Healthy Health Education

Many years ago, my wife and a friend decided they’d hold a cooking school. As they were gathering recipes and presenters, one laywoman gave them a bowl of gray glop that she insisted she should demonstrate. It conformed, she said, to Seventh-day Adventist nutritional standards, as she saw them: no fat, no sugar, minimal salt, no spices, no eggs or dairy. “This just disappears at my house,” she said. Carmen’s friend took a taste, and after choking it down, said, tactfully, “I’m pretty sure it will disappear at ours, too.” Which it did later that night, into her garbage disposal.

This wannabe presenter is an illustration of a problem that we Seventh-day Adventists have always had when we set out to do health education: we have a hard time with message control.

Our General Conference president has suggested that every church be a health education center. It’s a great idea. Common sense health is decidedly uncommon. All of us are jerked about by nutrition news stories—stories that I’ve had a hard time believing aren’t planted by the industry whose food gets endorsed by supposedly scientific research. We’ve been recommended megadoses of vitamins, açaí berries, melatonin, red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, herbs of various kinds, and a dozen other things that are supposed to make you live darn near forever.

Everyone is influenced by the health rumor mill. Then add that with us Seventh-day Adventists, health isn’t just about research (however suspect), but faith. And faith cracks the door open for shady notions that have nothing to recommend them but someone’s belief that they’re true. Ellen White contradicted the medical establishment of her day, and we’re tempted by the same impulse. So when we stand up to give health education under the Seventh-day Adventist banner, we’ve been known to talk all kinds of nonsense.

A few years ago a group wanted to do a Spirit of Prophecy-based health seminar at our church. Members said they were interested, so we extended the invitation. The hall was packed. The presentation started out with some Ellen White quotes, but it wasn’t long until it was in questionable diet territory: no oils or fats, substituting honey for sugar, no salt, uncooked food rather cooked food, and of course, everything strictly vegan. From there it moved to a long presentation on herbal “medicines”, which owed more to Jethro Kloss than to Ellen White. In short, it was a mashup of everything the presenters had come across and believed, with the implication that all of it was stamped with the imprimatur of Divine Revelation. The audience seemed to see no discontinuity: it made sense to them that Ellen White would endorse galenicals, though she mentions herbs sparingly, much less than she talks about a balanced lifestyle.

There was probably minimal harm done. Many of these ideas are impractical or unsupportable (honey has the same effect on the body as sugar, we require some oils and fats, humans won’t thrive on only raw foods, the average person finds adequate nutrition difficult with a vegan diet, and nearly all herbs are worthless except as placebos), it won’t matter much because people won’t stick to them. The more extreme the diet, the sooner it ends.

I’ve found most of Ellen White’s health teachings to be moderate and practical, ideas that stand the test of time, such as the elements of the NEW START acronym. (If there is craziness, it will come out at “N”. There’s less dispute about exercise, water, sunshine, temperance, air, rest, and trust in God. But nutrition brings the nuts out—and I don’t mean healthy cashews and pecans.)

But there are Adventist health “educators” who wander into much more dangerous territory.

A friend in North Dakota sent me a video of a presentation done for an Adventist group there. The presenter’s name is Mamon Wilson, and he purports to be a healer of cancer. He calls himself an “herbal surgeon” whose concoctions pull internal cancers out through the skin, where he can remove them using slabs of eggplant and other herbal poultices. He claims to once have removed a woman’s entire breast cleanly by targeting her with herbs. He’s partial to PowerPoint slides of fruit-sized facial cancers, which he implies he could have cured had the patients let him. When his patients die anyway, it’s because they don’t stick closely enough to his directions (such as giving up hair conditioners and permanent waves). He says that necrotizing fasciitis—flesh-eating bacteria—can be cured by dosing the skin with used motor oil, that pokeweed will cure HIV if inserted in the rectum, lemon juice should be dripped in the eyes for cataracts, and hempseed oil for almost everything.

This may sound like the script for an SNL sketch, but Mamon Wilson has been received enthusiastically by some Seventh-day Adventist congregations.[1] Ideas that would seem like the silliest nonsense in any other context become somehow acceptable when we’re asked to take them on faith. (Especially if you add, “The medical establishment doesn’t want you to know this, but…”) The basic rule of health education, as in health care, should be “First, do no harm.” But it is probable that some have passed up life-saving intervention for treatable disease because they listened to Mamon Wilson.

