How are you feeling about presidential election year politics? A little queasy? Well, pull out your Dramamine because we still have more than nine months to go. Some have stronger stomachs than others for angry speech and negative ads.
This squeamish condition you may be experiencing, called “political food poisoning” (not really; I just made that up) is at least as ancient as the apostle Paul. When he wrote to the church in the Greek city of Corinth, he addressed this syndrome which was problematic in their local church politics.
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.”… Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. [from 1st Corinthians 8]
Strange as it seems to us (exactly as strange as our arguments will seem to people 2000 years from now), these well-intentioned church people were fighting about whether or not it was okay to eat meat that had been offered as sacrifices to idols and then sold in the marketplace. Just thinking about eating this meat turned the stomachs of some newly converted Jesus followers. They wanted to turn their backs on the past, and might be especially offended if they found out the cream of mushroom and chicken casserole someone brought to the church potluck had been made from an animal that had just come from the chopping block of Athena’s temple. Perhaps they felt nearly poisoned if they’d already taken a few bites before they learned the origin of their food.
Paul’s take on the subject was two-fold, and seemingly contradictory. Meat is meat, he said. If it’s been sacrificed to some idol, what difference does that make? You should eat whatever you want to eat. God doesn’t care.
On the other hand, said Paul, why are you eating and serving food that you know others find offensive and sickening? If it hurts the “weaker” members of my church family to see me eating such meat, then I’ll become a vegetarian, he said, and just stick with the green Jello at church suppers. It really doesn’t matter, in the great scheme of things.
Paul’s bottom line: such things should not divide us. And if we let those divisions poison our relationships, we value extraneous issues more than we value people. He was right, because today nobody cares about meat offered to idols.
Back to our current politics. Many people have strong opinions, and probably justifiably so. Those opinions deserve a hearing. It is the hearing, discussing and yes, melding, of these opinions that makes societies function better. Of course, we think our opinions matter more than someone else’s. And we think that those other people are the “weaker” ones with “weaker” positions.
Wouldn’t it be something if churches and people of a variety of faiths could join together in saying, “We want to discuss these issues with each other. But we will not let them divide us. We will not let them poison our unity. We care more about people than we do about who wins.”
Wouldn’t that be something?
Maybe that would settle our stomachs a little bit until the elections are over.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2012