How the Church Can Respond To Obesity — It’s not about the fat.
October 2, 2012 § 5 Comments
Now, you all know I like to write about foodish things. Yesterday, blogger and speaker Shane Blackshear wrote a post calling for the Church to address the problem of obesity. I heartily agree that the pastorate would do well to help their congregations deal with food issues—but “food issues” go far beyond simple over-eating. This kind of bondage is expressed in a wide range of dysfunctional eating behaviors, and where there is bondage, the Body of Christ needs to call for freedom. But we need to be wise in the way we do it, lest our good intentions be twisted into yet other forms of bondage.
So although I agree with most of Blackshear’s post, this passage made me worry that we’re missing the real problem:
“If we are truly concerned with the health of our brothers and sisters, we would…ask in kind and loving ways, that no one bring fried chicken, fatty biscuits, or large portioned desserts to the pot-luck. Whoa… I can hear my heresy trial being assembled as we speak. A move like that might rock the boat. It might upset the sweet old ladies that tithe O so consistently.”
I hope this doesn’t sound like that trial, but it looks like he was expecting it.
And maybe this is evidence of a cultural blind spot for me—and maybe we do potlucks differently up here in the North than they do in the South—but I highly doubt that anyone’s struggle with obesity finds its cause in a once-a-month church potluck. No. Food issues are things that come to life in secret places, and the secret reasons we go to our unhealthy food practices are the ones that need to be dealt with. No need to deny our elders any more of their place in church culture—we’ve already taken away so much of their music, their language, their places of participation. Let them nurture.
Quitting the potluck fare wouldn’t work to curb obesity, anyways; as far as I’ve heard, most of the blame for our society’s health woes can be placed on our over-consumption of processed foods, rather than home-cooking. This book suggests that much of the food in the modern American’s processed diet—by design—contains such a potent cocktail of salt, sugar, and fat that these foods can alter the chemistry of our brain’s pleasure centers, creating a situation that needs to be treated much like an addiction. As anyone knows who has spent time looking into the process of addiction recovery, it takes you into some deep shitty places. Mommy/Daddy issues. Terrifying vulnerability. We need to tread this subject with much grace and wisdom.
In her book on eating disorders in adults Dr. Trisha Gura argues that one need not have a clinically diagnosable disorder for his/her life to be significantly affected in a negative way by food issues. There is less of a difference than we would like to admit between people who struggle with unwanted food habits (such as those that lead to obesity) and those who struggle with clinically diagnosable eating disorders. The thing we’re dealing with is not over-indulgence in pleasure. It’s something that causes a lot of pain for a lot of people.
When we are suffering in destructive behavior patterns, we are divorced from the joy of Christ. The problem that needs addressing isn’t something that goes by such an easy name as “weakness” or such a vague name as “gluttony”—those terms seem too small to describe it—what we need to address is nothing less serious than spiritual bondage. The Enemy of the church, I’m sure, uses food issues of all kinds to keep us oppressed, to ruin our communion, to keep us from being grateful for our daily bread.
The answer is not found in encouraging our brothers and sisters to restrict themselves. Dealing with these difficult issues can cause some people to seek out comfort in other self-destructive behaviors, and we don’t need to put any more stumbling blocks in front of them.
The answer is to encourage our brothers and sisters to find healing for the things that trigger their self-destructive coping mechanisms and to guide them into mature, gracious thought patterns, helping them to accept sanctification as a process, and to encourage them to refrain from judgment (even of themselves). And above all, let us call our brothers and sisters to invest themselves in each other, to seek out and enjoy communion with each other, to show the kind of love that no one feels the need to hide from.
A note: I am very excited for the release of blogger Rachel Marie Stone’s book Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food. Her words on these issues have informed much of my thinking on this topic; they are healing words for the Church. My thoughts in this particular post don’t really reflect the issues she deals with, but if anyone is looking for more on this topic, I would point you to her blog rachelmariestone.com.