In Search of Better Stories

Anorexics for Jesus

The preachers assured their followers, “Fasting, tithing, prayer, and communion is the only medical insurance you will ever need.” Far too many took their faith to an early grave, but as scientific advancement, after advancement proved the incontrovertible effectiveness of modern medicine, even the staunchest faith healers were forced to adapt or go extinct.

They pivoted; medicine would no longer be the great enemy of faith. Fat would be. You see, God had rules that must be followed if health and wealth were to be achieved. Dieting, fasting and healthy life choices sanctioned by the top spiritual leaders would now take centre stage as God’s great plan for health. Ever the entrepreneurs, prosperity preachers went into marketing overdrive, promoting power shakes, Daniel diets, deep cleanses and health food lines of every kind. Weight gain was an insult to faith which was evidenced by a good-looking body. Fat was a demon, a snare, and an undeniable sign that your faith was lacking.

Almost all the major mega-churches spent millions developing world-class fitness centres on their sprawling campuses. Pressure to purchase expensive memberships increased as did the ferocity of the sermons. To be fat was to turn your back on God. And the quickest way to lose fat was not to eat at all. “If you follow my plan for fasting, I guarantee that your prayer returns will jump from thirtyfold to one hundredfold.” Boasted one preacher. Pat Robertson traded in his business suit for a pair of sweat pants and promoted his power shake, which “would guarantee a healthy and successful life if taken in faith,” Francis Hunter screeched from his pulpit. “Fat people are the biggest liars of them all!”

Chasing out the demon of fatness became such a big deal that Oral Roberts University put in rules for its students: If a female student went above 20% body fat and a male student went above 15% body fat, they would face disciplinary action from the dean’s office!

I can see impressionable devoted young teenage girls in my mind right now, concluding that the only way to please God would be to restrict and starve. To be fat-phobic and food-phobic is what it would take to make God happy and lead to a healthy life. I wonder how many lives were ruined as a result of this teaching? There is a direct line from the pulpit to the deep hole that is anorexia.

It’s hard for me to read stuff like this, especially since we are in the most desperate struggle of our lives with our own daughter. She is deep in the hole of anorexia, the voices in her head screaming at her not to eat feel demonic. The eating disorder wants to kill her. Can you imagine what it would be like fighting this disease if it had the moral support from some prosperity preacher claiming to be the voice of God? (Insert swear word here)

Whatever faith is, it shouldn’t be manipulative and pushy. It shouldn’t promise the moon just so long as you carry out a long list of expectations. It shouldn’t be centred on a charismatic personality, and it should not have an automatic blame feature that points the finger back at you and your lack of faith whenever your hopes don’t pan out. That’s too much pressure, and it’s not good for anyone. Sadly bucket loads of Christian groups operate like this, and they are not small either. The prosperity movement of Christianity is about the biggest and most influential in the world.

Is there a religion that can help with Anorexia rather than be a justification for it? Is there a branch of Christianity that will support the long hard climb out of this hole? Ecclesiastes 9:7 says Eat your food with joy, and drink your drink with a happy heart, for God approves of this! – Whichever version of Christianity believes this verse, that is the one I’m interested in.

Learning lots of stuff from this fascinating book by Kate Bowler

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