1 Peter 3:3-4 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.
I have been intrigued by a blog that went viral about the woman who decided to stop wearing leggings. It got me thinking about modesty and the Christian response to these scriptures.
The blog was in response to a Christian woman who wrote on her own website that she was going to stop wearing leggings as a personal act of modesty. She merely says that people ought to be modest, and that women, particularly married women, shouldn’t go out in attire that is specifically designed to spark the attention of other men. She relates it all to herself, and says that she has resolved to be more mindful about what she wears. That’s it.
She was mocked , and scolded, and demeaned. Even conservative blogs took her to task, she made the news casts and headlines across the Western Hemisphere. Headlines. Because she said she wanted to be more modest. So many have just categorically denied the importance of modesty in the first place. An entire virtue completely wiped off the table. Disqualified. Penalized.
It’s certainly not a popular topic in our churches. Our leadership is so afraid of loosing members and potential members, that we never address issues like this anymore. Of course there are some groups that still dress strangely and wear “outdated” clothing in an attempt to stay separate. Amish are one. Just watch the Cable TV show about the wild and rebellious parties the youth go thru as a right of passage. Of course TV loves the sensational, but the imposed dress code is one of the things the teens are rebelling about. Morality cannot be legislated.
Legislated? Yes it can, but it is like the cartoon picture I used to have in my schoolroom of a little boy sitting in the desk with the teacher standing over him. The little boy is saying, “You may be big enough to force me to sit in this chair, but I am still standing up inside me.”
I have been visiting my daughter’s church this week as they have a Revival going on. It is interesting to sit in another group’s building and look at the “dress code” for that particular church. (it is Baptist, but I do not know what flavor). Personally, I can’t get used to men wearing shorts to a church service. I have no problem with shorts, but in the main worship service I am still uncomfortable with that casual style. Of course I am old enough to remember when every man wore a coat and tie. Gradually we changed to slacks and shirt, then jeans and tee shirt. I was part of a church that deliberately relaxed the dress code so that visitors wouldn’t feel so out-of-place. The leadership decided that one or two of the elders would dress down so that the visitors would be more comfortable.
Then came the Saddleback revolution. Their pastor stood up in Hawaiian shirt, sandals and often even Bermuda shorts to preach. I remember my preacher noting that and coming the next service in slacks, shirt, and no tie. Later when that movement became anathema to the Bible adhering churches, my preacher returned to coat and tie!
Just today my Sister-in-Law came to visit and was complaining about some guy in a vehicle oogling her and harassing her as she walked to my house. I tried to explain that it was the direct result of the way she dresses. She could not understand. She could not relate to the connection between her style of dressing, and the reaction of the “Male” population. She argued or made excuses to everything I said.
So if your Christian brothers are saying that you are making it more difficult for them to remain on the pure and chaste path when you go out in public wearing something that very explicitly highlights the private regions of your body, if you know that your brothers in Christ struggle in this way, if you have heard them say it, then you better have very good reason to ignore them. I don’t think the reason exists. I haven’t heard it yet. “I like it, it’s comfortable, it makes me feel good, it’s convenient” — these aren’t moral defenses. They’re excuses, yes, but not morally positive reasons to act a certain way or do a certain thing.
And it’s not just about how others will react. Modesty is about preserving our own dignity and our own humanity. It’s about becoming ourselves — a self, a being of body and soul — and not merely an object of desire or envy. We should always go to any lengths, even extreme lengths if necessary, to ensure that we are identified first and foremost as a child of God and a follower of Christ. The act of not wearing leggings as pants is not even all that extreme in the grand scheme of things.
- We turn modesty into legalism when we hold women responsible for the thoughts and actions of men.
Lust takes attraction and turns it into the coveting of a woman’s body as though it were property. And men are responsible for their own thoughts and actions when this happens; they don’t get to blame it on what a woman is wearing.
Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart, so ladies, be sure to dress more modestly.” Instead he says to the men, “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away”!
- We turn modesty into legalism when we assume there are single standards that apply to all people in all cultures.
Interestingly, a study on modesty in women’s swimwear has been cited by a popular Muslim site as support for encouraging women to wear the hijab, which reveals something of how different cultures and faiths view modesty. Consider India, where women in traditional saris expose their midriffs and navels without a second thought, but will carefully avoid showing their knees.
Rachel Marie Stone recently wrote an excellent piece for Christianity Today about how, in Malawi, women typically nurse in public without shame of exposing their breasts.
In many cultures, a one-piece bathing suit would be considered scandalous; in others, bikinis—or even topless bathing— are the norm. What is considered modest or appropriate changes depending on culture and context. It also changes from woman to woman, depending on body type, personality, personal convictions and season in life.
The truth is, a man can choose to objectify a woman whether she’s wearing a bikini or a burqa. We don’t stop lust by covering up the female form; we stop lust by teaching men to treat women as human beings worthy of respect.
- Finally, we turn modesty into legalism when we make women ashamed of their bodies.
It doesn’t take long for a woman to realize that no matter what she wears, the curves of her body remain visible and will occasionally attract the notice of men. If this reality is met only with shame, if the female form is treated as inherently seductive and problematic, then women will inevitably feel ashamed of their bodies.
Modesty is a spiritual response to God. It needs to be taught to our children and young people. (There is modesty needed for both men and women). But after that, it should be the result of a spiritual desire to identify ourselves as a child of God. Modesty should be tailored to the time, place, and culture you find yourself in. It also depends upon the body, shape, and size God gave you in life.