The Untouchable Topic

To me this misses what the OP is actually trying to address. The fact that people disagree about what constitutes a healthy diet doesn’t mean a healthy diet doesn’t exist. The fact that people are jerks and moralize about about supplements or ingredients they only just learned about doesn’t mean that “health” as a concept doesn’t exist or that all diets, body fat percentages, and physical fitness levels are equally “healthy.” The fact that there is no consensus among middle-class housewives about what a healthy lifestyle looks like shouldn’t cause us to throw up our hands and proclaim that none of it matters.

This reasoning reminds me of the type of reasoning we criticize: “Unless you can give me an exhaustive list of everything effeminate, then effeminacy doesn’t exist/isn’t a sin.” I don’t want to minimize the oppression your family has had at the hands of the food-pharisees, but it seems to me that a lot of the reactions on this thread are against things John hasn’t actually argued. The “post-modernist” feeling, in my estimation, is the feeling of nearly being chucked out the Overton Window for asking a question.

I wonder how much of this has to do with social class and location? Middle class vs poor, urban vs suburban vs rural? I (obviously) don’t know the context of everyone participating in this thread, but the Reformed do skew decidedly middle-class and respectable. We middle class have the luxury of fussing over the new dieting fads and becoming evangelists for the latest snake-oil. But most of the really overweight people I know are poor, not middle-class. They aren’t putting coconut oil in their coffee or worrying about gluten. They’re eating whatever is in the freezer section of Dollar General because that’s what’s available and convenient. They’re drinking 64oz sodas because they’re only $0.99 at Wesco.

I’m not saying this as a condemnation, but as a reality and a consequence of the luxury Joseph rightly pointed out. I don’t think it can or should be reduced down to gluttony, per se. But I think John’s right that something is severely wrong and the church shouldn’t punt on this. I’ve been in those prayer meeting with the sedentary, 80-lbs overweight sister who always wants prayer for healing but takes no practical steps toward health.

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Zak,

You said exactly what I wanted to say about this. Any time you are dealing with sins of degrees, be they effeminacy or gluttony, both antinomianism and legalism become potential problems, and anyone arguing for one side or the other is open to one accusation or the other.

As I believe I’ve heard Tim say in the past, it’s possible to acknowledge a problem without being autistic about solutions. And just because it’s possible to be autistic about solutions doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge the problem and look for solutions, even if the solutions need to be pastoral, sometimes in the narrowest sense.

I also strongly agree that the various sins on the gluttony front cut strongly across various distinctions in our culture, with the Pharisaical side bending in the direction of young, female, urban/suburban and middle-upper class. The glutton and drunkard contingent bends older, male, rural and lower-class.

I could write a massive judgmental screed about veganism, for example. Suffice it to say, if you find an old, male, rural, lower-class vegan in America, he is probably unique. Young, female, urban, middle-class vegans, on the other hand, are a multitude.

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Thinking Someone’s thoughts after Him . . . a parable:

The next day, Victoria went up to her quiet-time alcove to pray, about the sixth hour. Then she became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready down in the Bosch-equipped kitchen, she fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great organic-cotton 600-thread count sheet bound at the four corners, descending to her and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of GMO vegetables, and hormone-infused four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts and rodents, clusters of bat jerky, snake fritters, and boiled vulture eggs. And a voice came to her, “Rise, Victoria! pile it high on your plate and eat!”

But Victoria said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything infused with hormones, insecticides, artificial flavors and colors, or any genetically modified organism! Evah!!”

And a voice spoke to her again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

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Actually, I’m fairly certain not one of them would complain because of their shame. Pastorally, I am often more concerned about morbidly obese women in our church processing their faith through their fat because of the constant shaming of fat in our culture than I am their gluttony. Don’t know if I’ve often met Christian woman who was really heavy who didn’t live in shame for it whereas I don’t know that I’ve ever met a Christian man who was proud or greedy who had any shame over it. Chuckling as I write. Love,

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To me this misses what the OP is actually trying to address. The fact that people disagree about what constitutes a healthy diet doesn’t mean a healthy diet doesn’t exist.

My last post was an aside, but not unrelated. The OP was talking about an “unaddressed problem of obesity among Christian brethren” which is “clearly evident”. To which I and others responded, “Really, there are fat American Christians who don’t feel shame and guilt about eating too much?”

It was a helpful turn in the discussion to focus on gluttony. There are many Christians (fat and thin equally) who are sensual with their eating and need to repent.

But I think many would do well to consider the parade of demons that have been unleashed in the church by a fixation on fad dieting and food scruples. Consider some Scriptures and please bear with a long post.

First, I wrote “demons” just now and by that meant the “teachings of [literal] demons”, who “require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving” (I Tim 4:1-3). Satan loves food laws, because they produce the division that he’s after. How so?

These teachings introduce factions in the church. When potluck day comes, one can find it getting more and more difficult to find something to bring that will satisfy everyone’s particular diet and won’t earn criticism about the ingredients (refined sugar!). Yet “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17 – consider the whole chapter). It’s not what’s on the plate, but who is around the table.

