I recently read Rachel Held Evans’ post Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony. It’s a really thoughtful exploration of how Christians tend to be super-literal about things that affect *other* people, and much looser and more nuanced about things that affect *them* or people they care about. She wrote it because she got slammed six ways from Sunday when she posted the horribly controversial statement that gay kids should be loved unconditionally. And yet, no one threw clobber verses about materialism at her when she bought a new car, or ones about gluttony when she overindulged on frozen yogurt.
While there are certainly important hermeneutical and cultural issues at play, I can’t help but wonder if something more nefarious is also at work. I can’t help but wonder if biblical condemnation is often a numbers game.
Though it affects more of us than we tend to realize, statistically, homosexuality affects far fewer of us than gluttony, materialism, or divorce. And as Jesus pointed out so often in his ministry, we like to focus on the biblical violations (real or perceived) of the minority rather than our own.
In short, we like to gang up. We like to fashion weapons out of the verses that affect us the least and then “clobber” the minority with them. Or better yet, conjure up some saccharine language about speaking the truth in love before breaking out our spec-removing tweezers to help get our minds off of these uncomfortable logs in our own eyes.
She is absolutely right on here. It’s very easy and very comfortable to think you’re standing up for righteousness by focusing on the sins of other people.
And yet, I really do hate that gluttony, and her statement that we don’t “[check] people’s BMI before accepting them into the Church,” is the go-to example.
First, because it’s not really true. The church does judge fat people for gluttony (and the secular conversation about food and fat often borrows the church’s language about sin and virtue). And Christians absolutely teach that God wants and expects us to be thin. Amazon has over six hundred results for “Christian weight loss”—diet books and devotionals to help people fulfill their Biblical duty to be
thin healthy. Back in 2011, I wrote about Rick Warren’s Purpose Drive Life post that turned thinness into a religious obligation and equated fatness with vandalizing a church. One commenter on the Facebook post noted that “A day on this planet in America DOES NOT EXIST where anyone whose sin is gluttony isn’t reminded of how disgusting he or she is.” The church as a whole certainly hates on fat people less than it hates on gay people (which ties into Rachel’s point about biblical literalism being a numbers game), but it’s inaccurate to say that fat people are not shamed by the church, or that a lot of Christians, fat or thin, don’t have their relationship with food complicated even further by preaching about gluttony.
Secondly, because it just adds to the idea that fat is always and only a result of stuffing your face with ice cream and Oreos. Rachel does touch on this some and actually gives a pretty nuanced view of weight:
We have a natural revulsion to the idea of checking people’s BMI before accepting them into the Church, especially when obesity is not necessarily reflective of gluttony (often, in this country, it is a result of poverty), and when we know from our own experiences or the experiences of those we love that an unhealthy weight can result from a variety of factors—from genetics to psychological components—and when some of our favorite people in the world (or when we ourselves) wrestle with a complicated relationship with food, whether it’s through overeating or under-eating.
I appreciate this, though I still think that using gluttony as the example of “the sin the church ignores” and using BMI as a shorthand for gluttony throughout the post still conflates body type with behavior. Especially when Christian teaching about the sin of
being fat gluttony is all too common.
I say all this as a complete Rachel Held Evans fangirl, who devoured both of her books and loves her take on evolving as Christians and as a church, and her heartfelt stories about wrestling with doubt. I just wish she’d picked an example that didn’t play into fat hate, or conflate fat with sin.