Compassion suggests that we limit our freedom in ways that will help others on their journey toward wholeness. “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Freedom limited by compassion for others
The news is filled with events and discussion around freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. The killing of journalists and cartoonists in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo office was directly in response to their exercise of freedom of speech – printing satirical cartoons about a wide variety of issues and figures, including the Prophet Mohamed. Those who carried out the murders said they were offended, and were defending their own religious views.
In Utah this week the Mormon church held a press conference about their new policy stand – supporting proposed legislation in that state preventing discrimination against people based on race, gender or sexual orientation, including in hiring, housing and other public practices. Along with this, they state a strong preference for policies that also protect the rights of religious people to speak and practice their religious views without retaliation. Depending on which coverage you read, or where you stand on the issues, you see
We in this constitutional democratic republic are accustomed to wrestling between freedom and and its limits based on responsibility to the freedom of others. You may have the right to carry a concealed hand gun, but there are limits to that freedom – you cannot carry it on a public school campus. You may have freedom of speech, but there are limits – you can’t falsly yell “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theatre.
These ideas are so well engrained in us that we sometimes get confused when we think about, discuss and practice our faith. We sometimes forget that Jesus came to establish his Kingdom, which is not a democracy. We pray His prayer, asking that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven – essentially pledging ourselves to living and working for that fulfillment. So what of our freedom in Christ within this kingdom that is coming, and is already here?
I’ve written recently about our freedom in Christ vis-a-vis the Law. Free from and Free for. Here I want us to think about the limits on our freedom based on our compassion for others. Take a look at the text again in 1 Corinthians 8:9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
The gist is this: If exercising my freedom would cause someone else to stumble, then I should limit my freedom to protect them. Each party has responsibility. But if the other person is prevented from exercising restraint because of their own brokenness, then my love (God’s love working through me) would dictate that I should not act in a way that harms that person or causes her to harm herself.
Paul uses an example that is anachronistic for most of us – food sacrificed to idols. There are still places where you can find this, but they are rarer than in Paul’s time. And Paul was writing to people who likely would have practiced this form of food dedication in their daily lives.
We may not be likely to encounter this difficulty. So how will we experience this?