- (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
First lady Michelle Obama Saturday visited the Florida megachurch where one of President Obama's spiritual advisers is the pastor. She encouraged faith-based groups to join her campaign against obesity, saying "your bodies are temples given to you by God."
"Sometimes folks won't do it if it wasn't said right here," she said, speaking to about 3,000 people from more than 120 congregations and organizations, representing over 15 faiths and denominations, at Northland, A Church Distributed in central Florida.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama and who serves as senior pastor of the Northland church, introduced Mrs. Obama as a "talented, caring, a very physically fit first lady" who is most proud of being "Malia and Sasha's mom." She was in Orlando on the last day of her three-day tour to mark the second anniversary of her "Let's Move!" initiative to fight childhood obesity.
"You serve as a beacon for those who are lost, a refuge for those who've been forgotten," she told religious individuals and groups. "And our faith communities don't tend only to folks' spiritual health but to their emotional and their physical health as well," she said. "Think for a moment about the scripture that tells us that your bodies are temples given to you by God. That is a core teaching of so many of our faiths – a teaching that calls us to honor and nourish the bodies we've been blessed with, and to help others do the same."
She said one-third of children in America are overweight or obese and therefore at risk for serious conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease "that undermine their health, that diminish their prospects, and they cost our economy billions of dollars each year."
While Michelle Obama might like to keep her campaign separate from politics, her tour, which comes months before the presidential election, boosts the president's image. Reporters asked her about her husband's re-election bid while she was touring in Dallas on Friday, to which she replied, "I want him to be my president for another four years." She added that her approach to campaigning is, "This is the time that I have to give to the campaign and whatever you do with that time is up to you, but when it's over, don't even look at me... No calls. No anything."
While Obama's talk at the church on Saturday drew a lot of cheering and laughter, her arrival at the church campus was marked by anti-abortion protests. Activists held up placards declaring abortion as murder, but didn't mention her husband's administration by name.
The first lady praised Pastor Hunter's megachurch, which has a congregation of 15,000. It's no accident, she said, that the Northland church hosts classes to "help folks lead healthier lives."
"It's no accident that, long before we ever started 'Let's Move,' so many congregations were already sponsoring health ministries and fitness classes, hosting food pantries and summer nutrition programs for our kids."
Obama also mentioned the National Council of Churches, which she said had joined with Ample Harvest, an organization that helps gardeners donate fresh produce to 4,700 of their local food pantries. "The National Baptist Convention is aiming to have health ambassadors at all of their nearly 10,000 churches by September," she added. "And some of their churches have already created "no fry" zones in their congregations."
She said all faith communities were promoting a healthy lifestyle. "Muslim community leaders are hosting sports tournaments to encourage young people to get active," she said. "The Jewish Community Centers Association is working with JCCs around the country to grow gardens, and to get fresh food into underserved areas, and they're [creating] early child wellness programs."
She told the crowd that members of Let's Move Faith and Communities, which was created to partner with faith-based groups, had sponsored more than 1,000 summer nutrition sites providing millions of healthy meals for children in need. "So just imagine what we could achieve if every single organization and every single congregation in America got involved in this way… Imagine how many children we could feed… Imagine how many lives would be transformed."
The first lady recalled the days when she was growing up, saying, "You might not even understand how life was back then. Most of us led reasonably healthy lives. We walked to and from school every day – rain or shine." But the times have changed. "How many of us find ourselves looking forward to that fried chicken and mac and cheese, pound cake, after church on Sunday?" she asked. "Some people come to church just for the fried chicken."
She also underlined the need to revive the tradition of cooking and eating in the kitchen. "We still do that at the White House. It's a little, bitty kitchen – big, old house, everybody sitting in the kitchen. No matter where – you're sitting in the kitchen. I'm not cooking, but … but we still like the kitchen. Dirtying every pot, cooking everyone's favorite dishes, talking, laughing, sharing stories late into the night. That's family."
Obama said the government doesn't have all the answers. "There's no one-size-fits-all program or policy that will solve this problem. Every family and every community is different. Each of us needs to make the changes that fit with our budgets, our beliefs, and our tastes."