From Chapter 4 of Preparing the Way: A Social Justice Study for Lent. We’re offering this free resource to you and your congregation as we walk through the season of Lent together. Download the full PDF here.
Scripture: Matthew 7:9-10 (NRSV)
“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?”
Social Justice Reflection
Obesity attracts a lot of media attention, contributes to a multitude of chronic and life-threatening diseases, and demands an excessive amount of money to treat. Yet, rates of overweight and obesity continue to climb in our state and across the nation. Almost two-thirds of North Carolina adults are too heavy, and we rank 5th worst in childhood obesity.
Can we do more collectively to fix the problem – for example, enacting stricter nutrition standards in schools or increasing the accessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables in low-income areas – or does sole responsibility rest with the individual or parent? This question has proven divisive; some support legislation that aims to improve access and education around health while others see a restriction on individual rights, even labeling us a “nanny state.”
The debate between the common good and individual rights is one that public health professionals know all too well. Thankfully, the common good was deemed more important to North Carolina on January 2, 2010, when the smoke-free restaurants and bars law was implemented in our state. Now public health advocates are waging a fight to reduce overweight and obesity in children – a different battle in the same war.
The North Carolina Alliance for Health, a statewide health advocacy coalition, is calling for statewide policies that require all foods and beverages available in schools meet national nutrition guidelines. They are also calling for reduced exposure to marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods in schools.
In Matthew 7:9-10, Jesus talks about God’s care for us by using the example of how parents care for their children. He asks his disciples, “Is there any among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?” While such nutritional choices would seem to be no-brainers, today’s parents face more complicated questions. First, not all parents are well-informed about what foods are most nutritious for themselves, much less for their children. And even some of those who know lack the time or money to prepare healthy, well-balanced meals at home.
Thankfully, there are simple steps a congregation can take to protect the health of all God’s children, regardless of age. Congregations can begin by taking a pledge to prioritize the health of their members and then implement healthy church policies, like serving water as a beverage option at all meetings and events or providing healthy snacks to children and youth.
Clergy could also address health as a faith issue during worship services and serve as positive role models by eating healthily, being physically active, and not using tobacco products. Next, congregations can participate in other activities designed to create a culture of wellness, such as planting a community garden; forming an official health ministry or parish nursing program; or advocating for local, state and national policies that make the healthy choice, the easy choice.
In Matthew 7, Jesus is comparing God’s love for us to our love for our own children. In other words, just as we want the best for our children, God wants the very best for us. So, let us work to reverse the trend toward overweight and obesity by promoting healthy, active lifestyles.
Gracious God, thank you for nourishing our bodies and souls through the abundance of your love. Help us to care for and feed others in the same compassionate spirit. For the earth is yours and the fullness thereof, and in your presence, there is no lack. Amen.
-Willona Stallings, Program Coordinator, Partners in Health & Wholeness