Q: "Is it a sin to be fat?"
The Rev. Jean Denton, RN, is director of National Episcopal Health Ministries and editor of Good is the flesh: Body, Soul and Christian Faith,” published by Morehouse responds:
A: Is there a via media in the weighty matter of obesity? Is there a middle way between the celery stick and the hot fudge sundae, between harsh judgment and facile disregard of obesity?
We American Christians are a fat society. Riding (rarely walking) down Main Street USA, the epidemic is obvious. Apart from the conditions of low leptin levels and genetic makeup, the causes are multiple: fast and “super-sized” foods, a recumbent lifestyle, overwhelming daily stress, and spiritual and emotional emptiness, to name a few. The results are multiple: high blood pressure, increased arthritis pain, more diabetes -- even as malnutrition plagues our sisters and brothers in sub-Saharan Africa.
Is it a sin to be fat? Our catechism tells us that sin is seeking “our own will instead of the will of God,” resulting in distorted relationships “with God, with other people and with all creation.”
Part of God’s will for us is that we have faith in God’s abundant care for us. Yet we are too busy to spend time with God and be fed with nourishment that our deepest selves require. We are too busy to move our bodies, too busy to sit quietly in meditation and too busy to find out what’s really eating us and taking that to God in prayer.
We unconsciously seek to comfort ourselves with sweets rather than let God soothe the hurting places in our souls. That self-centeredness is sin.
We turn a deaf ear to God speaking through our bodies. We don’t hear “Slow down” or “That’s enough food” or “Please stretch.” Our lack of attention leads us to abuse and neglect our bodies. We excuse this exploitation, convincing ourselves that bodies are our private possessions (which, of course, they are not, being simply on loan to us from God, who has asked us to steward them wisely). That unconsciousness is sin.
We don’t thank God for the wonder of our bodies, nor do we love and celebrate the amazing part of creation that is intimately us. Instead, we measure the body’s worth by the bathroom scale or our body mass index, and we take part in prejudice and size-ism. We fail to be amazed by our extraordinary bodies, whatever their size or condition or limits. That ingratitude is sin.
Sin distorts our relationships with food, with ourselves, with our hungry neighbors and with God. The answer to setting those relationships right is not a new diet or losing weight. The answer is in chewing on our relationship with our bodies and letting God meet our real hunger.