I am not suggesting that Mr. Wilson represents Adventist health beliefs, or that such “treatments” are approved by any church leader or medical professional. I’m just pointing out that Seventh-day Adventist congregations are sponsoring Mamon Wilson and inviting the public. You’re welcome to use whatever quack treatment you like on yourself. Rub slices of melon on your melanomas and slather your body with carcinogenic motor oil, if that’s what turns your crank. But it’s different when you are telling others what to do, and implying that you represent not just our church, but God and Ellen White. I wonder if an organization can sponsor a presenter who makes claims this potentially damaging with legal impunity? If I were Risk Management, I’d want to find out.

So who decides what’s healthy? The General Conference? Loma Linda University? The pastor? Each cooking school teacher? My argument is that without message control, every man and woman will do, as Judges says, what is right in his or her own eyes. That’s a recipe for a pig’s breakfast.

For me, good health education would hew to a few practical principles:

•Teach a whole balanced lifestyle, rather than just nutritional tweaks. (NEW START is a good model, with caution about getting too much S.)

•Help people to improve their health, rather than teaching them an ideal that they can’t sustain. That is, rather than veganism and long-distance running, encourage people to give up Krispy Kremes, cut down meat and cheese in favor of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and do some walking.

•Try to integrate solid contemporary research and traditional good health practices, while...

•... cautioning about questionable food, herb, and supplement fads. We don’t know everything, and we’re willing to learn, but in the meantime, we’d do best to stick to conservative health principles.

•Stop relying on the word “natural.” Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Marijuana is natural. So is dirt. Insulin isn’t, but I have friends who couldn’t live without it.

•Don’t teach others health practices that we don’t follow ourselves. At cooking schools we see dishes that only get fixed for cooking schools. Would a visitor see no-fat, no spice, no sugar, no dairy, or no salt vegan dishes at our potlucks? And if they were there, would any of us eat them?

•We need a wider mission to keep us in balance. There are underserved populations right here in North America who need health education. Perhaps we could go into those communities rather than just teaching the suburban middle class how they can live longer? I’d like to see us address sustainable health for everyone on the planet. There’s solid evidence that raising meat is harmful to ecology and resources. Michelle Obama has encouraged everyone to eat fresh and healthy, not just those prosperous enough to shop at Whole Foods Market. So could we.

Health blended with religion has been a blessing to us, and a danger. A blessing, because it has kept us from harmful practices like tobacco use. A danger, because the notion that health understanding is received by faith rather than research or common sense has led to an inconsistent message. It has also proven divisive and gospel-diluting: it’s no coincidence that diet is a starting point for most of our Seventh-day Adventist extremists, and there’s no Biblical support for the idea that physical health equals spiritual health, or that asceticism in diet is the key to God’s kingdom. Quite the opposite.

Yet people do want to know how to have the best health they can, and if we can do it sensibly, it would be a marvelous thing for us to provide them.

[1] A quick Google will show that Mr. Wilson has been invited to lecture at a number of Seventh-day Adventist churches, though this particular video is of a presentation done for an Adventist group, not an official congregation.

Loren Seibold is a pastor in the Ohio Conference, and co-contributor (with Monte Sahlin) to Faith in Context, a blog about the intersection of religion and culture.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6759
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This. It’s been my concern ever since Wilson II announced that all churches become health education centers. Unless churches are constricted to an officially approved health curriculum, we are headed for more weirdness & liability.

Frequently, community programming falls by default on the folks willing to do these things, & in my experience, a lot of them are also the ones who are most into the alternative side of things. Message control has been lacking, & can’t help but get worse when every church is given Wilson’s challenge & carte blanche in carrying it out.

If Presbyterians were to extend this challenge to their churches, I wouldn’t worry. I’ve seen what my people are capable of & it alarms me.

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does anyone remember. Merlk sea water. A dollar a gallon, one capful per glass of drinking water and one would cure all infectious and aging diseases. Sold great around E.M.C. In the early 1940’s. Tom Z

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Good point…plus, I would add that by the look of most congregations who would believe that this was a “better” way to live??

