But, is this the way that we, as Christians and Quakers, are called to live? Does this reflect the kingdom of God? Can I be part of a community and do whatever I want? To me, the answer seems clearly no. Jesus calls us to love one another, be in community with one another, and be members of a body. And sometimes this will mean that I will give up some of my individual agenda in order to be caring for others in the community.
As a newlywed committed to living her life jointly with another individual, this situation is often before me. In a somewhat mundane example, I like boxed macaroni and cheese, especially with tuna in it. My husband, Micah, is not a fan. And so, I choose to not eat boxed mac and cheese when we have dinner together, instead eating something we both will enjoy. Of course, I could say “I want macaroni and cheese and that’s what we’re having. So there.” I would then get what I want to eat, but I also would be selfish and choosing my own needs over those of a person I love. The beautiful thing about this situation is that I know that Micah would eat boxed mac and cheese for dinner because he knows I like it. He too would surrender his own agenda so that I could enjoy my cheesy noodles.
This surrender of our own demands so that others might be welcome and a full part of the community is part of being a family of faith. A youth pastor I knew growing up once told a story of a kid he had in his youth group who had been previously involved in some really dark satanic stuff. One day, the guy came over to the pastor’s house and his kids were watching a movie. The movie deeply disturbed the teenager as it reminded him of the satanic things he had been involved with and struggled to leave behind. The pastor turned the movie off and from then on when the guy came over the family made certain that movie and any related toys and games were put away. They themselves did not feel convicted about stopping watching and enjoying the movie, but they choose to not put a stumbling block in front of a brother.
For a third example of this balance between individual freedom and community, there are those among my friends who choose not to drink out of religious conviction. I personally do not feel convicted in this way. But when I am with these friends, I do not drink and a certainly do not suggest that we go out to a bar during our time together. It is the kind and understanding thing to do. I choose to abstain from behavior I would usually take part in so that I can be in fellowship with them.
That in one community there would be people who have different convictions on how we live out our life is nothing new. Paul felt the need to write in Romans advice on how to proceed when we differ on such things.
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval. (Romans 14:1-4)
Paul goes on saying:
Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. (Romans 14: 20-22)
And what is more loving for a community than that? I show I care for other’s by putting their needs above my own. By loving their spiritual health more than I love my freedom to do whatever I want. And as a reward for such a sacrifice, I also have my spirit cared for and am in communion with my brothers and sisters.