By JEREMY LINDENFELD
(RNS) – Outside the small Texas town of Elsa, a sheet metal fence too tall to see surrounds a few acres of prime land in the Rio Grande Valley. In front of the compound’s drab gray door, bright orange letters spell out “Nature’s Resort.” The door opens to reveal a seemingly ordinary community. Motorhomes and small houses line the roads, péntaque and pickleball courts provide residents with recreational spaces, and the reception acts as the hub of the community.
Nothing seems wrong, except that it is for what is missing, namely the clothes.
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Misty Katz, co-owner of Nature’s Resort, finds solace in avoiding clothes. Growing up in South Africa, she was scolded by her parents for stripping in public when her clothes got dirty. She did not take these lessons too seriously. More than half a century later, she lives in a nudist (or naturist) resort in South Texas and no longer cares about dirty clothes.
Since Katz is a nudist, she is also a Christian.
Public nudity may seem antithetical to the modesty often promoted by churches, but for Katz, the two go hand in hand. “Believe it or not, we’re modest,” says Katz. “Modesty doesn’t mean you have to cover everything. We don’t display our wares, we don’t decorate different parts of our body in a way that will attract attention.
His idea of modesty echoes Pope John Paul II’s 1981 book “Love and Responsibility”, in which he writes that “nudity itself is not immodest”. He goes on to explain that shamelessness only presents itself when nudity is used to sexually arouse.
At Nature’s Resort, public nudity is not sexual. “The initial design is that it’s a sexual thing,” Katz says. “People think we’re all on the lawn having sex, swapping partners. In fact, if there is overt sexuality, you see that door open very quickly and someone is ushered in.
Some Christian critics of nudism, including Mary Lowman of The Christian Working Woman, view the lifestyle as an affront to God. On his website page The Christian Dress Code, Lowman states that “God’s dress code from the beginning has been to cover our nakedness.”
Even still, nudism attracts unlikely allies. Some non-denominational and hardline conservative clergy accept nudism. Pastor Ron Smith of the King’s Church in McAllen vehemently opposes homosexuality, abortion and the transgender community, but when it comes to nudism, his strident views are relaxed.
“I think it’s weird, I think it’s weird, but I don’t have any evidence that it’s a sin,” Smith said. “We have a retired couple who sit in the front row every Sunday and live in a nudist camp. I believe they are devoted Christians.
Because the Bible does not explicitly forbid nudism, Smith says he cannot condemn those who practice it. In fact, the Bible condones nudism several times: “Adam and Eve were in the garden and talked to God every day. They were naked,” Katz says. “When David won his great victory in battle, he went dancing naked in the streets to praise God. So that must be OK in the eyes of God.
Katz isn’t the only Christian at Nature’s Resort. Chip and Daisy are a married couple who asked to have their last names taken out so their friends and family wouldn’t know about their nudism. Like almost everyone at Nature’s Resort, they are winter Texans, retirees who spend their summers up north and descend into the Rio Grande Valley when temperatures begin to drop.
Chip, a black man, is also one of the only residents of color of the community’s 250 people. Like Katz, Chip and Daisy find that nudism fits right into their Christianity and see it enhancing their religious life. “In a nudist environment, the true Christian belief of valuing others and not judging others is accentuated,” Daisy says. “Here, we don’t judge someone on their appearance or on what they wear.”
“It’s one thing to be with Christians in a building,” Chip said. “It’s another thing to be with Christians who are nudists. There is a deeper connection.
Although Nature’s Resort isn’t explicitly religious, it is affiliated with the American Association for Nude Recreation, an organization with deep Christian roots. The AANR, formerly called the American Sunbathing Association, and the American League for Physical Culture before that, was headed by Ilsley Boone in the 1930s.
Boone was a Dutch Reform minister and a driving force in the popularization of Christian naturism in the United States, where he preached religiously nurturing nudism. Christian naturism, popular in the early 20th century, continues to find success in the digital age on online forums.
And while Nature’s Resort’s particular brand of nudism isn’t the Christian variety, some of its members have found the lifestyle deeply spiritual.
“I think it’s a lot easier to be a Christian nudist than to be a non-Christian nudist,” Katz says. “It’s because as a Christian you have to love everyone. And as a nudist, you love everyone.