The following is a letter from one Christian father to another regarding the topic of breastfeeding in public. It was written after a lengthy discussion among breastfeeding mothers, their partners, and one man who stated that public breastfeeding is a 'temptation to men' and declared, "THIS IS WHY MEN HATE WOMEN" [his capitalization]. This private letter of response was shared with DrMomma.org and we were granted permission to post publicly. Names have been changed for the protection of those involved.
I applaud your approach to write to me privately.
The first thing I'd like to respond to is the Biblical and Christian side of this. I sense a dangerous line being crossed in terms of legalism. We need to be careful about what it is we bring up to our brothers and sisters in Christ and what it is we want them to do or not do. I would encourage you to consider and hope you agree that breastfeeding and nursing is by no means sinful or negative.
The Bible clearly recognizes breastfeeding as a blessing. In Genesis 49:25, Jacob states a blessing unto Joseph, "Because of your father's God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb.” The breast was created for the function of nurturing and nourishing the child in addition to be enjoyed by her husband intimately. The woman does not nurse her child for the enjoyment of other men, only for the functional use of caring for her baby. To correlate the two is taking it out of context, or to an extreme.
You being uncomfortable seeing your wife nurse is a personal thing in your own heart and mind. Saying that a women needs to be 'mindful' of breastfeeding for fear of sexually turning on a man is way out in left field. I went back to read your first comments about telling a nursing woman to cover up. To me it sounds like you would do this based on those uncomfortable feelings you have. A woman is not willfully tempting you to act on sinful desires by breastfeeding, so you need to be careful in how you approach someone based not on something they are doing intentional, but a the way in which you are interpreting it, which is tempting you to sin.
For example, If I am an alcoholic and I go to the store to buy bread and I see a man buying beer, should I tell the man buying beer to use the next register over or cover up his beer and wait to make his purchase until I am done in the store so that I am not tempted to pick up boozing again and ruin my life? Do I avoid stores all together? Do I avoid restaurants altogether? A therapist would tell me that I need to cope with my own fear and temptations or I will be controlled by them and act irrationally - potentially damaging my life even more.
If you are addicted to internet pornography and you visit an establishment that has internet access and allows people to use their computers (Starbucks, for example), do you tell the patrons to turn their computer off so as not to tempt you?
Does it sound crazy - to tell that man to stop buying his beer because of my fear and anxiety to be tempted, or to tell another patron to shut off his computer so that I don’t lust? If so, that is the point of view of the women towards nursing that you were corresponding with on this public Facebook thread. These mothers would be 'the man buying beer' or 'the patron with the computer' who may find you to be a bit crazy because of your extremism regarding the natural feeding of their children.
I would expect that you now then to go forward and tell every woman you see with massive cleavage to make sure they cover up. I suspect you do not visit the beach for fear of seeing too much skin. If you think I am odd for suggesting that you tell every female to cover their cleavage, and you would not follow through with it, than it is hypocritical, and discriminatory of you to demand that a nursing mother cover up (especially when the majority of women are discreet and show nothing while breastfeeding).
My point is not so much on your view of breastfeeding - which you clearly say you endorse and promote - it is how far you take things to an extreme, and relate nursing babies to matters that cannot be compared with it, and assert that this is a 'man vs. woman thing.' This is the reason you came across as a sexist jerk in the eyes of these mothers.
If your pastor has a big problem with women nursing in the sanctuary, what are his procedures for dealing with it? Does he follow Matthew 18? If a woman protested and asserted her right to feed her child in church, what would you do? Do you suggest other alternative locations for nursing women who are made to feel uncomfortable breastfeeding among others at church? Or do you MAKE women move to another location regardless of their comfort level because you yourself are uncomfortable? Would you call into question a woman’s faith for not submitting to a man's wishes?
One faith leader of mine use to say, “Don’t major on the minors. Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill.” This is why I mentioned the whole legalism thing. If you are setting up rules in church, or in your own life, that people must to live up -- your standards or a groups' standards which make others feel less then valued, and these standards are not supported Biblically, that is legalism.
You cannot tell someone that because they are a Christian, they should be mindful of where they breastfeed, because breastfeeding is not a sexual act, nor is it foul, crude, or distasteful (what did they do before plastic bottles?)
Remember that Christianity, walking with Christ, is relational - not law abiding behavior. It is by our faith that we are saved, not our works. Church should be a welcoming place for all, not one where people are looked down upon for what they do. How else would we, as vessels of the Holy Spirit, help spread the gospel? If it is sin, call it sin, and restore the individual to be reconciled with God. If its not sin, move on.
Did Jesus put down the actions of those who followed him or the sinners that repented and make them less of a person? No, he called out the hypocrites, the Pharisees, the keepers of the law (i.e. legalistic people) who tried to keep others in their place by putting undue restrictions and burdens on them so that they would appear righteous.
I keep going back and thinking this discussion surrounds breastfeeding. The tone and statements made by both of us men seem to make breastfeeding out to something scandalous. It is not like my wife was purposefully flashing others, nipple and all, to hopefully gain the attention and lustful thoughts of men whenever she wanted. Our energies should not be put toward 'correcting the behavior' of nursing women because, as I stated before, breastfeeding in public is not a sinful act but a natural one. The breast may occasionally serve a dual function - both for pleasure and for a baby's nourishment and comfort. But you cannot put limitations on nursing, and use God's design of men and women's sexual companionship to support your limitations. They are separate functions - one does not take precedence or dominance over the other.
The Normal Feeding of Baby Jesus
We'd have to disagree with Andrew on one small detail - one purpose of the human breasts does take precedence over another - this being first and foremost a source of food, drink, and comfort for the human child. Then, they are for a woman to use as she deems fitting.
For additional good books, websites, and articles pertaining to breastfeeding, see: Breastfeeding Resources.
Breastfeeding Baby Jesus
Breastfeeding in Church: A Picture of Christ's Sacrificial Love
Thank You for Nursing in Public
12 Breastfeeding Days of Christmas
Mary's Reflection: Blessed Am I Among Women
Watch Your Language
Breastfeeding Baby Jesus