One of my goals this year is the keep track of the intersections of Christian faith and food movements in the U.S.. I was intrigued to come across a blog post by Eve Schaub who was deeply offended to find a packet of materials from a church hanging on her door handle.
What was it that offended her so much? Was it the not so subtle attempt to recruit her to go to church? Was it that she had her own religious convictions and she didn't appreciate someone trying to evangelize her to a different faith? Was it the waste of paper and plastic? No, what really offended her is the $1 gift card to McDonald's.
After listing off the relatively harmless collection of items in the bag she writes:
Then I got to the coupon for McDonald's. Stapled to it was a card that read “Come visit us on Sunday… Then go for a Sundae!” and quoted the Psalms “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I kid you not.
I was speechless. The church endorsing fast food? Using junk food desserts as a reward for attending services? When I was a kid we survived the droning sermons and fourteen-off-key-verses of “Oh Thou Who Art Mine Antidisestablishmentartianism” by doodling on the offering envelopes and looking forward to the “fellowship hour” that followed. There, we knew, we could snag more refreshments than we were reasonably allowed while the grown-ups gabbed and drank coffee. That was crap food too, of course....I would argue that what was different was that it was still in the church, designed to get members of the congregation to begin talking to one another, become friends, maybe even form a close-knit community that would support one another….Turning the local McDonald's into the honorary vestibule, to me, isn’t quite the same.
Instead, it comes off more as a cheap bribe. I wonder about the technicalities of this: if you use the coupon without going to church, will you go to Hell? And, if you go collect all your neighbors coupons from their doorknobs before they get home, are you definitely going to Hell?
I'm always intrigued by how those outside of the church view the church. I don't know Eve's current faith involvement, but at least she is observing this particular community from the outside. I'm sure the last thing this church thought might offend was the seemingly harmless gift card from McDonalds, but their little mashup of scripture and fast food does say something about their beliefs. And in this case the recipient found their beliefs repulsive.
American churches would do well to take note that many non-religious people find a lot of meaning and purpose in life through their experiences with food. Eve says it well in her post:
I don’t know. Religion and food have one quintessential thing in common: they are both topics in whose philosophy one can become so ensconced that they dramatically affect everything else in your life. Which is to say, some people treat religion like their food, and some people treat their food like a religion.
If churches hope to connect with these folks they can't be indifferent about food and food choices. As we're finding with our Orthodox fast, there are rich resources in the Christian tradition to draw from in engaging issues around food. It's not just that Christians need to get on board with the what's popular with food, the church actually has some wonderful perspectives to add to the conversation.