Sacrilege and Blasphemy

"I don’t want to get into the specifics of the incident here, we hope the controversy brought about by the controversy will ultimately produce light rather than the heat of yet another conflagration on the internet. It might help, though, if we understand what sacrilege and blasphemy are." - Don Johnson

5931 reads

There are 81 Comments

Craig Toliver's picture

I saw the BJU fashion show images ...  I didn't find them either sacrilegious or blasphemous.

Tasteless and frivolous would be how I would characterize them

Don Johnson's picture

Craig Toliver wrote:

I saw the BJU fashion show images ...  I didn't find them either sacrilegious or blasphemous.

Tasteless and frivolous would be how I would characterize them

When you make our Holy God tasteless and frivolous, that is the sine qua non of sacrilege and blasphemy.

And... it doesn't matter how you find them. It matters how God finds them. God struck Uzzah dead for touching the ark of the covenant. What do you think God thinks of this situation? That's the question.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

GEaston's picture

...we had fashion shows at BJU in the early 1980s. I know because I was involved in setting up the stages, lights, and audio in the Concert Center. Thing is, back then, I don't remember any guys involved — they could've been, I guess, but I don't remember. Also, the clothing was, you know, all girly stuff — dresses, wedding gowns, etc.

It figures a guy would be the one screwing up the fashion show for the gals. What guy - what person - would figure a "Jesus Goes to Hollywood" get-up (complete with a crown of some type) would be acceptable at "The Fortress of Faith?" This is the same BJU that protested the local opening of Monty Python's "Life of Brian" — and, to be honest, I don't see a whole lot of difference between Python's "Brian" and BJU's Fashion Jesus.

That being said, the faculty member(s) that allowed this should be the ones getting the heat — not the student(s). I hope Dr. Petit isn't too old to remember that if the faculty allow the inmates (a.k.a., students) to run the asylum, this is what you get...

"Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason."

Bert Perry's picture

Don, it was a fashion show, and I don't know that anyone was doing much theological at all, let alone making God frivolous or tasteless.  In my view, the show missed the goal of providing a distinctly Christian take on fashion, and also erred with a certain amount of political commentary that was ill advised.  Can't we leave it at that?

(really, given the list of embarrassing things to come out of BJU--interracial dating ban until 2000, seriously?--I think we ought to be glad that it wasn't much, much worse)

Regarding the fashion,a bit of how it missed the mark.  For starters, at least two of the garments showcased were of the genre "strapless evening gown with the bust and shoulders covered up with a bit of fabric", as has been seen at fundamental high school and college "formals" for decades. I  can't figure out (my wife does a fair amount of sewing including customizing garments for me, including draping) whether the students actually learned the basics of tucks and darts to fit the feminine form, or whether they simply bought off the rack and tacked some things on.  Same thing with the two other dresses which fit into the classification of "looser-fitting knit dress with some sparkly doo-dads tacked on."  And then the mask with apparently a bloody handprint on it....mmmkay....

For the guys, we've got one in more or less a smoking jacket, another who found an oversized Nordic sweater at the thrift store, and finally someone who took a brother's polyester jacket and apparently merged it with a Hefty bag.  Both ladies and gentlemen are trying to affect the walks they see on the runways in London, New York, and Paris.

The overall impression is that BJU's fashion school is following the world's pattern of not requiring students to learn to actually sew and create the garments, that they're putting on "bling" instead of that skill, and that "bling" actually tends to draw the eye to critical areas in exactly the same way as a prom dress.

Don't get me wrong; I'm glad that BJU is trying to work in this area, but I don't know that they're anywhere near achieving a distinctive "Christian" kind of fashion which combines the importance of fit/attractiveness, function, durability, and the like.  I wish them well.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

You clearly don't understand what this is about, so probably best to sit this one out.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Andrew K's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

You clearly don't understand what this is about, so probably best to sit this one out.

I don't understand what this is about either.

Maybe you should explain?

I didn't even see any links in that cryptic post.

John E.'s picture

I had no idea what was going on until I did a little digging. Setting aside the unfortunate reality that BJU is still somewhat in the clutches of "hard-core" fundamentalists and, hence, the school needs to continue to look over their shoulder to gauge the fury of those "hard-core" fundamentalists who are increasingly further and further behind them, the phrase tempest in a teapot comes to mind.

In my digging around, I read the student's statement that he posted on Facebook. It's a long, thoughtful defense of his design choices and renderings.  

