June 9, 2013 by Stacy McDonald
This post is in response to Doug Wilson’s article, Allergic to Other People. Let me state here that I really like Doug Wilson. Our family has read and recommended many of his books on marriage and family for years. And I’m pretty sure I “get” what he was trying to communicate. I agree that those with allergies should be charitable and be careful not to be rude, thoughtless, or to forsake fellowship.
There are ways to make it all work without inconveniencing or frustrating anyone. However, read why I think Pastor Wilson goes too far…
“If you think that every cook in the body has a bounden obligation to drop every other ingredient from her recipes if you are coming over, then perhaps you are waiting for the wrong person to make the sacrifice. Why don’t you make the sacrifice, and just eat it? You might reply that this means that later in the evening you will have to deal with the icky angsty feelings that always accompany your consumption of your allergenic de jour. Well, isn’t that a small price to pay because you love the brethren? Eat what is set before you — there’s a strategy you could try Luke 10:8. Better to get an imaginary rash on your body than to be a real rash on the body.” – Doug Wilson
At first I was a little stunned—hurt even. I thought about the many awkward moments when I had to get creative with a menu in an effort for our family to join someone for a fellowship meal. Were we burdening them—irritating them? Did they wish our family would “make the sacrifice and just eat it” even though it was harmful to our bodies? Were they secretly wondering if we were “faking it”?
How could a pastor seem to show such little regard for the physically weaker brethren? Where was the love, the charity, the long suffering that he so fully encouraged from those who claimed to have allergies (I say claimed, since the article seemed to put into question the validity of allergies in anyone other than those risking anaphylactic shock).
Then I started to think about my own blog and the many times I allowed various real-life situations or struggles to color my articles and I tried to be more empathetic. I began to wonder if Pastor Wilson was dealing with a specific real-life situation when he wrote this article. I actually understand what he’s getting at. I just think that he did a really sloppy job of making his point. And, ironically, I believe he perpetuated the very disunity he was attempting to eliminate.
I’m trying to assume that he didn’t actually think through the implications of what he wrote—that he didn’t mean it to come across as uncharitable as he did—that he didn’t mean to invite people to judge all their friends who are struggling with food allergies—or friends who are simply trying to experiment with different diets as they deal with possibly serious health issues that we know nothing about (and that, frankly, are none of our business).
And if you don’t think judgment was the result, read the comments generated from his article. One person wrote asking Pastor Wilson if perhaps those with food intolerances should be publicly disciplined by the church!
I am a woman who has struggled through some fairly significant health problems—problems that are directly related to a gluten allergy. I’ll spare you the details. And yes, it was confirmed by a doctor, so I’m not an “enemy of unity” whining about an “imaginary rash.” Though, after this article, I suspect that before it was medically confirmed, I could have easily been accused of just that.
Years before I was diagnosed, my husband and I watched, somewhat helplessly, as one of our young children suffered for over a year before we figured out what was “wrong” with her. A good doctor and a few blood tests later, we discovered that her body was reacting to wheat in a very negative way. Staring spells (later diagnosed as seizures), leg cramps, chronic diarrhea, severe hair loss, itching, stomach cramps, and daily emotional melt downs (it was as if she was on drugs) left us feeling hopeless and perplexed.
Once we removed wheat from her diet, her hair began to grow back. The cramping stopped. She began to smile again. She began to gain weight (she had become very frail from her inability to absorb nutrition).
Even now, when she is “accidentally” exposed to wheat (this can happen from a contaminated spoon), we typically know within 24 hours. Her doctor told us that it takes approximately two weeks for the effects of the wheat to completely leave her system.
When I was diagnosed with Celiac, my doctor told me that it is very likely that all my children will have issues with gluten. We’ve tried to be cautious. While we currently have several other children on a gluten-free diet for particular suspicious symptoms, we aren’t yet certain they have an “allergy.” However, because of their apparent sensitivities, we are being cautious.
Other children in our family don’t seem to be affected, so with them, we leave well enough alone.
Therefore, perhaps you can see why I found this particular article to be so offensive—divisive even! It is possible that there are those who are adhering to certain food restrictions out of some sort of motivation to follow a trendy diet; however, there are also those who are trying to save their lives…literally. In addition, there are those who are simply trying to do whatever they can to deal with perplexing health issues. Should we all take the liberty of doubting or judging our friends?
“Here is a rule of thumb. If you have ever showed up to a dinner party (not a potluck) unannounced with your own food, then you are an enemy of church unity. The Holy Spirit is working to unify the whole body in sweet table fellowship, and you are underfoot.”
Wow. Underfoot? What a way to make someone feel burdensome and left out.
Should we really tell someone to “get over it” and eat whatever makes them sick simply to please our sense of fellowship? Should we tell them they should eat what is set before them because when they bring their own meal (in an effort not to inconvenience anyone) it irritates us? Where is the charity? Is Christian unity found in the food we put in our mouths or in gracious fellowship?
And by putting into question the motives of basically anyone who doesn’t “swell up like a balloon” when eating offensive foods, Pastor Wilson is inviting the brethren to openly judge and condemn those who are weak in the flesh—those who may be doing their best to deal with their physical symptoms without burdening you!
If someone “brings their own food” to your fellowship dinner, they may simply be trying to avoid burdening you with their dietary restriction. They are probably very tempted to eat what you’ve served; however, it may be they are simply so desperate for your fellowship that they join you with their “less-than” meal.
Yes, feasting is part of the joy of fellowshipping with the saints! It is a glorious part of hospitality and community! However, bearing with the weak, praying for the sick, and being merciful to those who suffer in ways we simply do not suffer or understand is also part of loving the brethren.
Who is reacting in love? What sort of physical detriment do you suffer from eating the things you expect me or my children to eat? Who is expecting others to suffer for their own comfort, convenience, or pleasure? Your pizza smells amazing, by the way. Be glad you can eat it.
How about showing mercy to those who may already be suffering in ways you don’t know. It may be a little inconvenient to you when you invite a family over for dinner and have to avoid your favorite ingredients in order not to make your guests sick. But, I’d like to respond to Pastor Wilson with his own question: “Isn’t that a small price to pay because you love the brethren?”
Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls… (Romans 14:3–4)
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love… (Ephesians 4:2)