No more bathing suits for Miss America. That news broke yesterday as fourteen of us are in the midst of spending two weeks together talking about the intersection of faith and culture. Monday was the first day of this residency with our Doctor of Ministry in Ministry to the Emerging Generations students at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. And when we came together to regroup on Monday morning, I asked them to choose a cultural artifact to filter through a variety of definitions of culture.
One of our groups surprised us by choosing bikinis as a cultural artifact which raise a variety of issues related to faith and culture. In other words, how do we think christianly about bathing suit culture? How does bathing suit culture shape how we think? And what should we think about bathing suit culture?
Now just to clarify, our discussion didn’t center on legalism, but rather on how bikinis and their place in culture both map/shape our values/behaviors, and what bikinis and their place in our culture reveal/reflect about our values/behaviors. Ultimately, we are working together as a group to learn how to promote Gospel-centered human flourishing in a rapidly changing world.
And then yesterday, the news reported that the growing cultural focus on issues related to systemic objectification, body image issues, and sexual assault led the powers-that-be at the Miss America organization to eliminate bathing suits from the competition. Chair of the Miss America Board, Gretchen Carlson, said, “We will no longer judge our candidate on their outward physical appearance.” Clearly, this is a move in a right direction that promotes human flourishing. Do you remember what God said to Samuel? “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
I would say that while the Miss America organization’s move is a good one, it’s also long overdue. I wonder. . . how much damage has been done by a pageant culture that is both cause and symptom of beliefs and behaviors that are deeply entrenched in the fabric of both our youth and adult culture? I’ve blogged on this in the past, including on Beyonce’s powerful song from four years ago, “Pretty Hurts”, and then again on how appearances are everything. Reality is, there’s more work to do, not only in terms of changing the narrative on identity, but on undoing the horrific damage that’s already been done.
As you think about these matters, I invite you to consider some words spoken 42 years ago by Tony Campolo. And how I stumbled onto these words yesterday is quite a remarkable coincidence. I was in the basement of the Goddard Library here on the Gordon-Conwell campus, consulting some old journal articles in the periodical archives. I happened to get distracted by the copies of “The Wittenburg Door” that I notice on the shelves. The magazine was a kind of precursor to today’s Babylon Bee that was published by my old friends from Youth Specialties, Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice. I was literally flipping through and not really focusing on anything until my eye was caught by a small section of the interview with Campolo. I photographed it and you can read it below. It’s rather remarkable. . .