High fashion makes an easy target for most of us to mock. I admit that I don't get/appreciate or even like high fashion, but I have enough epistemic humility to recognize that my response may owe a debt to my ignorance and not be valid. That being said, even considering my general eye-rolling disdain for high fashion, I still appreciate the student designer's intent to use his medium as a way to tell the story of Redemption. Whether he succeeded or not is a debate worth having (and a debate most of us are not qualified to participate in considering our/my ignorance of high fashion). Throwing this kid to the wolves is beyond uncharitable.

By the way, there is no such thing as Christian fashion. There are Christians working in fashion and they answer to God for how they use their skills and participate in their craft. Ethical questions are appropriate, though. For example, are they honoring God and loving others as they image God in the specific discipline the Spirit has placed them? Again, though, that's a question that those of us who do not understand high fashion may want to tread very lightly around.   

Craig Toliver's picture

https://www.facebook.com/matthew.foxx.319

 

Good evening everybody! So, as hath transpired over the last few days, a select few pictures of my capstone collection have outraged the vast and diverse hellscape of social media. These pictures provided no context for the garments I created, and the response by the masses is a little embarrassing, so I'd like to provide a backstory as well as design context to my collection in light of the public statements lodged against it; with visual aids because we NEEED them at this point.

Right, so during junior year my friends in the fashion program and I were briefed on our senior show, and we had all kinds of themes in mind for the clothes we were gonna design and it was great and fine and dandy. We all wanted to communicate ideals for ourselves or express our current emotions and thought processes and it was beautiful. For me, I was struggling with a few different issues interpersonally and academically, and I had a very intense guttural scream that wanted to break forth, and I knew that I wanted it to reach deep from my soul into the souls of other people and speak of absolute beauty and do and be the most, like most fashion people do.

I also wanted my collection to impact the culture at BJU and help people see that fashion is just as valid and capable of an art form to communicate beauty; beyond the superficial gender-performative box that it's put in on campus (Really not trying to raise hell on the gender front, we are just more than the sum of our parts.). I wanted my work to sing with a beauty and intensity that reached the depths of the despair I felt and embodied and resolved that for others to see. So I chose to illustrate the gospel. On the bodies of other people. I wanted people to look at bodies; not to condemn the boobs and collarbones or tightness of pants or length of skirts. I wanted people to see the image of God. I wanted people to see the beauty and scandal of a Holy God becoming His creation in order to redeem it. I wanted to bridge our mental separation of the Being of God from the physical body that He keeps. In this day and age we worship kings and capitalists as if they exist by divine right, and our separation from those kings drives so many of us further away from the King of Kings.

I didn't fully grasp all of this until the clothes were almost all made tho.

Covid started the first semester we began constructing our looks. Our themes had been approved and the show was being planned. 2020 was a really rough year on many fronts. I was stressing out about a lot of different things, friendships were crumbling, and in July, I decided I had had enough. I quit school, and I was intent to stay gone and never come back. I went to my friends' senior show, and they did an amazing job. I watched them graduate. A couple of them got married. I put away my pile of fabric and sat out indefinitely.

God let me know we had unfinished business though. There was always the "what if," and "this could also be important" and whether by my own pride or an act of Divinity, I was convinced I had to go back and finish my collection. So back at square one, I re-designed most of it. Through model sourcing and accessorizing, some things changed and added more depth to each look conceptually, but the complete message stayed the same. God became a physical man to suffer and redeem His fallen Creation, and the truth and intensity of that message now more than ever need not be played down to fit a finite neglectful social construct.

Throughout the almost 6 years trying obtain this wretched piece of paper, God has been teaching me so much about living as an embodied Christian. Thank God our redemption isn't just cerebral. Our ability to reason isn't the only beauty that brings God glory. As we have been given dominion over His beautiful creation, so we are also responsible to use that beauty, however marred it may be currently, to adorn our physical selves with hope and call it sacred.

On to the looks. I have a picture of the artist statement for everyone to read and I'll tell you all the feeling meant for each look.

I used Romantic and Baroque era paintings and illustrative prints for Paradise Lost by John Martin and Anthony Van Dyck, because I thought they were beautiful, as well as in a sense, already speaking in a language that the BJU crowd was familiar with. Throughout all the garments in my collection, certain style lines and colors are repeated to call to mind certain themes like divinity, perfection, and restoration/redemption.

