Clay Yarborough and the Evangelical Fear of Breasts

Clay Yarborough and the Evangelical Fear of Breasts December 19, 2014

by Bruce Gerencser from his blog The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

See the full sized image Bruce is writing about by clicking here. It’s beautiful and not pornographic. Trigger warning for full female nudity. There is a smaller version in the story below.

For those of us raised in the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, we are quite familiar with the fear preachers and church leaders have of exposed breasts and cleavage. Women are oft reminded to cover up, lest the weak, pathetic men of the church throw them down in the middle aisle of the church and ravage them. As the recent GRACE report on sexual abuse and rape at Bob Jones University reveals, women are viewed as temptresses out to beguile helpless men. This kind of thinking is found in the Bible:

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. (Proverbs 6:23-29)

For at the window of my house I looked through my casement,And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves. For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:6-27)

Clay Yarborough, 33,  is president of the Jacksonville, Florida city council. Yarborough an Evangelical, attends First Baptist Church, a  Southern Baptist congregation. FundamentalistMac Brunson is his pastor,  Recently, Yarborough objected to the city providing funding for an art display that included a picture of a naked pregnant woman on a couch. Yarborough stated:

“I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it ‘art,’ we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.”

Ah yes, think of the children.

Yarborough’s puritanical objection resulted in a threefold increase in attendance at theMuseum of Contemporary Art exhibit.

The 14 photographs in the exhibit were shot by photographer Angela Strassheim. Asked her opinion of Yarborough’s objection, Strassheim said:

“The man is entitled to his own opinion,But I don’t think it in any way is pornography. Maybe he hasn’t seen enough porn.”

The more enlightened in Jacksonville rightly poked fun at Yarborough’s fear of breasts. Here’s a picture of a protester that was posted on The Folio Weekly:


As a photographer, I think the photo celebrates the beauty of womanhood and pregnancy. It was tastefully done and in no way is it pornography. Unlike Yarborough, I have seen porn and this ain’t it. (though I highly doubt, being the good Baptist boy that he is, that Yarborough has never, never seen porn)

The Museum of Contemporary Art issued a press release stating:

The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.

Council President Yarborough’s objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the “transitional points” in life – “the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence” – opened to rave reviews last week. We’re proud to have an organization of MOCA’s caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it’s executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.

Mark Woods, writing for the Florida Times-Union, sums it up best when he writes:

It was almost noon on Black Friday. While many people undoubtedly were busy doing something wholesome, like preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with a new big-screen TV, I headed downtown, paid my $8 and went inside a building to see some porn.

Or at least that’s how the president of the Jacksonville City Council views what’s in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville these days…

…We do know this: There is an image in MOCA of a nude woman lying on a couch, her breasts and pregnant belly visible.

That’s right. A female nude with bare breasts and a round belly. In a museum. Shocking, right?

From the Cummer to the Louvre, pretty much every museum in the world has more than a few nudes, male and female, sometimes even together, sometimes holding naked babies. And have you seen that chapel in Italy? Nudes everywhere. Even the ceiling. Not sure what porn-peddler was responsible for that.

Even by itself, without any context whatsoever, it’s hard to imagine the photo in MOCA coming anywhere close to the legal definition of pornography. And the photo isn’t hanging by itself. It is one of 14 in a new exhibit on the towering atrium wall. The basic themes of this exhibit are — please cover your young one’s eyes — childhood and motherhood…

…I’m not exactly sure what Yarborough wants to see hanging in the atrium, what will avoid his personal version of the “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. Something without nudity, I presume. Maybe a giant still life of fruit. (Well, as long as there’s not two bananas together. That clearly would be wrong.) Or better yet, how about some nice velvet art? But, please, no dogs playing poker. That only would glorify the issue we have with canine gambling.

In all seriousness, this City Council and its president had been on such a roll. I was preparing to come back to the paper and heap praise on them for doing a lot of hard, serious work and avoiding the kind of silliness that has marred the past. But now it appears we’re taking a detour back down Silly Street.

It would be one thing if Yarborough wanted to argue that tax dollars shouldn’t be used for anything related to the arts. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but I’d be able to respect that position more than the idea that tax dollars should be pulled from this museum because of this photo.

