Leadership’s Cover Exposed: Is partially disrobed a total disgrace?

We've gotten an interesting response to the current issue of Leadership, which deals with ministry amid a sexually charged culture, and which we titled "The Drive." Those who claim to get the journal for its articles have been overwhelmingly positive. But a number of subscribers can't get past the cover. Leadership's editor Marshall Shelley has some explaining to do.

The cover photo is a detail from the famous statue of Pallas-Athena that stands in front of the Parlament building in Vienna. Athena was the war goddess of ancient Greece, but also worshiped as the goddess of wisdom. The Viennese statue was erected as a tribute not only to Athena but also the four rivers that were once a part of the Austrian Empire: the Danube, Elbe, Po, and Vistula.

But it was neither the pagan inspiration nor the implied endorsement of Austrian imperialism that caused some of our readers to object. It was a bared marble breast that was visible on the statue.

"For those of us who have trouble with visual stimulation, what should I do with the cover of your magazine?" wrote one subscriber. "Consider also, where I should keep my magazine out of view of my 8 sons. . . . ?I will set no vile thing before my eyes.' You might do better leaving pictures out and sticking to articles."

Wow. I can assure you that when our editorial team brainstormed cover possibilities, we weren't looking for creative ways to be vile. We were trying to communicate at a glance several things:

1. Christian leadership has always been practiced amid sexually charged cultures.

2. Interest in sex is common ground between Christians and non-Christians.

3. The gospel has important things to say about sex, but we need help articulating them in a way the culture can appreciate.

We didn't see a marble bosom a particularly erotic form. But not everyone saw what we hoped for in the cover image. Art is, after all, ambiguous, able to be taken on multiple levels. That's what makes it art, not science. Those multiple levels of meaning are also the difference between art and pornography. But those hoped-for levels were overwhelmed by the one, at least in the eyes of a few people who saw our journal. This came to us from the wife of one of our subscribers:

"I just went thumbing through the magazine. Guess what I found? The cover picture was also in the magazine on page 39! Good thing I found it before my husband did. I just used my own artistic ability, and painted some white-out on in a strategic place. ?She' is now more appropriately covered. (And no, I did not give her a high neckline and long sleeves.) Did the same to the cover."

With art critics like that, maybe we should call it Leadership's "partial cover."

February 13, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 46 comments

Ronald Diomampo

February 26, 2006  10:41pm

You may have lots of excuses for your cover photo, but you have forgotten that you have different subscribers with different levels of spiritual maturity, and you have disregarded the weaker ones. Certainly, no Christian would object and ask why you have not made a cover photo of any image of a woman with one of her breasts exposed. And yet, certainly, there would be objectors if you would have, just like what you just did. I say it was a misjudgment on your part and indeed an unwise one, and uncalled for. It does not matter what your objectives are, for the same could have been achieved by words only without the need for images. Just think about this - if God, in His heavenly wisdom, thought it best (just as you have thought of) that images would contribute a lot to His words to attain His heavenly obejctives, then He would have sent Jesus Christ when camera was invented. But no, because words are more powerful than images. A picture may paint a thousand words, but a word may create millions of images which the mind has to struggle in order to filter out what's bad and could be bad.

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February 22, 2006  1:30pm

I became addicted to pornography at about age 12 and did not become a Christian until 19 years of age. Since that time my Christian life has had its up's and down's concerining temptations to lust, to view pornography, to let my mind go where I don't want it to go. As a pastor, the daily struggles alternately encourage me with victories and dissapoint me with failures. I am not saying that you should not have displayed the cover or interior photos that you chose but I can tell you, in response to one of the above posts, that yes, I did sin over the cover and the photo of the two young adults in bed. I am not confident saying the magazine has an obligation to their weaker brother to the extent that they have to avoid all such photos, but for me personally it was a grave struggle having the magazine in my home. I disappointed my Lord with my thoughts and actions. I do not blame the publishers or question their choice, I am relating my testimony and response to the photos. What grieves me the most in all the posts is the language and insinuations in almost every one of them. Because of my weakness (and yes, I know it is MY weakness, MY sinful nature) I am branded a Pharisee and a legalist. I am compared with racists and other tags that in no way reflect my belief system. Simply put, my besetting sin, my overriding struggle, is with sexually stimulating visual images. Even images that are not INTENDED to be erotic tempt me. That is why I do not watch television (except local news) but only videos, why I do not get cable or have the internet in my home. Like the previous post-er I avert my eyes (usually) in the supermarket and while driving. I know this is MY problem and I expect my brothers and sisters in the Lord to love me anyway, whatever that might mean for them. I do not think I am secluding myself or separating myself from my culture. I still volunteer in my children's school and am involved in the community in many ways, but I have to set up hedges for myself. Don't judge me for my weakness, please, but help me, because it is a difficult thing for me to stay pure of heart and mind in this culture and while I am healthier and stronger than I have ever been, the war for me is still very intense and difficult.