First up is Eve. She is shocking. On the runway, she's covered in blood. She has a handprint on her face and a shredded outfit to show the violence of the fall enacted physically on a perfect creation. Her skirt fabric is royal blue, (like the new creation skirt,) and in the shifting light, the color turns to brown; a very dead and decaying sort of color.

Next up is Satan. You're supposed to hate him. I had originally thought of having blood dripping from his hands, but I didn't wanna make a mess on the runway, amongst the chaos of other things happening by the time the show came around. Satan is void of color and markedly different from everything in his style lines. The hem of his pants is shredded to bind him to the destruction he's caused. The villainy lays plain.

Up until this point in the line-up, you're meant to be disgusted and horrified and shocked. Sin hurts everyone deeply.

Third is Jesus. He's not wearing a dress. It's a wrap coat. It's red to signify blood. Jesus bled and died. He covered our sins; completely and fully like a wrap coat covers the body completely and fully. By now I would hope we are all speaking the same language of allegory, and not literally idolizing the model wearing the crown. He wouldn't like that. This is the beauty of fashion that I wanted to illuminate my culture to. That it's more than gender signifiers and sex-barricades. Dignity and sanctity are woven into our expression and communication through dress. God taking on a body weaves divine dignity and sanctity into our defiled bodies. The crown of thorns on the model was supposed to be a dose of reality to our view of the crucifixion. I wanted to solidify Jesus's death as a physical violent act of redemption and not just something we see in old paintings and get kind of excited about at Easter.

Next is sainthood. Pretty much the same style lines of Eve mixed with the added flair of the Judgement look following it. It's completely white except for the black top and red jewels. We've been given immeasurable riches through imparted righteousness in Jesus's death and resurrection.

Fifth is Judgement. She's regal. Intense. The wrath of God is being poured out on the unrighteous and sin is meeting its final resolution. God's power is tangible and sin and death are cast away forever.

And lastly, the New Creation. The skirt is a waterfall of blue satin and joy and beauty and perfection abounds on a physical form. Heaven and earth meet again and this is the hope of joy and restoration that keeps us going as Christians.

I've seen some people mad that fashion is even available to study at BJU. To which I can only say we weren't created to live in sackcloth and ashes. There is a time and purpose for everything under heaven, and the beauty of our bodies is a gift to be celebrated beyond the confines of sex. We can perform truth physically and be thankful for it and rest in the absolute knowledge that Jesus paid for not just the inside but the outside too.

In the comments I'll attach the music that played during the catwalk. Tchaikovsky's Hymn of the Cherubim. This is was meant to be a contemplative and spiritual experience for people to connect to; not a consumerist dogpile of merchandise to wonder if you could go swimming in. There isn't an ounce of blasphemy meant by anything that I've made. I only wished to bring the tangible beauty of the Gospel back to people who keep it as a weapon or only in their head. It was meant for the entire edification of all of us.

Thank you all and have a blessed evening.

The young man was kicked to the curb and shoved under a bus

 

Don Johnson's picture

Consider the language and the philosophy behind it.

Doesn't sound to me like something BJU should continue to produce.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Craig Toliver's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Doesn't sound to me like something BJU should continue to produce.

BJU did not 'produce' it. The young man, a fashion artist, produced it.

Dan Miller's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Craig Toliver wrote:

I saw the BJU fashion show images ...  I didn't find them either sacrilegious or blasphemous.

Tasteless and frivolous would be how I would characterize them

When you make our Holy God tasteless and frivolous, that is the sine qua non of sacrilege and blasphemy.

And... it doesn't matter how you find them. It matters how God finds them. God struck Uzzah dead for touching the ark of the covenant. What do you think God thinks of this situation? That's the question.

I'm having trouble connecting the lines between the images and blasphemy and sacrilege. 

Take the image of Jesus on the cross on the red jacket. The image looks to be from a piece of art, which for all I know is hanging in the BJU art gallery. 
There doesn't seem to have been an attempt to trivialize or shame or anything like that. 

I myself have a very skeptical view of fashion in general. If you take fashion advice from me, you will wear khakis and a polo every day. So it's hard for me to understand how someone can think of clothes as a place to make any kind of statement. But if you accept that notion, I don't really see the content of what was done here as evil.

IMO, if BJU has done anything wrong here, it was accepting money from someone and in return giving him a degree in "fashion." 

Craig Toliver's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

IMO, if BJU has done anything wrong here, it was accepting money from someone and in return giving him a degree in "fashion." 

