January 22, 2007
Losing it for Jesus
Saving souls is serious business for Annandale pastor Steve Reynolds. So is losing weight.
Which is why he stepped out from behind the lectern during a service one recent weekend to deliver a blunt message to those crowded into the pews below.
“About 40 percent of you need to lose weight,” he told his congregation at Capital Baptist Church. “When you love pot-
luck more than God, it’s serious.”
And with that, the preacher, who has lost 70 pounds by relying on God and low carbs, launched a mission to lead his followers into the burgeoning world of religious dieting. “Our body was given to us by God and for God,” he said. “He is the owner. We need to take care of what He’s given us.”
… [N]o faith has seized on the religious approach to weight loss as emphatically as Christianity. Best-selling books such as “The Maker’s Diet” (more than 2 million copies sold), weight-loss plans with names such as “What Would Jesus Eat?” and the Web site FatFree4Jesus.org (which this year is expanding into church-based workshops in six states) have attracted millions by using Christian imagery and theology to promote weight loss.
… Despite all the praying, recent studies have questioned whether faith-based diets work. One 2004 University of Texas study found few links between Christian programs that promote weight reduction and actual weight loss, according to the study’s co-author, Mark DeHaven, an associate professor at the University of Texas’s Southwestern Medical Center.
Several recent studies have found that Christians are fatter than those of other faiths.
Baptists have the highest rates of obesity—30 percent, according to a Purdue University study using information from a national survey that gathers data on lifestyle issues. That compares with 17 percent of Catholics and 1 percent or less for non-Christians—Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.
The study’s co-author, Purdue sociology professor Kenneth Ferraro, said the reasons for the higher incidence of obesity among Baptists aren’t clear. But he speculates that many Baptists’ traditional eschewal of alcohol and tobacco might translate into higher food consumption than in other denominations.
Or, as his article says: “Baptists may find food one of the few available sources of earthly pleasure.”
For Reynolds, 49, the pastor of Capital Baptist, the study’s results ring true. “I can see that,” he said. He wonders whether high-fat church suppers among many close-knit Baptist religious communities and the Southern food beloved by many Baptists also contribute to the problem.
… Fourteen months ago, he faced the fact that, after a lifetime of worshiping at the altar of greasy Southern cooking, he was morbidly obese—100 pounds overweight—and diabetic.
… Reynolds said he asked the Lord for help. He answered, Reynolds said, by bringing him to a passage in Matthew 16: “If any man wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
… He started denying himself—forgoing his favorite treats, such as Southern cooking and late-night bowls of ice cream—and started walking on a treadmill and lifting weights. God responded: After losing 70 pounds, Reynolds hopes to shake off an additional 30.
And he is leading a 22-week blitz to help others achieve a “Bod for God.”
The church sent out 25,000 fliers advertising the program to Fairfax County residents and advertised on five local radio stations. Reynolds designed a four-week sermon series and is organizing program participants into groups of 12 (like Jesus’s disciples) to meet weekly to support one another.
On the stage at Capital Baptist’s auditorium on a recent Sunday, a “Bod4GOD” poster hung over the baptismal pool. As worshipers entered, video screens flashed ads for Christian-themed exercise classes called Body & Soul.
And so on and on and on. This is how I imagine hell.
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