The Idol That's Eating Away At Your Church

 
Steve Hoppe | September 26th 2017

Jane Fonda, Lady Gaga, Katie Couric, Fiona Apple, Elton John, Lindsay Lohan, Audrey Hepburn, Janet Jackson, Meredith Vieira, Richard Simmons, Alanis Morissette, Joan Rivers, Paula Abdul, Princess Diana, Kelly Clarkson, Russell Brand, Sharon Osbourne, Wynonna Judd, Sally Field, and Oprah Winfrey.

What do these 20 celebrities have in common? All of them have battled unhealthy relationships with food. And they’ve all been brave enough to go public with their struggles.

So why do we have such a hard time doing the same in our churches? Why don’t we talk about our food struggles? Why is it so hard to admit when food is an idol? Why are we so private about our battles with food?

Allow me to propose three reasons:

1.     Shame

Some sins seem easy to confess in our churches today—fear, anger, or spiritual apathy, for example. But for some reason, the overt misuse of food seems to invite heightened shame. We’re embarrassed to admit when we overeat to fill voids in our hearts. We’re embarrassed to admit when we starve ourselves to make us more physically attractive. We’re certainly embarrassed to admit when things get serious—when we struggle with full-blown eating disorders.* So we clam up.

2.    Silence from the Pulpit

A second reason we don’t talk about food idolatry is because our pastors don’t. When was the last time you recall your pastor talking about the idol of food?  What about the obsession with being skinny, with self-deprivation as the means to achieve it? Does he or she dive into the mental battles so many of us face with food? I suspect not. The consequence of this silence is that it sends an indirect message: we should be silent as well.

3.    A Blurry Line

Third, we’re quiet about our abuse of food because we’re not always sure we’re abusing it. When is an extra slice of cake okay, and when is it a coping mechanism? When does a diet turn into an obsession? When is food fueling our worship of God, and when is it an unhealthy distraction from him? The line is often blurry. In our pride, instead of assuming we’ve crossed it, we usually assume we haven’t. So we’re quiet.

Later this week on the blog Steve will be tackling this issue practically and biblically (read it here). Steve Hoppe’s new book, Sipping Saltwater: How to Find Lasting Satisfaction in a World of Thirst, explores how Christians can view things like food not as gods, but as gifts from God.

* A quick disclaimer about eating disorders. I recognize that eating disorders are confusing, complex, and potentially catastrophic clinical problems affecting the mind, body, and soul. They have psychological, sociocultural, physiological, emotional, mental, and spiritual roots. In this short blog post, I have consciously chosen to focus on the spiritual roots. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, in addition to talking to a trusted pastor and counselor, let me encourage you to talk to a medical professional who specializes in eating disorders.

Steve Hoppe

Steve Hoppe was born in Chicago and educated at the University of Illinois, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He has served in urban ministry for over a decade and is currently a pastor, counselor, author, and speaker with Park Community Church in Chicago. Steve is married to his best friend Abby.

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