In her book, Loving the Little Years, Rachel Jankovic shares some wise, practical advice about how to handle conflict in a home with children who constantly fight over things like flashlights. After breaking down the play-by-play of what just happened with her kids, she asks them:
“What is more important—this flashlight, or your sister?” After they answer (and believe it or not they do know the answer) we will ask them what they were pretending was more important. They know that too. So we tell them to get it right. They need to apologize to each other for breaking fellowship over a flashlight. I like for them to say that because it makes it perfectly clear to them what exchange they were making. Flashlight for sister… flashlights are not to come between us in fellowship. Ever (77-78).
Not only is this a great lesson for us as parents with children in our home, it’s also a wonderful reminder for us as members of God’s household, the church. It’s easy to think one child snubbing their sibling over a flashlight is silly, until we do the same thing to our brothers and sisters in Christ over, say, the kind of food we eat. The question we must ask, just like Rachel asks her children, is this: What is more important—this food, or your sister?
Perhaps our willingness to snub our siblings over food choices is nowhere more obvious than on Facebook. Designer food fads aren’t just a thing of the culture outside the church. In fact I might argue that when these food fads take hold in the church they are often championed with religious fervor and unparalleled zeal, which makes them far more overbearing and relationally damaging than anything we find outside the church family.
All of this is unnerving, of course, since the issue of food is so clearly addressed in the New Testament, both by Jesus and his apostles.
Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him… Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? Thus he declared all foods clean (Mark 7).
Clearly, the idea that food makes you either pure or impure is not new for us today. This notion had to be opposed repeatedly in the early church, because even the disciples had a hard time grasping this truth. But that’s the reality—food doesn’t make you clean or dirty. You shouldn’t judge others by what they eat, and you shouldn’t let yourself be judged. It is not an issue worth breaking fellowship over. Ever.
But we are constantly willing to divide over food. Which brings me to my next point…
5. The food fights on Facebook are a denial of Scripture and the explicit teaching of Jesus and his apostles.
The next time you want to update your status or comment on someone else’s about one of your personal food convictions, think about the last statement. The undertow of your never-ending food obsession pulls people into the deep waters of unnecessary guilt and condemnation. You say it doesn’t really matter to you, but the comments you make about your food preferences bite and cut like sharp teeth.
I know you’ve seen Food, Inc. and have unparalleled convictions now. I know the co-op is your life and the milk we buy at the store is filled with cancer-causing micronutrients and everything else evil in the universe. No, we can’t really afford to spend 60 percent of our paycheck to “buy local,” even though we appreciate the idea.
A memorable Facebook conversation between two sisters in Christ went something like this:
Status: “Had a great afternoon, great snack with the kids. Half-price cheese at the grocery and some yummy crackers. The girls loved it!”
Comment: “Hmmm… yeah, that’s the problem. When you get cheese like that at such a discounted price, it’s putting local farmers out of business and their family’s livelihood is destroyed. We try to only buy cheese that’s locally produced and supports honest, hard-working people. Plus it’s way better for you and especially your kids.”
Undercurrent of commenter: “Oh, wow, I’m sad that you enjoy putting people out on the street and destroying families. And for what? A buck or two off on your cheese purchase? I hope you stay awake all night thinking about the children you just orphaned. I’m sorry you like supporting corporate crooks, all so you can poison your own children with cancer.”
Come on, people, you seriously think that’s not divisive? You’re acting like the little kid who’s ready to disown his brother over a flashlight. What is more important, locally raised, cage-free cheese, or your sister?
Does this sound ridiculous? That’s because it is. We’re explicitly told as Christians not to divide over food issues, but yet here we are, dividing over food issues.
While it’s not typical for people to go so far, I know of one Christian family who won’t eat with other families if the food prepared doesn’t meet a long list of locally grown, organic requirements. They’ll politely decline, or offer to bring their own food. What’s more important, the flashlight, or your brother? What do your actions say? Why when Jesus and his apostles tell you not to make a big deal about food do you go and do the exact opposite?
In case I haven’t made my point clear, I think being judgmental and divisive—yes even making an issue—about food related issues is asinine, at least, and completely un-Christian, at worst. The only food laws that matter to Christians are ‘Take, eat, do this in remembrance of me.’
We are so far past the point of having an open-minded discussion about food matters that I would say it’s best to keep quiet. Have your convictions but shut up about them. Care more about not giving offense to your brother than bludgeoning him over the head with your petty food fads. Buy at the co-op, drink your raw milk and stay away from gluten. But stop making people feel bad about an issue that Jesus explicitly said doesn’t matter.
Food fads come and go, especially in America. Not so long ago, white bread was the miracle food that would perfect and purify. For many today, organic is savior.
Food was an issue in the early church, and Paul gives us coordinates for navigating through. First, do not let yourself be judged, and do not judge concerning food. Don’t judge your brothers who prefer the Coop, don’t let yourselves be judged for going to MacDonald’s. You aren’t judge. God is.
Second, all food is good because it all comes from God. Eat whatever is set before you. Whatever it is, it’s holy food if it is received with thanksgiving. Third, don’t form food factions. Food isn’t a club badge. Do not separate because of diet, and don’t destroy your brother for the sake of food.
Make your dietary decisions with the best information you can find. Discuss and debate the nutritional and aesthetics merits of food freely, publicly, respectfully, charitably. But remember that Christians have only one food law: Take, eat; this is my body. Only one food unites us, the bread and wine of the Lord’s table (A blog post by Peter Leithart)