Nudity in Church

One of the most famous churches in the world, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, was originally decorated with dozens of nude figures on the ceiling. Painted by Michelangelo, the chapel is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Western art. However, a later Pope was uncomfortable with the nudity and hired another artist to paint loincloths over Michelangelo's nudes. For centuries people have debated the pope's actions. Was he advancing holiness or desecrating art? Not long ago Pastor Dan Kimball from Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, faced a similar decision.

I got a call Sunday morning as I was driving to our worship gathering. A friend informed me that the coffeehouse our church worshiped in had new artwork displayed including a number of nude drawings. He asked what we should do? No one taught me how to handle this in seminary.

We recently opened the coffeehouse as phase one of our building plan. We are using it for worship until we develop a business plan that allows us to open the coffeehouse to the neighborhood every day like a normal coffee shop. The mission of the coffeehouse is to be a place where those outside the church can meet us, develop friendships, and hear and experience the gospel in a variety of ways.

The coffeehouse has an art theme that changes every 6 to 8 weeks. We recently asked people from inside and outside the church to submit art from their sketchbooks. Our art team strung cords all around the room like a spider web, and the artwork was fastened to the cords. A local tattoo artist submitted beautiful tattoo sketches. Another artist created landscapes. But among the three hundred sketches submitted were three nudes.

There were two female nudes and one male. The male nude was drawn from the torso down, so there was definitely a focal point on that one. The females were both half body and full body drawings, and very realistic looking. So, we stood there and had quite a fun discussion about what to do. It raised some really interesting questions such as:

1) What defines art?

2) What should be hung in a coffeehouse that is part of a church?

3) Michelangelo painted and sculpted nudes. Would we hang a Michelangelo in the coffee house?

4) What art is considered "holy" or "unholy"?

5) What about violence in art? Of course no one would object to a crucifixion piece being hung. So, why not another violent scene from the Bible? Would we hang that up?

We stood there in front of the nudes and debated for a while. How will parents react? This isn't a museum where you might take your children and expect to see nudity in classical art. One person was arguing that the nudes should be left up. They believed the church should redeem the beauty of art and teach that the human body should not always be seen sexually.

After a long discussion, I had to make the final decision.

Before revealing Dan Kimball's decision, let us know what you would have done. What factors would you have considered in making the decision? And how would you answer the questions raised by Dan and his leaders? In a few days we'll post the rest of the story.

December 11, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 18 comments


September 21, 2009  2:16am

Im going through this exact problem right now only im the artist and the church is saying no. My church is holding an art exhibition. Art is submitted by people in the church and viewed by the public. I didnt think it would be a big issue so I submitted two nudes (of women). They're done in charcoal, they're sketchy and so very little detail. They're tasteful and in no way pornographic. In one drawing the lady is standing with her back to the front and you can see her naked bottom and back. In the other, the lady is facing the front and you can see her naked breasts and pelvic area. The church have told me that they can not exhibit the one where you can see the lady's breasts as it is not ok for women's nipples to be seen in church. However....they are quite happy to exhibit the other one where you can see the lady's bottom. Ive now been left feeling hurt and confused. To me, nudity is nudity and there is no difference between nakes breasts and a naked bum. I have decided to withdraw both pieces of art. I designed them as a set - the were supposed to be viewed as a pair. I guess I dont understand how the church can take such a ridiculous stance on nudity. We were born naked and the bodies we have are a result of God's careful planning - we were built this way for a reason, why shouldnt we celebrate it?

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July 13, 2009  11:05pm

Coffee shops generally want to avoid things like those, if they intend to stay in business. But as a moral issue, to those who said that just b/c God clothed Adam & Eve means we must all keep it that way, know this: A good number of early Christians lived in a hot climate, poor & without clothes. If clothes were a moral need, know each S-O-U-L that would be S.O.L. I mean, Christian nudism was an attitude surely present among such early Christians, for what other choice was there? The richer Christians or those not in hot climates may not have been. In general, we must live for God & serve Him w/ resources we can use, but not panic about resources we don't have.

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December 21, 2006  1:25pm

Seems like a no brainer to me. Avoid any appearance of evil - or of that which may lead to sinful thoughts in the life of people. The touchy thing is if you know who posted it and how to take advantage of a teaching situation for that person (s).

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December 20, 2006  3:55pm

Aaron made them naked when they worshipped the idol. Fornication and idolatry are united. the answer to fornication and homosexuality are not commandments but rather spirit filled worship and thanksgiving to God. Those feelings satisfy and leave us so satisfied that we do not need porneo to stir our emotions. Even as speaking to ourselves in songs and hymns and spiritual songs is the answer to alcolism and drug addictions.

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December 20, 2006  9:05am

We must be careful, the enemy will try to plant seed where ever he can. The church must take a stand and say NO!

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December 20, 2006  2:23am

Really interesting.... us questioning about this. It is SO easy: just think about your focuses, what was the main "target" of that coffeehouse? To allow people express themselves freely or to kind of "control" the way things go and direct everything towards GOD? Just thinking... Raluca

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December 20, 2006  1:13am

I guess if it is OK to have tastefully done nude art in a place of worship, then it would be OK if I came tastefully nude to church (I would wear socks) and call it performance art? I mean my body is God's creation...right? Moreover, the stuff that comes out of our body is also part of God's creation, and therefore beautiful...right? Yet we don't have displays of that in church, do we? No wonder we have people smearing dung all over Mary and the baby Jesus and calling it sacred!

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December 19, 2006  4:18pm

Paul recognized that certain parts of the body were to be covered in public. "And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty" 1 Corinthians 12:12 NKJV I have to say that any time a nude female figure is on display–whether it is "art" or not–baser desires within me are stirred. Do I like that fact? NO. I am fairly certain that I am not alone. Since when does the designation of "art" dictate how the Body of Christ should act? In a loving manner, with a humble, Christ-like spirit I would remove the drawings and explain why to the artists. A year ago a graphic design artist submitted artwork for a banner to be displayed on our church auditorium walls. One photo showed a female rock climber in a very dangerous position–a very dramatic pic. However, the focus was on her backside in tight pants and not much more than a sports bra was covering the rest of her. I can only imagine the distraction that would have placed before all of us guys at church.

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Mike Herriges

December 19, 2006  4:14pm

I have read all the above discussion. Frankly, this is a no brainer. It is clear biblically and from a common sense standpoint that the nude art does not belong in the church. If the coffee house serves as "church" then I suggest it stay that way. (I have no problem with the coffee shop idea at all. Keep going guys.)Yes, God created the human body and it is beautiful but he did not have nude priests (or priestesses) leading his church. That was left to the pagans to have their nude worship. Leave the art to the art museums.

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December 19, 2006  3:49pm

This is what is wrong with the 'emergent' church. Psuedo-intellectuals rationalising their own ideas and culture into a purpose. Like fish, they don't realise they are 'all wet' because of their immersion in the world.

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