(RNS) — Outside the small Texas town of Elsa, a sheet metal fence too high to overlook a few acres of prime Rio Grande Valley land. In front of the drab, gray gate of the compound, bright orange letters spell out ‘Nature’s Resort’. The gate opens revealing a seemingly ordinary community. Campers and small houses line the roads, péntaque and pickleball courts provide residents with recreational spaces, and the front office serves as the core of the community.
There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong, except that, for what’s missing – namely clothes.
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Misty Katz, co-owner of Nature’s Resort, finds solace in avoiding clothing. Growing up in South Africa, she was verbally abused by her parents for undressing in public when her clothes got dirty. She didn’t take those lessons too seriously. More than half a century later, she lives in a nudist (or naturist) resort in South Texas and doesn’t worry about dirty clothes anymore.
As long as Katz is a nudist, she is also a Christian.
Public nudity may seem at odds with the modesty often propagated by churches, but for Katz, the two go hand in hand. “Believe it or not, we’re humble,” Katz says. “Modesty doesn’t mean you have to hide everything. We don’t display our wares, we don’t decorate different parts of our bodies in a way that attracts attention.”
Her idea of modesty echoes Pope John Paul II’s 1981 book Love and Responsibility, in which he writes, “Nudity itself is not immodest.” He goes on to explain that immodesty only occurs when nudity serves to arouse sexually.
At Nature’s Resort, public nudity is not sexual. “The first view is that this is a sexual thing,” Katz says. “People think we’re all on the lawn having sex with each other, switching partners. In fact, when there is overt sexuality, you see the gate open very quickly and someone is led out.”
Some Christian critics of nudism, including Mary Lowman of The Christian Working Woman, view the lifestyle as an affront to God. On the page of her website The Christian Dress Code, Lowman claims that “God’s dress code from the beginning has been to cover our nakedness.”
Still, nudism attracts unlikely allies. Some nondenominational, conservative clergy accept nudism. Pastor Ron Smith, of McAllen’s Church of the King, is vehemently opposed to homosexuality, abortion and the transgender community, but when it comes to nudism, his sharp views loosen up.
“I think it’s strange, I think it’s strange, but I have no evidence that it sins,” 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 committed Christians.”
Because the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid nudism, Smith says he can’t condemn those who practice it. In fact, the Bible condones nudism on several occasions: “Adam and Eve were in the garden every day talking to God. They were naked,” Katz says. “When David won his great battle victory, he danced naked through the streets praising God. So that must be good in God’s eyes.”
Katz is not the only Christian at Nature’s Resort. Chip and Daisy are a married couple who have requested that their last name be excluded so that friends and family don’t find out about their nudism. They are, like almost everyone at Nature’s Resort, Texans in the winter, retirees who spend their summers up north and come to the Rio Grande Valley when the temperatures begin to drop.
Chip, a black man, is also one of the few colored residents of the community’s maximum of 250 people. Like Katz, Chip and Daisy find that nudism fits perfectly into their Christianity and improves their religious life. “In a nudist environment, the true Christian belief of valuing others and not judging others is accentuated,” says Daisy. “Here you don’t judge someone by how they look or what they wear.”
“It’s one thing to be in a building with Christians,” Chip says. “It’s another thing to be with Christians who are nudists. There is a deeper connectivity.”
While Nature’s Resort is not explicitly religious, it is affiliated with the American Association for Nude Recreation, an organization with deep Christian roots. AANR, once called the American Sunbathing Association, and before that the American League for Physical Culture, was led by Ilsley Boone in the 1930s.
Boone was a Dutch Reformed minister and a driving force in popularizing Christian naturism in the US, where he preached a religiously enriching 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 specific nudism isn’t the Christian variety, some members have found the lifestyle deeply spiritual.
“I think it’s much easier to be a Christian nudist than to be a Christian non-nudist,” Katz says. ‘That’s because as a Christian you have to love everyone. And as a nudist you love everyone.”