Last week there was an article on NPR about NYC’s ban on big sodas in an effort to curb obesity in the city. The articles author astutely pointed out that the problem with these kinds of bans is that they’re based on values, and values are different from person to person. What is unacceptable to one might be perfectly permissible to another or even necessary.
I’m not interested in making a statement about what should and shouldn’t be public policy.
Here is what I do want to say: Even though there was no mention of church or religion, the writer of the article was pleading for the church to do its job, a job that it’s neglected for some time now.
If public policy is the government’s purview, then values are the churches.
The church is generally quick to point to the numerous instances in scripture where our bodies are described as a temple; those passages are convenient, when we want to address illegal drugs, smoking, and alcohol abuse. But rarely, if ever, do we address gluttony.
If I had to say why, I think there are a few reasons:
- Many of our pastors are obese. It’s tricky, because I can’t think of any other sin that you can see just by looking at a person. Gluttony may be the modern scarlet letter. Please, understand, I’m not saying that being heavy is a sin, but try preaching a sermon about gluttony, and lack of self-control when you yourself are standing before a congregation and noticeably overweight. Unfortunately, this doesn’t excuse us from withholding a part of the Gospel from God’s people.
- Many in our congregations are obese. Same as above; being overweight isn’t something you can hide. Many pastors or fellow church members just don’t want to offend or embarrass people, and while that comes from a loving place, remember it’s never fun to be called out on your sin; we have to find tactful and loving ways to be or brothers/sisters keeper.
Several years ago I was working at a youth conference and went to lunch with several denomination leaders. The conversations turned to a church in Germany that decided that they would no longer have beer at their fellowships (a cultural norm) because of a problem of alcoholism in their community. Everyone at lunch believed this to be wonderful because the community was looking out for the health of their people. I agree. But if it was so obviously the right and loving thing to do, why aren’t we applying the lesson to our own American churches.
If we are truly concerned with the health of our brothers and sisters, we would probably take a cue from that German congregation, and 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.
This isn’t a move we need to make flippantly. Christians, we’ll have to walk with each other through this slowly, carefully, and most of all lovingly. Those who don’t struggle with this one will need to be transparent about the weaknesses they do have, and be serious about those short comings too.
It will be a narrow road to travel, one with pitfalls on either side. The last thing we need is to turn the church into vain snobs, calling anything that couldn’t find its way into a grocery store magazine, sinful. We also can’t make it strictly physical, neglect the spiritual side, start a P90X class in the gym and call it done.
We were never promised an easy road. But, when we ignore the problem, decide not to be our brother’s/sister’s keeper, we stand by while people kill themselves slowly, and it will be yet another facet of life in which we are no different than the world around us. We’ve got to open our eyes and see that this obesity epidemic is the church’s problem.
What do you think? Do you hate me now? Have you ever seen a community address this issue well? If not, how can we do so?