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A Response To The Preacher's Rejoinder


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By the editor of Fig Leaf Forum

Knowing as I do how much rules and rule keeping mean to the church of Christ preacher, I find myself totally bewildered by his additional "Rejoinder." He opens by freely admitting that we both agreed that no additions would be made to the debate, and then proceeds to add to the debate! It was he, in fact, who introduced and insisted upon this particular rule during the negotiation of our debate guidelines. "No additional material may be appended to the debate, though other thoughts about the debate may appear elsewhere on the Web site," he wrote. "Other thoughts" are one thing, preacher. An unabashed continuation of the debate is quite another! Why is it that those who most love to make the rules, and who are most insistent that everyone keep the rules, are themselves so often the first to break the rules?

In the spirit of our agreed upon guidelines, I had originally intended to follow our "official" articles by offering some broad comments about this debate and debating in general, and so I shall in "A Debate 'Post-Mortem'." However, since the preacher has now chosen to actually continue the debate with his "Rejoinder," I feel it incumbent on me to first offer a rebuttal.

About Michael Satlow's Jewish Constructions Of Nakedness In Late Antiquity, the preacher wrote, "I used it to rebut [the editor's] repeated assertions that nudity was widely practiced in Israel.... The authorities that I quoted show, at least, that such is certainly not the understanding major historians have of Israel's attitude toward nakedness." Once again he ignores the startlingly obvious fact that this article focuses on rabbinical attitudes towards nakedness of late antiquity, dating from 70-500 A.D., not those held by Israelites during the period of the Exodus of 1500 years earlier, the era I was discussing. Would the preacher concede that attitudes toward nakedness held by modern Jews (who are, by the way, well represented among the ranks of social nudism) are identical to the attitudes of Rabbis 1500 years ago? I doubt it. So why, then, would he believe that the rabbinical attitudes of 70-500 A.D. are identical to those held by the Israelites who lived 1500 years earlier?

Please note that the preacher is entirely unapologetic about introducing Mr. Satlow's historical article into this debate, even though by the rules he himself set forth in his first article, "We are not discussing what history says," "History is not our standard," and "All that is of interest in this debate is 'What does the Bible say?'" Why is it that those who most love to make the rules, and who are most insistent that everyone keep the rules, are themselves so often the first to break the rules?

The preacher continued, "He never gave any proof [that nakedness was widely practiced in Israel], but merely assumed it." Does Biblical interpretation require Christians to park their intellect and God-given common sense at the door before opening Scripture? In my second article I wrote, "If one seriously considers the Israelite's wilderness journey...it simply defies credibility to suggest that more than a million people could travel for years through a barren desert living together in tents with no access to private bathrooms and with no bathing 'facilities' other than rivers, lakes and small oasis pools without ever seeing nakedness or without ever being together naked in a non-sexual context like bathing." That's what I believe and I stand by it.

The preacher wrote, "The editor repeatedly ignored the truth that the Bible uses nakedness often as a sign of shame and embarrassment." "Often" is not synonymous with "always." Scripture interpretation is not a matter of "majority rule." Even though a word may mean the same thing in six out of ten verses, context may give it an entirely different meaning in the other four. Whether discussing nakedness or other subjects mentioned in the Bible, context matters and must always be considered. To the bitter end the preacher will not accept this essential aspect of Biblical interpretation.

He wrote, "I am confident that the readers noted that the editor steadfastly refused to give a single passage of scripture that commended nudism as he practices it. Isn't that interesting?" I, in turn, remind readers (and the preacher) that the proposition of this debate was not, "Social nudism is commended by the Bible," but rather, "Social nudism is condemned by the Bible as sinful." The onus has always been upon him to prove that the Bible condemns social nudism, and upon me to show that it doesn't. To suggest that I must go beyond the proposition to show the Bible actually commending social nudism is just one more clever debater's trick employed by the preacher to shift the focus away from his failed attempts in proving the affirmative.

The preacher next talks about "The editor's ridiculous claims that the Bible supports public bathing." Just in case anyone else missed what he's clearly missed, a careful reading of this debate will show that I've never asserted that the Bible "supports," "commends" or "promotes" public bathing or public nakedness. I simply assert that public bathing and other types of voluntary non-sexual public nakedness are discussed in Scripture, and that Scripture does not prohibit or condemn such behavior.

