The church in Corinth was a real thorn in Paul’s side. In the ancient world, Corinth had a reputation like the wild west towns we see on television, filled with hard-living, hard-drinking, unruly people.
After planting the Corinth church, Paul ministered for a year and a half among them before going on to plant new churches in other parts of the Roman Empire. After leaving Corinth Paul received word that things were falling apart. Factions had developed, morals were failing, worship had become more about blessing old lifestyles than it was about Jesus.
It was all about “my rights” rather than learning to live in the Jesus way.
In his first letter to this fractious congregation, Paul writes that questions keep coming up about whether or not they had the right to eat meat that has been offered up to idols. The pagan temples in the city ran the best butcher shops because they had an endless supply of meat from the ritual sacrifices presented at the temples.
It’s just like any other meat, the reasoning went so why shouldn’t we be able to eat it?
Paul responded that though the argument was logically right it wasn’t just a matter of logic. Nor just about rights. It was also about responsibilities. Paul asked, what if you’re eating meat sacrificed to idols which cause hurt to a friend or tempt her to worship idols rather than Jesus?
“A free meal here and there isn’t worth the cost of even one of these weak ones. So never go to these idol-tainted meals if there’s any chance at all that it will” cause damage to one of your brothers or sisters.
As the public debate rages on the Second Amendment, I keep looking back to Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church. When my right to something causes harm to a brother or sister, it must give way in favor of the life of the other. You only have to look at the available statistics to see where we have come focusing only on our rights: Between 1968 and 2011, there were more gun deaths in the U.S. than in all the wars fought by the U.S. from the war of Independence to Iraq. Tens of thousands are killed and injured by guns — every year.
Why can we not even talk rationally about reasonable responsible boundaries on Second Amendment rights? Because we have permitted the terms of the public conversation to be set by those who profit from the sale of those weapons.
It is not in their interests for the conversation to lead any direction but toward more sales and greater profits.
We in the Church can help recast the conversation. Recognizing that there is no single silver bullet fix, we should always look to that vision of the kingdom of God to which Isaiah pointed: And he shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2.2-4 ESV)
The Rev. Camille Josey is the pastor at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church.