If the councilman wants to bemoan taxpayer-funded titillation, he might want to check out a football game or concert or a lot of other things that, while still far from pornography, might not send the best message to kids…

When this story first came out I posted it to my wife’s Facebook page, complete with the photo of nude pregnant lady. Within seconds, several people reported the posting to Facebook. We suspect that the offended are several of our fundamentalist extended family members. Go back and look at the photo again. Is there anything that suggests impropriety or that a teenager seeing it would be harmed? (since the minimum age for a Facebook account is 13) This is silly, isn’t it? Yet, countless Evangelicals have this irrational fear of breasts. Preachers have spent countless hours reminding women to cover up lest the poor, pathetic men of the church be led astray. Perhaps it is time to teach men to embrace their sexuality. Stop treating men like they are helpless and stop treating women like they are temptresses out to bed any man that dares to gaze upon her comeliness. We do live in the 21st century, yes?


Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have 6 children, and nine grandchildren.

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  • Nea

    >> Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?

    There’s a whole tourist/new age spiritual industry based on that, I’m just sayin’.

    Bottom line here: this guy and all the others think women are icky and scary and evil *just for existing*.

  • Independent Thinker

    I had a baby in Florida, in the middle of summer. The last month was unbearable with the heat. I wanted to spend the entire last month nude. I actually sat in front of an open refrigerator on a few occasions after coming home for a quick cool off. Perhaps the artist understands being big, pregnant, and sweating incessantly is a reality of life for Florida women. I don’t think porn was the goal nor do I personally think the picture is porn.

  • SAO

    And God forbid a woman breastfeed in public, risking that anyone staring at her might get a millisecond’s glimpse of a naked breast! Instead, she should breastfeed in the ladies’ room (because toilets are such a hygienic place for a meal) or use a bottle. If she pumps, she spends a good 30 minutes pumping before her outing. Then she needs to store her pumped milk so it stays cold until needed, when it has to be body temperature, and if she heated it up and the baby wasn’t really hungry, the bottle is wasted. In the mean time, she needs pads in her bra, as her body is ready to produce milk on the baby’s schedule, and she might leak milk. (And I certainly had men’s eye’s popping out of their heads with my milk-enlarged breasts enhanced by absorbing pads. Can you say 34 DDDDDD? I know I made some men think lustful thoughts, as I had to make it clear that I was NOT interested. Saying ‘Hello’ while being 34 quintuple D is not an invitation to roll in the hay, although it’s clear some men don’t get that concept.)

    Or she can use formula, although many woman find their body adjusts production of milk to the baby’s needs and if the baby is drinking less (because he’s drinking formula) her body makes less. And she still has the mega-padded bra problem.

  • Nightshade

    Right! Some people forget that breasts have a purpose, they’re not just ornaments for a man to look at and play with.

  • Mel

    About a decade ago, a local community theater produced an adaptation of the Gospel where Jesus and the apostles were gay. We have a pretty hopping theater community in my city…and the production was uniformly panned – the script was really boring and the acting was ho-hum. Really, once the novelty of “twist” wore off – about 10 minutes into the first scene – it was just plain dull.

    THEN, a local church got involved and started protesting the play. The protest got picked up on local TV….

    Well, the theater and a different local church extended the run by several weeks because the play went from mostly empty seats to packed houses…..

    I still laugh thinking about that – in attempting to squash a “inappropriate” play, religious objectors caused hundreds more people to see the play than would have otherwise.

  • You know, back in the day, the image of Mary breastfeeding a baby Jesus (exposed breasts and all – the horror!!) wasn’t so uncommon. But then somehow we decided the human body doing what it was designed to do needed to be censored.

  • Trollface McGee

    Classical art is full of nudes – amazing works of art that, at 33, he should be mature enough to appreciate.
    Instead, he’s like a little kid giggle-blushing at boobies.

  • Mermaid Warrior

    Ha ha, he’s like a little kid who gets all giggly upon seeing nudity. Do you think he blushes when he hears a swear word?

  • bekabot

    ‘I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it “art,” we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.’

    Ah yes, think of the children.

    Somehow, I don’t think it’s the children who will be bothered.

  • Astrin Ymris

    I think he’s torqued because looking at Nekked Wimmen’s Boobies is a male prerogative. Having them available for everyone to see takes away his right to feel “privileged as a patriarch” when looking at his porn/having sex with his house elf.

    Also, if kids are allowed to see uncovered breasts while growing up, the female body will become “normalized” to them, and they’ll tend to see women as fellow human beings, rather than lesser creatures whose bodies are inherently sinful. They should learn about porn in puberty as a titillating joke, so they’ll internalize the attitude that the female human breast is “dirty” and shouldn’t be seen– or discussed– in the public sphere!

