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Clay Yarborough and the Evangelical Fear of Breasts

angela strassheim naked pregnant woman
Angela Strassheim Photo of of Naked Pregnant Woman

For those of us raised in the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, we are quite familiar with the fear preachers and church leaders have of exposed breasts and cleavage. Women are oft reminded to cover up, lest the weak, pathetic men of the church throw them down in the middle aisle of the church and ravage them. As the recent GRACE report on sexual abuse and rape at Bob Jones University reveals, women are viewed as temptresses out to beguile helpless men. This kind of thinking is found in the Bible:

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. (Proverbs 6:23-29)

For at the window of my house I looked through my casement,And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves. For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:6-27)

Clay Yarborough, 33,  is president of the Jacksonville, Florida city council. Yarborough, an Evangelical, attends First Baptist Church, a  Southern Baptist congregation. Fundamentalist Mac Brunson is his pastor,  Recently, Yarborough objected to the city providing funding for an art display that included a picture of a naked pregnant woman on a couch. Yarborough stated:

“I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it ‘art,’ we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.”

Ah yes, think of the children.

Yarborough’s puritanical objection resulted in a threefold increase in attendance at the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit.

The 14 photographs in the exhibit were shot by photographer Angela Strassheim. Asked her opinion of Yarborough’s objection, Strassheim said:

“The man is entitled to his own opinion,But I don’t think it in any way is pornography. Maybe he hasn’t seen enough porn.”

The more enlightened in Jacksonville rightly poked fun at Yarborough’s fear of breasts. Here’s a picture of a protester that was posted on The Folio Weekly:

ban boobs
Picketer Supports Exhibit with a Ban Boobs from City Hall Sign

As a photographer, I think the photo celebrates the beauty of womanhood and pregnancy. It was tastefully done and in no way is it pornography. Unlike Yarborough, I have seen porn and this ain’t it. (though I highly doubt, being the good Baptist boy that he is, that Yarborough has never, ever seen porn)

The Museum of Contemporary Art issued a press release stating:

The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.

Council President Yarborough’s objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the “transitional points” in life – “the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence” – opened to rave reviews last week. We’re proud to have an organization of MOCA’s caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it’s executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.

Mark Woods, writing for the Florida Times-Union, sums it up best when he writes (link no longer active);

It was almost noon on Black Friday. While many people undoubtedly were busy doing something wholesome, like preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with a new big-screen TV, I headed downtown, paid my $8 and went inside a building to see some porn.

Or at least that’s how the president of the Jacksonville City Council views what’s in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville these days…

…We do know this: There is an image in MOCA of a nude woman lying on a couch, her breasts and pregnant belly visible.

That’s right. A female nude with bare breasts and a round belly. In a museum. Shocking, right?

From the Cummer to the Louvre, pretty much every museum in the world has more than a few nudes, male and female, sometimes even together, sometimes holding naked babies. And have you seen that chapel in Italy? Nudes everywhere. Even the ceiling. Not sure what porn-peddler was responsible for that.

Even by itself, without any context whatsoever, it’s hard to imagine the photo in MOCA coming anywhere close to the legal definition of pornography. And the photo isn’t hanging by itself. It is one of 14 in a new exhibit on the towering atrium wall. The basic themes of this exhibit are — please cover your young one’s eyes — childhood and motherhood…

…I’m not exactly sure what Yarborough wants to see hanging in the atrium, what will avoid his personal version of the “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. Something without nudity, I presume. Maybe a giant still life of fruit. (Well, as long as there’s not two bananas together. That clearly would be wrong.) Or better yet, how about some nice velvet art? But, please, no dogs playing poker. That only would glorify the issue we have with canine gambling.

In all seriousness, this City Council and its president had been on such a roll. I was preparing to come back to the paper and heap praise on them for doing a lot of hard, serious work and avoiding the kind of silliness that has marred the past. But now it appears we’re taking a detour back down Silly Street.

It would be one thing if Yarborough wanted to argue that tax dollars shouldn’t be used for anything related to the arts. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but I’d be able to respect that position more than the idea that tax dollars should be pulled from this museum because of this photo.

If the councilman wants to bemoan taxpayer-funded titillation, he might want to check out a football game or concert or a lot of other things that, while still far from pornography, might not send the best message to kids…

When this story first came out I posted it to my wife’s Facebook page, complete with the photo of nude pregnant lady. Within seconds, several people reported the posting to Facebook. We suspect that the offended are several of our fundamentalist extended family members. Go back and look at the photo again. Is there anything that suggests impropriety or that a teenager seeing it would be harmed (since the minimum age for a Facebook account is 13)? This is silly, isn’t it? Yet, countless Evangelicals have this irrational fear of breasts. Preachers have spent endless hours reminding women to cover up lest the poor, pathetic men of the church be led astray. Perhaps it is time to teach men to embrace their sexuality. Stop treating men like they are helpless and stop treating women like they are temptresses out to bed any man who dares to gaze upon her comeliness. We do live in the 21st century, yes?



