(Note: Despite my closing statements, I really do feel like this is a good topic to debate. I am only learning and would be genuinely interested in discussion on the topic of modesty, at least at this time. I am using lots of scripture references in this post for your own further study, but please remember that I am not theologian. This is my own interpretation. Also, I am purposely including only New Testament passages in order to keep things relevant As we continue to live under The New Covenant, the NT should continue to be our guide. Please join the conversation in the comment section if you have something to add!)
There has been a lot of talk lately about The Modesty Culture. From my spot here with Chrysanthemum (my laptop) it appears that the basic idea is this: Our traditional view of modesty for women is skewed and the way we dress and the way men act are not correlated. To the first point-yes. I noticed this in high school. Girls used to say things in youth group like, “Nike shorts are immodest, I don’t wear them.” And another girl would whip around, eyes wide, jaw-dropped and say, “They ARE?!” And then I was the one with the bug eyes as I realized that my peers thought modesty was something like 100% cotton or buy-one-get-one-free. It was something that an article of clothing either was, or wasn’t and you might as well just print it on the tag.
To say that immodest dress causes lust or rape is silly. That isn’t the cause of lust or rape. Lust and rape have been around a long time and are rampant in countries where women are forced to wear burkas, the most “modest” kind of clothing I can imagine. In these cultures, men are the boss, period. Women are merchandise. You wear the burka, no questions ask. You go to his bed, no questions asked. I seriously doubt girls in this culture are thinking, “Gee, if I was wearing a darker, heavier burka, maybe he’d respect me.”
So no, I don’t think immodest dress causes men to be lustful or violent creatures. That is a deeper, older heart issue. However, I have one issue with this tidy idea which brings us back to a place near where we started, though not via the same route at all. I still believe Jesus-following women are called to modest dress, and here’s why:
1. I am no theologian, but I am learning every day. I think that, though our cultures change for good and evil over time, 1 Timothy 2:9 was left in the Bible for a reason. I think that the plea for women to dress “with modesty and sobriety” is still relevant. If you read it in context, what Paul appears to be saying is that women should care more about good works than good looks. He says for men to try not to get so angry in church and women, likewise, try not to be so flashy in church. It appears to all be in context of a church service, but I don’t see why this wouldn’t apply to the rest of life. After all, church isn’t just a building or a time slot and our brothers and sisters in Christ see us all week long (along with the rest of the world.) I doubt Paul meant for the men to leave church and go back to their “anger and quarreling” nor likewise for a woman to pull off her clothes as she left the sanctuary, forsaking all sobriety of dress.
2. Immodesty may not cause men to lust, but it does tempt them. Hear me out on this one. I am not saying that we are responsible for what our brothers and sisters decide to act upon, but there is no one who can argue with the fact that as the American culture has become more lewd, as pornography has become a booming industry and body wash companies use female anatomy to advertise*, as lace thongs are being sold in little girls sizes and nudity is the norm at the movie theater, there has been a rise promiscuity and, in general, acceptance of “sexual freedom” (to do whatever we want, wherever we want, with whomever we want.)
*warning: link to Axe ads is quite provocative
I think the only way to further my point is the make a confession. I live in a college town where the #1 activity is what you might imagine and the second-most popular thing appears to be running. Yeah, running. All over town. In as little clothes as possible. Now, I know that this is Texas and yes-the summers here are sweltering, but that’s really not an excuse in my book. I understand why many guys don’t think anything of it when they run out of their dorm with nothing but shorts and tennis shoes on, but I also know that they work out for one basic reason-to make themselves attractive. (Not everyone, but most.) And my confession is this-they do look good and it does bother me. I have to turn away when I’m driving/walking around town and not stare at all of the half-naked college guys prancing around because it does affect me.
I know that even if I lived in a porn theater, my sexual decisions would be my own. I really believe that. But it’s a lot harder to fight lust and “save myself” for marriage (Hebrews 13:4) when there are tanned abs encircling my car. (Honest, aren’t I?) Modesty isn’t just for women. Modesty isn’t just about clothes. But if the way men dress (or don’t) affects my mind, why would I think my dress doesn’t affect the mind of my brothers?
Sex before marriage isn’t the only kind of impurity (Matthew 5:28.) It all starts in the mind (or, as scripture calls it, the heart.) I have to be extremely, over-the-top careful about what movies I watch in order to avoid this kind of sin. I have to not look at the sidewalk while I’m driving. I have to scroll quickly through certain websites which use crude advertisements to avoid this sin. You can call that what you want-common sense? A sacrifice? (See Matthew 5:29) But it’s what I have to do to keep my mind from wandering to hurtful, degrading places.
