May 11, 2007
Today’s Epistle reading is Romans 14:13-23.
I love it.
It took me some meditation to love it, though.
The beginning of the passage starts out wonderfully: Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.
The issue at hand is one of dietary laws and groups who were offended by the others eating habits. But the message is clear– get along and don’t let the dietary habits of others dissuade you from being in community.
In other words, don’t let theological issues divide the church.
I began to have some problems with the next parts, culminating in this verse: Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister brother stumble.
On the surface, this seems to be the sort of argument that conservatives use against GLBT folks. Not for dietary requirements, certainly, but that it is “our issue” that makes “them stumble” and so therefore the “break in the communion” falls upon “our” shoulders, whatever theological view of same-sex orientation is held.
This, of course, already takes the verse out of context– it is intended for dietary restrictions in Paul’s own day. But if we continue to use it as a metaphor as I have done, we find that the opposite is actually the case.
First, it is important to note that just as in Acts 10, everything is declared clean. Nothing that God made is unclean. That’s important. As ++Desmond Tutu said once in a powerful sermon that I was privileged to hear, “This [human] family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, will draw…” Did he say, “I will draw some?” “I will draw some, and tough luck for the others?” He said, “If I be lifted up, will draw all!” All! All! All! – Black. White. Yellow. Rich. Poor. Clever. Not so clever. Beautiful. Not so beautiful. All. All. It is radical. All! Saddam Hussein. Osama bin Laden. Bush. All! All! All are to be held in this incredible embrace. Gay. Lesbian. So-called straight. All! All are to be held in the incredible embrace of the love that won’t let us go.”
Second, it’s important to figure out who, in our modern context, is making whom stumble.
To my knowledge, the oppression of the church is the basis of argument in Western society for continued discrimination in civil law against GLBT people. We cannot marry. We are bombarded constantly with images of heterosexual images and role models. Positive gay role models in the media are few and far between, save perhaps when heterosexual people want to use us for a good laugh. Crimes targeting us specifically because of who we are may not be recognized as hate crimes. Many religious groups embolden such crimes– going so far as to protest our churches, our funerals, our most private moments, with vile, cruel, and perverse images– “God hates fags” signs and worse. It is no wonder that historically suicide among GLBT oriented teens is higher than among heterosexual oriented teens. It is no wonder that depression is higher in GLBT people than among heterosexual people. The last 20 years have seen things change in wonderful ways, but we still have far to go.
Who is stumbling?
Have we forced anyone to take a gay rector? Have we forced anyone in the rest of the Communion to ordain lesbian priests? Or rather have we eaten of our own discerned “dietary requirements”– one where all creatures are found to be clean and pure– and allowed others to do the same? No. It never ceases to amaze me how the white, straight, male in the United States can turn the tables and make himself the victim. The white, straight, male in the United States is the power holder. To allow for equality of race, gender, sexual orientation, theological orientation, and nearly every other type of diversity not only in this country but in the world, the American white male has to yield and share some of that power. That some in the rest of the Communion– who have in the past been dominated, controlled, and manipulated by that very power– are willing to enable in the so-called victimization of the American straight white male is troubling. He sees it as victimization, but it is merely a leveling of the playing field. He is so unused to being dominant that he does not know what it is like to be equal. That is troubling for him, and he lashes out in any way he can– including playing the victim.
I am willing to let that man– the white, straight, American male, stand where he needs to be to slowly come to the realization that equality ultimately allows him to know Jesus better. I do not need to force him to accept my position; I trust that God will grow him in God’s own time– in the fullness of time, as Paul would put it. I only need to be authentic in my own rite– to be allowed to eat the theological and spiritual food I am called to eat.
No, we are not causing others to stumble. Others are putting stumbling blocks before us.
Paul gives us instructions for that.
Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.