Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I think Christians needs to change the way we teach the issue of modesty.

First of all let me say!   I am one of the biggest proponents of women dressing modestly out of love and respect for men and thinking of others more highly  than themselves. It glorifies God when we have that kind of mindset.

However,  I really believe that the church as a whole needs to change how we teach the issue of modesty.

Here's why: all too often our churches are continuously using use the Romans 14:19 verse to make women feel like they are the reason why a man "stumbles."  when infact Jesus himself in Matthew 5:28 says

"But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

He Places the responsibility alone on the man. Further more I like what Rachel Held Evans says in her article " “Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means”," She says

"“…nearly all of the Bible’s instructions regarding modest clothing refer not to sexuality, but rather materialism (Isaiah 3:16-23, 1 Timothy 2:9-12, 1 Peter 3:3). Writers in both the Old Testament and New Testament express grave concern when the people of God flaunt their wealth by buying expensive clothes and jewelry while many of their neighbors suffered in poverty."

So in the teaching of modesty within the church instead of teaching it based on the verses that directly reference clothing most churches teach it based on the Romans 14:19 and say something such as "You have to be very careful with how you dress because you could inadvertently cause a brother to sin."  And then we elevate that teaching over the teaching in Mathew 5:28. And quickly we have just placed the responsibility of a man, onto a woman.

Now again, I am one of the biggest proponents of seeking the good of others more than myself and I had a discussion about that very thing over the modesty issue with some women that felt like they shouldn't have to care for a man. So I'm not saying we shouldn't teach our women anything about it. But I am saying that we shouldn't be making our women feel like if their skirt blows the wrong way in the wind, or the top of their blouses accidentally falls open while she is bending, or if she forgets her cover up and needs to nurse her baby in public...that she is responsible for a man that looks at her and thinks an impure thought because God never gives that responsibility to the woman.

Further more I think our churches also use the Romans 14:19 verse the majority of the time when referencing men and their struggles with impure thoughts. So my question is why is this verse only used when it comes to men and impure thoughts and not to address helping others with different sin issues? Why are our churches giving modesty talks, invoking dress codes, building "nursing" rooms, all in the name of trying to help the weaker brother with his impure thoughts - but not putting into place "Health foods only at the church pot luck dinner" to help those that struggle with idolatry to food?

I can only guess the reason being is because the church can not possibly cover all the areas of idol worship that people have and if they tried the church would continually become more of a list of rules to follow and less about following Jesus. So if this is the case then why is the church still addressing the modesty issue as if a man's sexual thoughts are the only important sin issue there is?

And my last question is this...why do we call our men the weaker brother? Why does the "church" in general constantly reference men as the weaker brother? When  Peter says in

1 Peter 3:7
"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel,"

So according to God men and men alone are responsible for their lustful thoughts, and women are actually the ones to be considered weaker. But yet our churches use the Romans 14:19 verse to twist all of that around. Instead of telling a man that has complained about a woman that wears a shirt too tight "She is the weaker vessel and God calls us men to protect them so lets talk about the real reason why you are struggling with your impure thought." i.e a mans idolatry of sex. We go up to the woman and tell her she needs to wear loser outfits because the weaker brother is having impure thoughts about her. Something seems very backwards about that?

And instead of just focusing on the verses in 1 Corinthians and challenging our women that out of love lets consider our men not because we are responsible for their thoughts but because we love them and desire to make their battle easier.  We draw it a step farther and say "and if you don't you are sinning?"

Again, i do not think women should just wear whatever they want to wear because they feel like it. And I think  that out of love, consideration, and showing preference for others more than ourselves that women should be considerate of how they dress. But not so that she doesn't cause a man to stumble because no matter how she dresses a man and a man alone is responsible for what he thinks.

But I think the church as a whole needs to rethink how we are treating our women as the "weaker vessel" that God says that we are. I think men in the church are starting to own up to their responsibility and most men that I would talk to now about it would say "of course I'm responsible, but it sure does help me not to have to think about it."  But us women in the church seem to constantly give other women the worst judgement. And it hurts a woman's spiritual well being every time we do so.
Just like I have to battle, and battle, my food idolatry, no one but a man has to battle his own sex idolatry, and just like I am always grateful when a friend that knows of my struggles  with food serves a healthier "desert" in mind just for me, so does a man appreciate it when a woman dresses herself in a way that doesn't tempt him into a battle. But just like no one makes me eat the cake, cookies, and drink the soda just because it's presented at a church potluck one but the man allows himself to think an impure thought about a woman even when her dress isn't the best.

