The table was laden with sausage, fried bologna, bacon, from scratch biscuits, flour gravy, cheese grits, scrambled eggs, assorted jellies and jams and slices of cantaloupe.
The hot topic of the day was the news of a sociological study by Dr. Ken Ferraro of Purdue University. He had found that Baptist were considerably more likely to be obese than any other religious group in America. At 30 percent, no other group was even close. Looking around the table, I concluded that our group of 15 there that morning was “well above the average”.
Dr. Ferraro had concluded that the reason for this is that Baptists deal with stress by eating since we abstain from the use of alcohol, or tobacco, as a way of coping. There was considerable agreement with this observation around the table, but many of us contributed additional explanations to supplement the professor’s observation.
I begin by blaming my problem on my mother. Back during Would War II she would guilt me into cleaning my plate by reminding me that there were many starving children in China who would love the food I was rejecting. Today, I am sure, in some remote village in China there is a plaque which reads, “In honor of Gary Gene Farley for his heroic cleaning of 100,000 plates for the poor children of China.” Although I have since learned that China has become a net exporter of food, I have not been able to break this habit of not leaving anything on the plate.
A variant of this observation was offered by another participant. He declared that good old southern boys were raised to honor and obey the wishes of their mothers and grandmothers. So, when they were told to clean their plates, they did so with no questions. As they aged and became less active, this caught up with them and they became obese.
Still another protested that he did not believe that obesity was all that much of a problem. He cited the fact that his mother was now 87, healthy and active. She had fried everything all of her life. Sure she weighed only two pounds less than a baby grand piano. So what, he cried. Then he added that his father had always been skinny, smoked, and died at 53.
I was able to verify the observation of the next pastor. He blamed his weight problem on three of the women in his church. They are great bakers of cakes. Each tries to outdo the other at the frequent church dinners. Each demands that he eat a large slice of the cakes they had brought for the occasion. As a good southern boy, he did not want to offend or create conflict in the church. He would dutifully eat them all and then declare that each one was great. He could not possible name one as superior to the others. Maybe next church dinner.
(As I have reflected back on these comments, I realize how deep the wound of “original sin” is. Even ministers of our day continue to use the approach of Adam and blame the women for their conditions.)
One of our more rational, seminary-trained brothers put the blame on the grocers in our small towns. He said that he had noted they do not stock much by the way of dietary items. If you “buy locally” you buy food loaded with fats and salts. Quickly, a pastor with a grocer in his membership declared that they are only providing what the people ask for. He had discussed this issue with the grocer only to hear that he had tried to offer dietary items, but they did not sell.
To relieve what might have been a tense moment, another declared that he was obese because he had been told the FBC by the names of pastors of the larger Baptist churches stood for Fat, Bald, and Cuddly. He wanted to be a successful pastor, and had believed that becoming such was the correct route. We laughed.
Then, our leading pre-millennial dispensationalist declared that since he definitely knew that we are in the last days, days of famine and of suffering, he had bulked up so that he could make it through and be a good witness during those bad seven years. A somewhat-related comment was made to the effect that another one of us feared that there would be no pork barbeque in heaven, so he was busy eating his fill prior to moving to that new place.
Thankfully, one of the brothers saved us from a discussion of conflicting views of the millennium, by saying that it was his theory that many rural Baptists are overstuffed because the pews in their churches are not padded. (For the German Baptists up in the Dakotas that Dr. Ferraro, as one might expect a skinny guy, studied, a similar rationale was projected. They wanted to be insulated from the cold.)
Our leader, who is often called to be a judge for area “wild game” cook offs, sagely announced that it had been his experience that if you wrapped enough bacon around most anything, you could make it very tasty.
Still another one of our pastors asked if it would be all right if he invited the Methodist pastor who serves a church in his community to our next breakfast because he was obese enough to become a Baptist.
Finally, our leader raised a question as to whether or not we might change our menu to one that had less fat and salt, a more dieter friendly one. A silence fell upon the crowd.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.