Is Christian Weight Loss a Prosperity Gospel?

Health is a very delicate topic, because when the church believes and repeats that “thin is healthy and healthy is better,” there is a problem.

That’s why I am so intrigued (and honestly, frustrated) at the way the American church embraces a similar prosperity gospel, one that says when a fat person loses weight and gets smaller, she will have a better life—physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, and romantically. It’s the same message as the prosperity preacher’s: Do this and you will be a better person, and God will show up for you more than God does now. In pulpits across our nation and in the social media feeds of the faithful, we hear this message: Lose weight, feel great, worship God even better! This is a type of prosperity gospel, and it is hurting God’s people—not just us fat ones, but all of us.

 

The idea that it is the will of God for us to be healthy, wealthy, and successful is at the heart of the prosperity gospel. Preachers of this gospel lay out what needs to be done—how much money needs to be given, what we need to “name and claim” for ourselves—so that our lives reflect this supposed will of God.The prosperity gospel teaches me that if I’m doing all the right things, my life will get markedly better in health, wealth, and success. Sick people, poor people, and unloved people have been convinced that their actions will curry God’s favor, in a way that is contrary to examples in Scripture and in Christian history. The result can be devastating—people who have very little are motivated to give money or time or energy, not because the Lord urges them to do so but because they are desperate for the hope that the prosperity preacher offers: Do this and God will show up in this specific way. Christian theologians and pastors are right to speak out against these teachings.

The prosperity gospel teaches me that if I’m doing all the right things, my life will get markedly better in health, wealth, and success. Sick people, poor people, and unloved people have been convinced that their actions will curry God’s favor, in a way that is contrary to examples in Scripture and in Christian history. The result can be devastating—people who have very little are motivated to give money or time or energy, not because the Lord urges them to do so but because they are desperate for the hope that the prosperity preacher offers: Do this and God will show up in this specific way. Christian theologians and pastors are right to speak out against these teachings.

That’s why I am so intrigued (and honestly, frustrated) at the way the American church embraces a similar prosperity gospel, one that says when a fat person loses weight and gets smaller, she will have a better life—physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, and romantically. It’s the same message as the prosperity preacher’s: Do this and you will be a better person, and God will show up for you more than God does now. In pulpits across our nation and in the social media feeds of the faithful, we hear this message: Lose weight, feel great, worship God even better! This is a type of prosperity gospel, and it is hurting God’s people—not just us fat ones, but all of us.

Anti-fat bias is real, and it is ugly in American culture. It damages the quality of life for millions of fat people. For example, fat people earn less than thin people. It’s not as easy for us to get hired. We have a much harder time clothing ourselves. We are charged more for the right to travel in a space that fits our bodies. We are maligned and stereotyped as lazy and dumb. Perhaps worst of all, our doctors tend to overlook serious non-weight-related medical problems because they  fixate on getting us to lose weight.

The church should be a place of refuge from the discrimination thrown at us by our culture, but unfortunately it is not. Our bodies are under attack inside and outside its doors, which means that there is no justice or peace for us in the very place we need it most.

Some churches focus specifically on weight for leadership (like this church in Washington). Others, instead of focusing on weight, attempt to shift the conversation from weight to health. (Fat acceptance activist J. Nicole Morgan has written on how this was detrimental to her church experience growing up.) The message that health is an important part of discipleship has a lot of supporters behind it. I’m not saying that health shouldn’t be spoken of in churches, but it is a very delicate topic, because when the church believes and repeats that “thin is healthy and healthy is better,” there is a problem.

It doesn’t matter if we couch it in spiritual terms like “caring for our temple of the Holy Spirit” or “being a good steward of our bodies.”

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