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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Obesity & The Church

When was the last sermon you heard on gluttony? I don't think I have heard one recently, or ever. In fact, as outspoken and dangerous as I am in the pulpit, I don't think I have said anything about gluttony and/or obesity. Shame on me.

Where I live obesity is pandemic. It's so bad that the store ads in the Sunday newspaper have obese models. It's not funny or pretty. I was in Ottawa last weekend. We went to IKEA and the Museum of Science and Technology. IKEA was swamped. It was like 'Black Friday' here in the States but just a regular day at IKEA. Not only was I in a different country, I was in a different world. The vast majority of people were average shape. It wasn't like being in China or Japan or a south Miami beach where everyone is slender. But it wasn't like being in upstate New York where obesity — even morbid obesity — is commonplace.

I have a friend who lost a significant amount of weight recently and I got thinking, "Where was the church in her battle for health?" We have small groups and support groups for various addictions such as gambling, alcohol, porn or drugs, and we have groups for various life stage issues such as blended families, the divorced or widowed, singles, seniors, etc. But what about the overweight?

It's a complex issue to tackle. Like other similar substance abuse issues there are issues of genetics, family history, community pressures, psychology, physiology and personal choice. The issues are many and the degree that one is more strongly an influencer over another indiscerible and individual. The choice part is what makes it at least partly a sin issue but it's the other issues that make it not only that and require a compassionate, dignified response from the church.

Make no mistake obesity is an epidemic and increasingly so in teens and children. We live in a time where we cannot ignore the level to which this issue permeates our society and churches.

What could of or should have the church done for my friend? What can it do so that she doesn't have a relapse? And even if she did, how should the church address it?
  • To start with I think we need to address the elephant in the livingroom. Let's get over our embarrassment and fear of offending someone if we speak about it. We should worry more that our silence condones obesity, or even worse that it communicates we didn't notice or care?

    I think we're scared to talk about it. It appears we're pointing fingers publicly if we preach about it. If we address it from the pulpit, won't the overweight people in the congregation feel singled out and conspicuous? Yes but I'll bet they already feel conspicuous.

    To a degree I think that we fail to address obesity as evangelicals because we are partly Gnostics who value the 'spiritual' over the 'fleshly' or 'earthly'. That's wrong. The Levitical code of the Hebrew Bible with all it's dietary restrictions speaks to the character and heart of our God. His knowledge of the very number of the hairs on our head shows his concern for our body and health and well being.

    For the church to be silent on the issue of obesity is bereft of the character and heart of God and does harm. The Bible says that when we fail to do the good we know we ought to do it is sin.

  • Maybe start with a words of hope & grace, compassion and solidarity. There is forgiveness. No one is too far gone. For some the obesity has grown to such weight and been with them for so long that it appears insurmountable. Their shame, character failure, and sin is ever with them and staring them and everyone else in the face. Whenever a burden has become insurmountable, we have heard a lie from the pit of hell for nothing is too difficult for our God and His arm is not too short to save us. The first step to hope is the rejection of the lie that says that the problem can't be fixed. Preach it church!

    Most overweight persons already feel great shame and embarrassment for how they appear. For many their weight is a symptom of they feel about who they are as a person. The church needs to say you are valued and we want you in our community no matter what size you are or where you may be on your journey toward health. Your value to the people of God is not any less because of your obesity. You are still loved, still wanted and still treasured as a member of the church of Jesus Christ.

    We will stand with you on your journey toward healing. We may hold you accountable but we won't reject you. We are with you for the long haul no matter the failures or successes we are with you. You are family. You are my beloved people.

  • Perhaps a gentle word of concern or conviction and strong words of persuasion toward health. Let's create a church culture where obesity isn't normalized and accepted. Let's develop some sort of pastoral care methodology where we tell people that we desire health and wholeness for their body, we'll help them with the issues they face and we expect they be working on their issues.

  • Let's be honest and say that obesity for the Christian is a gospel issue. It does hurt our testimony and credibility as individuals when we are grossly overweight and our life appears out of control. Our ability to communicate to others is hindered when we appear addicted.

    The silence of the church to address such an epidemic also preaches to watching world. It says that we either do not care or haven't noticed that there is a problem, which is to say we appear unloving and ignorant.

    Pastors need to be the first to step up to and away from the plate. We need to lose weight for the sake of the Gospel. The obesity epidemic is no place more evident than at a clergy gathering. Our credibility is on the line.

  • Since obesity has become an epidemic I believe the church needs to respond with action. There are numerous concrete steps a parish could choose: a parish nurse, support groups, financial support to those in need of health care, exercise facilities and communities, health and wellness information distribution, etc. We must do something. A hands off approach and leaving it to be a personal matter is no longer right or healthy for our current culture.

