It is very common for me to hear, “I can’t believe churches talk about weight loss!” Or, I have people who have a long history with church tell me they don’t remember their church talking about weight-loss. (My instinct here, given that people who went to the same church I did tell me this, is that weight-loss at fat-shaming is so common in our churches we don’t even notice it.) However, I also hear from countless people who have. In addition, my research has easily produced countless faith-based weight-loss resources. So, I never question whether or not it’s worth it for me to talk about body-image in the church. But, the next time someone tries to tell me I am imagining things, that I am too sensitive or in-tune to the idea somehow, I am going to show them the 2015 Christian Book Awards.
The overall best Christian Book of the Year award, the best book published out of the many many Christian books published last year, goes to the weight-loss book The Daniel Plan (TDP) by Rick Warren. The books for these awards are considered to be “the highest quality in Christian books.”
Some Diet Devotionals talk just about “health” or “lifestyle changes” and don’t actually market themselves as a weight-loss book, though many still are. Not TDP, it is up-front about its weight loss goals. From the press-release from the Christian Book Expo: (emphasis mine)
The highest honor of Christian Book of the Year™ went to The Daniel Plan by Pastor Rick Warren (with Daniel Amen M.D., and Mark Hyman M.D.). The New York Times bestseller with a strong and regular presence on the ECPA Bestseller list, is described as “creating a health plan” that adds faith, focus, and community to the usual “food and exercise” approach to weight loss and health. The plan is credited for helping 15,000 of Warren’s church members lose 250,000 pounds in the first year. Warren is the author of The Purpose Driven Life, the highest bestselling non-fiction hardback in publishing history with more than 32 million copies sold.
Warren says that the goal is to make “health a form of worship [because] God made your body, Jesus died for your body, and He expects you to take care of your body.” This is not an inherently body-shaming approach, but the cultural connotations of “take care of your body” get us quickly there.
I have no problem advocating for people to take care of their bodies as well as they can. I just believe that including “weight loss” in that care speaks more to our cultural obsession with thinness than it does to physical, mental, or spiritual health. I take care of my body by honoring what it does. I take care of my body by providing it with food when it’s hungry, exercise for enjoyment and strength, rest when it’s weary. I take care of my body my monitoring my health. I take care of my body by not assuming it’s bad and diseased just because of the size of my dress.
Also worth noting, once Warren decided to write the book, one of the people he recruited to give him medical advice was Dr. Mehmet Oz, the talk show host who has recently been called-out by people as far up as Congress for promoting snake-oil tactics for weight loss. On the Daniel Plan website, Oz is still listed as a “founding doctor” of the plan. These doctors are described as: “Some of the best doctors and contributors in the world have collaborated to transform your spiritual, physical, and emotional health.”
The “inspiration” behind Warren’s diet books, as reported in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, came to Warren while he was “doing baptisms ‘the old-fashioned way’—by physically raising and lowering people into the water.“ Warren said that as he was “lowering people, [he] literally felt the weight of America’s obesity problem [and] thought, ‘good night, we’re all fat!’” There were reportedly 850 people that Warren baptized that day, certain to qualify for some tired arms for the pastor no matter the size of the people.
What strikes me, as a person who once waded into baptismal waters with jiggly thighs and a snug baptism robe, is that this sacramental moment that tells us of new life and being made holy became a moment of judgment on the very people who were commemorating their new life.
And that judgment produced a book to add to the ever-growing collection of how we don’t get it right enough to be acceptable as we are.
On Dr. Oz’s own website, his promotion of this book includes the line, “Pastor Rick Warren is waging a holy war on fat.”
While 850 baptisms is certainly tiring, I also wonder about what it was that triggered Warren’s “we’re all fat!” revelation. Water is friendly to gravity, theoretically easing the force needed to lift. I wonder if it was the sight of wet clothes clinging to every roll and wave of the bodies that walked out of the pool that made Warren want to rid his field of vision of this “unpleasant” sight.
We don’t need a holy war waged on anyone’s body. We need the holy beauty of God on earth, here with us us, in flesh and blood. And when we go under the baptismal waters, we should come out knowing that the only judgement upon us is the one God issues: “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”