Canadian based David Hayward, the artist behind the NakedPastor, joins us for a conversation about how he uses art to illustrate real honest truths about people's experience in the church with spiritual abuse, patriarchy, exclusion, deconstruction and reconstruction of faith.
David Hayward is the NakedPastor www.nakedpastor.com
David is a cartoon artist who uses his art to challenge the status quo, deconstruct dogma, and offer hope for those who struggle and suffer under it.After 30 years in the church, he left the ministry to pursue his passion for art. He holds a Masters in Theological Studies, as well as Diplomas in Religious Studies and Ministry. He is also a writer with several books, and is based out of New Brunswick, Canada.
Maggie asks David how he got started with marking cartoons.
David started a blog back in 2004-5 under the moniker “NakedPastor” because he wanted to be honest as a pastor and talk about the real things that churches experience: conflict, financial struggles, spiritual abuse, doubts and fears. Having been an artist is whole life and really enjoying a good cartoon, he decided to give it a shot for himself. Not only did David enjoyed it but people really liked what he made. So he decided to challenge him: draw one cartoon a day and see how long it would last. He thought maybe it would last a couple of weeks and here he is 16 years later still doing it! He kept doing it because he was getting such a response
“If someone comes along to a 300-500 word blog post, if they are in agreement and they like it, they’re going to read it and maybe comment. But with a cartoon, it happens so fast. It’s like a split second and you can’t unsee it. I love the power and immediacy and the effectiveness of it [cartoons].”
Danielle says she wants to go back and ask how the title “NakedPastor” came to rest on his shoulders.
David says at the time there were shows out like “the naked chef,” “the naked archeologist,” “the naked truth.” He says “naked” just means raw, real, honest, open, vulnerable, no adornments, just the basic. In fact, he says he got the name by accident—someone else owned nakedpastor.com and he decided he would put his name in for whenever it became available. Sure enough, a year later he was notified by via email that he had won the auction for the domain name for $68.
He acknowledged the name has its problems, especially with the pedophilia and sexual abuse within the priesthood. But most people understand the meaning. It’s become a thing and it’s sticking around.
Maggie says he’s doing it—what initially drew her to his art was that it was real and honest, holding nothing back when looking at the church. She asks him what was his experience led him to critiquing the church?
David says he gets from a lot of people that they think he hates the church and wants to see it abolished. “They couldn’t be more wrong!” David grew up in the church; it was his spiritual home. He both loved the church and was harmed by it; both as a member but as a pastor. He says he also participated in the systemic, spiritual abuse that occurs in the church. “I found my cartoons were an effective way to address that, to make it graphic literally, so that people couldn’t deny it or unseen it.”
“I wanted to draw cartoons about of how the church does manipulates and coerce and shame and guilt and terrify and abuse people. And I know, intimately, because I experienced horrible spiritual abuse in the church and I also participated in, like I said, the dehumanization of people that’s just in the air of systems.” He names everything from the DMV, army, education, hospitals… “Wherever there is a system, the gravitational pull is towards the dehumanization of people. And that constantly has to be challenged and corrected. The church isn’t exempt from that, and that’s why I do what I do.”
Maggie says he puts an image to what many experience as wordlessness. When someone experiences spiritual abuse or trauma, they don’t necessarily have the words to put to what has happened to them. Maggie connected with one of his recent post on Instagram because it touched so close to her own experience. The cartoon of a church full of people and a pastor point out the door to a woman outside the church and the caption read “Good riddance! She was so uncontrollable anyway!” In his work he talking about spiritual abuse and patriarchy in a snap shot and for many people, including her, it hits close to home.
“That’s why I love cartoons, this happens all the time” David says. In the picture Maggie mentioned it was about a woman who was tired of being manipulated and dominated, people were trying to control her so she left. “This happens every day. So I draw a picture of it and put words to what’s actually happening.” In his own experiences he has actually heard pastors say, “good riddance” and “they were hard to manage” or “extra grace required.” And maybe it doesn’t happen in a moment like that but in a more gradual way over a lifetime, “but when you put more starkly in a picture, it really drives home the point I hope.”