 I love a good discussion



Todd Young said...

Hi Sara! Here are a couple of thoughts...

First, I think it is sad that so many ladies feel shame based on the request for modesty. I think of my daughters; I do not insist that they wear clothes that sufficiently cover up their bodies because they are ugly. I want them to cover up because they are their future husbands' (and Christ's) treasure! I am not interested, in fact very opposed, to sharing my wife's body with anyone. I am thankful that she is careful to dress modestly.

Second, I think of my son. As you know, he is entering the world of raging hormones and wild desires. I don't claim to be an expert on how puberty affects young ladies, but I do know how it affects young men. Just like strong emotions and tears seem to come with the territory for young ladies (not first-hand experience, so I hope I'm not being ignorant), so do incredibly powerful desires and urges for the young men. So, I desire to preserve him (as much as possible) for the treasure that will be his wife.

From my perspective, the "weaker brother" is not a title for men. It is in fact for anyone who struggles with a condemning conscience. Romans 14:13-23 is as much for a "weaker" woman who believes that some types of musical instruments are sinful (for example) as for a "weaker" man who struggles with lust.

I do think modest dress, from the perspective of covering our bodies, is appreciated by men. We don't want to be distracted by another man's treasure. We ARE responsible for our eyes and where they roam; we also appreciate our sisters help with fighting our battles.

In Genesis, Cain asked the Lord, "Am I my brother's keeper?" I believe the New Testament answers that question, "YES!" Colossians 3:13 says "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." We should be a community that bears each others' burdens, and if you are struggling with eating too much dessert, then I should be happy not to serve dessert when you come to visit! Do I have the right to eat dessert! Yes! It is lawful! But do I care more about you than I care about the tasty treat? Then I should give up my rights for your good...

Loving one another more and exercising our rights less is how we demonstrate to the world that Jesus has changed us and that the gospel is true.

Todd Young said...

Maybe I should say, "Loving one another more and exercising our rights less is one of the ways we demonstrate to the world that Jesus has changed us and that the gospel is true.

Sara said...

Todd, Thanks for being will to discuss. I agree with you :) Great thoughts! And those are exactly why I am one of the biggest proponents of modesty in the clothing form :)

My overall point is though that often this is not the way the "modesty" issue is often taught in our churches. Women are often made to feel "guilty" if there is at all even the slightest bit of exposure that could tempt a man. and this isn't so much so done by the men...but it is a lot done by other women. just an example I heard women say all the time to other women in college discussions about this very thing. "YOU could cause your brother to sin."

So my overall point is when we lose the focus of the verses on hand, and we manipulate them we inadvertently are teaching our women that they are the problem to a mans sin.

And while the church as a whole regularly commits to having the "weaker brother" and taking steps to help men that may struggle in the issue of purity. There is rarely ever something done "church wide" to help the weaker brother that may struggle with other areas of sin.

I think churches as a whole tend to stress one "weaker brother " issue and not really others? And that's kind of my question? Why? Why does the purity one get stressed so much more than say the gluttony one? And we'll go and we'll address the "weaker brother" issue with a woman? But we don't address it with other when it comes to other sins.

Just by personal example. Not once was their ever enacted a "whole foods" only church potluck dinner to help me over come my idolatry to food. Just saying...and i made it well known to a lot people that it was a big big struggle with me. Even admitting on a few occasions that I worship food. But never was there ever a potluck dinner where only health foods were served. Now Todd, I'm not offended by this at all nor do i even expect that when I come to visit that it's all health foods only. I only use it as an example. That christian churches as a whole have the purity struggle forth most in their mind and teach and speak up about it. But that seems to be the only idol that ever gets fully addressed and "tackled" in a church.

Sara said...

And while we can encourage our women to "love others more than herself and her rights" but do we really encourage our men to do the same for women?

Do we challenge our men to train their minds to learn to think about a woman's body, and flesh, as being more than just sexual? There are a lot of male OB/GYN's out there who have been able to distinguish the difference. Are our christian men not capable of doing the same?

