Robert Parham begged the right question in his piece, “Nation Weighs in on Remedies to Obesity” – Does the faith community have anything to say about food?

I have spent more than 10 years working with folk from many congregations of numerous faith groups who wanted to learn about ministries of health, and over the years I observed two approaches.

An outside-to-inside or behavior-oriented approach dominated in some congregations. In the outside-to-inside approach, the notion was that if we give folk the right information they will make the right decisions about their health.

In other words, by an act of their will, they would choose the right food plans and avoid harmful substances.

The expectation was that as a person’s behavior changes by applying all of the rules and recipes for desired outcomes, the change in behavior will stimulate reflection about values and beliefs.

We now see clearly the end results of years of wasted resources on giving out the right information about prevention of disease and complications. Following the rules is about acts of the will. Willpower has a spiritual root that is being neglected.

The second approach I observed, also the one I promote, is the inside-to-outside process. It is rooted in biblical faith.

Because our faith informs our beliefs and values, it defines health and healing for each faith group. The belief system is an outgrowth of the faith system and orders persons’ lives to a particular focus.

Faith also drives our behaviors. Whole-person health is not the same for all faith groups. Not all faith systems accept shalom wholeness, a Christian concept, as health.

The outside-to-inside approach is about following rules to obtain desired outcomes. The inside-to-outside approach is about an internal transformation, which begins with the premise of faith and beliefs.

Motivation, when considering an inside-to-outside approach, is tied to loyalty to faith and beliefs. It involves submission to an authority higher than self. It is about living out one’s faith.

A person must understand their faith before they can assimilate the health-promoting practices of the faith. Once a person understands their own personal faith and health relationship, they can explore making the choices that contribute to desired health (or life-giving) outcomes.

Even with the knowledge of one’s faith system, persons do not always make wise choices and therefore live out the consequences of bad decisions. The journey of faith becomes the daily resolution and struggle to make decisions for life and living congruent with faith.

The question becomes, Just why do we have so many folk in congregations supporting the outside-to-inside way of thinking about health choices? And if we have a deficit of willpower to make healthy choices, is it equitable to expect taxpayers to pay for the medical complications?

It seems reasonable to me for the government to limit food choices since not limiting food choices is going to run up the cost of health care.

Few congregations have the spiritual readiness for the journey to learn about the relationship of faith and health. I hear less and less about the deeper spiritual life.

There have been a few good weight-loss Bible studies over the years, but I have yet to see administrative support to get the “church house pig-outs” under control. Diabetic options and healthy foods should be the only options at church-sponsored food events.

I have learned that my thoughts on this matter will win me no friends, but I still ask: Why can’t congregations have community gardens to teach children about growing food? And why can’t congregations offer cooking classes?

Sybil Smith, a registered nurse, lives in Lyman, S.C. She leads workshops on congregational caregiving ministries and teaches a course on poverty and health.           

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