by David Sisler

Frank was a boy preacher, aspiring evangelist and itinerant meddler. One afternoon Dad and I were sitting on the front porch, when Frank wandered over. As he sat down, Dad struck a match and lit a cigarette.

Before we go on, you need to know that Frank was taken prisoner at the battle of the bulge. He was not over-weight, he was just under-tall.

"Mel," Frank began, "you know your Christian witness would be a lot more effective if you would stop smoking."

Dad took another puff and said, "Frank, you are probably right. But while the Bible says that gluttony is a sin, it says nothing directly about smoking. Your head looks like a pea sitting on top of a watermelon. So when you lose 50 pounds, come back and lecture me about smoking."

Dad quit smoking in 1980 and lived the last sixteen years of his life smoke-free. The last time I saw Frank, he had made little progress against his waistline since that afternoon a third of a century earlier.

I bring all of this up because of a comment made by Dr. Donald Whitaker, a featured guest on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. "Most Christians do not drink, do not smoke, but tragically most of them overeat," he said, "and if they are overeating a substance that causes damage to the temple of the Holy Spirit, I think it is serious."

Dr. Whitaker was quoted by Kimberly Winston in "Chemical Warfare: Christians Battling Aspartame, Which ‘Damages the Temple.'" This latest holy war pits such Christian stalwarts as Dr. Whitaker, Dr. Karen Hayter, Doug Kaufmann, Kenneth Copeland, and Pat Robertson against the artificial sweetener commonly known as NutraSweet and Equal.

Since aspartame was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1981 it has been attacked by many consumer groups. Mild headaches, seizures and even death have been attributed to its use. Enter these warriors who say that "the product can interfere with prayer and evangelism." So great a danger is it, that "Kenneth Copeland has explicitly banned its sale at his ministry headquarter," Ms. Winston writes in The Dallas Morning News.

Their attack is based on biblical passages which remind believers that their bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (that's what Dad and Frank were telling each other from two different points of view). Aspartame causes health problems for some individuals, and those individuals should stop using it. But to mount this spiritual crusade is definite overkill, especially since I haven't heard about spiritual warfare against some other "Christian indulgences" such as, say, caffeine. Few evangelicals are doing spiritual warfare against my morning cup of java. If aspartame depresses your mind and is therefore a negative spiritual agent, what about caffeine, which is a powerful, addictive stimulant? Both substances produce side-effects on our body-temples, do they not?

Dr. Whitaker is worried about overeating "substance[s] that causes damage" to the body. Doesn't all overeating damage the body? I never met a french fry I didn't like, and those grease soaked potatoes and all of their kin caused me to be out of breath walking up one flight of stairs. Are we doing spiritual warfare here, Doctor? We certainly can be selective in our warfare.

This attack on an "artificial sweetener" is sadly misdirected while most of the world will not have enough "real food" to eat today, and will go to bed hungry tonight. By some counts, large numbers of this world's population will live and die without ever having known the joys of a full stomach.

I would like to introduce these campaigners to Katya, a three-year-old girl who lives in an orphanage in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Katya was abandoned (the Russian word literally means "thrown away") by her parents in early January. When she arrived at the orphanage, she weighed less than 25 pounds. Her prospects for a full belly were only slightly improved — the main staple of her diet is rice porridge three times a day. A small amount of beef and a few potatoes occasionally supplement the diet.

Mary Nash Stoddard, founder of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, and a leader in the assault on NutraSweet asked, "How can the Spirit of God dwell in a mind that is polluted by chemicals?" How, Ms. Stoddard, can a mind starved by hunger even think about the Spirit of God?

Come on, Pat, Kenneth, and everyone else who is in the middle of this food fight, if you are going to get serious about good health, what about Katya? Instead of agitating so much about this artificial food, why not concentrate your efforts and your incredible resources and get real food to her? That, I think, is what Jesus would do.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 4/10/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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