Modesty

Let’s talk about Modesty,
Let’s talk about you and me,
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be,
Let’s talk about it.

(For those who know, sorry for the earworm.)

My post last week on Modesty (Again!) generated a bit of a discussion on my Facebook page.

This blog post is an attempt to sort out the different opinions on modesty and my thoughts on those opinions.

God’s Word Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It!

On one end of the spectrum, we have men and women who say that we need to dress modestly because God demands it. The most often-quoted verse to support this idea is 1 Timothy 2:9a “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety.” (Actually, as you can see, it’s only part of a verse. The verse should be read/quoted in context.  Quoting or highlighting just this part, like I’ve just done, is disingenuous.)

The group would also argue that God clothes his people and he cares about modest clothing. Within this group there is a subset of men and women who go on to say that there are even guidelines to help us know how to dress. This subset likes to quote verses such as Deuteronomy 22:5

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this. 

Other verses that advocate distinct male and female ‘fashions’ include:

1 Corinthians 11:6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

1 Corinthians 11:14-15a Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? 

To this end, this group says clothes should be distinctly masculine or distinctly feminine. No sexually ambiguous clothes.  Women should not wear jeans or pants or shorts – nope, not even pink ones with pretty flowers printed on them –  but must wear long-flowing skirts or dresses and have long hair. Some advocate head-coverings. Anything else is an abomination.

Anything else is immodest.

Stumbling Blocks

Another reason why women should dress modestly, so this group says, is so as not to cause our weaker brothers to stumble.

Apparently, men are hardwired to be visually stimulated, so an immodestly-dressed woman can cause them to be defrauded. Please read here, as to why the word defraud (as often used by this group) is wrong.

But shouldn’t men be responsible for their thoughts and actions?

The first group will readily agree and say that yes, it is the man’s responsibility to control his thoughts and actions. However, they then go on to add, ‘But, women also have a responsibility to make sure they don’t do anything to tempt the men.’

So, are men really responsible for their thoughts and actions? If you have to say, ‘Yes, but…’ the answer is No, not really.

An analogy often used is that of offering a drink to a recovering alcoholic. Just as one would not offer one’s friend a drink, women should not dress immodestly. It is disrespectful and unloving.  I’ve shared my thoughts on that on another post, so I won’t rehash it here.

It is my contention that men in these movements are being infantalised and told they can’t be trusted to keep their thoughts pure. Furthermore, there seems to be a very skewed idea of what a ‘pure thought life’ means. Men and women in the first group don’t seem to understand the difference between finding something lovely to look at and lusting. The two are synonymous. This is why young boys who go into Target have to ‘avert their eyes’, and why men can’t go into K-Mart or ride the subway without feeling that they are being unfaithful to their wives! Srsly! This can’t be typical or healthy.

For a group that, generally speaking, denounces many scientific findings (‘It’s not biblical!’), I find it really strange that they are so quick to embrace this particular notion of men’s predilection to visual stimuli.

Secondly, Jesus had some very specific words about what to do if your right eye causes you to sin, and yet for a group that prides itself on taking God’s Word very literally, I don’t see very many one-eyed men.  Are these men disobeying Christ’s command?  Or, have they got a good handle on controlling their urges?

What Does Modesty Mean, Anyway?

On the other side of the Modesty debate is a group that argues that whenever the Bible talks of modesty, it is referring to behaviours and attitudes – not clothing.

The first group’s response to that argument is: ‘Modesty is about behaviour and clothing.’

One of the definitions of modesty is the quality of being free from boastfulness or vanity, or not drawing attention to oneself. But, a quick look at many proponents of ‘biblical’ modesty shows anything but. Some even have the word ‘Modest’ in their blog title!  How can it be modest if you have to point it out?

Many of the sentiments expressed are just variations of ‘Look at me, I’m so modest, ie godly!’

‘I have 5 girls, they have never for one day in their lives worn pants or shorts…(with the exception of my oldest–she was on a mission trip in Venezuela and it was necessary in the jungle for protection from gnats) And even then she called on a ham radio, and said “Mom, I dont know what to do”…I knew that day that it was a conviction for her…she wasn’t afraid of disobeying me, she didn’t want to do anything to disgrace her Lord.’ [You’re so convicted to only wear long skirts that you can’t even wear pants to protect against gnats??]

‘My Dh & my DS tell me how pretty I look (so did an elderly guy at church)’ [I find the parenthetical comment a tad creepy, to be honest!]

You can read more testimonies of dresses-only women here. (I believe the first testimony to be by that Sarah Maxwell. You can read more about the Maxwells here.)

