“Imagers” by G S Royal

I was at the grocery store and saw a new item I was considering purchasing.  Upon checking the Nutrition label, I discovered it had far more carbs per serving than I expected.  I thought, I’m glad I read the label; labels are good to have!  Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no.In this case it gave me some factual data on which to make a decision.  At other times, a label can be quite misleading. This becomes troublesome when the label is used to define and categorize people. We’ve ‘labeled’ people based upon politics, ‘labeled’ people based upon gender, and ‘labeled’ people based upon skin color while knowing almost nothing about the individuals themselves. We then are prone to making knee-jerk reactions based upon tradition, cultural conditioning, and even religion without giving a second thought to the possibility that we may be wrong.  Proverbs 18:13 (KJV) has something to say about that: 

“He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (emphasis mine)

In one modern translation, it says:

“Listen before you answer. If you don’t, you are being stupid and insulting (GNT).”

So when someone says, “All fish are bad,” you might want to question that label.  I know a person who condemns any food that is ‘white and creamy,’ with mayonnaise being at the top of his list.  I’m glad I didn’t take his labeling at face value. Look at all I’d be missing!

Let’s consider another label we might be misinterpreting: Nudist (or naturist). Was your reaction to that word negative or positive?  And what was it based upon?  (Are you finding yourself described by Proverbs 18:13, as I once was?) 

I have friends who refer to themselves as Christian nudists—as do thousands of others. I thought I knew what that meant and questioned how can that be? How can they reconcile their nudism with their faith in Christ?  Wanting to know, I began to do some research. I’ve read books and blogs, talked with them, searched the Bible, read the writings of others who have sought the same answers.  This led me to pastor David L. Hatton, an ordained Wesleyan minister with 25 years of experience as a Labor & Delivery nurse.  For years he wondered why working daily with nude women during the birthing process didn’t cause him to lust.  He’d been taught growing up that it was inevitable, that men’s brains are wired that way.  He knew it wasn’t a sexual orientation issue; he was happily married and had fathered 12 children!  He began to question what he had been taught then launched into the Scriptures and early church history to find answers.  He shared the results in his first book, Meeting at the River, and followed that with a series of short essays in his book entitled, Who Said You Were Naked?Hisresearch produced a paradigm shift in his regard for the naked human form, causing him to reevaluate what he had been taught earlier. It has for me as well. 

I have learned what Christian naturism is, and what it isn’t.  It isn’t a bunch of perverted souls gathering together using the name of Christ to justify their nefarious activities.  It isn’t sexual or exhibitionist, nor does it have anything to do with nature worship, or the veneration of natural phenomenon—for example, celestial objects such as the sun and moon and terrestrial objects such as water and fire.  Naturism actually began out of an effort to protect the body from the ravages of pollution in Germany when the industrial age got into full swing.  A movement began to take shape proclaiming what the people needed were more of the natural healing elements of fresh air, sunlight and water.  Maximum exposure to those elements was aided by the removal of clothing.   They also included several things we find supported in many churches today: vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and disciplined exercise.

Currently, the International Naturist Federation defines naturism as:

the practice of communal nudity making the maximum use of the natural agents of sun, air and water. It restores one’s physical and mental balance through being able to relax in natural surroundings, by exercise and respect for the basic principles of hygiene and diet. It encourages many activities that develop one’s creativity. Complete nudity is the most suitable clothing for getting back to nature, and is certainly the most visible aspect of naturism, even if it is not the only one. It exerts a steadying and balancing influence on human beings, freeing them from the stresses caused by the taboos and provocations of today’s society and shows the way to a more simple, healthy and human way of life.

Christian naturists want us to be more perceptive of the actual truth. They want the world to see the human body for what it really is: God’s finest creation, not something lewd, immoral or shameful. They insist that the nude human body should never be sexualized or associated with pornography. Yet, without these strong convictions, some believers have abandoned respect for our God-created nude form, resulting in God’s imaging handiwork being dragged through a cultural sewer of filth overflowing from the sex-focused obsession with nudity that characterizes so many secular and religious minds.

None of us wants to be told how to live, so why do we think we have a right to tell others how to.  Actually, I think our penchant for pointing out—without one dab of grace—everything we think is sin, has caused the church to be avoided by so many.  Perhaps we should stick to sharing the good news of the Gospel and leave the work of conviction up to God.  While we are faithfully handing out our condemnations, let’s consider Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (ESV).” And aren’t we quick to affirm our need to be more Christ-like? 

Listen to James 3:8-10 (RSV): 

8 but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.” (emphasis mine)

The late English pastor and theologian, John R W Stott, once wrote:

The hallmark of authentic evangelicalism is not that we maintain the traditions of the evangelical elders. It is rather that we are prepared to reexamine even the most long-standing evangelical traditions in the light of Scripture, in order to allow Scripture, if necessary, to judge and reform our traditions. Evangelical traditions are not infallible; they need to be reexamined. They need to be judged. They need to be reformed.

