This week I read the following letter that should frankly cause every Christian to pause and think of how they view and treat others, whether sitting in a pew with them at church or not. It is to everyone of all beliefs and faiths, but most especially to Christians, that I’m writing this post.
To the churches concerning those who are overweight:
Many of you believe that we do not exist within your walls, your schools, your neighborhoods. You believe that we are few and easily recognized. I tell you we are many. We are your teachers, doctors, accountants, high school athletes. We are all colors, shapes, sizes. We are single, married, mothers, fathers. We are your sons, your daughters, your nieces, your nephews, your grandchildren. We are in your Sunday School classes, pews, choirs, and pulpits. You choose not to see us out of ignorance or because it might upset your congregation. We ARE your congregation. We enter your doors weekly seeking guidance and some glimmer of hope that we can change. Like you, we have invited Jesus into our hearts. Like you, we want to be all that Christ wants us to be. Like you, we pray daily for guidance. Like you, we often fail.
When the word “gluttony” is mentioned in the church, we hold our breaths and sit in fear. Most often this word is followed with condemnation, laughter, hatred, or jokes. Rarely do we hear any words of hope. At least we recognize our sin. Does the church as a whole see theirs? Do you see the sin of pride, that you are better than or more acceptable to Jesus than we are? Have you been Christ-like in your relationships with us? Would you meet us at the well, or restaurant, for a cup of water, or coffee? Would you touch us even if we showed signs of leprosy, or aids? Would you call us down from our trees, as Christ did Zacchaeus, and invite yourself to be our guest? Would you allow us to sit at your table and break bread? Can you love us unconditionally and support us as Christ works in our lives, as He works in yours, to help us all to overcome?
To those of you who would change the church to accept the overweight community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not what we shall be, but thank God, we are not what we were. Let us work together to see that we all arrive safely home.
A Sister in Christ
Before you roll your eyes at what you perceive as someone being oversensitive I want to mention that I can relate to this letter. I’m 6’4” and tilt the scales at just under or over 300 pounds, depending upon the day. While my height (and XXXL sweatshirts) help me to vainfully hide some of the excess, and people are kind in their remarks, I know. I know more than anyone else the truth of my sin. Yes, gluttony is a sin. One of the seven deadlies in fact.
(My other stubborn sin is pride. Perhaps that’s why I consistently refuse to self-edit and wind up with 2000 word posts.)
Sin is sin. There is not a cosmic scale or rating system somewhere by which sin is measured. And since we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” it makes sense that the last thing one should do is point the finger at someone else and gossip/punish/revel in their sin. In that quoted passage in Romans 3:23 we learn that all without distinction (Jews, Gentiles, etc.) fall short and sin. The exception was Jesus Christ, and it is because of his redemptive sacrifice that we are “justified by his grace as a gift.” (Romans 3:24) He paid our ransom by expiating (wiping away) our sins with his blood. (Romans 3:25)
My sin of gluttony is therefore in the eyes of God equal to lust; overeating is the same as cheating on my wife. It is also equal to sins of pride, anger, envy, sloth, and covetousness. What I ask for and pray for from my fellow parishioners and Christian friends is the same as the woman who wrote the above letter. Support. Love. Guidance. Hope. Someone to work with me “to see that we all arrive safely home.” Because overeating can be unhealthy and shorten my time on earth. It holds a danger to me. And so I look to you, the Body of Christ, to assist me in this struggle.
On pages 850-851 of The Catholic Bible Dictionary sin is defined as “any thought, word, or deed that transgresses the law of God. In the famous words of Saint Augustine, sin is ‘something said, done, or desired that is contrary to the eternal law’.” It goes on to say
Sin is first and foremost an offense against God through a failure to love. It is also an action against reason, truth, and conscience; oftentimes it involves a failure to love one’s neighbor as well. In all cases, sin damages personal relationships, whether between man and man, or between man and God. The Old Testament describes sin as a breaking of the covenant that was meant to bind the Lord and his people together in family unity. The New Testament shows how Jesus Christ came to repair the damage of sin and to reconcile the human family with the heavenly Father.
As Christians we are to not just have a relationship with Jesus, but to have a friendship with all of our human brothers and sisters for they are created in the image and likeness of God. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Sin takes that outward love we show for our God and our neighbor and turns it inwards, unto ourselves. It becomes a self love and a vehicle for use through abuse. Some examples to illustrate this are
- I overeat because I lack discipline. I tell myself I love food and use it to justify my actions. I use food.
