Time is playing a little game with you, right? Here is how it works: They slap a provocative picture on their magazine cover, and when you are provoked, they say you've got the problem. It's like that joke where the psychiatrist shows assorted commonplace photos to a patient, whose free-association response to all of them is "sex." When the shrink confronts the man with his problem, he says, "You're the one with all the dirty pictures."
They have this all figured out in advance, you see: Time has rendered a public service in publishing an important feature about parenting, and you have taken it the wrong way because you have a dirty mind and are judgmental. No one at Time had a problem with the Madonna-and-child photo, but you, because of your backward Baptist background, saw it as creeping pornography.
Time knows very well the first-second impact of the photo. There are refined 10-second thoughts, perhaps. But the in-your-face broadside is spelled S-E-X, not M-O-T-H-E-R-H-O-O-D. The photo (we offer a slightly modified version above) is of a beautiful woman with her breast hanging out-but it's attached to the mouth of her son. As you can see, he is no infant; the child is a fully sentient dead ringer for Beaver Cleaver's friend Larry Mondello, and he is looking straight at us, standing on a chair, his mouth serving the function of a pastie to cover the verboten areolae.
I don't know if any of you remember what it was like to be a little boy. I commend the tree-house discussion of Mouseketeer Annette Funicello in Stand By Me as a refresher course. Follow it up with the final interview serial rapist Ted Bundy gave to James Dobson before his execution in 1989, giving special attention to his recounting of a childhood incident in which he dipped into an alley with his friends, innocently came across a discarded girlie magazine, and stepped back out of the alley a different child forever.
At my mom's request, I recently went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with her. People later asked me what the movie was about and I didn't know what to tell them: It is a comedy about elderly Brits deciding to pass their retirement in India, I could say. Or I could point out that the most sympathetic, mature, avuncular, and decent character in the film is the gay guy. This not by design, ladies and gentlemen. This is a Trojan horse. If even the floral print on the Dalit extra's dress is thoroughly vetted by the wardrobe designer, you can be sure that the noble homosexual is cold calculation.
Time to apply the book of Revelation: What Satan cannot accomplish with the sledgehammer of the law courts (the Beast) he will do with the soft sell of debauchery in the theaters (the Harlot), while you were passing the popcorn.
But wait, is not the pose of a fair-haired mother giving suck to her son beautiful? What Christian would say it is not? This, after all, is what we are all about-pro-life, pro-nurturing, pro-motherhood. Let us not make the judgment on the basis of personal opinion, which, as evidence by our president's own "evolving" morality, is as notoriously morphable as mush. Sensibilities are good in spiritual people as First Alarmers warning of a fire, but there is a more certain way: To the Word and the testimonies! These are immovable plumb lines.
Peter commends "respectful and pure conduct" (1 Peter 3:2). Timothy urges "respectable apparel, with modesty" (1 Timothy 2:9-10). "But what is pure," Time will doubtless argue. "What is modesty? Are these not subjective? Are these not ambiguous?" If one is inclined to be obtuse, enamored of arguing, or seared of conscience, there will never be agreement. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was an intelligent man and the best he could do with porn is: "I know it when I see it."
If you don't like Peter or Timothy, other Scripture abounds about knowing one's times and acting accordingly. Time's editors knew exactly what time it was when they hauled off with their cover and upped the ante. And they knew you knew, too. But they were just playing a little game on you, to see what you would do. And I'll bet you didn't fall for it.