The preacher wrote that Exodus 2.5 "speaks of the daughter of Pharaoh bathing privately with her maidens no men are anywhere to be found in the passage." I never claimed that men were present in this passage. I simply pointed out that the bathing of Pharoah's daughter, along with that of Naaman and Bathsheba, was all done in the open where it could have been observed by others. That's all. If the preacher wishes to characterize bathing in wide-open rivers like the Nile or Jordan (or at home in open view from other people's houses) as somehow "private," that's his business. I simply don't agree with him.

The preacher wrote, "2 Kings 5 speaks of Namaan [sic] dipping in the Jordan river to cleanse his leprosy. That is public bathing? What a stretch!" Here's the passage: "Elisha sent a messenger to say to [Naaman], 'Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed'.... So he went down and dipped (immersed NRSV) himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy" (2 Kings 5.10, 14, NIV). As if it were really necessary, Strong's Hebrew/Greek Dictionary confirms that the word translated "wash" means lave, bathe or wash, and "dipped" means to dip or plunge. The preacher's unusual ideas about what does and does not constitute bathing are followed by a still more bewildering statement: "There is no indication in this text that Namaan [sic] removed his clothes to do this." Words simply fail me! All I can do is quote the preacher right back to himself: "What a stretch!"

He wrote, "The editor cites a few rare examples of people being partially unclothed in the Bible (a correct use of the term 'naked,' note that Adam and Eve are said to be naked though partially clothed in Genesis 3.7, 10-11)." If the preacher could prove that every time the word "naked" is used in Scripture it in fact means "partially unclothed," perhaps this debate would have ended more to his liking. He cannot do this, however. In the absence of physical evidence to the contrary, we must always depend upon Scripture to interpret Scripture. If Scripture says "naked" and does not qualify that statement like it does in Genesis 3.7 or 10-11, then who is the preacher or anyone else to tell Christians seeking the truth that naked somehow doesn't mean total nakedness in the Bible?

"Yet those very examples prove that nakedness was not common," he wrote, "else how would Isaiah have attracted any attention to himself and his message if everyone was doing it?" While "everyone" may have been "doing it" (though I made no such claim), Scripture does not teach that everyone was doing it "everywhere." I concede that I should have made that point more clear. While Scripture and historical evidence both show that voluntary non-sexual public nakedness was commonplace at bathing sites and where laborers such as fieldworkers or fishermen plied their trade, I have seen nothing in Scripture that says such nakedness was equally commonplace or expected in other public places. 1 Samuel 19.23-24, Isaiah 20 and such passages as Luke 8.27-35 would tend to support this idea.

"All of this lame discussion by the editor," he continued, "is closed with his statement that non-sexual public nakedness was common and accepted and that there is 'historical evidence available to anyone who will search for it.' Indeed! Then why didn't the editor supply that evidence in our debate?" In other words, "Why didn't the editor break my own rules like I did and introduce non-Biblical historical evidence like I did, even though I insisted at the outset that neither of us should pay attention to such material!" With the preacher I'm damned if I do, but I'm also damned if I don't!

As to my "historical evidence," since we've now moved beyond the confines of our formal debate I can now present a small sampling, here dealing with Christians and the Roman baths of classical antiquity:

Bathing in the ancient world, especially in the world of the Romans, went far beyond the functional and hygienic necessities of washing. It was a personal regeneration and a deeply rooted social and cultural habit in the full sense of the word, an institution. For the average Roman a visit to the public baths in the afternoon was an irreplaceable part of the day's routine (Baths and Bathing in Classical Antiquity by Fikret Yegül, New York, NY: The Architectural History Foundation, 1992).