Danielle says it does drive home the point. She’s been thinking about how art has become an expression and so “you must live really close to your own experience of the pain you’ve experienced or the pain you’ve caused and also the joy you’ve experienced and the joy you’ve been apart of.” Danielle says he must live in a way that keeps shame at bay so as not to take him out.
David says, “I believe in therapy. I think therapy is good.” Through therapy, counseling and coaching he has been able to come to the place of self-awareness and growth so that he can remember his trauma without re-living. “I don’t want to forget what happened but if I do remember, I don’t want to feel it all over again like it’s fresh.”
A lot people will see David’s post and assume he is angry and bitter and resentful; that he just needs to forgive and let go. But David says he doesn’t feel resentful; He doesn’t have anger or bitterness rooted in him. He has forgiven and healed of all that. He’s moved on and is doing great. But he knows a lot of people who are still inside that, who are still experience abuse. David would love to see the church succeed in forming healthy community; it’s what he really wants. He says “the Church will never go away, we know that.” And if it becomes persecuted or people try to abolish it, the church will just go underground like it has historically during times of persecution because it always finds a way to live.
Maggie says David’s artwork is becoming an avenue for people to pause and engage what’s happening inside the Church. She asks him what his hope is for is art? What does he hope people will do, say or respond with when they see his art?
David says there are two things that are happening: people are either really pissed off or really encouraged. He takes the example of the cartoon that Maggie mentioned—her response was that she felt seen, heard and validated. A sense of “that’s your story.” And maybe, because she felt validated a little bit of healing happened. Others may respond to that same cartoon and say “how dare you talk about the church that way!” And they get really upset.
David hears from people every day thanking him for validating their experience; they felt heard and seen. And he also hears from people that have told him that they have changed their minds, and they thank him for that. “Some of my worse enemies are now some of best friends and it’s because maybe my cartoon bypassed their rational mind and got to their heart. And art can do that; it goes for the emotions and bypassing the intellect and your intellect comes after. That is the power of art: it moves people. For some it moves them to dig in their heels even more and become more angry and violent. Others it moves that to change. Other is moves them to feel validated and feel okay.”
Danielle thinks there is something about art that is disarming. “The anger doesn’t feel to me like it’s just pushing people away. That kind of anger indicates a high level of intimacy, at least with the subject that you’re discussing…. Something that’s very close to pain or shame or something that that person is engaging.” In her mind, David is willing on both fronts with the two kinds of responses he is getting from his art.
David said that’s an interesting way to look at it. He is always moved by art and he finds it very effective. Many years ago, he went through a horrible church experience and a year later he felt dead inside. David said his response to trauma is to freeze and to not feel anything. He remembers realizing one say that he wasn't okay. When he watched “the notebook” movie with his wife Lisa, who’s a nurse, he balled his eyes out. “The damn broke.” He said it wasn’t that it was an amazing movie or anything, but it moved him and that helped him feel and come back to life. “Art has that power. It can enrage you. It can activate you. It can make you cry and feel again. It can make you think. I think that’s why I will keep doing what you do.”
Maggie thinks that is the pastor part of David at work—helping people remember. And there is also this element of a prophet voice with the truth telling he is doing through his art, raw and vulnerably saying what is happening right now. And it’s not just on spiritual abuse but also standing up in support of the LBGTQ+ community, bring truths on both side—the truth of what is happen and the truth of who Jesus is.
“That is something I would never say about myself,” David chuckles. He left the ministry in 2010 but people try to convince him that he’s never left the ministry, he’s just changed who he is serving from local to universal. “I’m not willing to argue about that. Neither am I willing to say ‘I am a pastor!’ And we all know what happens to prophets; they are either stoned to death or are not welcome in their hometown.” He recalls that it was Jeremiah [in the bible] who talks about tearing down and building up. David says there are two sides of every good work and that’s what he tries to do: tear down the abusers and build up the abused.
