Gluttony, Homosexuality and Rachel Held Evans image

Gluttony, Homosexuality and Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans wrote a fascinating piece for the Huffington Post recently, about gluttony and homosexuality. Her point was that, for all that we hear in the media and in Christian discourse about homosexuality – and in America in particular, that’s a lot – we hear very little about gluttony, a sin which the scriptures speak about at least as frequently, and perhaps even more so. In her well-written and extremely thought-provoking way, she explores why this might be. She may not include all the relevant factors (and she may not have intended to), but one insight in particular is well worth taking on board.

First, here’s her diagnosis of the problem:

Heck, you could make a pretty good biblical case for gluttony being a “lifestyle sin” that has been normalized by our culture of “Supersized” portions and overflowing buffet lines, starting with passages like Philippians 3:19 (“their god is their belly”), Psalm 78: 18 (“they tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved”), Proverbs 23:20 (“be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat”), Proverbs 23:2 (“put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”), or better yet, Ezekiel 16:49 (“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”) Yet you don’t see weigh-ins preceding baptisms or people holding “God Hates Gluttons” signs outside the den of iniquity that is Ryan’s Steakhouse.

Indeed you don’t. Part of that, as she subsequently points out, is that there is a difference between being large and being gluttonous – some people just cannot help putting on weight more easily than others – and indeed between eating at Ryan’s Steakhouse and being gluttonous. But then comes this:

It seems the more ubiquitous the biblical violation, the more invisible it becomes.

Which is surely true. The first time I noticed this was when I was in Ukraine, and a local pastor thought nothing of changing money on the black market to get a better rate (which I would never do), even though he was passionately opposed to Christians drinking any alcohol at all (which I would do most days). It prompted me to make a habit of asking visitors to the UK, especially Christians, what things about Britain they find most out of step with the Bible; most of them say greed, which is closely related to Rachel’s point here. When everyone is doing something, nobody notices what the Bible says about it. The causality doubtless flows two ways here, but it’s a point well made. She continues:

I can’t help but wonder if biblical condemnation is often a numbers game. Though it affects more of us than we tend to realize, statistically, homosexuality affects far fewer of us than gluttony, materialism, or divorce. And as Jesus pointed out so often in his ministry, we like to focus on the biblical violations (real or perceived) of the minority rather than our own ... It’s hard for me to flatly condemn divorce, for example, when I know of several women whose lives, and the lives of their children, may have been saved by it, or when I hear from people who tell me they would have rather come from a broken home than grown up in one. We have a natural revulsion to the idea of checking people’s BMI before accepting them into the Church, especially when obesity is not necessarily reflective of gluttony (often, in this country, it is a result of poverty), and when we know from our own experiences or the experiences of those we love that an unhealthy weight can result from a variety of factors—from genetics to psychological components—and when some of our favorite people in the world (or when we ourselves) wrestle with a complicated relationship with food, whether it’s through overeating or under-eating.

Now, a paragraph like that could pull in one of two directions. It could mean, “Hey, what are you worried about gay sex for, guys? You don’t worry about gluttony or greed or divorce, after all.” If it means that, then the whole post is deeply troubling, since it effectively amounts to removing the doctrine of sin from the Bible, and saying that since we don’t worry about X, we shouldn’t worry about anything. But what I hope it means is: “Hey, everyone – by all means speak out against gay sex, but don’t forget to address the sins (gluttony, greed, divorce or whatever) that your family and friends struggle with, too. Planks and specks, people!” Assuming that’s what it means, it’s a hugely important challenge. There are, after all, an awful lot of Christians who have no problem with getting divorced and remarried for unbiblical reasons, but have a huge problem with gay sex. Much of this, as Rachel points out, is to do with the number of people you know who have struggled with each issue. She concludes:

Again, it’s a numbers game. It’s hard to “other” the people we know and love the most. It’s become a cliché, but everything changes when it’s your brother or sister who gets divorced, when it’s your son or daughter who is gay, when it’s your best friend who struggles with addiction, when it’s your husband or wife asking some good questions about Christianity you never thought about before.

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. There are several reasons we hear more about gay sex than gluttony. One is that it’s what secular journalists always want to ask Christians about. Another is that it has been in the news a lot because of changes in the law anyway, irrespective of what Christians are and aren’t saying or doing about it. Another is that it’s something that a number of professing Christians are saying is not sinful at all, which makes it something that needs explaining and defending (I am unaware of any Christian who has gone on record saying that gluttony is fine, for example, and I’ve not been invited to any radio debates with any prominent “progressives” on the legitimacy of greed recently). Another is that it is possible to be gluttonous or greedy without realising it, whereas it is not possible to have sex with someone of the same gender as you and not realise it. But another is the point Rachel raises here: we are happier speaking out against things which affect people we don’t know, than things which affect people we do. And if we rebuke sins that others have while condoning the ones we (or our loved ones) have, then we struggle with two of the biggest sins there are – hypocrisy and cowardice – and need to repent ourselves before we start throwing stones.

So I think Rachel is basically right. No doubt some could use this line of argument to deconstruct sin altogether – since you don’t confront X and Y properly, then you should shut up about Z – and leave everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. But if used wisely – since you (rightly) confront Z, which most of your friends don’t struggle with, then you should probably also confront X and Y, which many of your friends do struggle with – it’s a hugely helpful challenge. Planks and specks, people.

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