Clothing Optional… In Church?

white tailThe Huffington Post uploaded a video and article about a nudist church in the small town of Ivor, Virginia. This congregation is under the leadership of Pastor Allen Parker, and meets in White Tail Chapel within the “family nudist community” know as White Tail Resort. These nudists, like many other groups before them, provide an intriguing look into how culture and religion can mix and impact each other according to what the community deems important or significant. In this case, there is an interesting (yet disturbing) interaction between their cultural identity/practice as nudists and their religious affiliation as Christians. Their label and identity as a nudist community leads to an interesting interpretation of the Bible tailored to reinforce their cultural practices. Pastor Allen Parker justifies the practice of attending church nude by stating that the events crucial to Christianity all occurred while Jesus was nude (his birth, his crucifixion, and his resurrection). This idea that believers are more connected and “open to hearing the word of God” when they are in a physical state similar to Jesus parallels the practices and thoughts of the early American Jewish immigrants. Catherine L. Albanese discusses in Chapter 2 of America: Religions and Religion how the Jewish religion uses festivals and rituals in order to reenact history and connect with God. Because they [the Jews] believe that God was actively involved in the creation of history, rituals and festival cycles connect the people to those events of the past through reenactment while also creating a deeper spiritual connection.

White Tail Resort

Although the thought process provided by the nudists is similar, the practice of attending church naked illustrates how the interpretation of one aspect of Jesus’s life (his moments of nakedness) is used to justify cultural and religious practices. This specific depiction of Jesus is similar to an idea brought up in The Color of Christ, written by Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey. It is stated that “by giving Jesus particular body forms, clothing styles, and physical postures, Americans drew the Son of God into discussions not only of manliness and femininity but also of various approaches to sexuality” (pg. 15-16). In the case of the nudist colony, they have created and cling to a projection of Jesus that is similar to and accessible to them while also making a bold statement that sexuality, specifically that nudity should not be something shameful but equalizing (which is easy to say when church members are all around the same age, race, and body size). Practices by the congregation are justified by pointing out that people come into this world naked and emphasizing that nudist believers are unashamed, able to avoid tension caused by material possessions (which they believe occurs predominately in traditional churches), and “free of social judgments”.  Feeling comfortable and accepting one’s own body, searching for inner peace, and equality are emphasized by this group. Their shared beliefs about nudity have created a great family atmosphere and sense of community among the congregation, and community. The nudists of White Tail Chapel are one more example of how many groups of people of varying races, sexual orientations, and ethnicities with this same sense of community have used the Bible to support social acceptance and change. Let’s hope that this trend, for the sake of our eyes, does not venture too far from the small town of Ivor.

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2 thoughts on “Clothing Optional… In Church?

  1. I was thinking about this post and story as I read for my class today a sermon from 2. Jonathan Boucher during the American Revolution. He was a loyalist who argued that disobeying laws of man was disobedience to God. At one point, he remarked, “Even where the Scriptures are silent, they instruct.” Meaning is made by what is not present, in this case the absence of text. In the context of the nudists, it is what they lack that is emphasized (clothing) rather than what others put on (clothing). To be human and Christian, it seems, is to be clothed, although, in Genesis, clothedness is a re-iterative mark of the shame of sin. Anyway, just ruminating on the meaning-making machines of silence, absence, and lack.

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