Michelle Obama’s theology of the body.
Mar 26, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 27 • By MEGHAN CLYNE
On February 11, as the debate over the Obama administration’s rule forcing religious institutions to provide insurance for contraceptive and aborti-facient drugs to their employees was reaching fever pitch, a prominent American said:
How’s that again? Religious institutions should have a say in individuals’ physical health? People should look to Scripture to know how to think about their bodies? What Bible-thumping Neanderthal came up with that one?
Actually, it was none other than the first lady, Michelle Obama, speaking at Northland Church in Longwood, Florida, on the second anniversary of her “Let’s Move!” anti-obesity initiative. Her remarks had nothing to do with the clash over the contraception mandate. Nevertheless, they illuminate some contradictions in the administration’s attitude toward churches and the appropriateness of telling people how to live their lives.
On one hand, the administration insists that employers’ religious views should carry no weight in matters of women’s health. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the president’s most visible reelection booster, has asserted: “To say to hundreds of thousands of women who work for religious organizations ‘No’ because of your employer’s objections, whether or not you choose to use contraception you aren’t going to be able to get the same access that other employees can get access to? That’s not right.” The official White House line—repeated often by spokesman Jay Carney—is that “decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.”
So religious leaders and employers have no business opining on what a woman does with her body. Unless, that is, Michelle Obama gives the all-clear. Because when it comes to eating habits, physical activity, cholesterol, and weight, the White House is telling churches it’s their obligation to instruct women (and men and children) what to do with their bodies.
This is the principle behind Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move Faith and Communities” initiative, launched in November 2010 to enlist faith-based organizations in the anti-obesity crusade. At events across the country, Obama has celebrated religious organizations that have heeded her call, lauding everything from Jewish community gardens to Muslim sports tournaments.
The HHS website for “Let’s Move Faith and Communities” highlights other praiseworthy projects, like the “Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls” initiative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It seeks to help “a community of women created in the image of God” recognize that “it is imperative that every woman … understands how her well-being benefits the faith community.” Because they’re telling women to avoid heart disease and stroke, not contraception and abortion, the Lutherans get a White House thumbs-up.
Another participant in Mrs. Obama’s anti-obesity crusade is Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In October, the “Let’s Move” blog cheered the organization’s efforts to “lead their larger community towards becoming more involved in the First Lady’s ‘Let’s Move Faith & Communities’ initiative.” The post, written by a staffer in HHS’s faith-based office, went on to report: