Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fat Christian. Temples Don't Have to Be Thin

Follow up on my earlier post:: Fat and Happy  (And I know I have some questions from the comments on that entry to answer. Feel free to ask more here and I'll try and do a Q and A post soon. Hopefully sooner than this appeared now that the holidays are over :) )

If you've been in church for any length of time chances are you've probably been given instructions on your body size. Perhaps a diet/weight loss group met at the church (I've even seen them promoted as Bible studies)  After all, we're suppose to honor God with our lives and our bodies - and that means being thin and "healthy," right? 

(Edited to clarify:  I've never heard a sermon on the topic of being thin. When I say "given instructions" I mean it has been used as an illustrative point, or has been mentioned (even in lighthearted tones), or statements that assume fat is sin have been made.)

As a teenagers I remember thinking in my moments of struggling with self confidence that if I was thin I could be a much better Christian - after all - if I could be pretty and popular then I could talk to more people and have more influence, right?   I remember once as a teen-turning-adult kneeling at the altar and literally crying because I just couldn't do it..I couldn't manage to get thin - and I felt like a failure as a Christian. I've heard diet and weight loss preached from the pulpit more times than I can count.

I want to start off by compiling a list of verses in the Bible that talk about Body, Health, Food, Eating, etc and look at whether they are discussing being fat or not. I've compiled these verses from both my own memory of passages that I used to support my weight-loss attempts years ago as well as verses I found by doing a google search for "verses on healthy living" or variants. A lot of people use the Bible to support the idea that a good Christian is a thin Christian. . and I think that is wrong and unsupported entirely. I know of many more non-Christians in the Fat-Activist and Health at Every Size circles than I know Christians and I find that sad.

The Bible makes no value judgments on the size/weight of people as far as I can tell (if you know of a verse, please let me know) - there are verses, as we will see, that talk about food and gluttony and honoring your body - but those don't mean "don't be fat."  And, of course, I'm going into this with the understanding that fat does not equal unhealthy. (I'll get to the more academic/scientific post about why that is one day - in the meantime feel free to check out this post by a Fat Activist. Disclaimer - it has cussing.)

I do believe that God desires for us to care for our bodies, to be good stewards of our bodies.I don't believe that being fat is anti-care - and actually believe that for many people the devotion to being thin is actually unhealthy and dishonoring to their bodies.

When I saw this first one on a list of Bible verses supporting dieting - I was appalled - this verse is so powerfully about loving your body, not hating it, that I'm amazed that it is so blindly accepted as "thinspiration"

Psalm 139: 13-16 (emphasis mine)

13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
   they would outnumber the grains of sand—
   when I awake, I am still with you. 

I guess the twisted reading of this is that since God made us we should be the best that we can be and the best is thin.

There are other verses that talk about us being made by God/in God's image that people use the same un-supported reasoning for. See:  Genesis 1:27

But it's not there - that's making it work for what you want. What those verses say is that he created me and saw both my frame and body before they ever came to be - - and that he made that fearfully and wonderfully  :)    That I am created in the image of God.

It does not say I was created to be thin. It just doesn't. 

These next three are ones that I have seen used most often as a an order or directive to "be healthy" (health meaning thin)

1 Corinthian 6:19-20

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Let's  just back up a few verses and read something fabulous I like to call context - the passage is talking about sexual immorality. We are not do dishonor the temple of God by engaging in sexual immorality.  But if we're going to take the verse out of context and talk about honoring our temple period - then let's talk about the hazardous effects of yo-yo dieting and how it weakens the heart and the immune system and the strain that strenuous exercise puts on the body. (And how for the majority of fat people in the world those things don't even make them thin)

Luke 2:52

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.  

This is the "shame" verse for me. As a teenager a group at church that I participated in used this verse to encourage "growth in all three areas" - we talked about being wise, loving our neighbor, and being of good "stature" - - which meant for that particular group that we tracked push ups and sit ups and  such. Growing in stature to be like Jesus meant being fit. Now, the person who organized this focus had one of the most positive spiritual effects on me from any person in church leadership from their example as a humble servant - so I certainly hold no ill will towards that person. But, the group was definitely not an exercise group - it was another enjoyable activity - and I stopped wanting to participate in that enjoyable activity because I was afraid my "stature" would be too poor.

And just what does "stature" mean, anyway?  From Strong's it is the Greek helikia - meaning -
1) age, time of life

1a) age, term or length of life
1b) adult age, maturity
1c) suitable age for anything
1d) metaph. of an attained state fit for a thing

2) stature, i.e in height and comeliness of stature

So, basically Jesus grew older and taller. I'm pretty sure I can handle that. (Well, maybe not taller now..but I could then.)  There is that "comeliness" word in definition two - but we're told elsewhere that the Messiah would not have any appearance that would draw us to him.