There are Judaizers who are “upsetting whole families by teaching what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11). I have encountered literal Judaizers, who teach that we should avoid foods prohibited by Leviticus (because God wanted Israel to be healthy, of course). I refer to metaphorical Judaizers too. Pork restrictions were God’s idea; how much more should we be careful with man’s commands! Discord is sown in the family when the cook’s tyranny oppresses everyone else, or families cannot eat together because of someone’s pickiness.

Individually - I’m convinced that 1 Tim 4:7 and following fit hand and glove with the beginning of the chapter. When I read Josephus writing about the Essenes, how their scrupulous Torah diet made them look 50 at the age of 90 and how they lived to be 125 I thought, “That’s who Paul was talking about!” And practical experience bears this out. We only have so much time and effort for self-improvement. How much more frequently we know about someone’s pursuit of physical perfection than their pursuit of holiness! Sadly, in time the misplaced emphasis often becomes evident.

Now I wrote all this because I’m convinced the unaddressed danger to the sheep is not too many big gulps, but man’s “little laws”. God subordinates healthiness much lower than “a close second to sexual immorality” (OP). I hope I’ve made it clear that the world is not an innocent and helpful teacher here. From where I sit, these are the things that Christians need to be extremely wary of, much more so than a second piece of pie, which God created to be “received with thanksgiving”.

Don’t get me wrong! There is sin in both ways. People eat too much too and doing so indulge the flesh. But they are not equally dangerous to us. Obesity has been condemned by everyone everywhere. Most of us need to justify ourselves before we enjoy any amount of what the world condemns as “decadent”. But obsessions over eating and healthiness have not been warned against except on page after page of the New Testament.

And as they say these days, “the [world’s] cure is worse than the disease”. Consider Col 2:20-23. “Do not taste” has the “appearance of wisdom”, but is of “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”. I would wager that 99 out of a 100 overweight people could give a hearty personal testimony to the truth of these verses. All the dieting, scruples, and obsession with image have a hand in producing obesity and unhealthiness. Laws provoke our rebellious hearts into more rebellion. Only the gospel of Jesus can deliver us from gluttony, Pharisaism, pride, and vanity.

And Jesus can deliver us from destructive habits that destroy our bodies! But when He does so, it doesn’t result in a sudden interest in the ingredients in our food. It doesn’t result in a new energy for counting calories or a sudden taste for arugula. It might not even result in weight loss! When Jesus delivers us from our bondage to food, He puts our appetites in their lawful place. Food loses its ability to comfort and it loses its ability to justify. It takes a far back seat to righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. We realize that our bellies are not our god to be served by indulgence or by asceticism. Jesus is to be served by laying down our lives and bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. May He pour those out on us!

Maybe I’m arguing with no one and we’re all on the same page. Praise God! It helped me to spend a day reading these Scriptures and typing them out, and hopefully by God’s grace it will be helpful to someone else too.

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This perplexes me. I said nothing about whether fat Christians have or do not have any guilt or shame about their condition. The response is a non-sequitur to what I actually said, which was that the problem is not being actively addressed by (most) church leadership. I’m sure many sinners have guilt and shame over their sin. As The Grace of Shame contends, this is actually a blessing. Maybe the homosexual has guilt and shame over their lifestyle. Does that mean we shouldn’t address the sin if we see it continuing daily? No!!!

As for the rest of your post, let me say “Hear, hear!” It is wonderfully composed and referenced. Thank you for the time you put in to it. I think we are all aware there exists a whole world of sin on the other end of the spectrum. You have the Whole Foods crowd on one end, and the Walmart crowd on the other. We shop at Walmart in my community, and have no Whole Foods in the area, so perhaps that is what guides my perspective on the issue.

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Surely Pastor Bayly you are aware of the “body positivy” and “big is beautiful” campaigns that are being pushed by the mainstream culture, no? Fat shaming is quickly becoming anathema.

Those are just the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

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Dear John, pls don’t be discouraged by this discussion. Your work is helpful and has elicited lots of other helpful comments. As for the fat movement, I take Joseph’s view of it. It’s maybe like Johnson’s proverbial dog walking on hind legs: the wonder of it isn’t that some dogs can do it well but that any dog would do it at all. So no, I don’t think it’s a serious thing at all. It’s more like a gay man getting his flame on. Love,

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I am by no means an old man, but I remember a time when the shame of homosexuality was almost universally taken for granted. The movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is essentially (spoiler alert) an extended transsexual joke. Seinfeld’s “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” was funny precisely because it played on the obvious double-standard that everyone knew homosexuality to be shameful, but that politically correct opinion among urban elites demanded that it not be. The cognitive dissonance was the joke.

So, all that to say, it’s hard to tell which left-wing fads are going to catch fire and which are going to fizzle in the pan, but I wouldn’t count “body positivity” out as another instance of proper shame being suppressed by our culture in unrighteousness.