Yup!

Don Johnson's picture

Craig Toliver wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

Doesn't sound to me like something BJU should continue to produce.

 

 

BJU did not 'produce' it. The young man, a fashion artist, produced it.

 

To clarify, I meant the young man himself, he is the product of BJU's education (at least partially), and the "fashion" major as well.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

Take the image of Jesus on the cross on the red jacket. The image looks to be from a piece of art, which for all I know is hanging in the BJU art gallery. 
There doesn't seem to have been an attempt to trivialize or shame or anything like that. 

A few thoughts

1. The coat looks like a women's coat (note especially the seams in front) ... a young man is wearing it. Does that cross a line or not? (I'd say yes)

2. The image isn't the issue I am concerned about. It is the crown of thorns on the head. 

All of this crosses lines of sanctity and trivializes the gospel in my opinion.

It is interesting to see how different people react. Doesn't give me a lot of hope for the future, frankly. Fortunately my hope for the future doesn't lie in men.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

All of this crosses lines of sanctity and trivializes the gospel in my opinion.

I actually do agree with you here. BUT that's based on a personal opinion that a fashion show is innately trivial and vapid. And I don't feel like it is fitting to put a precious message in a form like that. 

But I do have to admit that my personal opinion about the worthlessness of a fashion show is neither Biblical nor culturally universal. 

Don Johnson's picture

It is the particular subject matter chosen in this case that is the issue 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

Don spends a lot of time priming the FBFI blog pump to put someone (this Matthew Foxx? Bob Jones? Both?) under the bus for all manner of things - blasphemy and sacrilege - but doesn't actually prove his point.  He doesn't link to any source materials, he provides no context for the story, and he does not link to anything to make an informed opinion about.  It's just "this thing is blasphemy and sacrilege!  Be outraged because I am!"

Don, if you're going to write about something you oppose, provide enough detail that people know what you're talking about.  If you don't, people will see you as a rabble-rouser/panic-monger instead of....whatever it is you're trying to do here.  I don't know, maybe rabble rousing IS your point.

And again, I'll ask you this on a second thread here.  If BJU is on the decline or the slippery slope of compromise and apostacy or whatever your charge is, then who do you recommend in their place?  What is the decision you want your readers to make?  You attacked Northland for compromise and now you're attacking BJU for compromise.  Is the only safe place left the church you run?  Is there a place that you approve of?  

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jay's picture

To clarify, I meant the young man himself, he is the product of BJU's education (at least partially), and the "fashion" major as well.

So even though this person left BJU and later decided to release his project afterwards on his own initiative and after leaving the school, we...still get to take swings at BJU because he went there for an education.

Are we prepared to blame Bob Jones for every bad person that left there, like Peter Ruckman?  Is BJU culpable for the sins of John MacArthur, who also went there and left?  Why stop there?  Surely there are more people that passed through Greenville who have done worse.  Where are the blogposts about those people?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Craig Toliver's picture

Jay wrote:
this person left BJU and later decided to release his project afterwards on his own initiative and after leaving the school,

Has Matthew Foxx indeed left?

Jay's picture

From that Facebook post linked above;

I was stressing out about a lot of different things, friendships were crumbling, and in July, I decided I had had enough. I quit school, and I was intent to stay gone and never come back.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Andrew K's picture

Yeah, this strikes me as not particularly tasteful, but "sacrilege" and "blasphemy"? Hardly. And as others have pointed out, we're already kind of predisposed against high fashion anyway. Immediately think of that movie Zoolander or whatever.

I do think Don goes a bit off with his example of Christians who don't hang images of Christ in their homes. Is that really why most aren't doing it, b/c they don't want to make Him common?

Independent churches in the Reformed tradition (Presbyterian, Baptists, Congregationalist, continental Reformed) have long eschewed images of Christ, considering them a violation of the 2nd Commandment to make no images of God. While many today might not go that far, there's still a sort of cultural discomfort for many of us associated with visual depictions of Jesus. 

The fact that whomever you have hanging on the wall isn't what Jesus actually looks like anyway (it's some random, imagined guy) kind of clinches it for a lot of us. The Bible conspicuously never bothers to describe what Jesus looks like physically, besides a few highly vague comments. I suspect these concerns constitute far more of the issue than the notion of "making Jesus common" by hanging an image of him on the wall.

