Seeking the Straight and Narrow
Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America
By Lynne Gerber
(University Of Chicago Press, Hardcover, 9780226288116, 296pp.)
Publication Date: November 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
Losing weight and changing your sexual orientation are both notoriously difficult to do successfully. Yet many faithful evangelical Christians believe that thinness and heterosexuality are godly ideals—and that God will provide reliable paths toward them for those who fall short. Seeking the Straight and Narrow is a fascinating account of the world of evangelical efforts to alter our strongest bodily desires. Drawing on fieldwork at First Place, a popular Christian weight-loss program, and Exodus International, a network of ex-gay ministries, Lynne Gerber explores why some Christians feel that being fat or gay offends God, what exactly they do to lose weight or go straight, and how they make sense of the program’s results—or, frequently, their lack. Gerber notes the differences and striking parallels between the two programs, and, more broadly, she traces the ways that other social institutions have attempted to contain the excesses associated with fatness and homosexuality. Challenging narratives that place evangelicals in constant opposition to dominant American values, Gerber shows that these programs reflect the often overlooked connection between American cultural obsessions and Christian ones.
Lynne Gerber is a lecturer in the religious studies department and research fellow in the Religion, Politics, and Globalization Program at the University of California, Berkeley.
“In this vivid and often moving study, Gerber juxtaposes two Christian groups that proclaim promises of bodily change. She shows how they borrow models and techniques from their secular competitors while concealing their debts. More poignantly, she narrates the ministries’ inevitable failures—and their awkward efforts to explain them away. Gerber’s book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Christianity’s loss of control over the appetites that were once considered its specialty.”—Mark D. Jordan, Harvard Divinity School
-Mark D. Jordan
“Looking in depth at two major evangelical Christian projects, Seeking the Straight and Narrow explores with sensitivity, respect, and nuance the ways participants focus on the problems of the body and its unruly desires. Gerber points out that the people she observes and talks to enjoy their new bodily and spiritual disciplines—not masochistically, but by taking pleasure in ordering their lives, finding a community to support them, and tempering what they had experienced as out of control yearnings. She also makes the fascinating point that through their complex dealings with the body, evangelical Christianity is in tension with as well as in cahoots with secular American culture. A thoroughly original book, it absolutely enriches our understanding of the significance of the straight body—in both senses of that term—in American Christian culture.”—Amy Farrell, Dickinson College
“This is an engaging, informative, and beautifully written book. Drawing on participant observation, textual analysis, and scores of interviews, Gerber richly describes two different evangelical ministries—ex-gay and weight-loss—that each seek to help their members overcome what they perceive as excessive desires. Seeking the Straight and Narrow sheds new light on the evangelical movement, homophobia, fat bias, and the relative success of political movements that challenge these different, yet in many ways similar, stigmas.”—Abigail Saguy, University of California, Los Angeles