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I agree. Good points.

Thank you for the work you put into an excellent post.

Table fellowship is a powerful form of fellowship. This is likely what our Lord was doing when he declared all foods clean, and clearly what God the Father was doing to re-emphasize this message to Peter in Acts (“Rise, kill and eat!”).

Modern fad diets and dietary restrictions break this table fellowship. I had occasion a year or so ago to listen to a vegan coworker complain about how a former company of hers catered barbecue and she was “unable” to eat any of the foods: The mashed potatoes and cole slaw had milk, and the green beans had bacon. She isn’t Muslim or Jewish or Hindu. She just up and decided one day not to eat the things that her people eat, thus setting herself apart.

“If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.” 1 Cor 10:27

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You’re right, my whole post is a bit of a non sequitur. Maybe I’m on a hair-trigger when it comes to food nannies. I grant that you could very well be correct, that gluttony is not being addressed with the gospel.

Accounting for regional and socioeconomic differences, and assuming that we’re not talking about churches that don’t address ANY sin at all, perhaps your analogy to homosexuality is helpful. But shame only has grace attached when it is connected to something God calls sin, and obesity is not a sin. God does not require us to keep an eye on the world’s definition of healthiness to honor Him. Sure, there are sins that can cause obesity, but as you referred to in the OP there are conditions that can as well, and there’s also just normal life; aging, motherhood, and the way our metabolisms are.

That’s why I found it helpful to separate gluttony (sin) and obesity (not sin). Because the world attaches so much shame to obesity I think pastors are wise to avoid talking generally about obesity and address it at its root (sensual indulgence of food by thin and fat alike) and individually with sensitivity.

And maybe it’s a regional difference, but I’ve been in churches where the sin of finding excess pleasure and comfort in food is addressed fairly regularly (even from the pulpit) while something like effeminacy would NEVER come up. Food seems easier to address because there’s godly AND worldly motivation to cut back.

Also might be worth noting that I shop at Walmart with no other grocery store within 20 miles. Out here in the sticks the Walmart crowd is getting picky too (at least a subset who also run in Christian circles). Maybe it’s an affectation. Some of the people I referred obliquely to in my long post have large families supported by a single income which could very well be less than $20k per year.

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An elder qualification is to be of good reputation among outsiders. Policing that sentiment can be all kinds of slippery slope, but I will note that many people have a hard time listening to someone who is fat. If one peruses firearms training videos on YouTube, many of the comments on the videos are disparagement of the trainer for being overweight. (Some of them aren’t even very portly by the standards of 2020 America.) Larry Vickers, who is anyone’s definition of a warrior among warriors, felt he had to do a whole video justifying his weight. (Short version: When Uncle Sam was done with his body, it was pretty much shot and he lives with a lifetime of leg and back pain that makes exercise very challenging.)

I don’t know that I have a point here, but this is a thought that has been provoked by this discussion.

I’m also really struck by how similar this discussion is to questions of effeminacy and similar. It’s a bundle of sins that are more sins of degree than black and white sins. There are pitfalls on all sides, and many seem to argue that the complexity of solutions, and even tension between solutions, means that we can’t acknowledge a problem.

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Agreed. Greed and enslavement to the flesh is found in both the thin and the obese. It is sin in each.

On the other hand, obesity is a consequence of many things, some of them innocent (old age, when metabolisms diminish; hormonal syndromes, insulin resistance, diminution of insulin-producing beta cells which die earlier than than the rest of the body). And, of course, there are sinful things which generate obesity. So, obesity may be the consequence of sin, except when it’s not.

If you wish to see a flamboyant and vicious satire on obesity as a consequence of gluttony (TRIGGER WARNING!! YOU MUST HAVE A STRONG STOMACH TO GET THROUGH THIS), view the Monty Python scene featuring Mr. Creosote.

Moderator: feel free to delete the link if you judge it to be too abrasive for tender sensibilities.

Oreos are NOT good. There’s your problem, Joseph :woman_shrugging:

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Tonight, I poured myself a bowl of cereal. It was the last of the cereal in the box. After I poured my normal portion, and determined that there was too little in the box for another full bowl, I splurged and poured the rest into my bowl.

Because of this thread, I at least thought twice about it.

Love you, brothers.

EDIT: I just now noticed John’s tinfoil hat profile picture. Hilarious.

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Ha. This is what explains the disconnect on this thread. The target of the original post were those who consider the entire box of cereal as being one portion…

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I had a friend from Taiwan that studied in America and gained weight while over here. Before going back she told me that she needed to lose weight or all of her friends and family would constantly make comments about how fat she had become. She was perhaps 15 lbs overweight? As someone who at the time was also overweight it was a shock to me. No one had ever mentioned my 50 extra lbs in my life, but here she wouldn’t stop hearing it for days. She lost the weight.

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Many years ago, I fell in with a group of Indian friends (as in, from India). 5 pounds’ gain was plenty to get them ribbing each other about their weight. It was good-natured, but it was also clear that being fat was frowned upon.