Stock Photography, The Ethics of Beauty and the Early Church

Not too long ago after one of my talks, I was approached by a graphic designer with an ethical question. The designer did a lot of work for Churches and Christian conferences; the designer asked me “Is it right for Christians to use stock photography of attractive people in order to promote churches, ministries or Christian events?”For those of you who do not know Stock photography usually refers to images that designers can purchase for their work. Normally stock photography features groups of multi-ethnic people of all ages who despite their diversity are united in their common physical attractiveness.

I thought that it was a really interesting ethical dilemma worth exploring. I could not be help wondering to myself what the early church would have done if they had access to the technology that we have today. Would they have produced websites and brochures? And if so what sort of images would they have used? Would they have picked the most attractive young woman in their church to feature on their conference brochure?

In his book Pagans and Christians Historian  Robin Lane Fox notes that the Pagan worship of the Greco-Roman world was marked by an emphasis on status and physical attractiveness. The civic pagan festivals featured parades of prominent citizens, renowned athletes and well to do young people who were known for their physcial perfection. In short the parades would feature the beautiful, the rich and the famous. However in contrast, the early church totally subverted this status based, superficially obsessed religious system. Taking their cues from the coming Kingdom in which all would be equal before God.  The early church lived by the following,

11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11

28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28 

This radical equality was almost unimaginably offensive to the Greco-Roman world obsessed with status and physical perfection. Yet for the millions within the Greco Roman world who were ordinary women, slaves, servants, manual labourers and generally not part of the elite, this radical new Christian concept of equality regardless of social status, looks, and economic position could not be more relevant. Maybe the same could be said for our looks obsessed culture today?

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