My conclusion is that the True Biblical Modesty™ group prides itself very much on outer modesty –  which actually defeats the true meaning of modesty.

A Heart Issue

So modesty is a heart issue and lust is a heart issue.

If a brother is weak, then I agree, we should be considerate and not do things that we know would make him stumble. Notice that it is the strong Christian who realises that there is freedom in Christ and willingly defers to the weaker brother; he refrains from flaunting this freedom in front of others who are weaker.

However, it is a mistake to allow that weak brother to continue calling the shots and to remain in his weakness. It is abuse to keep him weak, telling him that he is weak and that he needs protection, telling/reminding others of his weakness and urging them to remember to consider him. He must grow up!

‘Think of our weaker brothers!’  ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children??

Finally, although this group seem to acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s power to change sinful hearts, their actions completely speak the opposite. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is trying to reach these men but He is being drowned out by the constant barrage of voices telling them that they are weak and need to be protected.

Further Reading

Two recent articles which I think addresses the issue of modesty in a balanced way:

If you read nothing else, please read the first article.  A HUGE ‘What she said!’ from me.

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Posted on Monday, July 8th, 2013, in Bible, Christian Living, Church, Faith and Culture, Fundamentalism, Life, Religion and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I honestly do not understand why all of these mental gymnastics are necessary. In an equal and civil society, men should be held to full account for violence against and harassment of women. To claim otherwise violates principles of both equality and civility. People who claim that any invisible sky-being-inspired-book in any way relieves men of their responsibility to control their own actions should be marginalized to the fullest extent possible, and otherwise watched cautiously as criminals waiting to happen. That this attitude continues to be prevalent in so many places around the world . . . it’s just a travesty.

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  2. Lol at your sentence about the lack of one eyed men! It seems it’s up to the women to dress appropriately. 😉

    I’ve really enjoyed the conversations on various blogs around the issue of modesty and I’ve come to believe that the traditional church teaching modesty is plain wrong and harmful to both men and women. Which was a bit of a relief for me as I stopped trying to wear the right things lest the men they be tempted! I think we’ve gotten muddled and hold onto values from bygone eras in church today and we have a hard time separating traditional church culture from what God actually wants from us.

    I’m enjoying your blog, I found it through searching on Christians and cognitive dissonance and evolution and read a blog you wrote back in 2011 and then jumped to more recent posts. I CANNOT believe the bloke who was hassling you back then in 2011 was still hassling you in 2013 with the exact same point of view and arguments! I guess people have their regular blogs and become locals in a sense, hktelemacher certainly has been an enduring commenter too. It’s kinda nice, in one sense to have the continuity but I find myself wondering why people read blogs they don’t agree with and comment on it for years on end.

    I’m a recent convert away from young earth creation ‘theory’ and I don’t know what I believe anymore but I don’t think YEC is likely but it took some adjustments to let go of the mental gymnastics you talked about in the 2011 post. Im enjoying the exploration anyway, and blogs like yours add to the enjoyment. Thanks!

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  3. Thank you so much for reading my blog and leaving such a kind and thoughtful comment!

    The bloke who was ‘hassling’ me did take leave for a bit and then came back when someone ‘revived’ a post by commenting on it. So, he wasn’t exactly around the whole time.

    I count hktelemacher as a loyal reader.

    YEC is no longer tenable as a scientific theory and I think YEC ‘ministries’ are doing more harm than good.

    I’m glad my blog is helping to make your journey a bit more enjoyment. Thanks again for leaving a comment. It helps to know that there are others on the same journey!

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  4. Welcome “L”! Although, my welcome is much like a guest welcoming another guest into someone’s home. I can no longer remember how I first arrived at yewnique’s blog, but since arriving I have consumed every entry she has written on the Jonathan Park series. Excellent deconstruction of popular YEC arguments against old Earth and evolution.

    While there are rather obvious places where yewnique and I would differ on theology (my brother-in-law likes to call me a “radical materialist” a la Dawkins), for various and sundry reasons my family/public-facing persona is much like yewnique’s actual positions–what I would call moderate and progressive Christianity with a healthy (and proper) respect for scientific method. I have a tremendous respect for her willingness to call out what I’ll call conservative fundamentalism and literalism, I know that can be a very hard road to travel.

    In any event, she lets me stick around and be a bad influence, which I tremendously appreciate. Hopefully you will also be a regular reader! I promise, I am more cuddly and less prickly than when I have discussions that don’t end in Turtles.

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  5. Thanks! I appreciate your comments. See you again, I’m sure

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