Back in March, we tackled that age-old question: "Could church make you fat?" That post explored media coverage of a study claiming that young adults who attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those with no religious invovlement.
Six months later, fat people in the pews are again making news — this time in The New York Times.
Preaching a Healthy Diet in the Deep-Fried Delta
The top paragraph of the 1,200-word story:
HERNANDO, Miss. — Not much seems out of place in the Mississippi Delta, where everything appears to be as it always has been, only more so as the years go by. But here in the fellowship hall of a little Baptist church on a country road is an astonishing sight: a plate of fresh fruit.
“You get used to it,” said Arelia Robertson, who has been attending the church for almost eight decades.
Despite a dirge of grim health statistics, an epidemic of diabetes and heart disease and campaigns by heath agencies and organizations, the Delta diet, a heavenly smorgasbord of things fried, salted and boiled with pork, has persisted.
It has persisted because it tastes good, but also because it has been passed down through generations and sustained through such cultural mainstays as the church fellowship dinner. But if the church helped get everybody into this mess, it may be the church that helps get everybody out.
Now, that first sentence impressed me as vague beyond belief. My first response: "Huh?" But the piece picks up a little steam with the mention of a plate of fresh fruit in the second sentence.
Then there's the opening quote, which seems less than overwhelming. Why not give the woman's age and compare the fruit to the chicken-fried main dish served at fellowship meals 80 years ago? That might add some life to the story up high.
Keep reading, and we get to the nut graf:
For over a decade from his pulpit here at Oak Hill Baptist in North Mississippi, the Rev. Michael O. Minor has waged war against obesity and bad health. In the Delta this may seem akin to waging war against humidity, but Mr. Minor has the air of the salesman he once was, and the animated persistence to match.
Years into his war, he is beginning to claim victories.
The National Baptist Convention, which represents some seven million people in nearly 10,000 churches, is ramping up a far-reaching health campaign devised by Mr. Minor, which aims to have a “health ambassador” in every member church by September 2012. The goals of the program, the most ambitious of its kind, will be demanding but concrete, said the Rev. George W. Waddles Sr., the president of the convention’s Congress of Christian Education.
Nowhere does the story mention that the National Baptist Convention is the nation's largest African-American denomination. For journalists, the question of when race is relevant in a story is always touchy. In this case, however, the omission seems strange.
The reference to this program as "the most ambitious of its kind" made me wonder: What other smaller programs like this are out there? Is Waddles the source on the "most ambitious" statement? Or did the Times determine that this is the "most ambitious" program of its kind. Even if it's true, I'm not sure I'm clear on what it means.
It's not a bad story. It provides some interesting insight on society's overall obesity problem and some nice examples of Delta churches fighting obesity. But for a story about churches, it lacks much in the way of actual religion.
We've got Minor waging war from his pulpit, but no clear idea of exactly what it is he's saying -- from a spiritual or biblical perspective, that is. In other words, is this a religious undertaking — or a secular campaign that just happens to occur at a church?
More from the story:
When he began preaching his health gospel right from the start, he was met not by outright resistance — that would have been rude — but by a polite disregard. This is the way people have always cooked here, church members said, and they ignored him.
He argued that while the food may be the same, people’s lifestyles had changed, and few put forth the physical effort that life in the Delta once required. Preparing pork chops used to involve raising and slaughtering a pig; now it requires little more than a trip to the grocery store. But he eventually realized he would have to adjust his strategy.
Around 2000, he began enlisting his ushers and those from other churches to go after hesitant pastors with a baldly practical line of argument.
“Your sick members can’t tithe,” he said with a laugh.
Health gospel? What are the tenets of that gospel? Any actual biblical references or spiritual principles attached to it?
Did anyone — anyone at all — mention God?
Photo taken just now by my wife, Tamie, of a cup of fruit. I'd prefer a chocolate chip cookie.