“Nothing’s changed,” Danielle says. She comes from the context of the United States, the Pacific Northwest where it’s hyper progressive socially yet ultra conservative in faith realms. She believes that both sides haven’t adequately engaged the system. Some might categorize David’s at as political, but what she sees his art doing is cutting through all the crap.
David says that some have said he does political cartoons in the spiritual realm but once and a while he’ll do a political cartoon, especially if the religious or spiritual realm creeps into politics. One of his cartoons is a Venn Diagram with one circle being religion and the other is the state; where they overlap, he calls it “assholery.” It was one of his most popular cartoons. But it is where we see the most ridiculous behaviors, ideas and politics come out (in the overlap).
He has family that lives in the western United States. He met his wife in the States; she’s American. He’s studied and planted a church in the States. So he’s intimately connected and deeply cares about what happens in the States. “It’s been a hard go for the past 6-8 years.”
Danielle says faith is consistently political.
Yeah, David agrees. One of his cartoons show Jesus hanging on the cross and a spectator says “He shouldn’t have gotten political.” And that is what happened, Jesus did get political. “When we’re talking about the exclusion of LBGTQIA folk, and not treating them as equals… or women or People of Color, or Indigenous people: it’s a spiritual problem with political ramifications.”
Maggie says there feels like an invitation through David’s art to rethink what we’ve learned. He has posted videos about deconstruction recently and Maggie thinks that if we view deconstruction as one side of the coin, with reconstruction on the other side, there’s a delicate balance of challenging the status quote, and what we think we know, with then providing Bible truth: Jesus would be with the outsiders, those who are cast out and the unwelcome.
David said he tries to tear down and build up with his art. He tried to keep it balanced. He’s talking about deconstruction a lot these days because the Right / Conservative churches have heard about it and are trying to correct it and shed a bad light, to reframe and co-opt the word. They say “It’s okay to ask questions but you need to come back to the faith when you’re done.”
“It’s the Church’s fault that people are leaving the Church because they weren’t giving room to grow. If the Church would give them the freedom and space to grow, ask their questions, even fall into complete doubt, even maybe dance around with atheism.… I think the Church should give people that space. If people were given that space, then they wouldn’t be leaving in droves like they are. So instead what the Church does is stick to its dogma, refuses to allow you to ask questions. And you’re only option is to leave and then you’re called an apostate, a heretic and back slider. It’s your fault! Victim blaming 101.
This reminds Maggie of one David’s themes which is the answers are the questions.
David corrects her, “Questions are the answer.”
She asks him to explain how he arrived at this phrase for his art.
“Questions are the Answer” is actually the title of one his books. The reason why he says that is because of the way he was raised. He was taught it was okay to ask questions but here’s the answer you have to finally come to. Through his discoveries, personal growth, awareness and enlightenment is being open to the question and be able to live in the mystery and paradox. He compares it to a door: you have an open or closed question – yes or it’s no. The swinging door is more fluid, it’s this or it’s that and there’s a swinging between. And finally, the open door – your mind isn’t falling into a rut, it’s open and ready to receive. It’s living in mystery. David said it’s like the Christian Mystical classic: The Cloud of Unknowing. The ability to be poise in the mystery and the unknowing. It’s not unsettle and anxious, but being at peace with what is. This is the pinnacle of spiritual growth for him.
Danielle asks him if he has heard of the womanist theologian Dr. Angela Parker? She wrote a book called, “If God still breathes then why can’t I?” Parker’s premise is that we have simplified scripture because we have decontextualized the bible. The Jewish people had a very contextualized experience reading the scriptures. With white supremacy, there is one way to view scripture and that is without mystery. And Parker talks about Bible-idolatry where one idolizes the Bible has even more than God.
“Biblolatry.” David corrects. He has cartoons about that too.
Danielle noted that David is talking about this right now.