In 177 CE Christians in Lugdunum and Vienna in Gaul were persecuted, and some were martyred. The survivors sent a letter by lrenaeus to the churches in Asia and Phrygia describing what happened. Among other things, they complained that they were excluded from the baths..... Later in his Adversus haereses (ca. 190 CE) Irenaeus referred to a story he claimed stemmed from Polycarp of Smyrna, who died ca. 156 CE, about John the disciple going to the public baths...in Ephesus where he saw Cerinthus. Tertullian of Carthage in his Apologeticum (197 CE) claimed that the Christians were no different from other people: they went to the forum, the food market, and the baths.... These three passages, among the earliest references to Roman baths by Christians, suggest no ethical reservations about going to the baths ("Women in Roman Baths," Roy Bowen Ward, Harvard Theological Review 85:2, 1992).

It is clear from Clement that in Alexandria at the end of the second century contemporaneous with Irenaeus and Tertullian mixed bathing by all classes was not only customary but also a popular activity in which Christian men and women engaged ("Women in Roman Baths").

Peter Brown [as quoted in A History of Private Life] comments on the "indifference to nudity in Roman public life," citing the public baths as one locus for nudity. It appears the earliest Christian authors may have been equally indifferent ("Women in Roman Baths").

It would have been unrealistic to expect the Church to take a consistent stance against an institution [that is, bathing in the Roman baths] that had become a deeply ingrained part of daily life (Baths and Bathing).

I would add before moving on that even though historians have shown that Roman baths existed in nearly every major city that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James and Peter might have visited during their lifetimes, Scripture reveals that neither they nor Jesus Himself had anything to say about the practice of nude mixed-sex public bathing. Surely this would not have been the case if they had believed that such bathing was a serious sin and, as such, something that Christians must avoid.

The preacher wrote, "Readers will have noticed that repeatedly the editor announced that I was ignorant about social nudism but he just as repeatedly refused to educate me." Anyone familiar with serious formal debating knows that opponents succeed or fail on the basis of the quality and depth of their own research. But here we have the preacher complaining that he knows so little about social nudism because I haven't furnished him with the kind of facts he was supposed to learn during his own research!

Judging by all the "facts" supplied to this debate by the preacher, I seriously doubt that he's ever read a single legitimate nudist book or magazine cover to cover. Though available to him, he's never asked for Fig Leaf Forum back issues so I know he hasn't studied them. Unlike the Associated Press reporter who did many interviews for the newspaper article that was the basis for "Does God Approve Of My Sin?" and thus the catalyst which led to this debate, I question whether the preacher has ever personally met and talked with any social nudists or nudist park operators. And unlike the AP reporter, it's almost an absolute certainty that he's never visited a nudist park. Yet it's from this vast reservoir of "expertise and experience" that he proclaims, "I suspect strongly that deep forms of perversion are behind social nudism." How can any thinking person take seriously an unsubstantiated claim like this from an "expert" like this?

The preacher wrote, "Apparently there is some secret knowledge about how to avoid lust that the editor has that he won't tell us! The rest of the world struggles with lust but nudists have the problem licked they just won't let the rest of us in on the secret!" There is no secret knowledge about social nudism. If he had really researched social nudism in preparation for this debate it would have been impossible for him to have not discovered in legitimate nudist books and magazines the consistent testimony of nudists (both past and present) regarding the non-arousing, non-lust-provoking nature of social nudism. The only way to dismiss such a vast testimony would be to accuse everyone involved literally tens of thousands of people of lying. Are you prepared to do that and then prove it, preacher?

As to "The rest of the world struggles with lust but nudists have the problem licked," no one who understands the nature of sin would ever make such a foolish assertion. No man or woman is invincible to sin, and that includes the preacher and the editor. Nudists simply believe that whatever problem with lust there may be in the world, it is certainly no more prevalent (and is, we believe, actually less prevalent) within nudist environments than in the "textile" world. That is our honest testimony. That the preacher and others like him cannot (or will not) personally accept this consistent, sincere testimony a testimony spanning some seventy years of organized social nudism in North America makes it no less valid.

The preacher wrote, "If we are debating whether social nudism is sinful (and we are) and I point out that such behavior can lead to sin and in fact has led to sin (as in the case of Bathsheba and David, 2 Samuel 11) then he is obligated to show that his practice is somehow different or has safeguards in place so sin won't happen or my point stands." You know, I spent a good deal of time doing just that in my first article. That the preacher summarily dismissed or refused to believe what I wrote there doesn't negate the fact that I did make a sincere effort to distinguish responsible social nudism from David's reprehensible behavior.