Do we teach our men about the female body and all that God designed it to do? Do we teach them how to treasure God's design? To honor it? We may do that privately with our sons but I have never once heard of a "female anatomy" class being taught in session at a church? Because I tend to think the reason a Male OB/GYN has been able to overcome at least sexual stimulation every time he sees a woman in his office is because he had training to do so. He taught his mind how to look at a woman's body and not be aroused by it. Can we not teach our christian men to do the same?

I may have gotten off point...or I may just be on point.. i don't know anymore.

I think you are absolutely right Todd, man or woman we should all be exercising our rights less. But my question is in the issue of modesty are we really training our men how to overcome? And are our women really teaching the reason behind modesty in a god honoring way? Because I think if the answer could be Yes on both ends of those questions? Our churches would see a lot less complaints about modesty.

oh on a side note.. I can't tell you how many times your wife has made something just in mind for me at a potluck dinner, or a meal at your house :) but CHURCH as a whole? How many churches can say they really practice the weaker brother principle in all areas of sin?

And that's kind of my overall challenge. If we are going to use the verse for one particular area...why aren't we doing it for all especially if it is at least known.

This is a good discussion :) Thanks for your thoughts.

Bethany G said...

comment 1 of 2:


I wanted to respond to what you said in your last comment… specifically about how male OBs have trained themselves not to be sexually stimulated while they examine women and using this to question whether Christian/churched men are not trained to see women as anything other than sexual. That if they were, there would be less complaints about modesty, less blame placed on women, and as you seem to imply, a more equal balance between the sexes in laying aside one’s rights in a church setting.

While I can resound with most of what you said, I can’t agree with this point and here’s why in a nutshell: Men are designed by God himself to be easily visually stimulated, even storing permanent memories of what they’ve seen that is inappropriate, these images rising in their heads unexpectedly without their permission, and this will not change. Though godly men struggle most of their lives in the battle against lust, it only gets a little bit easier with age. (Second, I think that comparing male Drs to men in the church is like comparing apples to oranges. A Dr. is interacting with a women in a professional setting on a relatively impersonal basis but men in the church are friends with other men’s wives outside of a professional environment. But that isn’t my main point)

I’ve learned what I wrote above about the nature of men being “visually stimulated” is from a few wise, honest and humble older men (professors) from Moody, but also from a wonderful book that you may know of called "For Women Only: what you need to know about the inner lives of men" by Shaunti Feldhahn (she earned her Master’s in public policy from Harvard and has worked on Wall Street and Capitol Hill… she’s an educated, intelligent author and also a Christian). She conducted several sets of anonymous surveys on hundreds of randomly chosen men and in chapter 6, entitled, “Keeper of the Visual Rolodex: Why It’s So Natural for Him to Look and So Hard to Forget What He’s Seen” she reveals pretty much what I just said above, and it’s just as true for a vast majority of men in the US as for men in the church. She writes, “Even happily married men are instinctively pulled to visually ‘consume’ attractive women, and these images can be just as alluring whether they are live or recollected.” Men ages 21-75 were surveyed anonymously, and here’s some examples:

1) Imagine you are sitting alone in a train station and women with a great body walks in and stands nearby in a line. What is your reaction?

-I openly stare at her, and drool forms on my lower lip. (4%)
-I’m drawn to look at her, and I sneak a peek or glance at her from the corner of my eye. (76%)
-It is impossible not to be aware that she is there, but I try to stop myself from looking. (18%)
-Nothing happens; it doesn’t affect me. (2%)

Feldhahn says, and I agree that, “98% of men put their response to an eye-catching woman in ‘can’t not be attracted’ categories (only 2% were unaffected…”

2) Many men have a mental set of sensual images that rise up or can be conjured up in their minds. Does this apply to you?

-Yes, and these images are regularly changing; for example, the great body I just saw in the train station could be recalled hours or days later. (62%)
-Yes, but they are mostly images from years gone by. (25%)
-No, I don’t have a mental set of sensual images. (13%)

Feldhahn: “In total, 87% of men say these images pop up in their heads… whether men are old or young, happily married or single, religious or not.” (that was the scope of her surveys)

Bethany G said...

comment 2 of 2:

There is so much more I could type from what she says, but the facts speak for themselves in terms of what our sole responsibility is as a woman in situations that involve modesty: To make sure that our clothes are not emphasizing our bodies in such a way that would cause a friend’s husband to stumble.

