Monday, September 1, 2014

Modesty vs Breastfeeding in Church, Pt Two

Part One is my answer to a specific incident.

Part Two: A wider context 

If you read my blog regularly, you already know that I consider the Western attitude toward breastfeeding to be based on political/business-driven lies, antiquated, misogynistic, and just plain weird and silly. But this time I want to talk about that same attitude in the context of the Christian church community. Because it exists there too, often more insidiously than in the secular world, as proponents will use Scripture out of context to support the dogma of feminine modesty and mask the underlying oppressive and unBiblical attitudes toward women inherent in such a position.

Point of clarification? My church is full to bursting with amazing people who are supportive and nurturing and open to differing opinions and approaches to life. Over the years I have been a member, the subject of breastfeeding in public has come up several times, as my son was about six months old when I began attending services. The first time it was raised was when I asked the Pastor if it was alright to nurse JJ in the sanctuary. (Cut me some slack, this was 2 years ago and I wasn't nearly as confident then.) His response? "Of course! If you are comfortable, we are comfortable!"

Win-win, right?

Well, usually, yes. Most of the time, if someone is bothered, they're either willing to discuss it and try to understand my reasoning, or mature enough to select an option from the list I gave in Part One and mind their own business. But in the grand tradition of busybodies everywhere, there is always somebody who figures he or she is the authority on all things appropriate and it is her/his moral duty to censor the world and impose decency upon all. Within the Church, this presents a logical dilemma that we need to explore.

See . . . Jesus had his guys, but he also hung out with the chicks. A lot. And not necessarily the proper ladies of his day either. He pal'd around with the prostitutes, the divorced, the remarried, the single gals. He loved kids too. Given the lack of pharmaceutical birth control and Jesus' penchant for seeking out the ostracized, do you really think that there weren't any single mothers with fussy littles in the bunch? Unlikely. And to my mind, it seems even MORE unlikely that Jesus, who walked with tax collectors and Samaritans, Jesus who said "let the little children come to me," would be disturbed by the presence of a breastfeeding infant, require they use a bottle (really?), or demand that the mother and child remove themselves until they were finished with such an inappropriate activity.

That just doesn't track, folks. That dog don't hunt. Shop it somewhere else, I ain't buyin'.

Women were INVOLVED in the early Church. They didn't just cook and keep house and raise babies for the men, nor were they relegated to teaching baby sabbath school classes or singing in the choir, nosirreebob. There were women deacons, women pastors, women missionaries, and believe it or not, there's some argument that not all of them were married! You gotta know there were hungry babies at inconvenient moments, when they couldn't just drop everything and leave in order to feed a squalling infant. It doesn't make sense for those early teachers and ministers to have been subject to the modern idea that feeding a baby is indecent.

So I have a question, a question that pretty well encapsulates the whole issue for me . . . do we live under the curse of Adam or the sacrifice of Christ? Are we IN the world, or OF the world? Because, this idea that feeding a baby is immodest? It's a very secular, very modern idea. Even in the days when the Church dictated women's dress, behavior, and social activities to a degree aptly called "puritanical" in the modern mind, feeding a baby was a practical necessity and not considered immodest in any way, but a most ladylike and womanly activity. Mother found a convenient seat wherever she happened to be and fed the baby, and it was incumbent upon the men to look elsewhere.

Of course the Church has always been (overly?) concerned with female modesty, but it is difficult to discern whether these attitudes come from the church, or from the world. Very chicken and egg. At some point though, the Church has to look at the world's attitude that breasts are primarily sexual and question it. We have to ask ourselves why we, the Church, continue to bow to the worldly view that the female body is first and foremost a sexual object, and as such must either be displayed in the context of sexual attraction, or hidden away, lest a woman minding her own business tempt a male to sinful thoughts. We MUST ask the question, WHY do we continue to place the burden of preventing lustful thoughts or actions first upon the person lusted after, and upon the one lusting only as an afterthought? This is no different from the first response in Western culture to learning of a rape -- what was she wearing? Why does the Church continue to conform to the ways of the world in this matter???

It seems to me that it is long since time the Church took a hard look at how closely we follow worldly thinking on the topic of breastfeeding (as a subset of the feminine modesty issue) and insist on a paradigm shift. We need to acknowledge that while all human bodies CAN be sexual, that does not mean that female bodies are ALWAYS, or even PRIMARILY sexual. That while breasts are absolutely sensual and attractive in a sexual context, they need not be seen as sexual in EVERY context. So I ask again, are we IN the world, or OF the world?

Know how we change it? By deciding to change it. By saying "This is stupid, unhealthy, and impractical. We are adults who can discipline our thoughts, and by doing so, set example for our children." By taking a breath when we see a woman nursing a child, and instead of berating her and trying to hustle her away or cover the offending boob, we continue our conversation as though nothing untoward is happening. Because nothing untoward is happening! How do we teach our young people that there is nothing sexual, shameful, or immodest about a woman nursing her child? By not treating it as sexual, shameful, or immodest, but as normal, beautiful, healthy, and appropriate. These are societal constructs, nothing more, and by giving them credence inside the church, we give the world power where we should be honoring only God.

It's hard, but it is also simple.

We must choose to change.

No comments:

Post a Comment