Nudity in Drama and the Clothing of Christ

The Sunday Star Tribune (November 19, 2006) carried an article entitled “Live! Nude! Onstage!” It began, “Suddenly, it seems you can’t attend a play in this town without seeing a naked actor. . . . Even the esteemed Guthrie Theater is in on the act.” The article carries its own pointers to why this is evil and tragic.

First, the attempt to justify it with artistic authenticity rings hollow. One director said, “We all have these bodies, and the theater is a place for a sort of truthfulness. If the play requires that, why not go there?” One wants to ask: Does murder in the play require that an actor be murdered? Most of us still say no. But the only reason we do is that we consider life more sacred than that measure of so-called artistic integrity. Would that all men and women considered their own bodies more sacred than to become the meat for someone’s hungry eyes under the guise of art.

Second, actress Stacia Rice said, “I feel that some part of Stacia has to be completely reserved for Stacia.” Well, I am glad for Ms. Rice’s residual restraint, but her self-possession is the exact opposite of what the Bible says should restrain us. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Ms. Rice says at least part of her body is completely reserved for herself. God says it should all be reserved for him and his glory. Disrobing before audiences does not help people see the glory of Jesus Christ who died to make us pure (Titus 2:14).

Third, one of the saddest lines in the article goes like this: “The nudity that [April] Sellers has been using in her work hastened the collapse of her marriage, she said. ‘But I no longer have to explain myself to my in-laws.’” It’s not surprising that marriages are ruined when a spouse sells her (or his) body to the ogling world. The Bible is describing not only something beautiful that ought to be, but something deep that is when it says, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:4). That mutual possession of the other’s body draws a precious circle around the couple and makes them each other’s unique treasure under God. To all others the sign is posted: Off Limits.

Fourth, Sally Wingert said, “You know whether or not it’s prurient based on duration. . . . If it’s quick, it’s to titillate.” Hmm. So if there is a flash, it’s prurient, but if you hang out nude on the stage long enough, it’s art? This is an example of what you get when unprincipled preferences guide your behavior. Honestly, there is lots of titillation in lots of nudity. But let us be glad that the word prurient is still in the English language. It does force the issue that there is something called prurient.

Fifth, shame is a good thing in a fallen world. We don’t have much today. The issue of race finally figured into the article. Black bodies vs. white bodies. This is explosive stuff. One play “required” a nude black actor. James Williams reports, “I was there the night when someone got up and yelled at the actor, ‘Shame on your nakedness,’ then walked out of the theater. That was something.” Something indeed. It’s called courage. And it’s called naming the sin.

There was once a day when there was no shame. “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Then sin entered the world. Specifically, the sin of self-exaltation. Man decided that he would be like God and call his own shots. The knowledge of good and evil is the presumption to decide for yourself what is good and evil without relying on God. That happened and we are all contaminated with that arrogance. It is who we are now by nature.

When we fell, we suddenly knew we were naked. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7). The nakedness that was once natural and fitting for the purity and innocence of man is now a painful embarrassment. God’s merciful solution to this is clothing. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).

Those who try to reverse this divine decision in search of the primal innocence of the Garden of Eden are putting the cart before the horse. Until all sin is gone from our souls and from the world, being clothed is God’s will for a witness to our fall. Taking your clothes off does not put you back into pre-Fall paradise; it puts you into post-Fall shame. That’s God’s will. It’s why modesty is a crucial post-Fall virtue.

Above all, let us remember that when Jesus Christ died for us, he “despised the shame” of the cross and bore it for us. Our shame is removed in his death for us. What then shall we wear? Paul tells us in Romans 13:14: Wear Christ. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” If you wear Christ, you will never hear any brave and wise soul cry out to you, “Shame on your nakedness.”

Praying with you in the pursuit of purity within and without,

Pastor John

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