As such, I don't see how this key example offers a lot of relevance. Or violations of the Sabbath, where the Israelites were explicitly instructed in how to honor it. I affirm a sacred-secular divide myself. Just not sure how this violates it other than, again, offending certain people's sensibilities. There's more subjective than objective here.

Don Johnson's picture

Jay wrote:

From that Facebook post linked above;

I was stressing out about a lot of different things, friendships were crumbling, and in July, I decided I had had enough. I quit school, and I was intent to stay gone and never come back.

I think this was before this year. He came back to school this year, this show was his senior project, shown in December of 2021. I have no idea of his status, but I presume he expects to graduate at the end of this semester, or else finished up in December.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

Andrew K wrote:

Yeah, this strikes me as not particularly tasteful, but "sacrilege" and "blasphemy"? Hardly. And as others have pointed out, we're already kind of predisposed against high fashion anyway. Immediately think of that movie Zoolander or whatever.

Remember, these are Steve Pettit's  terms. My article defines the terms. Steve used them.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dgszweda's picture

As a parent, who has a child at BJU, I received the note from Dr. Petit.  I hadn't heard anything about it from my child and my child hadn't heard anything about it on campus.  I struggle with this one, and the struggle probably has to do with my immature theology framework around this (mostly because I have not had to face it).  I get what the kid was doing.  It is not far off from literature like Paradise Lost or from religious art.  For much of it, it doesn't necessarily cross a line with me.  I do feel slightly uncomfortable with wearing a picture of Christ on the cross (although the fact that it is a piece of art lessens it a bit).  The part that presses against me the most from an uncomfortable standpoint is wearing the crown of thorns.  But again, I struggle a bit because I have gone to plays at BJU or even the Living Gallery where someone is wearing a crown of thorns as an artistic expression.  I feel bad for this young man, because I think he was trying to go down a path that may not be entirely bad, but I feel the school failed him in coaching him in how to structure it.  I appreciate Don's article on this, and I definitely get where he is going.  I can't process this entirely, because to be honest, at 51 years of age, I have not been faced with this situation to test my thought process, although at the end of the day, there is an uncomfortableness around it for me, I just can't articulate it very well.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that while I stand by my critique of his techniques--it's clearly "fundagelical add-ons to standard forms"--we ought to consider the question of what level of "art" is appropriate in one's clothing.  There is certainly the reality that, from Christian themed t shirts to BJU "pop the cork" shirts, our clothing does make some sort of artistic statement, even if we're wearing suits and ties.  The question, then, is what kind of statement ought to be made, and to what degree it is appropriate.

And to analyze that, we need specifics of what went on.  I'm very uneasy with what Kevin Schaal does for that reason--it's all generic statements with a few guilt by association fallacies thrown in.  

Perhaps a good, practical way of viewing it will be "will anybody get the point?", and I've got to admit that, by and large, I didn't.  My response was more along the lines of my response to punk rockers and Goths, "um ,that's nice", as I cut a wide berth.

Which is something of a shame, because Foxx and I seem to share something; he's clearly "done with" the BJU culture and (sorry, Don) the FBFI orbit. Hopefully Steve Pettit catches on to this and maybe sends him a note.  I am, again, very happy to see BJU doing some things in the area of fashion, and I'm hoping this whole kerfuffle leads them to consider exactly what kinds of things ought to be done to take it to the next level.  

That'll certainly include a discussion of what artistic motifs ought to be considered (or rejected) in fashion, among other considerations.  We won't be able to agree that certain styles (single breasted suits w. ties & denim jumpers?) are, or are not, distinctively Christian, per John E., but I think we might come to some conclusions about what artistic themes might be used effectively in attire, to what degree a fashion show is (or ought to be) an artistic statement, and what kinds of techniques (fitting, draping, ) and materials might be appropriate.

And yes, I'm hoping that "strapless evening gown with polyester sheath to raise the bodice line" will not be one of the major conclusions!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Craig Toliver's picture

"Fashion" major does not fit Fundy ethos.

If you want to major in "fashion" go somewhere else.

 

Jay's picture

I'm very uneasy with what Kevin Schaal does for that reason--it's all generic statements with a few guilt by association fallacies thrown in.  

Unfortunately, it is easier to tell people what to think than it is to teach them how to think, particularly Biblically.  I'm not attacking Schaal, just stating a thought.  Christians do a great job of telling people what to think.  It's when they have to actually read the Bible, discern what it says, and apply it to life - when they have to assess and/or be critical of what they are told - that they usually run into issues.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Pages