Q: Have you addressed the issue of a Christian using tobacco products even with the current medical research indicating that it destroys our body, which is the temple of the Lord? It seems to me that this also falls into the suicide category in that it intentionally causes harm to our bodies. I often get the retort that “where do we draw the line then,” e.g., overeating, laziness, poor health habits. Can you please address this for me, especially where it concerns church leaders and being above reproach?
A: I do not believe that I have ever addressed this issue directly in this column. Your post gives me that opportunity.
There is no place for a Christian where “the line” is drawn. Everything that we do in every area of our lives is fit for discernment in the shadow of the cross and in the power of the empty tomb. That any of us would draw a line around any portion of our lives and suggest that the light of Christ should not be shown there is headed for a significant spiritual problem. In fact, this is often where spiritual vulnerabilities hide out and grow.
Evil exists in the darkness, and when the light shines, evil is exposed. So when any of us take a portion of our lives — what and how much we eat, whether we use tobacco or not, how much weight we carry, what we look at via our computer, how we behave toward others — and say that it is irrelevant to our lives in the Gospel, we are courting spiritual and personal danger.
Tobacco use, alcohol abuse, violence and poor nutritional habits are four major health risks and disease causes in 21st century America. This is so for all Christians, and therefore so for all church workers as well.
There is no question that Christians in general, and church workers in particular, should be paying attention to their lifestyle habits. Our children represent the first generation in the history of the United States to have a shorter life expectancy than the generation before, owing primarily to obesity. And, estimates range from 7 percent to the upper 20s in health costs that are attributable to lifestyle choices.
But this is not simply an indi-vidual issue. I do not believe it is fair to simply hold the workers of the church to a higher standard without raising questions about the support of the community in which the worker(s) live and work concerning these lifestyle characteristics.
In what ways does the congregation or school encourage healthy lifestyle habits in its workers? Do members of the community in a supportive way raise their concerns directly and offer encouragement and support to make necessary changes? Does the congregation offer a health club membership in support of regular exercise and weight reduction in the context of accountability and prayer? Is a smoking cessation class funded in this same context? Is regular time off not only encouraged but demanded by the community?
Health and healthy behavior is not reducible to the individual. It includes all of us in community. Instead of any of us focusing on the “above reproach” part of things, I suggest we lead with “how can I and we help?”
Dr. Bruce M. Hartung is executive director of the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support and associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Oct. 28, 2004