Sulphur Wells Church of Christ in Henry County, Tennessee, a few miles away from Paris, Ky., is challenging people to eat and think healthier, Amber Hall reports for Public Radio International.
Bob Palmer, lead pastor at the church, said, "We do draw some hard lines on alcohol and tobacco use and tattoos—we think, 'Oh, you're not taking care of the our temple that God has given you.'" He said the church hasn't looked at the issue holistically. "We've just kind of picked out the things we weren't going to do anyway, and we feel self-righteous about that—that we don't do them."
Then Palmer saw the County Health Rankings, a project by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that measures health risks, Hall writes. He said that "when we confirm someone's spiritual health and give them a thumbs up and an A-OK, that's often the end of the rehabilitation process." However, he said if he were outside the church and had only the health indicator numbers to look at, "it might make me run in the opposite direction."
In Tennessee, the Governor's Foundation for Health and Wellness is helping groups such as churches improve health in evangelical hubs through the "Healthier Tennessee" initiative, which is a "wellness program and an online wellness tool that provides faith leaders with tips, ideas and actions to get their members healthier," Molly Sudderth, the director of communications at the foundation, said.
One of the suggestions is called Walk and Worship. "You can walk and pray for those you feel need extra prayers or are going through difficulties . . ." said Barabara Kelly, a public-health educator.
About 150 churches statewide are participating in Healthier Tennessee's "Small Starts" program, but none of the churches in Henry County have joined yet. Palmer said "there could be some stigma tied to healthy living in this largely conservative area," Hall writes.
"Right-wing religious folk have kinda viewed that as 'liberal' thinking," Palmer told him. "But that hasn't been correct, I don't think. At all. Just read through early Genesis, and the very first commission that God gives anyone is to essentially take care of this created world. We don't talk about that very often for some reason—to our detriment, and these numbers reflect that." (Read more)