The Homestretch

I’m coming down the homestretch now with my thesis.  It’s 179 pages long as I enter into the clean-up/editing phase.  Whether it will be any good remains to be seen, but I no longer worry that it won’t get done.

When I began this process a little over a year ago, I was motivated in part by a desire to make the case that churches and Christian faith communities should embrace the food movement. It’s beginning to look like that argument will be passe by the time I finish.

Many in liberal and progressive Christian traditions and denominations began to get on board over the last couple of years.  The North Carolina Council of Churches, for example, released a curriculum in 2012 titled “Eating Well:  For Ourselves, For Our Neighbors, For Our Planet.” Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle featured Joel Salatin, Norman Wirzba, Marion Nestle, Bill McKibben and others in their speakers series this year.  Many more examples could be cited.  Church gardens and programs to promote healthy eating have been popping up all over the country.

Conservative evangelical churches were slower to join, but now they’re coming on board as well.  Evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren has just published a book promoting healthy eating.  Liberty University has launched a community garden.  It seems that if the food movement is going to have a religious element, it’s going to be ecumenical.

Of course that doesn’t mean the problem is solved.  Health problems caused by poor food choices are the greatest in the states that have the highest levels of church attendance. In those states, church-goers are more likely to be obese than those who don’t attend.  And pastors are more likely to be obese than their congregations.  I don’t think there is necessarily any correlation between attending church and eating properly, but it does seem fair to conclude that pastors in general aren’t doing enough to combat obesity in their communities and congregations.

I’m hoping to describe a Wesleyan food ethic that is consonant with the food movement and that might add something worthwhile to the conversation. Maybe by the time I finish this thing that will already have been done. If so, that would be a good thing.

By the way, if you see an ad at the end of the posts, it’s because I’ve chosen not to pony up the money WordPress requires for an “ad-free” blog. I have no control over the ads and whatever they’re advertising, I don’t endorse it.

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10 comments on “The Homestretch

  1. This is interesting. Getting the research done on the fact that most pastors are more likely to be obese than their congregations must have been quite an experience. Keep up the dedicated work!

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    • Bill says:

      I haven’t done any independent research on that. I’m just relying on the work of others. My research has been primarily historical, but I’m using that fact as part of my attempt to show why it matters.
      I’m ready to have this thing done.

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  2. Heidi says:

    Very interesting! Recently, I read this quote “Church food is sending us to heaven too early.”

    My belief is, leaders should set a great example and maintaining health is a big part of that. Providing God’s temple (the human body) with healthy sustainable food, clean water and sleep so we can GO and do what we’ve been called to do with excitement and energy and of course LOVE. Because… ‘Love Wins.”

    I enjoy your blog, Bill.
    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks Heidi. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year back at ya!

      Wesley would certainly agree with your belief. One of the primary reasons Wesley emphasized the importance of health is that when we ruin our health through bad food choices and in the pursuit of temporary pleasure, we disable ourselves from doing all the good we could otherwise do. We divert resources to our own medical care that could be used to help those who couldn’t prevent their illnesses. We eat more than we should while others in the world go hungry, etc. There are lots of solid practical theological arguments against eating badly (leaving aside the more obvious prohibition against gluttony, greed, etc.)

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  3. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, my city has many churches that have had community gardens for years and years. One requirement, well, I should say encouragement from one denomination was to either give the excess away or donate it to the homeless shelters but not to let I spoil in the garden. There are a few community gardens outside the churches and more in the planning. The city encourages and promotes them.

    Unfortunately, your observation about church food and potluck dinners are spot on. Those church events are promoting over eating of all the wrong kinds of foods. I’m glad to hear that some churches are starting to correct the thinking about food. My church is a large church and out of the 12 pastors only a couple are over weight. Most of them present and past are regulars at the health club.

    As for me, I struggle with weight the more I age. It just seems that the older I get the better food tastes and the harder it is to keep the weight off. Of course Winter months are he worst. I continue the fight against fast food, sugary delights, and all processed foods. I suspect it will be a never ending battle until I leave this world and enter the next.

    Have a great thesis completing day. What will your PHD be?

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks Dave. I’m finishing up a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies.

      It’s encouraging to see so many community and church gardens springing up, especially when they combine growing good food with social justice.

      Getting food on the agenda at church is very difficult thing. A pastor who tried to do that at his church told me that it created more controversy than anything he’d ever done before and was much more difficult that asking for money. I’m learning that it wasn’t always that way. Somewhere along the way our culture gave overeating a moral pass and the results are all around us now.

      Certainly the church potlucks don’t help (nor does handing out candy and donuts to children in Sunday school—I find that almost incredible), but it goes far beyond that. Health isn’t ruined by an occasional piece of fried chicken. It’s ruined by a diet that routinely features soft drinks, junk food, fast food, huge meals followed by hours on the couch watching TV, etc. But changing the way people eat while at church functions would be a great start. I heard a pastor speak recently about his having eliminated fried foods and sweets at church functions (he’s at a church in rural Mississippi so that was a BIG deal). He got a lot of push-back, but he laughed it off saying “They can’t tithe if they ain’t alive.”

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  4. Steve Carlic says:

    You haven’t missed the boat, in fact it hasn’t left the dock. You are just more in tune than the average person. We’ve got a long, long way to go.

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  5. Bill says:

    Yes, we do. I’m encouraged to see more people beginning the journey.

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  6. Wesleyan food ethic…hmmm…I’ll have to go look up Wesley and the Wesleyan denomination. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that there isn’t an official food ethic for Anglicans, not in Canada, anyway. It will be interesting to see how your thesis is received, and I hope you will be able to share bits of it with us in the future.

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    • Bill says:

      You probably won’t find anything about his food ethic, although he definitely had one front-and-center in his teachings. It’s just been lost or ignored. There is no mention of it in the Methodist Book of Discipline. He never articulated it as such (in other words, he never identified it as a “food ethic”) but he definitely had strong beliefs on how folks ought to eat, and why. There is a “Wesleyan” denomination, but most modern-day Wesleyans are Methodists. Wesley himself was Anglican to his death and insisted that he didn’t want to start a new denomination and that his followers should remain loyal Anglicans (which became problematic after the American Revolution).

      I’ve got lots of great stuff I’d like to share here, but I’m going to wait till I have it finished.

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