The Theological Implications of Barbecue

To the casual observer those gathered for the Plymouth men’s barbecue had merely found an excuse to eat meat and drink beer, but to serious students of the Bible and church history, we were doing God’s work.

Deuteronomy 12:15 says, “Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you.  Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it.”  You may want to crochet 12:20 on an apron for someone you love, “When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as God promised you, and you crave meat and say, ‘I would like some meat,’ then you may eat as much of it as you want.”’

Ezekiel 24:10 offers a simple recipe, “Heap on the wood and kindle the fire.  Cook the meat well, mixing in the spices; and let the bones be charred.”

This is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Barbecue brings people together.  The perfect combination of smoke, meat, and fire creates a meal and a moment when we taste and see that God is good.  Church barbecue has a long, rich history.  In the first half of the 19th century, evangelists enticed crowds to camp meetings by serving barbecue.  Before grocery stores and restaurants, you could not order a single barbecue sandwich.  You ate barbecue only when an entire animal was cooked.  In order to avoid waste, everyone was welcome at a barbecue.  For some poor people, revival barbecue was one of the few times there was more than enough food.

Barbecue is still a religious experience—especially in African American churches in the South.  In Texas, there are church-connected barbecue restaurants, like New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbecue in Huntsville.  Pit masters are called “preachers” and their barbecue pits “pulpits” from which the holy word is served.  One barbecue joint trying to avoid the sectarian divisions that divide Texas barbecue from North Carolina barbecue claims to serve “nondenominational barbecue.”

In a 1902 article about a Methodist church barbecue, the chef said, “This method of serving meat is descended from the sacrificial altars of the time of Moses when the priests of the temple got their fingers greasy and dared not wipe them on their Sunday clothes.  They discovered then the rare, sweet taste of meat flavored with the smoke of its own juices.”

Praise the Lord and pass the sauce.



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