Sometime over the course of the last few years, my mom and my sister became vegetarians. My aunt (mom’s sister) does not eat red meat, nor does she eat foods with added sugar (i.e. sweets, etc.). So where else would we all go after a day at the baseball stadium (in itself a bastion of nutritional values)? Why, a barbecue joint, of course! It was good, but I will say that Arthur Bryant’s will not become my default barbecue choice.
While I understand the frustration of going to a restaurant and seeing nothing on the menu that meets your requirements, it was both sad and almost comical at the same time to watch them trying to make a meal out of pickles, coleslaw, and potato salad. The baked beans were out because they contained bacon. I’m not sure the meat-eaters among our family truly appreciated the sacrifice the vegetarians made to allow us our visit to the “meat museum” (as one called it). You can’t visit Kansas City without having BBQ – come on! But at least most other establishments have something for non-meat-eaters.
While I don’t believe that Romans 14 speaks of vegetarianism, veganism, or any other modern-day abstention from meat, it is still instructive as we think through some issues. My family members have no more religious motivation than anybody else today to choose not to eat meat. The reason Paul was really referring to here and in 1 Corinthians 10 was that if you knew that certain meat had been sacrificed to idols, that was sufficient reason to reject it. If you did not eat the idol-sacrificed meat, it was for the sake of the conscience of the person who offered it, not yours. Otherwise, Paul says, just eat it.
Paul designates the conscience of the person who has a problem eating meat as the weaker conscience. Those who freely ate meat – with thanksgiving and in good conscience – were not to “despise” the functional vegetarians, nor were those who abstained to “pass judgment” on those who believed they could eat anything. It was easy to see at our dinner table the tendency of some vegetarians to make comments disparaging meat-eaters’ proclivity for consuming animal carcasses, but the misunderstanding was mutual. Vegetarians are rarely accommodated in meals away from home, where they control what they want to eat; rather it’s expected that they will just adapt.
Now, I could take us down a huge rabbit hole and mine the theology of the Fall… As in, before sin entered the world, everybody was vegetarian. Is that God’s ultimate design, of which being an omnivore is a corruption? But that is not what I wanted to talk about today.
As a youth leader, there are many choices I could make in good conscience if it were only myself. But I believe the spirit of the passages about eating meat have a much broader application. If I watch an R-rated movie… wait. Scratch that. Let’s bring it within the realm of adult/ middle schooler relationships. If I walk into a theater showing a PG-13 movie and a middle schooler sees me, he thinks, “Well, if Andrew is watching it, maybe it’s OK.” Then he leaves the theater showing the movie his parents said he could and exposes himself to things that may raise questions he’s not yet ready to have answers for. The same scenario can play out with alcohol, music, TV, radio stations, and on and on.
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat (watch/listen), you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat (watch/listen), do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
I don’t want anyone to stumble, especially those precious young people entrusted to my care. And besides, when did “it’s not THAT bad” become our rule of life?