Eating veggies and shunning meat is not just about losing weight or staying in shape for Seventh- day Adventists - it's more about God.
A new documentary that recently aired on PBS, "The Adventists," delves into the healthy lifestyle of Seventh-day Adventists, who live about a decade longer than other Americans. The documentary also was No. 2 on the Amazon best-seller list for documentary films in the religion category recently.
"On the national level, they're living seven to 10 years longer and that's because of a healthy lifestyle," said Martin Doblmeier, producer and director of the film. "They take health seriously."
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Pastor Robert Snyder, pastor of Seventh-day Adventist churches in Altoona and Everett, and his wife, Barb, prepare a fruit and vegetable salad in the kitchen of their Altoona home. The documentary, “The Adventists,” shows how a healthy lifestyle contributes to long life.
Seventh-day Adventists believe their body is the temple of God, and that they carry the body with them to the next life.
"They do not believe in the separation of the body and soul. They see that as the body and spirit all in one," Doblmeier said.
Seventh-day Adventists believe in the diet of plants, fruits and vegetables God originally provided in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Unclean meat, according to the Bible, such as any cuts that come from a pig, is strictly forbidden. While it's not a requirement, more than half of Seventh-day Adventists are vegetarian or vegan.
Wayne and Joan Barnes of Everett are among the 50 percent who eat no meat.
"God didn't put animals here to begin with to be devoured," Joan Barnes said. "I love animals, and I cannot imagine killing animals to enjoy their flesh."
She joined the church about 50 years ago when she began dating her husband. Initially, she gave up pork, but she slowly started eating strictly vegetarian or vegan.
She eats no meat, and usually doesn't eat dairy or eggs, with the exception of when she's eating at restaurants or at someone else's home.
"It wasn't hard for me. Today I don't think you could pay me to eat flesh meat," Joan said. "I truly believe that God didn't design that we should eat animals. Our body is the temple of God and we should treat it as such."
For Seventh-day Adventists, the belief also means abstaining from objectionable habits.
"We don't smoke or drink alcohol. I don't keep soda in the house. I don't drink coffee," Joan said. "I think we're accountable for how we treat our body and what we do."
Robert Snyder, pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist churches in Altoona and Everett, said he preaches about living a healthy lifestyle. About half of his congregation is vegetarian, Snyder said, but most of them shun pork and don't drink or smoke.
Taking care of the body is important to live long and spread the Word of God, Snyder said.
"We're here to please God and give worship and thank him for the life he's given us. We want to live as long as possible to spread the good news of the Gospel. We want to live clean and happy and successful lives," Snyder said.
The idea of healthy living is based on biblical principles, Snyder said.
In the first two chapters of Genesis, no animals were killed and God created plants for eating. Although eating vegetarian isn't a requirement of being a Seventh-day Adventist, all meals served at church functions are vegetarian and eating pork is considered sinful.
"It's biblical, and if God says it, it's right," Snyder said.
In "The Adventists" documentary, Doblmeier talks with many Seventh-day Adventists like Snyder and the Barnes who believe living a healthy lifestyle is based on God's wishes.
"Caring for the body becomes a moral issue, rather than a health issue," Doblmeier said. "Caring for ourselves is something important. They carry that body with them into the next life."
Although Seventh-day Adventists hold conservative religious beliefs, they are pioneers in medical technology and health care exploration, Doblmeier said. Another part of the film explores technology breakthroughs by Seventh-day Adventists.
"For them hospital and health care work is sacred work and this can help bring a fresh - even revolutionary approach to our public health care discussions today," Doblmeier said.
He first became aware of the extraordinary health care provided by Seventh-day Adventists when his mother underwent procedures at a Seventh- day Adventist health care complex in Florida.
"She told me how good she thought the care was," Doblmeier said. Then, Doblmeier gave a speech at another complex in Loma Linda, Calif., and was in awe of the cutting edge technology.
"I thought here's the intersection of these two things: traditional religion and superb health care," Doblmeier said. "At the heart of the film is a story about an American-born faith tradition with an approach to health care anchored in a profound belief that the body is the temple of God," Doblmeier said.