  • Finally, the journey toward wholeness is an issue of justice. Good food costs more. Is that right? It may be a matter of supply and demand but the church can use its prophetic voice and demand righteousness.
We know that obesity kills just like smoking or other substance abuse. It's a slow form of suicide. It's time the church erupt from it's silence.

Comments on "Obesity & The Church"


Blogger Christine Robinson said ... (10:00 AM, May 22, 2006) : 

I gather you're a guy rev, and issues and causes of obesity for men and women are completely different. So tackle this one with your wife or women's leaders. You've got half the story right!


Blogger theultrarev said ... (10:12 AM, May 22, 2006) : 

Christine, please say more. I'm not trying to be judgmental. I want to learn. If I only have half the story tell me the rest please.

My primary issue is that the church doesn't seem to be interested in the pandemic issue of obesity. How do we fix this?


Blogger Marcia Wilwerding said ... (7:30 PM, August 07, 2006) : 

I weigh in excess of 300 lbs. I was converted 16 years ago and have battled (let me be honest, embraced!) obesity during that whole time. However, I also tried every way I could to try to stop my gluttony. I failed every time.

Yet, admitting that gluttony was a sin was a good first step. The next step, lasting nearly 14 years, involved crying out to God to deliver me from it. I was so jealous because God had delivered my husband from alcohol almost immediately after his conversion, and I was still struggling after 14 years!

We moved to a town where we could go to a great church that didn't pull any punches with sin. Our pastor, with great compassion and real, honest-to-goodness tears, preaches that there is hope in Christ Jesus for deliverance from every besetting sin, including gluttony.

He preached a series of messages on eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood. In other words, finding soul satisfaction in Christ alone. He emphasized going to Christ when we were tempted to sin, and crying out to Him in true repentance. He preaches that everything we need to succeed comes from Christ: faith, belief, repentance, sanctification, and ultimately, salvation. After hearing these sermons, I began to really seek the Lord about this, and He sent several different means by which I have been brought to a place of true peace with God and complete deliverance from gluttony.

I was reading a devotional by William Jay called Morning Exercises for June 22. He discussed the experience of the woman at the well. The words "living water" really stuck out to me. I looked up all the Scriptures for "living water" and found that Christ stood on one of the feast days and called to the people to come and drink of the living water that he would give. He meant His Holy Spirit. This coincides with the passages about asking, seeking, and knocking.

After reading those passages, I truly called out to Him to give ME that living water whereby I might never thirst (lust for food) again.

All I can say is that for the past month I have had no desire to overeat or otherwise eat out of lust. I have been delivered. And, I got something else, too. I am moving more. I am doing exercises at home, walking more, and cleaning house much more! --All with a good and right attitude. You see, I always balked before. I always felt deprived and degraded. Not anymore. I am free.

I found that there is a new on-line Bible study called Setting Captives Free which pretty much teaches the same things the Lord showed me. I have been going through their program and hope to go on to the next level and become a mentor soon.

Christ in us: the hope of glory!



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (8:35 PM, June 16, 2007) : 

This is NOT a guy -vs- girl issue.
I just finished teaching a week long VBS class. While I was thankful to the volunteers that brought us food, I had to bring my own food because the food that was being served was nothing but high fat comfort food! The vast majority of the staff is "overweight" probably more acurately "obese." This is a growing concern and if we continue to make excuses and stick our heads in the sand, the systemic problem will continue.
I found this website because after this week of VBS I saw something needs to change within the church.
And I for one want to gather as much information as I can so I may propose a plan to battle "The Elephant in the Pulpit & Pews!"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:45 PM, June 03, 2010) : 

Thank you for this message. At one of my ministerial group meeting where we propose projects for our annual agenda, I suggested introducing a project addressing childhood obesity issues, causes, etc., and the benefits such would yield. Needless to say, my idea was "put down" as possibly insulting to our members suffering from overweight/obesity. I agree, the message should be addressed by every Black church in America!! We do have a problem!! God bless you.


Blogger theultrarev said ... (11:02 PM, June 03, 2010) : 

Thank you all for your comments. But the most recent comment is particularly interesting. We're scared of offending someone with a weight problem more than we're scared of them developing diabetes, heart problems or condemning them to an early grave. How truly sad.


Blogger Jen McCleve said ... (4:44 PM, August 02, 2011) : 

I go to a christian church every Sunday, and it's true, you never really hear about obesity or gluttony. Although I have to say that I have heard about being physically fit, and being healthy. I think that I heard the message, just with a more positive spin on things.


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