David recalls one of his most profound “aha!” moments was when he was reading Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited. Thurman, a Black Theologian, tells the story of his grandmother who couldn’t read had him read the Bible to her. She had been a slave on plantation back in her day and didn’t learn to read. When Thurman read to her, she didn’t have him read Paul’s letters. Thurman was always afraid to ask her why. He later comes to find out that Jesus, and the people he was around, were an oppressed and occupied people. Paul was from the occupying power; he had privilege as a Roman, which he used to get a meeting with Caesar himself. Jesus was talking with oppressed and occupied people and he taught survival techniques: “If a soldier tells you to carry his cloak a mile, carry it two miles.” When he read that he realized that Jesus’ teachings were to the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the marginalized. And Paul was speaking from a place of privilege. It is the contextualization of scripture.
Danielle adds that the Jewish traditions allowed for the complexities to play out. They didn’t have a problem with it.
David says yes: The Jewish approach to scripture is so different than Evangelicals today. The appreciation for story and history, the relationship to God is unique and vibrant, and there’s room for argument.
He has nine books for sale on Amazon. Beginning with “NakedPastor 101”-- his first cartoons. “Questions are the Answer” which is about his story. “My Sophia, the Liberation of Sophia.” “Til Doubt Do Us Part” for people who are in a marriage and one person starts deconstructing. And more. He has a new book coming out next year: a collection of his best cartoons.
Maggie asked how David’s faith has changed or shifted from being a pastor for 30 years in a local church setting to being a pastor and prophetic voice with his cartoons to the whole world.
David says “I really do believe that we are all one, connected at a deep and fundamental level. I have that sense. I’ve seen this. I know this. That’s what motivates me to do what I do. Everybody to me is me. We’re all connected. We’re all together. We’re all one and united. We’re all sharing one reality but the way you interpret reality and describe reality is different than mine.” Fundamentally he believes that we’re the same and united, not separated and divided. He speaks with people around the world and we’re all family and we need to care for one another. It used be just up the road, his last local church. But now he’s getting messages from around the world, people asking to translate his cartoons into their native language. And he says Americans are his biggest audience.
Maggie says that speaks volumes about the American Church if so many Americans are connecting to his art.
David agrees it does. He believes we’re at a critical time and that COVID has ramped things up. He thinks the Church needs to recognize its losing control over people. “The Church use to be able to assume its authority and demand respect. People now understand that authority is given and respect is earned. If you don’t give me space to be me, I’ll just leave.” People are exercising that freedom and David believes that COVID has ramped it up and people have had it. He knows pastors too saying they don’t know if they want to go back. The church needs to wake up and be a place where liberated people gather together voluntarily.
Danielle agrees, “here we all go into the brave unknown.”
David says unknown for sure and he’s going to try to be brave. He believes that the church is meant to be a microcosm of what the world should look like, a model of what it means to care for one another and support one another, and believe in one another. And that’s why excluding people doesn’t make any sense, it’s self-destructive. He says we [the church] need to learn unity in diversity and quick.
Maggie adds that sometimes it feels like the church says that unity requires we all have to be the same.
David said that is one thing he and his wife learned when they went through deconstruction when he left the church in 2010. He said they left like they lost the glue that held them together (the church) and they had to sit down and renegotiate how they were going to stay married. It took a few years to figure out—it wasn’t compatibility of belief that held them together it was love. Love, he believes, gives space and respect; it is full of awe, wonder, autonomy and independence. And so David operates out of the assumption that we are already one and our thoughts and words seem to divide us, but they really don’t: They are like ripples on the surface. Deep down there is a deep current that holds us together. The surface ripples are just that, they change with the weather. But deep down, we share the same current.
Danielle says that’s really beautiful.
You can connect to David and support and buy your art: www.nakedpastor.com where he has course and books and his art. He’s on all the platforms as “nakedpastor” instgram, facebook, twitter, youtube, tiktok
*A warning: do not google “naked pastor” as two words or you’ll get things you might not want to see.
David said he is very good at responding to direct messages and emails. Maggie can vouch for it as she reached out to him via his website and was delighted he replied the same day!
David is reading: Kate Bowler’s No Cure for Being Human and Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict by Christine Tietz
David is listening to: Spotify and the lists they create based on what you like.
David is inspired by: Forest Bathing walks with his wife Lisa in New Brunswick, Canada.