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oh yes…Thank you Loren! And stay away from any kind of miraculous medicine for everything like Noni-juice. We had People selling that stuff in church for incredible Prices. And of course the church is full of old nice ladies who can’t say no…and to be fair, old nice men seem to be just as easy to convince as the ladies.
If something is expensive but good for or against everything: forget it! Eat an apple instead.
But also: a healthy diet is nothing new, but what about mental hygiene? Self-contradicting stuff in our heads is probably also very unhealthy. We could explore that field a little more…

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Yes: Blue-Green Manna, wheat grass. No spices, but if any, arguments over which and the problem with black pepper as opposed to red pepper (not that they have much, botanically, to do with each other). Bread not long enough out of the oven. You name it. We have to remember the times in which all that was written and the xenophobic energy behind a good share of it (especially the spices—“Look at those people—if you eat what they do, you’ll be just like them, dancing around, making parties and having sex at will”). The American (and, earlier, UK) culture that pulled eating habits into a moral code was a complex one that involved nutritional studies done by factory owners, through interests in libido, through major economic and business-centered issues, though the influence of the first and second-law of thermo-dynamics and the industrial model for the human body; a very large share of what 19th C health reformers wanted to believe were backformed into some kind of science, and from there, some weird kind of theology and basis for a good spiritual life. In some cases, we’d be better off importing a group of aging hippies from Mendocino County to come to church and give a presentation. Ironically, the Denomination is, in effect, grabbing the coattails of contemporary health advocates who do, in fact, go back to our “Seven Basics,” and even use that language, but who have never heard of, let alone read Ellen White. I will add, here, that I do get a lot of credibility when I tell my yoga teacher that my family has been vegetarian since 1910.

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The only thing I disagree with in this piece is the statement:

The indigenous tribes of the Amazon who have lived off the forest both for food and medicine for millennia will tell you a thing or two about “worthless” herbs. :wink:

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A lot of powerful & efficacious medications are derived from botanicals. I took this statement to be referencing the OTC herbal supplements popular in America. Most were recently reported to not even include the labeled herbs!

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And herein lies the problem. If our church is to be open to “anyone” who bring with them whatever beliefs they may have, then the burden is on the organized church to instill our corporate values. Our church should be our first and foremost mission. Just because they have joined our church does not mean our job is complete and done. Check out the minister from Kenya among other examples.

Where is our Health Ministries Department? Aren’t they paid employees with a job description?

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Hey, fellow believers, you CAN’T treat a disease and have it go away, you have to remove the cause.
I’ve been to some great pot luck dinners after church. All good food. Not too “goopy”. Beans looked like beans, ya know. LOL! I enjoyed it, too. Got a few good recipies from some people.

We need salt. Not sodium chloride or regular table salt. That’s a chemical poison. --sea salt with about 70 something ionic minerals. The heart needs salt to keep it beating. Good oils are cold pressed and not altered in any way. Olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil. All good oils that keep the nervous system healthy. Canola oil is behind mad cow disease, so is it healthy for US?

Use unaltered, brown sugar, stevia, honey with it’s natural minerals. White sugar is a chemical poison and is addictive.

Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. If it’s in the form God made it in, or the bees made it in, then it’s probably good food. Unless it’s been sprayed with Roundup and is a GMO product. Grow your own garden, learn what the soil needs to grow food well, live the other principles of EGW’s health message. Prepare food simply, be happy and thankful when you eat it. Ask God to bless it. If you see something strange at a cooking class. . . I don’t know how to tell you to react. Maybe if you don’t react, it would be better. LOL!!!

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" …the average person finds adequate nutrition difficult with a vegan diet,"

I seriously question that statement. In fact some reliable health oriented publications are more and more pointing, maybe not exclusively, to an almost vegan diet. Incidentally, I’m speaking mainly about a diet available in USA.

Some churches do not have the talent to educate the public about health. NEWSTART is a very good introduction but should not be modified by food fanatics.

I have my doubts. He could have said “herbal supplements” but didn’t. I think he is reflecting the knee jerk reaction people have to herbal healing when confronted with wild eyed “healers” who roam our churches…

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Correction: all plants are herbs; recall God gave Adam and Eve all the herbs for food. We all should eat more of them.

