflict into the closet, whether it is homosexual promiscuity, or heterosexual domestic violence.   It will be much harder to accept formal acknowledgement of homosexual couples, living committed lives, righteously.

While, I doubt that I have resolved this debate for anyone, I hope that my thoughts have stimulated some contemplation about your believes in the discussion.  If we back up a couple of chapters in Romans, we are back to God giving gifts and being in debt to love.  If sexual behavior is type of gift, provided through our DNA and neurological organization, how can we use this for good and not evil.  I lean toward sharing this pleasure with one partner (monogamy), in mutually enjoyable style, respecting the partner’s timing.  I am less concerned with the techniques I listed above, than I am the relationship that sexuality fosters.  I draw the line at dominance, violence, and promiscuity.  Rarely have I found people who participate in these types of relationships to flourish in life.  Maybe it should be “It’s everybody’s business, what I do”, though that would make a lousy jazz standard.

Until next time, Inspiration Seekers.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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2 Responses to Inspiration: Romans 14, Relationships to Weaker Brethern

  1. The Vicar says:

    Hmmmm… hard to believe no one else has jumped in on this inspiration. I guess I take a stab at this sticky subject.
    First, Paul was writing to followers of Christ about other followers of Christ. Jewish Christian steeped in the law were seeking to overlay “The Way” with their past understanding of the importance of observing the law which Paul addresses earlier in his letter to the Romans. This idea of “when your as Godly as I, then you’ll be worthy of God’s love” doesn’t jive with Jesus message, “love one another as I have loved you”. The protestant church has fragmented into a multitude of shards over “disputable matters”. The disputable matters of the early church appear to have been honoring the sabbath on a particular day vs. taking a sabbath in a rhythm unique to one’s life, diet, and drinking. Today, some of the disputable matters include baptism (sprinkling vs immersion), communion (symbolic vs. actual body/blood of Christ), women teachers/leaders, worship (contemporary vs. traditional), dress codes, entertainment (TV, movies, music) …. these are things that followers of Christ are often passionate about, but they shouldn’t be things that divide as they are disputable matters. Paul points to God as the judge and the Holy Spirit as the one who will guide those in Christ to righteousness, peace, and joy.

    As much as we in the west would like to believe that we are all rugged individualists, Paul notes in Romans 14:7 that “none of us lives to himself alone”. Our lives impact others.

    Second, if the followers of Christ attain this harmony only through the power of the Holy Spirit working in them, why should they expect anyone that does not know Jesus or claim him as savior, to share a similar understanding of sin/righteousness? Christ-followers are not called to stand on a street corner and shout at people, or wave signs at passing cars, they are called to be in relationship with God and one another, “making every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification”.

    Third, I think it’s important to remember that we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Just because someone doesn’t fit my idea of normal or godly, doesn’t mean that they aren’t loved deeply by God. Given the fallen nature of our world, some peoples current state may be as good as it gets this side of heaven. I need to be reminded of this everyday and allow this to influence the way I respond to others.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I’m not sure that many others made it this far in Romans either, let alone to the controversial dialogue at the end of my blog, let alone to make a comment. Thanks for your diligence.

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