Here's the thing about the conversion experience: there are a particular set of temptations that arise once you have one. As you are coming to terms with this new way of being, of looking on the world, of feeling a sense of renewal, of call, of purpose, you start to project onto the world around you a desire to get things into line with these new expectations. It's only natural that we, as human beings, work to shape the environment around us into an order with which we are more comfortable. There is really no more organic response to receiving the Good News that to desire to share it, to let people know about this new influence on your life...and then to invite people into that new life (and to work on reordering the world around you into compliance with that vision for a new life. Yes?
Perhaps you are already pulling back from that concept. In print, admittedly, it does not through off a pretty scent. Can we get on board with a new life in Christ? Yes. Are we willing to chase down our neighbors, our friends, our relatives and make the case for this new life in Christ that we are enjoying? Perhaps. Are we ready to go out and force the issue? Most likely, and hopefully, no.
Paul has done a lot to get us into a place (we Romans, and all others receiving this letter, that is) of experiencing a profound conversion to a new life in Christ. In chapter 14, he recognizes and teaches us about what that new life will look like as we attempt to fold back into our mundane existence in the communities and families into which we were placed "preconversion." Be they pagan or Jew, gentile or genteel, slave or free, we are going to be living in and in the midst of communities that are not necessarily ready to accept our new ways of being and understanding the world. We cannot expect them to suddenly get on board our experience, nor should we insist on their conforming to our new faith life. Yet, and this is important, Paul makes an effort to lead us and guide us in way that we might choose to go.
This way is to understand that the one thing we cannot do is force piety. Nor can we insist on conformity to our theology when people might not share it. For one thing, our certainty in our faith does not amount to us having a corner on the market of truth. For another, who among us, being forced to believe anything, eventually adopts that perspective freely when coercion is at the heart's core of that kind of conversion. Few, indeed.
So the challenge is to not put stumbling blocks in front of anyone. Our practice is not meant to set us apart, but rather to weave us more deeply into a human society that is aching for the justice of the Kingdom of God. The righteousness of which is a willingness to embrace a radical call to inclusion. Everyone is invited to the feast. NO ONE is refused admission. At the same time, provision is always made for the guest, in order that they might know a true and radical welcome, that they should not misconstrue an authentic faith as a free pass on all behavior while at the same time learning what it means to greet the Christ in each person they meet: straight or gay, black or white, rich or poor, slave or free, up or down, right or left.
The one thing we cannot claim as members of the Body of Christ? Exclusive membership in a closed society. Why? Because:
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. (verses 7-8)