Fat and Faithful: Learning to Love
Our Bodies, Our Neighbors, and Ourselves
J. Nicole Morgan
Bam! A book gets my attention whenever a writer shows how American culture influences the church more than the church influences culture. J. Nicole Morgan hits this mark in Fat and Faithful: Learning to Love Our Bodies, Our Neighbors, and Ourselves.
Morgan, in her thirties, declares she finally accepts her lifelong fat body as Christ accepts her–totally, all XXXX size of her. She wants the Body of Christ to accept her and others like her at the Table of Grace without body judgment and shaming.
In this era of inclusion, Morgan is not asking for anything that logically is not argued by other groups. To her, fat acceptance is a social justice issue, and she places the fat person in the group of other aggrieved people. Her grace-filled theme is: “You are enough. And you are not too much.”
That’s liberating for anyone who deals with ongoing weight issues and knows how all-consuming diets can be in thought, word, and deed. American culture is messed up about wholesome body image with the church often following the cues of consumerism and Hollywood. Morgan says forget those cultural traps and concentrate on serving God humbly and joyfully. Live as healthy as one can at any size.
She confidently writes: “Embracing my fat body and all it has to offer has given me peace and joy that I can share with others. You are qualified to love and serve God, no matter your body. God delights when people of all shapes and sizes love and serve their neighbors.”
The naysayers might argue, “What about the Bible’s teaching on gluttony? What about taking care of one’s temple?” Morgan presents a thoughtful interpretation of many scriptures reflecting body image in the light of the gospel.
Her take on gluttony is nuanced and more challenging than just simply overeating. “…from what I see in Scripture, gluttony is in fact consumption at the expense of someone else, especially the poor and marginalized. Christianity is about loving God and our neighbors. There is no room in that commandment for an obsessive regard for the size of our body, but there is plenty of room to pay attention to how our actions affect others. That includes being able to identify ways in which consumption breaks community and harms others, so that we know when we are over consuming at the expense of others. This requires a communal faith rather than an individual faith.”
Referring to the Apostle Paul’s question of ”Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit whom you have within you?” Morgan shares: “I could not begin to count the number of times I have heard this passage preached as a message against fatness. It occurs so frequently that when I finally heard a preacher whose sermon on 1 Corinthians 6 included those middle verses and did not engage in body shame or make a quick and easy joke about fatness, I sent him a thank-you note for sticking to the context of sexual immorality and not fat-shaming in the process.”
Morgan traveled a long road to become a blogger and speaker about “fat positivity.” Her teenage years were crippled with guilt because of her size even as she loved God and desired to serve him. While in college, she discovered an online community of women who encouraged her to believe her fat body was not wrong. Later, at Palmer Seminary of Eastern University she dove into a thesis on the fallacies of the Christian diet devotionals beginning with Charlie Shedd’s Pray Your Weight Away, 1957, to later books by such speakers as Gwen Shamblin, Beth Moore, and Rick Warren (his The Daniel Plan won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association “Christian Book of the Year” award in 2015).
Her summary: “What I want to say to Shedd, and to many other proponents of diet devotionals…is this: it’s not our bodies that need to change, but our perception of our bodies. Eating and living the way God wants us to live means changing how we understand a good body. Rather than trying to make our bodies good, imago Dei means that our bodies are already good, and attempting to make them into something else disrespects the handiwork of the Creator.”
Morgan challenges church members to jettison fat jokes from the pulpit and at the potluck. She would like extra-mile sensitivity to the size 4X person who needs a properly fitted baptismal gown or t-shirt (for mission projects). She suggests church ushers ready a few large chairs with no armrests.
While reading this book I kept thinking Morgan is missing something but wondered if that was just my cultural brainwashing. After all, being overweight does bring health issues like diabetes and knee replacements. Fatness contributes to shortened life spans. Also, being fat positive today might not mean one shouldn’t wrestle with personal status quo. Morgan pushes back, “Even if some people intentionally choose fast food and a sedentary lifestyle, they do not become less human, less worthy of respect, or lose the image of God or the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of them.” Yes, she makes her points well, but grace is supported by loving truth in spiritual formation.
The two major flaws I have with Morgan’s book are: 1) it seems stitched together from past blogs. I longed for tighter editing and more thematic flow, and 2) as a Christian feminist, Morgan bundles her fat positivity cause with other social issues. A book on fat and faithfulness without the distractions of other causes would reach a wider Christian audience.
Still, I give Morgan kudos for tackling a tough cultural topic. Her thoughts helped me to be more intentional in accepting fat people as God’s beloved and even in viewing my body with more grace, freedom, and gratitude.
Cynthia Schaible Boyll writes from Colorado Springs and has had a lifelong struggle with the scale. Her blog, “There’s a Blog in My Eye,” can be found at www.csboyll.com.