Romans 12:1-2

 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  

It does say LIVING sacrifices - so it's  probably going to be safe to assume I shouldn't kill myself with unhealthy dieting, right?  ;-)    This is like the Psalm verse to me - it's been twisted - yes it talks about honoring God and specifically mentions our body - - but no where does it say or imply that that body should be thin. Insinuating that your "holy and pleasing" body is a thin body is our society's obsession with a "good" body being a "thin" body.

Let's look at some "food" verses that talk about eating:

1 Corinthians 10:31

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—

and let's try that context thing again - - the passage is about eating food bought in the market, eating food at the homes of others, and abstaining from food that was offered as a sacrifice. From my understanding the command to not cause others to stumble has to with abstaining from the sacrificed food - not with abstaining from a slice of pizza in the fear that fatness is contagious.  Other translations say "give no offense" rather than "do not cause anyone to stumble" 

There are verses that deal with gluttony - typically describing someone as a glutton and often paired with "drunkard."  It's also one of the seven deadly sins.. 

Gluttony  is not the same as being fat - gluttony is an excessive desire for something. (In this case we're talking about food.)  I have often heard gluttony compared to fatness though - I've heard pastors and others say things like, "I do not want to be a fat person who walks around showing off my sin of gluttony."  I once knelt at an altar - praying over a trial in my life - and had someone come up to me to pray with me -  I didn't speak to that person bu they prayed.that I might be released from the sin of gluttony.

Being fat doesn't mean you struggle with gluttony.  There are people who binge eat - and those people can either be fat or thin - - and that binge eating can be symptomatic of disordered eating.  If anything though - gluttony is actually something our society supports.

"I'm staring my diet on New Year's Day - so I'm eating a ton of crap for Christmas!"

  "If you can eat this 5 lb sandwich and a pound of fries in 30 minutes then we'll give you a t-shirt and everyone will cheer you on!"

"I'm sad. So I'm going to eat a tub of ice cream and I deserve it because I never eat ice cream."

I'm still reading my way through Linda Bacon's Health at Every Size and learning a lot and seeking to make my body healthier. That will be another post. But, I hope, that these ramblings of mine have prompted at least someone to reconsider their society-driven assumptions that God wants us to be thin.

I'm going to try to do a part 2 of this post in which I discuss some of the positive food passages on feasting and tasting and enjoying food for a variety of reasons. For example, one of these verses is Acts 2:42 where we are told how one of the devotions of the early church was the "breaking of bread." We are commanded TO eat - break bread together, fellowship, share meals. It's part of community. It's part of what humans do to come together. Sprinkle a community meal with a million rules about points and carbs and worry about judgments on your plate and you're losing something (and what you're loosing is most likely not weight!)  I also hope to do a more "narrative" post on Fat within Christianity rambling about some of my observations and such regarding attitudes about fat in the contemporary Church. More on that later. :)


  1. Nicole, this is honestly such a great entry. I've honestly never heard a sermon or some one at church suggestion being thin is being more Christian but I do know that it goes on.

    I have to say that a lot of these verses I would have never pulled anything about weight out of if I just read them. I too read them as mentioning of sexual sin.

    I also think you hit the nail right on the head with the whole gluttony thing. I know a few people who are overweight due to gluttony, but I know plenty who aren't.

    My husband can eat two to three times as much as I do but I'm the one who is overweight. Until recently he didn't work out anymore than I did either. I don't consider him a glutton because he ate until he was satisfied. So did I. It just takes more for him to be satisfied.

    I'm glad you wrote this. Honestly it's taken me until know (with my body expanding) to really appreciate my body and be thankful God gave me one that is healthy, regardless if it's small or not.

  2. *that should say now not 'know'

  3. Thanks for your response, Korey!

  4. This is such a great post,Nicole!!

    I have heard plenty of preachers preach on being thin is healthy and taking care of your body. I do not agree with it either. Some people will be over weight to others and take good care of themselves. You said you eat healthy food,but are still over weight. I know plenty of people who are skinny and very unhealthy.

    It's sad that people think that way. I have never thought of those verses applying to weight. I do know people personally who do and they push it on others. I'm glad you are writing this posts!

    Oh and gluttony does not apply to fat people or over weight only and all the time. I used to be glutonous bad. Stuff,stuff,stuff until I could not walk and then eat more and I was thin as a rail. It's crazy how our society is and how much it has rub off on Christianity.