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February 21, 2006  7:27pm

Yes, Christians should avoid deliberately causing others to sin. There seems to be nothing, however, that could or would not present an opportunity for others to be tempted. Yes, I was surprised by the cover but in my opinion (and opinions are basically what this discussion is about) it is not pornographic or even deliberately intended to elicit immoral thoughts or activities. A simple question for some who have reacted so strongly to the cover: "What do you do with the 'Song of Songs'/'The Song of Solomon?'" According to 2 Timothy 3:16, ALL Scripture is useful. Or do you choose to physically remove it, black it out, or artfully cover it with whiteout? Carl

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ryan sato

February 21, 2006  4:59pm

One theme that has been impressed upon my heart over the past few months is this: "We as the People of God ought to be a people who move by faith and not fear." I am weary of the ways we move, talk, and make headlines as a people who are fearful of the big, bad world that we live in. As I read through our Scriptures, there is a large message about being a people of faith and repeated exhortations to "fear not" or "not be afraid." Getting worked up about boobs on a marble statue sounds pretty fearful to me. Let's move ahead as a people of faith and put our energies into something that is life-giving and faith-forming!!

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February 21, 2006  4:52pm

I'm a pastor who counsels men and women, married and single, about sexual matters. I'm a cultural observer who notices that many people who call themselves Christians act as if they are far more comfortable with violence, torture, war, blood and death, than the human body. I'm also a woman. Wearing all three hats, I bless you for running the statue on your cover. Not only is the artwork appropriate photojournalism for your story, it delightfully exposes so much about us.

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Rick Riedel

February 21, 2006  4:18pm

I think all the complaints were much ado about nothing! Have we become so conservitive that even granite is to be considered erotic art? Are we so closed minded that we cannot see beyond the inantimate? As a pastor and Christian I am a afraid from reading the comments on the cover that indeed we have. It is a sad day when Leadership Magazine gets raked over the coals for that cover and the inside story was totally missed. I guess it doesn't surprise me though. In a day when homophobia, racism and injustice thrive in our country and the social gospel of Jesus is overlooked, why should art that was never meant to be erotic or exotic be spared?

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Alan Kelmereit

February 21, 2006  2:49pm

One of the reasons there is a high rate of teen pregnancy, divorce, sexual addiction, and other sexual maladies in this country is that many believers permit children to grow up sexually unaware because it makes them, the adults, "uncomfortable" or seems somehow "inappropriate" at church. The result is not purity, but a twisted view of sexuality - 100% of what they learn about sex then comes from cultural sources (TV, movies, magazines, etc.). That is a scary thought!

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Rev. Sheila

February 21, 2006  2:38pm

WOW! If only we as ministers and Christians were so quickly incensed over child sexual abuse, child poverty, racial injustices etc. I think it is fine but others in my home do not think so... If viewing a marble breast is likely to incite lust and unbridled passion in us as Christians we need to look to our interiors, not the exterior cover or culture. As a small child I had an illustrated Bible that showed Adam and Eve as scantily leaf clad people - it helped me gain a sense of the Edenic loss. It also showed Solomon with a drawn sword, a naked baby and two semi dressed prostitutes - it's vivid image a reminder of what real motherhood is about not that division solves anything. When I read the controversy I asked my two of my three resident 13 years to view the statue and comment - one said that she didn't see anything wrong with it but understood where the other people could be coming from. The other was perplexed but perhaps because she has only been exposed in her previous home to abuse, pornography and degradation. The resident 17 year old said it was wrong to put it on, but could see the point of art and that it is our sin nature that has caused the disconnect between art and faith. She has been a Christian about six months. My spouse, also a minister said it was wrong, but he overcame porn problem in his younger years so perhaps that influence's his thots? So within my own home - there is a divide but not one that would lead us to argue and think the other point of view is totally without merit. We see a myriad of vivid images of starving children and are not so oft incited to feed them...

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A Sister

February 20, 2006  7:00pm

I work in an art-filled building that houses a state Supreme Court. I have never counted, but there must be at least a dozen glimpses of bare flesh contained in the various murals throughout the building. It has never crossed my mind to consider any of it as pornographic. In this regard, I think folks should just grow up.

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anne edwards

February 20, 2006  2:16pm

People who live in the U.S. assume that their cultural grid is the only christian grid to look through. Most believers living in Europe would wonder what all the hoohaw is about. For crying out loud, it's a marble statue on the cover of a magazine! The point is well made about Paul in Acts 17. We do need to know how to relate to the culture of our(own little)world, AS WELL AS to others' cultures if we're to win people to Christ. I have only seen the picture on-line, but I can't help but think some people are missing the forest for the trees. Would that God could help us filter things through HIS cultural grid and that we wouldn't just assume that His is the American one.

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