I was made aware of the concern by a post on Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog: “Breastfeeding in Church, and Other Petty Crimes” by Rachel Stone.
(Yes, Her.meneutics is “The Christianity Today blog for women,” and I’m well, not a woman. Sometimes I watch Lifetime too, if they’re showing reruns of The Golden Girls or Designing Women. I am very secure in my masculinity, thank you very much.)
You really should read Ms. Jones’ post. Along with well-stated opinion, it includes her recollection of being kicked out of St. Peter’s Cathedral at the Vatican for breastfeeding her baby . . . in front of the Pieta which depicts Mary holding her crucified Son in much the same way she probably did when she was breast-feeding Him.
The post begins with another story closer to home:
A Georgia woman named Nirvana Jenette claims she was kicked out of church for breastfeeding, the pastor ordering her to nurse the baby in the bathroom and calling her behavior ‘lewd,’ comparing her to a stripper.
To which as a fellow-pastor I can only say . . . What??!!!
If we kick out or make to feel uncomfortable women who are breastfeeding, isn’t the church just buying into the hypersexualized attitude of our culture? Aren’t we just totally objectifying women’s bodies in the way we preach against, ignoring the beauty of the God-formed feeding function by limiting our reaction to “breast = sex”?
Also, as a pastor, I notice that church attendance for new moms is often sporadic at best. I’m sure it’s hard to marshal all the infant paraphernalia and yourself out the door and into the car and into the church. How much more difficult do we make it if we declare the pews a “no breastfeeding zone.” Babies don’t always get hungry on schedule; what’s a mom to do when those hunger pangs hit in the middle of the service?
Go to the bathroom? Gross! Would you want to have your lunch on a toilet?
Go to the “nursery”? (I guess you could make an argument that the first part of that word is “nurse.”) Maybe, if that would make HER feel more comfortable, but why enforce a separation from her family and the rest of the congregation for doing something that is loving, and natural . . . and a picture of God’s love for us:
For this is what the Lord says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 66:12-13, NIV
If you read Ms. Stone’s post, make sure you scroll through the comments at the bottom. Most are supportive, but a few are quite hostile, protesting that exposed breasts (although I don’t think much actual breast gets exposed in discreet breastfeeding) or just the idea of breasts in a church will make men think sexual thoughts. That sounds more like the men’s problem than the mothers’ – if we men can’t get past our own adolescent Beavis and Butthead-edness (“heh heh heh heh, she said ‘breast!'”) then we need help. At least prayer-type help.
The comment that really convicted me is the last one on the page:
I accept and love everyone on this earth. I work hard at my job, do charity work, I pray, dress modestly, support women in breastfeeding and provide for my daughter. Wow, I sound more Christian than most of you. . . . and I’m Wiccan.
HOSPITALITY has to be at the forefront of our witness as Christians and as the church. Our in-hospitality doesn’t just affect nursing moms or whomever else we want to keep out of our “pure” worship services, but it clearly affects our witness to the world. Making church a breastfeeding-free zone is a perfect example of the stuff that made me say, when I was an atheist, “If that’s what Christians are like then I sure don’t want to be one of them!”
But there’s another way. I once heard a pastor preach about why he didn’t get upset about crying babies in church or even in restaurants. He remembered the baby Jesus, there in the manger. No matter what the song says about “no crying He makes,” sure the baby Jesus cried! How else would He let Mary know when He was hungry or cold or needed His diaper changed? So whenever a baby cried around that pastor, he thought to himself, “Jesus is here.”
Maybe if we have a nursing mother in our midst – in church or anywhere else – we need to stop and think, “Mary is here.”
(Two notes . . . my particular church is VERY welcoming of young children, but I have no idea what the attitude of the congregation is toward nursing mothers. I’d be surprised if it was anything but just as welcoming, but I’m going to ask around.
And note two . . . sorry about the title. It’s a reflection of how ridiculous I find “some” attitudes, and also of the fact that I couldn’t keep myself from at least one pun . . . just be glad I didn’t milk it any further. Darn. There I go again.)
And here’s another pastor’s perspective on breastfeeding in church – http://www.davidhousholder.com/nurse-your-baby-at-my-church/