Why shouldn’t we be ready to accept what the Bible has to say on a controversial subject, instead of hanging on to mere tradition and blindly accepting the opinions of others (including mine).

Regarding Naturism, most detractors are good church-going people who think they are honoring God by condemning those who live as naturists. In some ways, prudery has been elevated to the value of Scripture. That’s a slap in the face of the very Creator whom we try to serve!  

I find this quote of Liz Egger to be quite compelling: 

As a naturist myself I find it astonishing that a religion can worship a particular deity yet regard its most miraculous creation—the human body—as obscene and wicked and so shameful it should be hidden from view.

Why is this so important for the church to see?  We have rightfully fought the influence of pornography within our culture. What we need to see is that our prudish view of naked humanity is itself, a pornographic one that fuels the very fire we’ve been trying to extinguish. As one Christian naturist put it:

If we take an honest look at the world, we can’t help but see that our culture of body shame, and hiding the human body, does nothing to stop breeding sexual perverts and predators.  This very culture only contributes to that which we claim to be fighting against.  We must see that it’s time to try something else. 

Perhaps naturists are living out a level of respect for our bodies that we’ve never had or shown. While naturists have been waging a war against the pornographic view of the body, we’ve fought hard to solidify it even more firmly in everyone’s mind.  It’s a shame all the clothes we wear to hide the image of God cannot hide our ignorance as well—except from ourselves. 

But are our physical bodies actually an image of God? Genesis 1:26 is the deciding factor for establishing that the human form embodies the image of God:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…(NIV).

And in the very next verse we read the first reference to physical gender:

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.  

Then four verses later:

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

And did that image become a shameful thing with original sin?  Did God suddenly agree with Satan’s opinion?  Really?  Many of us are ignorant of God’s purpose for creating humanity.  When He said, “Let us make mankind in our image,” we are what He came up with!  And He pronounced us “very good.”  We’re also ignorant of why Satan hates the sacred image we embody.  Satan doesn’t want us to bear God’s image; he wants us to bear his!

The late Pope John Paul II, in his landmark Theology of the Body, helps us understand: 

The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.  It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.

My friend, Evan, has noted, “Since the day of the first sin in the garden, Satan has been about destroying the image of God seen in the human body.”

To quote Pope John Paul II again, in his 1981 book, Love and Responsibility, He writes, “Nakedness itself is not immodest.” He goes on to explain that immodesty presents itself only when nakedness serves to sexually arouse.  Yet, Western culture has so sexualized the body that we’ve come to equate any nudity with a sexual event or situation.  It isn’t the nude body that’s indecent; it’s the thoughts we’ve been conditioned to think when we see it.

I think we have been unfair to our Christian naturist friends.  Since labeling seems to be an ingrained necessity, what if instead of labeling them nudists or naturists, we call them IMAGERS.   Imagers are people who recognize that we are made in the image of God and see others that way with respect and honor.  With renewed minds (Romans 12:2), they have come to see our nude bodies as God sees them: beautiful creations that merit respect, not derision, deserving to be held in honor, not contempt—the very image of God, not an avenue of temptation or the inevitable object of lust. Imagers see the whole person, refusing to separate the body from the soul that owns it for the purpose of objectifying certain body parts. Imagers reject the cultural conditioning that tells us our bodies are ugly, shameful, and obscene, that they should never be seen by anyone.  Simply say, “They are imagers,” or, “I’m an imager.” Questions can then be answered without having to deal with preconceived notions that immediately arise with the other labels.  Some imagers will tell you how this new way of seeing people has freed them from porn addiction. Others will tell you how their renewed minds have freed them from body shame and self-loathing. Others will attest that the prudish view of the body taught by well-meaning parents—and the church—was what kept them in bondage. 

A renewed mind that sees others the way God does?  That can only be a good thing.  In that sense, perhaps we should all become imagers! 

G S Royal ©2023

5 thoughts on ““Imagers” by G S Royal

  1. John Figleaf

    An excellent article, Gil. You brought your “label” illustration full circle, and I love the idea of being an “Imager” even much more than being a Naturist!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Jan Ewing

    Thank you Gil! You have shared so clearly what is portrayed by the visible human body, a real image of our Creator and his mystery, a crowning pointer to His greatness and glory. Why would we want to hide it, it is marvelous. More than a body, it’s an integration with the soul, whole, inseparable, and only together reflective of the full image of God. When either aspect (body or soul) of humankind is denigrated so is the whole and the Creator. There is certainly more to see than flesh when we see the naked (unobjectified) body for what it is. Indeed we should see the “divine”. And as you say, we are “imagers”.

    Liked by 2 people

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