Romans 14: Wise words for Christians in all times

By Curtis Shelburne: Religion columnist

I didn’t want to write this column. First, it might sound political. I try to avoid that. Second, I’m already hearing in my brain all the warning bells one hears before he decides to stick his hand into a buzz saw.

Smart move, Curt. Oh, well.

I dread the November election. I know who’ll get my vote for president, but I’m not happy about it. I’d as soon look forward to a colonoscopy where your choice is cancer or not; either way, that hose . . .

What could we do to make the election even less fun? Oh, I know. We could have a local liquor election right along with it.

Lots of long-suffering folks who don’t live in my county read my columns. But whether you face a liquor election or not, we all deal with such issues. We usually deal with them poorly, and people end up getting hurt in worse ways than any connected with how the “issue” is decided.

By far the biggest danger is not how the election turns out. The biggest danger is how many Christians and others turn on each other before it turns out.

This a Romans 14 issue, covered by principles Paul gives there. The issue is not a black and white choice: “Should I shoot my neighbor whose dog barks?” or “Should I rob a bank because I’m low on cash?” Murder and theft are not gray matters. Romans 14 issues are.

Oh, zealots on both ends of the debate have a hard time seeing that. People feel very deeply about such issues, and that’s fine. (I’ve got friends, valued colleagues, and church members who feel differently about this one.) But that is precisely why Paul had to deal with how we deal with them, and why he urged some thinking along with the feeling. It’s also why he is usually ignored and any peacemakers who wander into the foray are almost gleefully misunderstood and misrepresented by both sides. Accused of being either wishy-washy appeasers or over-starched fuddy-duddies, they end up peppered with the buckshot fired from both armies.

In Paul’s time, the issue was not alcohol and the strange truth that hard-nosed teetotalers and red-nosed alcoholics can share the same problem: an unhealthy focus on alcohol. (That’s not the issue in our county either. The issue is whether or not selling it here is a good thing. The “pro” folks and the “con” folks have every right to appropriately set forth their thinking.)

The presenting issue in Romans 14 was whether or not Christians should eat meat bought in the marketplace and likely offered to an idol before it got there. The arguments Christians made pro or con were at heart the same always made, as were the temptations both sides faced.

Laser-like focus can be sharp or it can be tunnel-vision. Most obvious to anyone not already fighting tooth and nail is that equally committed Christian folks dealing with a Romans 14 issue can and do take differing positions. St. Paul commands, “Don’t judge each other.” Such judging is not gray, it is sin.

The time we might spend on such issues casting doubt on each other’s motives would be better spent praying and seeking guidance to make choices we believe will honor God and be a blessing.