(A Crucial Message about “the Visible Breast” for Christian Leaders)
by Rev. David L. Hatton, RN
[Click on this self-portrait to see my comments on it.]
“You will nurse and be satisfied from her comforting breasts.
God made us physically in His spiritual image with male and female body parts. The womanʼs body has breasts for a physical reason: to feed babies; but also for a spiritual reason: to display our Makerʼs own nurturing nature (Isaiah 66:11,13a). As a mother cuddles and nourishes her infant near her heart, so God enfolds us in His bosom for spiritual comfort and provision. Nathan J. Stone in The Names of God argues that shad (“nursing breast”) is the root for El Shaddai (“God Almighty”), the omnipotent Provider and Sustainer of life. To early Christians, the visible breast was an everyday sight. When Peter wrote, “Desire Godʼs pure word as newborn babies desire milk,” (1 Peter 2:2a, GWT), he knew his readers would envision an infant nursing on a mother’s breast.
You will nurse to your heartʼs delight at her full breasts . . . .
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you....”
(Isaiah 66:11, 13a, Godʼs Word Translation)
Does this biblical portrayal of breasts still illustrate for us the Divine Source of our spiritual growth? At seeing a baby about to latch on a bare breast, do we contemplate resting in Godʼs “everlasting arms” and feeding on His Word? Or do we allow the sight of a naked nipple to stimulate feelings of sexual lust? How healing it would be for todayʼs sex-obsessed society if naturally visible breasts could again arouse the wholesome and holy thought-pattern ordained by their Creator. From many years of working with the naked breasts of nursing mothers, I know it can.
God chose the beautiful physiology of this ordinary female organ to be an extraordinary metaphor. Open breastfeeding, however, is rarely seen in public, almost never in churches. As a sacred visual aid, it is shunned; its awesome maternal component, slandered. Do we welcome the frank view of nursing breasts in social and congregational life? No. We hide them in “cry rooms” and toilet stalls. Such shameful treatment of God’s unique Self-portrait defies both Scripture and sound theology. Yet most Christians mimic this behavior, ignoring the divine instruction that breasts offer.
Answer this with “fear and trembling”: Does treating the natural exposure of breasts as an indecency honor or malign their Designer? Pious voices are right to decry pornography’s defilement of nudity. These same voices become ungodly if they call breasts themselves “lewd,” especially when bared for their God-designed purpose. Such hypocrisy has frustrated God’s desire to showcase breasts as holy symbols of His own character.
No. Breasts should not be sexually flaunted by suggestive dress nor by seductive undress. But neither should their symbolism be customarily smothered under so-called “nursing” blankets—a practice deceptively suggestive that breasts are naturally seductive. God placed them on women as prominently as a pulpit. Obviously, He wanted them noticed. As long as their nurturing role is routinely familiar to public eyes, their message of reflecting their Designer’s divine image will remain unmistakable.
So, let the prudish carry blankets. Let’s expect them to cover up their unhealthy reactions to naked breasts. Their exhibition of perverted embarrassment might lead curious “young eyes” astray. The best use of such blankets would be to hide from view any facial expressions of unwarranted indignity. This healthier practice would also earmark the real problem—a heart problem—behind this shameful perception of breasts.
Despite how the West arrogantly tries to dress the rest of the world in its own cultural garb, some people groups still exist where naked breasts are the norm. Our culture has turned them into obscenities by labeling them “provocative” or “tempting.” This unbiblical renaming of breasts as objects of sexual enticement has attacked the dignity of womanhood. It has invited pornographers to claim this portion of God’s territory as their own.
By assigning a porn-friendly designation to the body, Christians have surrendered breasts and other body parts to sexually exploitive abuse. This tragic abandonment of our God-given stewardship is a moral failure. God calls us to respect the body as part of personhood and to honor physical gender distinctions as part of personal identity. This is how God views human beings. No attitude about breasts or other body parts deserves the name Christian unless it sees them exactly as their Maker does.
Christ’s followers ought to lead the rest of the world in gratefully welcoming the sight of breasts, whenever and wherever they are displayed in wholesome ways. But, by redefining them in terms of body shame, the Western church laid a firm foundation for their misappropriation by the porn industry, whose particular success in America has created a pornified culture. Our nation is perversely and progressively breast-obsessed. This notorious breast-sexualization has betrayed our women and the Artist Who crafted their bodies. But, while claiming to honor both, many ministers and Bible teachers are guilty of deliberately participating in this betrayal.
Exalting a social concept that depicts women’s breasts as sex objects, and passing it on to the next generation, is tantamount to cultural idolatry. Yet this breast taboo—an insult to both our Creator’s intelligence and His artistic skill—continues to be scrupulously endorsed by the modern church. As a religious principle, it erodes a proper creational understanding of human embodiment, sinfully “missing the mark” of God’s view of reality. Adopted instead is a twisted view—one of body shame—which facilitates the lustful deception of men and the degrading exploitation of women.
Few Christians realize that the body shame undergirding the breast taboo is rooted in ancient Gnosticism, a heresy that scorned both the material world and the physical body. Such pagan ideas have no place in a believer’s mind or mouth. The Gospel is dynamically incarnational. Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection testify that our fleshly “temples” are special creations that God deems worthy of redemption. Rather than broadcasting an impure message about the body, we must recognize and proclaim its holy destiny in God’s salvation plan. All human body parts, including women’s breasts, are gifts from God. He meant us to praise and thank Him for them, not to see them as objects of shame and vulgarity.
Neither religious tradition nor the status quo determines holiness, but both can undermine it. Christian leaders must soberly scrutinize their teaching habits. Have they contributed to an unholy, pornographic view of breasts? I felt horrible discovering my own guilt in this regard. The path back to social sanity—and back to properly honoring the Designer of breasts—is to return to the healthy perspective of Scripture. Such a ministerial reform would morally empower Christian mothers to glorify God by breastfeeding their infants openly. Exposing their breasts in this way would renew a public demonstration of God’s design for them. It would treat them realistically, as normal parts of the female body, not as sexual commodities chained to the warped values of a misled culture.
God obliges Christians not just to confess and repent of their corporate sins but to make restitution. Since the church helped to establish the breast taboo by inserting a prudery from the Victorian era into the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s the moral duty of church leadership to undo this cultural error. We must stop preaching vain imaginations about breasts—or about any other anatomical part of the “temple” God desires to indwell. Instead, we should embrace and announce the naked truth about our bodies. Only truth can set people free from the toxic, pornographic perversion of God’s design for human body parts. Popular lies can free no one.
Review this crucial message carefully. Teaching by precept or custom that God created breasts as sex objects—playthings for men’s lust—is a grossly anti-Christian contribution to the lascivious objectification of women. To tolerate or promote a cultural sexualizing of any part of God’s image is to “present our bodies” and our minds to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV). To reverse this longstanding pattern, we must liberate men and women from the diabolical deception of body shame. I believe that goal echoes from the very heart of God Himself, Who, in creating the human body, intentionally invested His magnificent glory in every single detail of its “fearfully and wonderfully made” structure.
Christian leaders, surrender your cultural loyalties to your King! Nursing women of God, pray for public boldness to bare the truth in breastfeeding without shame! Men of God, praise and courageously defend such women for doing so! It may mean challenging the religious legalisms of the breast taboo, but our commitment to the Creator of our bodies, and to the formation of moral purity in future generations, demands it!