roamin' catholic: karin rosner

Am I Causing a Stumbling Block? 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13

Posted on: October 4, 2011

Red Wine in a Glass

1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

4Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.  – 1 Corinthians 8 1-13 (ESV)

When I exited the apartment where we were holding our Bible study, I was feeling very nice. What originally was supposed to be a women’s Bible Study on the Letter to the Hebrews became a co-ed group. The food, Bible-sharing and conversation were great, and the wine was flowing very freely. I drank one glass of Shiraz, and then I downed another. My limit is normally two drinks on those rare occasions that I do drink, and I was feeling very happy.

I was feeling so gosh darn happy that I responded to a text message from a guy friend who was having a spectacularly bad day. I walked and typed into my iPhone at the same time. As I sloshed across town, taking a long walk to my train line and breathing the cold night air in very deeply to sober up, I decided to send him a joke. My friend is a colleague in the ministry side of what I do, and the marketing side, too. He’s a Bible Guy. And he loves Star Wars. And, he needed something funny. I wrote what I thought was some kind of semi-innocent  yet nerdily esoteric remark about the Bible and Star Wars, and pressed “send”. I smiled to myself, pleased that I had done a good deed because I knew he’d get the joke and not be offended.  I shoved the iPhone into my pocket and walked on a little more.

My iPhone started buzzing in my pocket. It was a text from a girlfriend who also subscribes to my Facebook ministry page. I’ve got a very simple formula: portions of the readings from the day’s scripture passages, a little Biblical art, lots of prayer; I try to avoid controversy and create a prayerful little corner of Facebook that the Lord can use however he’d like to. Yeah. The page was still very new. It had about 350 followers on that evening and was growing at a fast clip.

“What were you drinking?” the little green bubble bounced out at me from the screen.

The mostly innocent joke that I had sent to Bible Guy? Er… I suddenly realized that in my drunken haze, it wasn’t sent through the text message app. It was distributed through Hootsuite  into at least 350 Facebook newsfeeds within a second, and to at least another 700 or so people through my Facebook friends’ list, and to my connections on Twitter and LinkedIn. Most of these readers would probably not get the Star Wars reference, and some of them might possibly be offended even if they did understand the joke. Even worse, readers who know me a little more than the page likers did might put all the little elements together and figure out, like my girlfriend, that I don’t hold my liquor very well. Everything that I had just sent out was inappropriate and liable to offend someone, getting in the way of my page’s purpose!

I stood still in the middle of the freezing sidewalk on West 14th Street, panting panicky hard breath clouds into the dark,  frantically logging into Facebook through the phone’s web browser to make sure that the potentially offending post was deleted from everywhere it had landed.

My idea of funny was appropriate to share with one person in the moment, but I am not sure how well it would be received by 1) other committed Christians who drink socially 2) committed Christians who don’t drink at all 3) my SciFi fan friends who are not committed Christians 4) my SciFi fan friends who I don’t know very well who _are_ committed Christians and who might be very sensitive 5) recovering alcoholics 6) Christians who believe Science Fiction and Fantasy  (and Star Wars in particular) are from the devil… there are stumbling blocks a-plenty here. My freedom, practiced with reckless abandon, may cause others to stumble.

How I live out my Christian faith, how I practice spirituality, and how I put both faith and spirituality into action in the world outside the confines of my own life  are shaped by every  element that’s molded me into me: family, upbringing, passions, interests, education experiences and the influence of the church I belong to now and how we worship; all of these have an impact on how I personally react to God’s message as I read through the scriptures and try to share Jesus Christ and my faith with others. All of this spiritually formative stuff isn’t just internal. It all flows outward and becomes external as all of us meet and share with each other and with others.

BUT… experience and a little reading about history has taught me that Christians don’t always agree, and what’s acceptable for one person might be very confusing for someone else.  What might be totally appropriate in one context (having one more drink with your friends while studying the Bible) might be completely inappropriate in other contexts (sharing the Gospel in cultures that don’t drink anything stronger than tea.)

So, when Mark Brown, a pioneer in using social networking in international Christian ministry, posted a photo to Facebook and his blog of the shiny, bright and new deeply personal tattoo he had inked across his upper back and shoulders, I didn’t think much of it other than wincing in sympathetic pain and thinking about the tattoos I’d like to get for myself but am too scared to. Mark’s tattoo is of two arms linked, Christ’s arm supporting and raising the arm and shoulder of his friend and brother.

“He’ll use it to share his story,” I thought to myself. “Good for him.” Lots of my friends have Christian tattoos. Some are ministers.  It is not a big deal for Christians in my group of friends, especially from my generation and younger, to get inked, or pierced.

Oh, but others are not going to understand. There’s gonna be a firestorm.

Every brave person engaging in ministry using the Internet interacts with a global community where Christian ideas collide. Although there are many elements of essential Biblical Christianity that most of us agree on, there isn’t a single universal set of interpretations for many of the elements of Law contained in both the Old and New Testaments.

Hundreds Facebook and blog comments later after he posted his photo, Mark recorded a video message that explained why he believed as a Christian, that getting a tattoo was a personal choice and not sinful. He broke apart the references to self-mutilation that are contained in Scripture (Leviticus 19:28). (Watch). The comments continued to explode in arguments for and against, and when I went back to read the additional comments left after my supportive post, he had shut down the entry to his blog. On one attempt, I couldn’t even load the page at all!

What Paul writes above to the Church in Corinth in verses 11 and 12 sobers me:

And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Q: What are we trying to share? A: A message about Christ’s love.

 

Q: What gets in the way of the message? A: The medium of the message (a tattoo, an insensitive joke, a brightly colored v-neck sweater on a pretty female church leader, a female church leader, wine at a church event… )

 

Q: Will God overcome our mistakes in sharing his message?



A: I have to believe YES, but that doesn’t give me a license to share recklessly. I know that I won’t be able to be perfect as I share my faith… I am going to offend someone with something I say, whether I mean to or not. I believe in the goodness of God to overcome my silly Star Wars joke… but did anyone read it? Did I offend anyone by my stupid error?

I used “gosh darn” above. I am liable to offend someone reading this.

This morning I shared a flyer on my Facebook wall from my church about our St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals event that’s coming up this weekend. One online friend became seriously offended and took me to task as to whether it was Biblical. We had a good discussion and I am inspired to look into her arguments. I don’t agree with her at all, but I tried to be sensitive to what she was saying gently  and share my reasons for what my church does and not puff myself up with my supposed knowledge (verse 1 and 2)  She’s my sister in Christ, and I need to love even as I feel the need to persuade her over to my side of the argument… or am I even supposed to? Am I sending a stumbling block onto the bridge between her and God (or between any other reader and God) even by trying to persuade her to understand what I believe?

What do you think? The comments are open…. moderated on my blog, but open.

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1 Response to "Am I Causing a Stumbling Block? 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13"

We have all been there. I have had parishioners posting on my wall inappropriate things through rogue applications. I quoted a film reference which was misinterpreted by those who had not seen the film. It is a real issue for all of us in ministry. So much so I preached about it! http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/?e=15

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