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A Letter To The Preacher


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I recently read and enjoyed the debate between yourself and the editor of Fig Leaf Forum, as published in that newsletter. As someone who has personally grappled with the question of whether social nudism is sinful, and reached a conclusion after a lot of prayer and study, I appreciated both sides of the argument. Even though I enjoy nudism, my commitment to God comes first. That means if I can be convinced that my practice of nudism is a sin, and therefore a hindrance to my sharing eternity with God, I will gladly walk away from it.

The editor quoted several examples of nudity in the Bible, including God's command to Isaiah to publicly preach nude. I was hoping you would use references showing where God condemned nudity. Even allowing for my admitted bias, I would have to award the debate to the editor for sticking to the topic.

Although the proposition of debate was "Social nudity is condemned by the Bible as sinful," your approach unfortunately focused on the easier "Lust is condemned by the Bible as sinful." As you pointed out, The editor didn't respond in much detail to your questions about lust. While he may have appeared evasive, I feel he was devoting his attention instead to the agreed topic.

First of all, what is lust? "A strong desire for sexual gratification" (Collins); "a strong sexual desire" (Oxford). Lust is more than merely seeing an attractive woman. We do that everyday. Lust is a thought process, a conscious decision that directs sexual feelings and desires towards another. It is the mental planning of adultery. As to your specific points:

1. Nudity leads to lust. Superficially, yes. In our culture, nudity always seems to be associated with sex, titillation and immoral behaviour. Nudity is found in men's magazines, R rated movies, pornographic videos, strip clubs and prostitution. But not all nudity is sexual in nature. We undress to shower and bathe, when sleeping (well, not everyone), and during a medical examination. We see non-sexual nudity in classical art, including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Is all nudity evil? No. Does all nudity lead to lust? No. If it did, no Christian could ever be involved in the medical profession.

Does social nudity lead to lust? Lust can occur anywhere, so theoretically it is possible. Having visited all types of beaches, I maintain that there is more temptation and invitation for lust when women wear skimpy swimming costumes than when they don't. To describe a typical swimming costume as modest is stretching the definition. Today's swimwear is designed to enhance the body, to draw attention to those small parts that are almost covered. The body is contorted to fit whatever shape is currently fashionable. In short, these costumes make women look more sexually attractive than they would without.

At the nude beach, there is no pretense, no effort to conform to an unrealistic ideal shape. As for lusting, there's no point in mentally undressing someone who is already naked. The fact is, only a minute percentage of the female population will ever have a model's body, and then only for a relatively few years of their lives.

At the clothed end of the beach, women are pretending they're someone else and men are using their imagination to make up the shortfall. That's what I call lust. Meanwhile, further down the beach where the nudists take refuge, it's difficult to lust when you aren't hiding behind swim trunks. The result of any inappropriate thoughts is there for all to see.

So, does nudism lead to lust? In practical terms, no. If a man went to a nude beach and remained clothed, then his motives would appear suspect. But once he undresses, any sexual arousal is obvious. Practising nudism develops an attitude that controls lust and inappropriate thoughts, not only at nudist venues but in everyday situations.

2. Nudity causes others to lust. I'm prepared to concede some ground on this one. I have no control over others' thoughts. But that applies in every other situation in life.

In your comments you applied the risk of lust equally to men and women. While politically correct, I feel it's a bit harsh to attribute the same level of moral depravation to both sexes. Unfortunately, men are clear leaders if criminal records are any measure. Women peering at my body with lustful thoughts? They'd have to be sick indeed.

Those who attend nudist venues with the sole purpose of "perving" don't fit in with the nudist movement. They usually leave disappointed. Unlike strip clubs or topless bars, women in nudism aren't parading for the benefit of others. They aren't selling a commercial product, offering entertainment or touting for sex. They fail to satisfy the misguided fantasies these strange men have.

Does this mean because nudism attracts even a small group of men to lust, then it must be sinful? Paedophiles are attracted to the Boy Scout movement and the Catholic Church, but that hardly makes either sinful. It's better to remove the offender than blame the victim and the organisation. If we are going to blame the woman for what a man is thinking, then we'll have to blame the boy scout for what his leader did to him.

