The Bible has a great deal to say about one of the sins which our secular society would describe as a problem – and no, that’s not homosexuality or adultery – gluttony. Sirach 23:6 brackets it with lust as a ‘shameless passion’, whilst there are plenty of other passages which see it as a form of idolatry – worshipping the belly. Some 60% of Americans are overweight – a far greater number than are homosexual or who have abortions, so one might expect the churches to make great play of such a prevalent sin. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people complain about preachers/priests not preaching on ‘sin’, by which they usually mean sex or abortion, but I have never once heard anyone ask why no one preaches about gluttony? It is the most prevalent of sins in our Western society if by prevalent one means common – and yet I can’t recall a Papal encyclical mentioning it, or an Anglican Conference pronouncing on it – can you? Does your Church mention it much – despite it being one of the seven deadly sins?
Apart from the nanny-State health professionals, no one goes around judging the overweight – and again, those people apart, we tend to acknowledge that eating disorders are quite a complex phenomenon, and that quick-fix diets and other miracle cures are not the solution. If there is a solution, it is a long-term one involving education, self-discipline and motivation. We don’t argue that overweight people should not be made welcome in church because of the obvious outward sign of their sin – and if anyone did suggest such a thing, most of us would think it outrageous – and not a few priests and pastors might find themselves with a problem there too. As a (fortunately) naturally skinny woman (whose main problem with food is remembering to eat it regularly) I could choose to be very judgmental of fat people, refusing to accept their excuses that it is a complex problem, because for me it isn’t. If I were, I think, and rightly, that I’d get short shrift. Now, if in this paragraph thus far, I replaced the words ‘fat’ and ‘overweight’ with the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘homosexual’, I wonder how many would be inclined to accept so easily the conclusion that one should not be judgmental about accepting such people in church – that despite the fact that lesbianism gets about one mention and male homosexuality no more than gluttony?
Where, with the sin of overeating, we’d all be inclined to acknowledge that we’d need to understand the glutton and not discriminate against her (or him), but how many conservative Christians would accept the same is true of gay people? Yet, there are fewer gay people than fat people, and it would be hard to construct an argument to say that gay people cost, say, the National Health Service in the UK as much as fat people, or, from a Christian perspective, that Scripture is harder on gayness than it is on obesity – but I have yet to hear a conservative Christian saying obesity is a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance, or that fat people are bound for hell unless they amend their ways; have you? No, me neither.
Gay people are an easy target. Gay activists make a lot of noise, and a lot of the noise they make annoys conservatives, and moreover, there are not a lot of them in churches – compared, that is, to fat people. Imagine if we were to say that fat people were not welcome in church until they had repented of their sin of gluttony and shown true amendment of life? Apart from anything else, you’d see a pretty dramatic decline in the collection plate and in tithing; so it is safe to say these things about homosexuals – but not fat people.
Is there not something just a wee bit hypocritical going on here? I wonder, turning it round, how it would seem to the wider society, if we treated gay Christians the way we treated gluttonous ones? More love, less judgment, anyone?