I believe an important point needs to be restated in this debate, and this is as good a place as any to do it. The onus on both debaters here has always been to prove or disprove the proposition that "Social nudism is condemned by the Bible as sinful." While the subjects of lust, damaged Christian influence and stumbling blocks are certainly important and worthy topics for discussion, the condemnation of social nudism simply does not hinge on these things. What God says about social nudism itself is what really matters. For the preacher's benefit I'm going to intentionally belabor this point in order to drive it home:

Delicious food is discussed in the Bible, as is the sin of gluttony. Because delicious food has the potential to tempt people into gluttony, and because delicious food can actually be abused by gluttons, is it therefore correct to say that the Bible condemns delicious food as sinful for those reasons? No. God condemns the abuse of delicious food in the Bible, but not the food itself.

Money and personal possessions are discussed in the Bible, as are the sins of covetousness and thievery. Because money and personal possessions have the potential to tempt people to covet and steal, and because money and personal possessions can actually be abused by the covetous and the thief, is it therefore correct to say that the Bible condemns money and personal possessions as sinful for those reasons? No. God condemns the abuse of money and personal possessions in the Bible, but not money and personal possessions themselves.

Marriage is discussed in the Bible, as is the sin of adultery. Because those who are married face the potential of being tempted by adultery, and because marriage can actually be abused by adulterers, is it therefore correct to say that the Bible condemns marriage as sinful for those reasons? No. God condemns the abuse of marriage in the Bible, but not marriage itself.

Government is discussed in the Bible, as is the abuse of power by those who govern. Because government could potentially tempt someone to abuse power, and because government can actually be abused by those who wrongfully use power, is it therefore correct to say that the Bible condemns government as sinful for those reasons? No. God condemns the abuse of government in the Bible, but not government itself.

And so we come to social nudism. The preacher has stated that behavior which "dramatically parallels," "exactly parallels" and "mirrors [social nudism] perfectly" is discussed in the Bible, as is the sin of lust (characterized by him as "the core problem with social nudism"). Because social nudism could potentially tempt someone to lust, and because social nudism can actually be abused by the lustful, is it therefore correct to say that the Bible condemns social nudism for those reasons? No. My contention has been and continues to be that God condemns the abuse of social nudism in the Bible, but not social nudism itself.

In his early correspondence with me the preacher wrote:

Frankly, this isn't rocket science. We are not debating the fine points of trinitarian theology or predestination vs. free will. I am very confident that my case can be quickly, powerfully and overwhelmingly made in short order. I am not interested in someone cluttering the debate with endless talk off topic about everything except the key issues being debated.
He's right. This isn't rocket science. If there were nothing in the Bible that resembled social nudism, then things would be much more complicated for both of us, but the preacher has conceded that the Bible speaks about conduct that he himself claims "dramatically parallels," "exactly parallels" and "mirrors [social nudism] perfectly." All he has ever had to do is show me and all the readers of this debate where in the Bible God condemns this behavior. It's that simple!

Yes, social nudism can tempt. Yes, social nudism can be abused. But in truth, everything in this life can tempt! In truth, everything in this life can be abused. Yet God does not condemn everything on the basis of its potential for temptation or abuse, does He preacher? If you show us the condemnation of social nudism itself in the Bible, then there's no need to discuss lust, damaged Christian influence or stumbling blocks because Christians (myself included) simply have no business doing anything condemned in the Bible as sinful. If you can't show us where God condemns social nudism itself in the Bible, then admit it. That will allow us to establish a new forum in which to discuss these other important issues.

In Scripture, God condemns what He condemns and allows what He allows. It's all there in black and white. Surely surely the "key issue" in this debate for the preacher has always been to locate and proclaim the Biblical condemnation of social nudism. He has not done that. In fact, he cannot do that, simply because the Bible does not condemn social nudism itself or anything like it as sinful.