No. When I sin, as we all do, I'll take full responsibility for my own actions, and I expect everyone else to do the same.

3. Promoting nudism destroys your influence for good. How vigorously is the editor promoting nudism amongst Christians? Unless you were seriously researching the subject, you would probably never find his Web site. So he caters to those who are already interested in nudism, and specifically those with Christian beliefs. I feel he is teaching Christianity to nudists, not nudism to all Christians.

The material on his site, and others like it, is an enormous benefit to Christian nudists who feel they are living a clandestine life. Hopefully, he can strengthen those who feel they have to abandon their faith if they choose to enjoy nudism. When nudism is causing marital conflict because only one partner is interested, this information can help to resolve concerns. Christian nudists focus on the puritanical application rather than the hedonism promoted by some extremists.

Some will say Christian nudists aren't open about their activities because deep-down they know it's wrong, and that they must be trying to hide their sins. The early Christians also had to practise in secret when they were regarded as a heretical sect. Of course Christianity isn't and never was a sin. They hid to escape the intolerance and prejudice prevalent in their society. The Gospel was shared only with those they trusted and cared about.

The analogy between nudism and Christianity has obvious limitations. My faith is much more important to me than what I wear (or don't wear) at the beach. Nudism won't save me. I am not afraid to be criticised or mocked for my religious beliefs. But why would I want to invite ridicule over something as insignificant as my choice of clothing?

4. Promoting nudism leads others to sin. That brings us to the central question, Is nudism a sin? If it is, then promoting it WILL lead others to sin. I regard nudity as sinful in these situations:

Whether social nudity is a sin or not will be forever debated, but the Scriptural evidence I've read fails to condemn it and actually condones it in certain situations.

Teaching that nudity is always evil carries the same danger as teaching that sex is always a sin. For some, total abstinence is acceptable while for others it creates intolerable pressures with devastating consequences (for example, molested altar boys). As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7.9, "But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn" (KJV). It's better to advocate under which circumstances sex and nudity are acceptable.

5. Why be nude with others? Few critics of nudism would regard nudity between a husband and wife as sinful. The question of propriety only arises when others are involved. The argument follows that nudity is fine with your spouse, but if you want to be nude with others there must be another motive.

The primary reason for being nude with others is the lack of suitable venues. Few of us have the resources to purchase our own beach, lake or acreage. Legal nude beaches allow people to skinny-dip without breaking the law or risk offending others. The company of others is incidental. Some resorts have grounds large enough for couples to find their own space and enjoy their nudity in private. But having others within sight ensures appropriate behaviour. People are also sociable by nature. We seek and enjoy the company of like-minded people with similar attitudes and values.

Social nudity also has an unexpected benefit for women. Because of our culture's obsession with the perfect female body, the only nudity most of us see consists of the underfed, surgically enhanced, or air-brushed models appearing in the media. If that's what women are comparing themselves to, it's no wonder so many are unsatisfied with their body shape, and why the beauty industry makes billions.

When a woman sees other women naked, all ages, shapes and sizes, she compares herself with reality, not fantasy. The process of realising that she is physically normal and achieving body acceptance is a tremendous boost to her self-esteem.

In summary, nudism is not for every Christian. And with respect, I am not implying that each of the following applies to everyone opposed to it. Christians should not practise nudism if:

I don't expect to convert you to the cause. In your debate you raised some concerns that I have attempted to answer. I've had to resolve these same issues myself before I could enjoy nudism in good conscience. Those who have never personally experienced social nudism probably suspect an undercurrent of sexuality. I haven't seen it yet. What I have hoped to demonstrate is that it is possible for a Christian to maintain high standards in different situations.

Editor's Note: After the debate about social nudism was published in Issue 55/56 of Fig Leaf Forum and placed on this Web site, many readers took the time to write directly to the church of Christ preacher. Copies of several of these letters were forwarded to the editor of Fig Leaf Forum and the above was among them. It was published in Issue 60 and has been slightly edited for space and clarity.

Next article: Reflections On Lust

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