- I watch pornography because it gives me a connection to something that isn’t real at the detriment of real relationships and objectifies my fellow human beings. I use them.
It’s all about relationship. Relationship with Jesus and with those we come in contact with each day. We can’t have an open or meaningful relationship of any kind if we sit in judgment of others. How can I have any kind of foundation of trust with you if I know you are wagging your tongue behind my back at every parish fish fry or “coffee and rolls” event after Mass? And how can you do anything other than cast a wary eye at me if I am constantly railing against God and His unfair rules against my weight? I was born this way perhaps, but ultimately as a professing Christian I choose not to lobby for bigger pews, a changing of the BMI index, or the striking of the word gluttony from the list that was written by God. We all have our crosses to carry. Must I carry your cross of un-Christian charity as well? I’m trying, I really am. I struggle with my appetite. I know I need to cut back or to take action with exercise. I pray for the strength to bear this burden every day and at every Mass because with each passing year time is running out for me. I can no longer just put it off and hope for the best. I need your support.
Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new.” So what did He come to make new?
Our hearts. He came to renew our hearts.
As Christians we are all called to imitate Christ. We are to love our God and our neighbors. To let Him work on our cold, hard hearts and renew them in love, both phileo (friendship) and agape (committed and unconditional). Where we get off the rails is by substituting eros, or sexual love. This usage of love does not appear anywhere in the New Testament.
It can be painful, this warming of our hearts. Ice cracks when it thaws and no less so will our hearts. And yet if we are to truly treat others as we are called to do we will not sit in cold judgment of them. Nor will we try to force them to treat us better by advocating a changing of the rules or rubrics of our faith. We all need to welcome this thaw in our hearts and purge it of our sin and live the virtues to which we are called. How can we expect others to respect virtue if we ourselves do not?
Fellow Christians, it is time to live our faith. I’m tired of reading the same old condemnations coming from those who have been given the cold shoulder by a church or a church member. By purporting to be a Christian and then acting in this manner you are not helping. Likewise I am tired of reading the same old condemnations by those, often members of the faith, who demand the Church not just recognize their sin, but to endorse it as well. Both groups have to set aside their pride and tendencies towards judgment and do and/or accept what to them will probably be painful and uncomfortable. But it is the only way. Our current man-made self-centered model certainly isn’t working.
And now I have a confession to make. I altered the letter above by changing it in three places. The letter is in fact real but it is not about obesity (though gluttony is in fact a sin I struggle with). The letter is about homosexuality. I changed the following:
- To the churches concerning those who are overweight:
- Was originally “To the churches concerning those who are homosexuals and lesbians:”
- When the word “gluttony” is mentioned in the church, …
- Was originally “When the word “homosexual” is mentioned in the church, …”
- To those of you who would change the church to accept the overweight community and its lifestyle: …
- Was originally “To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: …”
Are you mad? Do you feel like I set you up? I suppose I did. But whether the author of that letter was writing about those in the churches who are adulterers, drug addicts, porn addicts, food addicts, or homosexuals, she made a great point for both sides of the fence to consider. You can read the original letter here. Will you reject her premise because she is writing as a Christian lesbian? Do you only point to paragraph three as where she is speaking in truth, the truth you care about? Are you also equally convicted by paragraphs 1, 2 and 4?
In his new book Reflections on the Christian Life author Anthony Esolen wrote something that struck me as relevant to this post. He’s telling the true story of an unbaptized college student who while attending an class BBQ said out loud that in his opinion Saint Paul was a bigot because of things he’d written in the Bible. A young Roman Catholic in attendance heard the student, put down his plate and began to talk to him. Esolen goes on:
Then the young Catholic defended the honor of Saint Paul, in the midst of people who believed and those who did not believe. He said that Paul had turned the world upside down. For from now on it would mean nothing to have been born a Greek or a Jew, a freeman or a slave. Nothing, that is in comparison with Baptism. For that is the moment upon which everything in our lives depends. When we die, now, it is not the passing away of our bodily functions that we are talking about. We die to our old selves in Baptism. We drown those old selves in grace. We die with the crucified Christ and then live with the risen Christ. Then, members of one body, we look upon one another and say, “My brother in the Lord!” That is to look upon bigotry as from an infinite height and instead to love the gifts that God has bestowed upon one’s brother or sister. (emphasis mine)
We are members of one body. Isn’t it about time we acted like it?
©2013 Jeff A Walker