Research is In: Baptists are Fat!

I bet you did not see that headline coming.  If society was to declare that there was an epidemic in the church, what do you think it would be?  An epidemic of _________ .   Society has a lot of things they do not like about the church or like to make fun of in the church.  I could hear them saying that in the church there is an epidemic of homophobes or an epidemic of intolerance, or an epidemic of ignorance.  Some of these we may deserve, and in some cases we may just be misunderstood.  Whatever the case, I never saw this headline coming: “The Obesity Epidemic in America’s Churches!”  (Article was published June 3, 2012, on

Here’s the skinny.  Well no, that’s not right.  I guess I would have to say here’s the fat.  By 2030 it is estimated that ½ of Americans will be considered obese according to a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.  I am sure you saw this.  It is one of my favorites.  This actually means some real problems are looming on our horizon, like an extra $66 billion in medical expenditures.  This is a legitimate threat to the well-being of our country, “BUT,” says the article, “a potentially larger crisis is looming in the pews of churches across America.”  “A 2006 Purdue study found that the fundamental Christians are by far the heaviest of all religious groups led by the Baptists with a 30% obesity rate compared with Jews at 1%, and Buddhists and Hindus at .7%.  I just went to look in the mirror.  I think I just became body conscious.  The study prompted lead researcher, Ken Ferraro to say, ‘America is becoming a nation of gluttony and churches are a feeding ground for this problem.’”  WOW!  I think this is the first time I have ever read something that said the church is leading the culture in a particular sin.  I am not calling being overweight a sin, but his use of the word gluttony which the Bible certainly does call a sin.  The good news doesn’t end there.  A 2001 Northwestern University study tracking 3,433 men and women for 18 years found young adults who attend church or a Bible study once a week were 50% more likely to be obese.  50%!  So if you go to church you are all but guaranteed to be fat?  And guess who leads our churches?  A 2001 Pulpit and Pew study of 2,500 clergy found that 76% were overweight.  Overweight is not the same as obese, but wow, 3 out of 4!

What are we doing in the church that is making us so much more unhealthy than the world?  That can’t possibly be right, can it?  Doesn’t the Bible urge self-control?  Doesn’t the Bible say our bodies are a temple to the Holy Spirit?  Are we not to be controlled by anything other than the Holy Spirit?  Food for thought.  Scratch that.

What do we do with this information?  Hmm.  Diet?  Not necessarily.  We are a dieting nation and are well on our way to being obese.  This is not about dieting.  Stop eating fried chicken and donuts, staples of Baptist gatherings? Well, it probably wouldn’t hurt to cut back, but I think it is more than that.  I think this is about more than what we eat or do not eat.  If we just make it about that, we will go the wrong direction.  What I mean by that is this:  being skinny does not make you godly and holding to a certain diet does not make you godly.  There is certainly value in eating healthy and being aware of what the food we put in us is doing to us.  But what you eat or do not eat will not make you godly, and it is our nature to turn this into that kind of thinking.

I think perhaps we need to think about the example we are.  We want to be an example to the world of what godliness is and does and looks like.  So we should think about what we are presenting when we entertain, when we have been wronged, when we compete, when we work, when we care for a family, and yes, when we eat.  We know godliness would not look like gluttony, so neither should we.  We know that in godliness there is simplicity and self-control, so those things should be seen in us.

Last night my wife had a wonderful salad with baked chicken in the salad.  It was very healthy, so we, the kids and I all complained.  No, just kidding, kind of.  After dinner I had a couple of Oreos.  I really do not believe that is a problem.  I am not presenting an example that should cause anyone to stumble.  I was showing self-control.  That was not going to affect godliness in a negative way, nor possibly my health.  Then about five minutes later I went back to the cookie jar and had some more Oreos.  I cannot bring myself to tell you how many more.  Who’s counting anyway?  Was that ungodly?  As an individual moment, I am not sure.  What number of Oreos is gluttony?  Is it okay to eat three, but five or six is sinning.  And what I always fear with Christians is legalism.  We want to make a law out of it.  It is our nature.  You can eat 6 Oreos a week, but only two at a time or you are a gluttonous sinner that we will stone to death.  I guess I want to say common sense should tell each of us how many Oreos we can eat and when to stop, but I am not so sure how common sense is anymore.  Did you read that right?  I am saying sense is not very common.

So how about this for some principles to live by:

  • Nothing in my life should be a hindrance to my witness or cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians 8).
  • My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and the only body I have – treat it as such (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
  • The way I eat in drink should exalt God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
  • Discipline your body and bring it under control (1 Corinthians 9:27).

You may have noticed all the passages came out of 1 Corinthians.  Corinth was known for being a gluttonous, drunken, immoral city.  It was all about the pleasures of the body in Corinth.  Paul addressed a number of sexual sins, but he also talks a good bit about eating.  As led by the Holy Spirit, he felt both needed to be addressed.  So perhaps we are telling the world how sexually immoral they are, and they are looking back at us and saying, “Yeah, but you’re fat.”  So my encouragement is that we think about our witness and realize that everything can have an impact on our witness.


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