Historically, men degrade women. I’m not being sexist when I say that. Women have long been objectified, oppressed and made to be a commodity. This is absolutely unjust, wrong and makes me angry. But I don’t want to degrade men either. I don’t want to be one of those moms who goes to the theater to drool over
Twilight beefy werewolves. 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Max are two perfect examples of women recently degrading men. This isn’t just a man’s battle. (Romans 13:14)
I would like to tell the guys I know that modesty is for them too, because it helps protect us all. Especially, perhaps, modesty in their speech. Stop showing off and flirting with every girl you see. It’s embarrassing.
3. It’s really not that big of a sacrifice to keep your clothes on. We do things to protect our own minds, as Christian women, all the time. Don’t pick up that book, don’t turn on that tv channel. We can put hours of thought into if this outfit makes us look good, why not a couple of minutes into if it makes us look immodest? We aren’t our brother’s keeper, but, for some reason or another, Paul wrote that women should be careful about how they dress. And so what if it’s to help a brother out? Is that so offensive? Sounds more like “loving one another” than selling oneself, to me. Romans 14:13 begs that we never put a stumbling block in front of a brother. This is in context of food and drink, but it doesn’t say “in regard to food and drink” does it? It just says never.
4. Women appreciate modest women too, and not just women who struggle with homosexuality. Women show off to other women just as much as they show off for men…maybe even more! In our competitive minds, we want other girls to see how attractive we are, how fashionable or thin or tan or wealthy, and we do this by dressing brazenly. The only thing I can find that scripture tells us to wear is “tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” and “above all else, love”. (Colossians 3:12-14) Showing off and putting others down is not kind, humble or loving.
5. Lastly and most grandly, clothing is only the tip of the modesty iceberg. A woman in a burka can seduce a man. A woman in a bikini can repulse a man. A man in a nice suit can be the most flirtatious jerk you ever met. A man with no shirt can be met with indifference. I think that the main reason women should dress modestly is because our dress should reflect our person. I want to dress like a woman. In my culture, that means certain things. In Scotland, a kilt is seen as manly. Here, we call those “mini skirts” and sell them to teenage girls. It is a matter of culture. I like to dress in a way that my culture will see as feminine because that is what I am, feminine. Not because my dad makes me or my pastor will kick me out of church, but because God made me female and I want to be seen as such. God also made me an heir. I want to dress like one. I want to dress with modesty because I am learning to be a modest person, not just a mannequin for modest clothing. Though many of you know exactly how I dress, I am going to refrain from describing it here. Some of you will see me as legalistic, others as immodest. This is where personal decisions are made, and that’s fine. Not even the wordy Apostle Paul told us about necklines and swimsuits, so we can keep the details to ourselves. I make changes pretty frequently in what I approve of for myself or feel good in. I also make clothing decisions based on financial, ethical and aesthetic reasons. I like to look pretty. I like to buy fair-trade whenever I can. I like to save money. These things don’t have to do with modesty, they have to do with reflecting the rest of my personality and mindset.
Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25.)
Yesssssir. I don’t actually think this issue is about bikinis or necklines or fabric. We should really be asking ourselves, “Am I following Christ? Am I representing Him well? Would immodest dress reflect a proud spirit?” Jesus tells us that the Father listens to the humble, not the people who dress a certain way. Should we think about what we buy, what we eat, how we dress, how we speak, where we go? Yes! But that is of so little concern compared to greater things. Perhaps, instead of complaining about what our neighbor is wearing, we should focus on the main thing Jesus says about clothes-clothing the poor. Perhaps, instead of bemoaning our culture day-and-night, we should reach out to the girls who have been victimized by porn and prostitution. This may sound like a bit of a rabbit trail, but I think it’s true. Jesus himself said not to worry about clothes. It may be an issue, but not a salvation-related issue. Not a gospel-related issue. Not a huge issue. It’s just an outer layer, worldly issue.
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
Stop worrying so much about how you or I look on the outside. Our clothes and our bodies are so very temporary. We’re all going to the grave to turn into dust momentarily. In Heaven, we’ll have new bodies. We might just be walking around with crowns for all I know. Until then, read scripture for yourself, consider your decisions and then go and live in freedom.