February 13, 2006
Leadership’s Cover Exposed: Is partially disrobed a total disgrace?
We've gotten an interesting response to the current issue of Leadership, which deals with ministry amid a sexually charged culture, and which we titled "The Drive." Those who claim to get the journal for its articles have been overwhelmingly positive. But a number of subscribers can't get past the cover. Leadership's editor Marshall Shelley has some explaining to do.
The cover photo is a detail from the famous statue of Pallas-Athena that stands in front of the Parlament building in Vienna. Athena was the war goddess of ancient Greece, but also worshiped as the goddess of wisdom. The Viennese statue was erected as a tribute not only to Athena but also the four rivers that were once a part of the Austrian Empire: the Danube, Elbe, Po, and Vistula.
But it was neither the pagan inspiration nor the implied endorsement of Austrian imperialism that caused some of our readers to object. It was a bared marble breast that was visible on the statue.
"For those of us who have trouble with visual stimulation, what should I do with the cover of your magazine?" wrote one subscriber. "Consider also, where I should keep my magazine out of view of my 8 sons. . . . ?I will set no vile thing before my eyes.' You might do better leaving pictures out and sticking to articles."
Wow. I can assure you that when our editorial team brainstormed cover possibilities, we weren't looking for creative ways to be vile. We were trying to communicate at a glance several things:
1. Christian leadership has always been practiced amid sexually charged cultures.
2. Interest in sex is common ground between Christians and non-Christians.
3. The gospel has important things to say about sex, but we need help articulating them in a way the culture can appreciate.
We didn't see a marble bosom a particularly erotic form. But not everyone saw what we hoped for in the cover image. Art is, after all, ambiguous, able to be taken on multiple levels. That's what makes it art, not science. Those multiple levels of meaning are also the difference between art and pornography. But those hoped-for levels were overwhelmed by the one, at least in the eyes of a few people who saw our journal. This came to us from the wife of one of our subscribers:
"I just went thumbing through the magazine. Guess what I found? The cover picture was also in the magazine on page 39! Good thing I found it before my husband did. I just used my own artistic ability, and painted some white-out on in a strategic place. ?She' is now more appropriately covered. (And no, I did not give her a high neckline and long sleeves.) Did the same to the cover."
With art critics like that, maybe we should call it Leadership's "partial cover."