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    But if a wonderful good God made us how we are (of course not, but just for the believer to contemplate), why are we something loathsome and shameful in need of covering up? Sex, the wellspring of new life, sure gets a bad rap. Or rather, its a horrible bad thing that becomes a wonderful thing once a certain contract is made. The query ‘are you decent?’ as used in our culture in regards to to another’s state of undress betrays volumes about us.

    Though I say this much, I am not free from the culture of my upbringing and am lost as to how to define a sane and wholesome view of human sexuality. All I can do right now is not judge others whose sexual mores I am not comfortable with.

    My thinking so far is that the main concern of society’s formulation of ‘rules’ pertaining to sex should be the welfare of freely consenting adult partners and of children procreated.

    Though just my opinion, I feel pretty confident that vast untold sexual dysfunction and suffering lies at the hand of religion in its many guises.

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    I’m always struck by how fearful Christians are. They are seriously afraid of just about everything. Why is that? Aren’t they supposed to have the big guy on their side? I like the photo, too. It’s not realistic, because duh, stretch marks… but it’s a nice picture. You’ll have to post any responses you get to your letter to the editor. 🙂

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    Becky Wiren

    These types certainly get worked up so easily. There is the most depraved stuff on the internet, not that I’ve seen it but I’ve HEARD about enough, and yet a pregnant woman, naked, laying on a couch, is to be feared! Tsk, tsk, tsk!

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    I was taught that if I dressed in any way that would cause a random male to have sexual thoughts, I was the one to blame. So that included even covering up, but having a too-tight top, or dangling a pendant on a chain between my breasts. Or wearing see-through fabrics. Or standing in front of a light. Or …

    I tried my best, but I still went around feeling guilty for years.

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      Oh, how true! Remember, women, if there is a pocket on your shirt, then you are annunciating your breasts, because a pocket causes the eye to gaze chest ward!

      These people try so hard to place their silly evangelical mores on society… GADS! How bland and cruel life would be. Yet, they harp and they decry the beauty that is the human body, they decry any beautiful desire… but it’s perfectly all right to use up and destroy the resources on our planet, because God gave them dominion… UGH!

      It is most refreshing that Yarborough is being called to task and even mocked.

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    Must they see sex in everything? Nudity does not always equal sex. I just looked at is as a artistic portrayal of the female body. I hope none of these people go into the medical field. They might see naked people!!

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    My first thought was: “Wow, the photographer did a great job exposing that shot. I wonder if he used High Dynamic Range post processing techniques or fill flash to get everything from the outside to the interior shadows exposed properly?” Then I noticed the breasts. 🙂

    Actually, the BEST thing that came out of deconversion was the sexual freedom. My wife and I have been married for 22 years, the last five have by far been the best. We are more open and honest, can accept our children regardless of who they choose to love, and have largely replaced our old church circle of friends with friends in alternative sexuality communities. (Halfway through the first large event we attended, my wife turned to me and said “This is what church is SUPPOSED to feel like. Everyone is accepted and these people genuinely care about each other.”

    Bruce, is there any way to move the link to take the reader to the comment section to the bottom of the article? In the current theme, after reading the article I have to scroll back to the top if I want to comment. No big deal, but wanted to give you the feedback.

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    A few hints about accessing the comments in a way easier than scrolling back up: 1) easiest if you have the keyboard in front of you (I usually don’t, I view my pc from a recliner and only reach for the keyboard when I need, because I don’t like it sitting on my lap all the time) is just tap the ‘home’ key to go back to the top. Similarly, if you are located at the top of a large number of comments and just want to go to the bottom to input a new comment without scrolling, tap the ‘end’ key. 2) When you arrive at the site and read an article, click on it instead of just reading it. When you click on it to read it the comments will show at the bottom without need of clicking the ‘comments’ icon. Of course you’ll have to hit the ‘back’ browser button to access the page you first landed on to access other articles.

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      Oops, one way I forgot to eliminate scrolling back up to the comments link – use an RSS feed to monitor your favorite sites. Each article shows up there independently, so when you click on an article you will be in the exact circumstance as described in 1) above. A periodic check of your RSS will advise you of new content on any of the sites you have it monitoring. I like Feedly.

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Bruce Gerencser