Does God Want You To Be Skinny Too?

An evangelical church in New York is trying to lure new members with a six-week weight loss course called "BOD4GOD." But does God really care what size you are?

The New York Times reports that the Journey Church, which has four locations in New York City, is using a program inspired by the teachings of Virginia minister Steve Reynolds, a.k.a. "the Anti-Fat Pastor." After losing 100 pounds, Reynolds published the book Bod 4 God, which defines the four keys to weight loss as:

1. Dedication: Honoring God with Your Body

2. Inspiration: Motivating Yourself for Change

3. Eat and Exercise: Managing Your Habits

4. Team: Building Your Circle of Support

Aside from what The Times calls an "irreverent, even offensive," title, BOD4GOD sounds a lot like any other weight loss program. Plenty of churches organize Weight Watchers meetings or support groups for members trying to lose weight, and working with members of your community to reach fitness and health goals seems like a natural fit.

What's problematic about the BOD4GOD method is that, like many other fitness programs, it sends mixed messages about body image — but, it goes a step further by tying those ideas in with religion. Here's how The Times describes Pastor Mark Rouse's lesson on seeing yourself as God sees you:

"Honoring God with your body starts up here," he said, pointing to his close-cropped head.

The basic message is that poor self-image leads to poor health - bad diet, insufficient exercise, dangerous substances, dubious sexual choices. As Pastor Mark spoke, the audience followed along using a handout, filling in the blanks as instructed: "When I feel disappointed with my body... remember I am _____." The answer is "God's creation."

While on the one hand, followers are getting a self-esteem boost from being reminded that they're "God's creation," they're also being told that if they're out of shape, they're dishonoring God and heading down the slippery slope to fornication and rampant drug use.

For many people faith can be a source of inspiration when they're trying to reach any type of goal, but trying to attract new members to your church by promising to help them get a better body is concerning. The Times calls Journey Church's promotional strategy "an opportunity for the church to prove its value in something concrete - ounces and pounds - rather than the more intangible calculus of spiritual progress," but, what happens when spiritual development is tied to numbers on a scale? Is the BOD4GOD method just another way for people to apply their religious beliefs to their daily lives? Or, is it sending dieters the message that in addition to falling short of societal standards, their "excess" weight is a moral failing?

Have Faith, Lose Weight. But First, Candy [NYT]
Bod 4 God: The Four Keys to Weight Loss