  5. Fabulous post, doll. I grew up in the church and felt judged for my size and general appearance on many occasions. It always seemed to me that these folks would be better serving God to focus on their own worship instead of my fat hiney and non-J. Crew attire. I really doubt that Jesus gives a damn if you have fishnets under your ankle-length skirt as long as your butt's in the pew, yaknow? I'm looking forward to part 2!

  6. I feel like this entry really opened my eyes to just how much an "attractive" or "fit/thin" body has come to be synonymous with "good Christian." Wow. I honestly had no idea the Bible was being twisted in such a way to support the idea that a Christian shouldn't be "fat." I felt pressure to be thin and in good physical shape when I was in my former church, but at the same time I didn't really feel it was overt. Meaning I don't remember sermons on it and there weren't any weight loss groups or anything. But I do remember a lot of comments about it from church members in more casual situations. And I'm sure it was no coincidence that every woman in that particular church except maybe TWO were literally rail thin. :p

    The biggest thing I heard about weight is that if a wife wasn't thin and fit then she was basically asking for infidelity.

    Just thinking about the whole thing sickens me.

  7. I should edit to clarify that ive never heard a sermon on the topic of being thin. When I say "preached from the pulpit" I mean it has been used as an illustrative point, or has been mentioned (even in lighthearted tones), or statements that assume fat is sin have been made.

  8. Fantastic!

    I've never heard anything officially being preached or anything, but I have heard weight loss mentioned in sermons, usually a pastor saying something self-deprecating about his stomach and stuff on new year's resolutions and dieting.. that sort of thing, but equating it with being a better Christian. It seems as though every person in the church is on a perpetual diet cycle. I hear it the most in our parents' generation, since dieting is such a regular accepted way of life for them, so much so they assume everyone does it. it makes me very uncomfortable when i hear it, especially in sermons. actually, i've even heard it at the church im at now, in a homily.. our decon occasionally does the homily and he prints his from the internet and reads them (lol) and they always have some silly cultural reference, so therefore, plenty on dieting.

  9. Thanks for posting this, Nicole! I've been wanting to write something like this, but never got around to it.

    I HATE that that passage from 1 Corinthians is taken out of context. Body as temple does NOT mean thin. Also, "Be not conformed to the patterns of this world" says to me that the pattern of the world is dieting and being discontent with size/shape, so we should NOT fall in line. There is a better way, and it's living gratefully for/with what we've been given.

    Now, as to text against fatness... I've heard the story of Ehud and Eglon in Judges 3 used as an example (except that the Bible wasn't making a judgment there; it's just saying the dude was fat; he still would've been killed if he was thin), as well as the death of Eli (he fell backwards off his chair, and 'cause he was so heavy, his neck broke, and he died).

  10. Heather - thanks for the comment! I think you're right that it's more about society than the Bible.

    Julie - thanks for the note! I don't think Jesus cares about the fishnets either. (I seem to recall him using fishnets actually....ok. lame joke)

    Erika - you posted the thing about being thin to stop your husband from cheating on you before and I'm so addressing that in my next post. It's just...absurd!

    Lauren - I think that "assumption that everyone is dieting" that you mentioned is a big part of the problem - that assumption shouldn't be in society in general and certainly not in the church!

    Rhonwyyn - I actually thought of the Ehud and Eglon passage but thought, "it just said he was didn't make a difference." I wasn't aware that Eli's death had the size mention as well. Thin people break their necks too though! Thanks for commenting :) Also - totally agree that the "patterns of this world" is the dieting/search for "perfection" that we should avoid

  11. ditto on the comment re "patterns of this world". when we fall into the trap (which i have) that we have to be the "right" shape/size or say the "right" thing, etc. we're trying to measure up to the world's standards, which are corrupted!! satan is a liar and a thief and it appears you have uncovered quite a bit about some of his schemes. to think that a man would have the "right" so to speak to cheat if his wife looks or doesn't look a certain way is absurd. (referring to one of the comments) what about love, integrity, faithfulness, comittment, etc. sounds to me like someone is looking to blame and make excuses. since our vows cover "better", "worse", "richer", "poorer", "in sickness", & "in health" i don't believe there's anything left uncovered. even if someone is unhealthy wouldn't that then fall to sickness and still be covered? anyway...started to ramble there.
    i also agree that body size doesn't necessarily indicate gluttony; and gluttony is not only a food issue!!! what about sex, or media or spending, etc! anything worldly that is to excess. the way to know if gluttony is in a lifestyle is to evidence it, not assume it and then wouldn't we go to someone and speak words of love and exhortation (as the church)"considering ourselves lest we also be tempted"? it makes me so angry that someone would presume such things as you're praying at the altar. (mama grizzly coming out...)

    anyway, nicole, it seems you're far ahead of me. you're beautiful and smart!! love you.