Fat in Church
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 40% of all American adults are not simply overweight, but obese. That’s more than 93 million people. And it starts young and increases with age. The CDC reports 13.8% of preschool-age children (2-5 years), 18.4% of school-age children (6-11 years), and 20.6% of adolescents (12-19 years) are obese. Most of us know that obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. But this is just obesity, defined as being 35 pounds or more overweight. When you look at the combined numbers of those who are obese or simply overweight, two out of every three people are affected.
But then there’s what a Fox News article once called “fat in church.” Studies show Christians as a whole are heavier than the general population. This includes one-third of all pastors. As one researcher put it, “America is becoming a nation of gluttony and obesity and churches are a feeding ground for this problem.”
When it comes to our bodies, we can either fixate, desecrate or consecrate.
A fixation with our bodies is tying them to our sense of self-worth, whether we are (or can be) loved and accepted by others. It’s making our body the essence of what we think will make us happy or whole. It’s when we’ve reduced our sense of security and esteem to how we look and, from that, have turned loose an insecurity that trivializes what it means to value others as well as ourselves. The words of Scripture ring clear: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (I Peter 3:3-4, NLT).
The other extreme is to desecrate our bodies. To desecrate something is to violate it, to take something that should be held sacred, held in esteem, and treat it with contempt. When we allow ourselves to get overweight, and particularly become obese, we desecrate our bodies. The Bible is very clear on this: “When you eat... always do it to honor God” (I Corinthians 10:31, CEV).
The call of God on our lives is not to fixate on our bodies or desecrate them. The call is to consecrate them. That’s not a word we use too much anymore, but it’s an important one. To consecrate something is to set it aside, to mark it as holy. When you consecrate something, you set it aside for a sacred purpose. And that is what the Bible would encourage us to do with our bodies: “… offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV). Why? Again, from the Bible: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?... therefore, honor God with your body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV).
The Bible teaches that our body is a sacred place where God dwells through the Holy Spirit. So when it comes to our bodies, we’re on holy ground. If you are a Christ-follower, you are dealing with something that God not only made, but actually inhabits. It’s not just flesh and blood—there is a spiritual dynamic that is a part of your body. So caring for it in any and every way needed is part of the management responsibility we have before God.
If we don’t, it impacts us spiritually.
Something like obesity dulls your spiritual senses. It cheapens your life and deadens the core of your being. Which is why fasting has always been a spiritual discipline. There is a relationship between what you do with your body and your relationship with God.
I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases the apostle Paul’s advice in his first letter to the Corinthians: “You know the old saying, ‘First you eat to live, and then you live to eat?’ Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food... Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!” (I Corinthians 6:13, Msg).
James Emery White
“Adult Obesity Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, read online.
Christopher J.L. Murray, Marie Ng and Ali Mokdad, “The Vast Majority of American Adults Are Overweight or Obese, and Weight Is a Growing Problem Among US Children,” IHME, read online.
“Overweight and Obesity Statistics,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, read online.
Justin Caba, “Clergy Members Battle Obesity: One-Third of Pastors in the US Are Obese,” Medical Daily, January 13, 2015, read online.
“Fat in Church,” Fox News, June 3, 2012, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.