Nursing a Grievance

Today’s post brings together two interests of mine: church conflict, and apology — and it involves a church here in Michigan.

A church member had a conflict with church leadership, and the leaders issued her an apology. Sadly, it does not seem to have resolved the conflict and the member says she will no longer attend this particular church. Also, sadly, the conflict made the news.

While most church conflicts center on leadership, worship styles, or finances, the issue here is breastfeeding.

At the Naz Church in Brighton this past Father’s Day, Amy Marchand sat down on a bench in the church hallway and began breastfeeding her 1-year-old while waiting for her 4-year-old twins to finish Sunday school. Marchand does not use a cover when nursing, and church members reported that both breasts were exposed. That evening, a female church leader posted a private message to Marchand on FaceBook, advising her to use designated nursing areas from now on. Marchand said she felt shamed.

In keeping with biblical principles (Matthew 18:15), Marchand met with the senior pastor, Ben Walls, to discuss the issue, but it was not resolved, so Marchand brought her attorney to the second meeting. What Marchand heard the pastor say, according to the Detroit Free Press, is that her behavior was “immodest,” and could cause men to lust and stumble. She said what she wanted was a public apology, and a change to church policies on how to handle nursing mothers.

The pastor said that, in 30 years of ministry, many women have nursed their babies at church and this has never been a problem until now. The church has designated three different spaces for nursing mothers, but Marchand said none of them were convenient because she wanted to meet her twins when they left their class, but her baby was hungry.

The most telling sentence in the article is that Marchand felt that church staff were more focused on her “immodesty” and whether she might sue, than on her real issue. It sounds like the parties were talking past one another. Philippians 2:3-4 advises, “Look not only to your own interests, but also those of others.” Did church staff seek to understand how Marchand viewed her behavior? Did Marchand try to understand the church’s perspective? Nursing mothers want to feed their babies as necessary, without regard to appearances. Churches want to protect attenders from viewing others who are partially-clothed. Once the parties’ interests are identified, it becomes apparent why the Michigan Breastfeeding Anti-discrimination Act, which Marchand argued to the church, was irrelevant. The church’s objection was not to breastfeeding, but to exposure – the lack of bodily cover – , which the statute does not address. It also becomes clear why the church’s argument about protecting men and boys from lustful thoughts was not persuasive—that’s on men and boys, not on nursing moms.

This is a delicate issue, and  no doubt all parties sincerely tried to find a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, they missed it.



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