    (Note: This a paraphrase of arguments against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage posted on the Amazon Religion Forum. It’s telling how easy it was to transpose them for this purpose.)

  • Lauren Borrero

    I think the Bible was talking about an actual prostitute who just happened to be showing cleavage. Now is someone a whore just for showing cleavage? I personally don’t think so. If one is truly one with God they will not let someone who has nothing to do with them who happens to be showing cleavage lead him astray. People who go crazy over a woman’s cleavage are weak and pathetic and need help.

  • Which only further illustrates the intellectual and emotional stunting that goes on in this section of the population. Seriously, anyone who thinks that a female body automatically means Porn should be kicked out of the discussion for not being mature enough to be IN the discussion. Obviously he’s not mature enough for adulthood.

  • Guest

    David Cross on puritanical fear of boobies:


  • Gypsy Rose B

    David Cross on Evangelical fear of breasts:


  • Trollface McGee

    He looks really young. When I first saw the article I thought he was in his early 20s at most which… still not excusable but sheltered fundie boys and all that…. but 33? That’s well past the age you should be giggle-snorting at boobies.

  • Nightshade

    And given that Mary was (presumably) a normal, relatively healthy woman who had just given birth it’s a safe bet that she did indeed breastfeed, it’s a normal body function. These people need to just get used to it.

  • I’m all for changing the culture to judge adulthood as reaching adult *maturity* as opposed to any sort of chronological age. In which case NONE of these Fundigelical types would ever reach majority and we’d all be safe from their shenanigans.

  • B.A.

    One of my overly-religious,repressed co-workers,giggles at the word “ass”,like a little girl. And she’s 43. Sad…

  • {sigh} WE live in the 21st century, they’re still mentally hanging out with the Victorians.

  • ConcepcionImmaculadaPantalones

    Makes me want to go hang out in fundamentalist church parking lots and show them my spheres, publicly. And I’ll bring my dog in to do this:

  • Astrin Ymris

    A usually smart, sane, non-fundy Mormon felt the need to post this on her blog today:

    Now, being concerned about victims of sex trafficking being forced to make porn is legitimate. Claiming that having looked at internet porn causes you to become a sex offender is ridiculous.

    I just hope the blogger recovers her sanity soon, and realizes that taking MRA rants seriously is far more likely to create “men who view women as objects” than looking at dirty pictures.

  • Is this where I get to state that the guy is a boob?

  • Tiffany

    Do you remember when John Ashcroft was appointed U.S. Attorney General? One of the first things he did was have custom made drapes to cover the semi-nude statues of Justice and Liberty in the lobby of the Justice department building.

  • Delphini

    Why yes, it’s well known that people can walk on hot coals (under the right conditions) and not be burned. 🙂 Let’s look at Wikipedia.
    “Firewalking is the act of walking barefoot over a bed of hot embers or stones.

    Firewalking has been practiced by many people and cultures in all parts of the world, with the earliest known reference dating back to Iron Age India – c. 1200 BCE.[1] It is often used as a rite of passage, as a test of an individual’s strength and courage, or in religion as a test of one’s faith.

    Modern physics has explained the phenomenon, concluding that the amount of time the foot is in contact with the ground is not enough to induce a burn, combined with the fact that embers are not good conductors of heat.”

  • That reminds me – I made my 2nd grade Sunday school students laugh when I told them that Mary had to change baby Jesus’s poopy diapers. 🙂

  • To quote a movie… “To do that you must run VERY fast!”

  • Yes. Yes it is.

  • Indeed. I routinely bring my toddlers into the bathroom with me and close the door when I need to go. It keeps them within arm’s length of me (and reasonably out of trouble) while I take care of business. Now that the older two are 11 and 9, I assure you that they have not been scarred for life by seeing Mommy’s lady bits on a regular basis. Or seeing Mommy breastfeed their baby brother.

    In other news, my 18-month-old son LOVES to come into the bathroom with me because he likes to watch the toilet flush. Toddlers are the funniest!

  • That sounds like it actually could be interesting if done right, in a “what if Jesus comes back like that?”(*) sense.

    I mean, it’s not as if the Bible explicitly states that Jesus was straight. 😛 If we stick to the traditional understanding of Jesus as celibate, I could see it possibly being done somewhat well. But on the other hand, you never hear of people being motivated to portray a gay Jesus without wanting to attain some level of ridicule or disrespect or whatever.