I regularly subscribe to “Nutrition” a publication of the Center for Science in the Public Interest which has the latest and best scientific information on food. It also lists the best foods to order a restaurants or at grocery stores that have less sugar, salt and fewer preservatives. Popular dishes at restaurants show the caloric count.
The recent issue listed the best fish to eat and from what source. A very valuable monthly newsletter.

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So,here is the problem…

Given the denomination pushes the use of wackos to debunk evolution, by using them to “prove” science is wrong, how can it then use science to debunk wackos when it comes to health?

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Wow, it’s a really good thing that our brother shared these words of wisdom with all of us bumpkins out here who might be tricked into using some natural remedy. Most certainly Isaiah needed his guidance when, most certainly under a delusion, he told Hezekiah to put a lump of figs on his boil.

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Is this how you’d treat your own boils, if so afflicted? Would you mix up spit mud to treat blindness?

Will you say ‘yes’? And still expect us to desire health advice from you?

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Loren,

You are right to warn Adventists about quality control with regard to own community health education. And yes, I do believe that local Adventist church communities can indeed become credible health education centres and centres of influence. My local church in the middle of Australia’s premiere holiday playground of sun, surf and s…x is a great example of just such a community.

Our congregation is blessed with two doctors - one a well known pain specialist; the other a junior doctor. Then we have a physical therapist of some experience. And a retired nurse educator. Plus at least one very experienced cooking demonstator and several other nurses. In February this year, 10 of our members travelled about 900 kms by road to attend the COMPLETE HEALTH IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM Summit. 250 Summit attended from all around Australia. The summit was a whole weekend of top quality health education. A Catholic nun was honoured at the summit for being the most vigorous promoter of the CHIP Program. She did the program some 5 years ago and has followed the program very diligently ever since. She is 74 now but claims to feel about 50 only without the pain. She is still achieving satisfying weight loss. She still continues with her career as a counselor and introduced 17 people to a local CHIP program in her area. There were a total of 40 participants in that program in a provincial centre.

The CHIP Program founded over 25 years ago by Hans Diehl of LLU was redeveloped in Australia in 2012. The global rights for the CHIP program have been acquired by the Lifestyle Medicine Institute, which is based in Loma Linda but it is a health promotion company and one of the entities under the umbrella of Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing. Sanitarium is heavily invested in the success of the CHIP Program have poured Australian $4million dollars and counting into its redevelopment. Hans Diehl, Andrea Avery, MD, Clinical Prof at UC Irvine Medical School, and Darren Moreton, PhD, exercise pyhsiologist and senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education all present on the CHIP videos.

The entire CHIP Program consists of 18 one and a half hour session, 12 of these happening with the first 30 days, and the remaining six spread over the next 2 months. The video presentations for the program are downloaded direct from the Internet, and are only available to registered sites with licenced volunteer facilitators. The program invites people to begin on a health journey toward optimal health. It recognizes that each individual will make the journey at his/ her own pace. But the principles taught in the two video segments per session are clear and evidence based. These video presentations are interspersed with group discussion in conjunction with a workbook and textbook. To date over 25 journal articles have been published in medical and scientific peer-reviewed journals in America, Australia, New Zealand and Britain that review the scientific and biometric data CHIP has captured.

CHIP is very clear that it is not a vegan or a vegetarian program. It does recommend a plant based, whole foods eating pattern but beyond the first 5 day cleansing diet, it doesn’t mandate any food or rule anything in or out. The results speak for themselves. Of the 17 participants in the program of which I was the team leader in 2014, one professional guy gave away his blood pressure medications in conjunction with his doctor, and another 4 participants lost 5 kgs or more in the first 30 days.

A new era in Adventist community health education is dawning with programs of the quality of CHIP.

What do you consider the difference between herbal supplements & herbal healing?

Something that you’re not likely to see at a church cooking class… :smile:

As the man says “lean, healthy and low in fat”!

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I mean really Robert, did you have to show us one that looks so good :wink:

However, thumbs up for using an Aussie chef :+1:

LOL…you got to be kidding me! I’m actually salivating…now look what you’ve done < shakes fist >

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