In respect to resolving the issue of lust, the preacher makes the charge that this is "something the editor couldn't do and finally just said he wouldn't do." That is a false accusation. As stated above, I believe the subjects of lust, damaged Christian influence and stumbling blocks are important and worthy topics for discussion, but I've also made it very clear why I don't believe the condemnation of social nudism hinges on these things. The preacher and I obviously disagree on whether these subjects belong within the scope of the present debate proposition. That disagreement, however, must in no way be construed as a refusal on my part to "resolve" the issue of lust. In my final negative I indicated my willingness to publicly debate lust, damaged Christian influence and/or stumbling blocks within a separate forum, and that offer still stands.

I'll conclude my response to the preacher's "Rejoinder" by addressing these words written by him about me:

Interestingly, the editor never did answer my question about his lusting at a nudist camp. That certainly leaves cause to wonder what exactly goes on in his heart when he goes naked, doesn't it?... Such wondering is only natural, since the editor refuses all such questions about lust, and further would never reveal why he wants to go naked or what he gets out of such.... He wants to be naked in front of others. Why? What does he gain from that? We don't know, because he would never say. He commends this as a great thing but won't tell why it is so great. Isn't that interesting?... I expect that if the editor would tell the truth he would have to admit he goes to nudist camps because he does lust and he likes lusting and doesn't plan to stop lusting.
You know, early on in my communication with the preacher my third message to him, in fact I wrote:
On my Web page entitled "About Fig Leaf Forum", I state the following:

"Fig Leaf Forum encourages and promotes nudist conduct of the highest moral character. Four ideals are regularly advanced as the minimal basis for Christian nudist behavior: reverence, first for God and then for the human body, the pinnacle of God's creation; chastity, first in motivation and then in deed; responsibility, first to our Lord and then to our fellow man; and consideration for the sensibilities of those who do not share our views about modest nakedness."

On my Web page entitled "The Bible, Nakedness, And The Christian Nudist", I state:

"Christians who choose to be naked in the presence of others must do so appropriately.

"1. Their motives must be pure (1 Chronicles 28.9, Proverbs 16.2, 21.2, Hebrews 4.12-13).

"2. Their activities must be honorable and glorifying to God (1 Corinthians 6.19-20, 10.31, 1 Thessalonians 4.3-7); loving and respectful of others (Romans 14.12-15.1, 1 Corinthians 8.9); and legal (Romans 13.1-7, 1 Peter 2.11-16)."

I do not and will not endorse, promote or practice social nudism that does not meet these standards. The preacher was aware of these publicly avowed values before he wrote what he did about me. I believe in these values; I promote these values; I live by these values. And the preacher has no evidence to the contrary. NONE.

What the preacher is probably not aware of (because he failed to review Fig Leaf Forum back issues as part of his pre-debate research) is that under my editorship Fig Leaf Forum has also affirmed the ideals of traditional Christian marriage (that is, one woman and one man for one lifetime) and traditional Christian sexual morality (that is, sex only between husband and wife within marriage, which excludes homosexual, premarital or extramarital sexual relationships). Furthermore, Fig Leaf Forum has always taken an unequivocal stand against pornography.

As to my motives for being a social nudist, lust has never been among them. My motivation for becoming a nudist is openly discussed in Issue One of Fig Leaf Forum. The newsletter's vision statement (to see nakedness reverenced as a God-created reflection of His image and likeness, and to see nakedness redeemed from disparagement, abuse and exploitation) reflects later additions to my own motivations. The preacher was aware of these publicly stated motivations before he wrote what he did, and he has no evidence that my motives are in any way contrary to what I have declared. NONE.

In light of these facts, for the preacher to write what he did in the way that he did amounts to nothing less than willful, slanderous character assassination. And this after declaring in his "Rejoinder" that he's only willing to correspond "with people who are ready to conduct themselves in a kind and considerate fashion," and who are "genuine and sincere." What hypocrisy! Shame on you, preacher. Shame on you for treating a brother in Christ in such a disgraceful way. In one of your first messages to me you wrote, "I assure you we intend to press our points forcefully and firmly, but we will not depart from the spirit of Christ." May God help you and the congregation you preach to if your behavior here represents "the spirit of Christ" in your life.

An early version of this article was published in Issue 55/56 (May /June, 2000) of Fig Leaf Forum.

Next article: A Debate 'Post-Mortem'

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