I’ve also had many open conversations about this with my husband :) David tells me that many women live in ignorance of just how intense the visual struggle is for men. I think that expecting men to treat women’s bodies the way a medical professional does in an impersonal examination is putting too much blame on men, and shows an ignorance that plagues many women on this issue! I have to re-read this book myself to remind myself just how different David and my brothers in Christ are from me.

Also, about author/blogger Rachel Held Evans. Have you read much else of her stuff? She denies a lot of Scriptural concepts that any scholar of the bible wouldn’t deny. Also, she does not submit to the biblical model of church and is very hateful of any form of church structure. She trusts nothing except her own opinion. She got famous because she ran off the mouth with her bitterness against her former Baptist church. Her writings mainly go to support those are are trying to leave church or who are against Christianity. She also appeals to people who cherish bitterness resulting from a negative church experience. I’ve been keeping up with her blog and articles for a couple years now, so I’m not just shooting from the hip here… And I have a very hard time trusting what she says.

Well, that's my two cents. :) Thanks for encouraging good discussion!

Sara said...

Bethany, thanks for your thoughts. I both disagree and don't disagree with you :)

The whole point of my blog post is not one of trying to say that "women should not care" but one of that I honestly think women are told to carry a huge amount of the burden of "protecting" a man's thoughts.

While I do agree that women should be careful and considerate. I do not agree that a woman whether she is dressed appropriately or inappropriately is the cause of a man stumbling. I think Jesus makes it clear that a man is the sole barer of that burden (as far as controlling his thoughts go.)

i feel as though "church" in general places too much responsibility on women. Again I'm not saying that women should just wear whatever just because they can but that the "church" should consider how they are teaching the concept of modesty. I like what Todd had to say about how he teaches modesty to his daughter. But that way of teaching modesty is often the 2nd point most churches in general bring out...not the the first. Women shouldn't be "scared" into being modest. In the sense of "if you don't then you'll be responsible if a man has dirty thoughts about you later." but a woman should be motivated out of love to dress modestly...but that is not how churches teach it.

Sara said...

I agree that men our very visual. But even if a woman is dressing appropriately a man can still be attracted to her and still have the wrong thoughts about her. So is it then still she that is causing him to stumble.

While the obvious answer would be no...we inadvertently are teaching our women that it is still well yes...because he wouldn't be attracted to her if she wasn't so naturally attractive. So then are we communicating to our women that beauty is sinful and being made beautiful is sinful because some men can't control their thoughts no matter what a women is wearing?

I don't think that comparing male OB/GYN to Christian men is comparing apples to oranges. Because their are respected male ob/gyn's that happen to be christian. So again i pose the question is their something that these men are learning, something that they are being trained to do, to keep themselves from thinking the wrong thoughts about their women patients.

And if both christian and non-christian men are able to do this in a profession. Can't a man not in that profession learn to do the same? So that the only "sexual" feeling or thoughts that he allows himself to give into are those for his wife and generated by his wife?

Just thoughts? :)

Sara said...

oh and I know that you are not saying that a woman's naturally beauty is sinful. Nor do i think "church" in general would say that. But I'm only saying that is how we can make women feel if a man not her husband is attracted to her. Because we often in churches emphasize to a women that she is the cause to a mans stumbling.

I also struggle with emphasizing that a man is made to be visual because I fear that by doing so we are teaching a man that it is impossible while on this earth to overcome sexual temptation concerning his thoughts. That it is not possible for a man to see anything but a sexual body when he sees a woman. And I don't believe that is what the bible teaches when it talks about being able to overcome sin.

I don't think men in our churches fully grasp the power that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that lives within them. Jesus was able to look at every single woman he came across and not have a single dirty thought about her. Yes he was God, but he was also fully man. And we emphasize the God factor and forget the man factor. Jesus was also "visual." and not once did he ever tell a prostitute to dress better because she was causing men to sin. No he told men that they are responsible for how they thought even about the prostitutes.

Anyways, this same power that rose Jesus from the dead and gave him strength to overcome the temptations in his life...also rests in each of his followers. And if we truly grasped that...If we truly believed that Christ lived in each of us...imagine the sins, temptations, and struggles that we would all overcome if we truly believed in that power.

That's why I fear instead of encouraging our men to overcome it...we encourage them to "deal" with it and just divert their eyes. Instead of teaching them to grasp onto the power of the Gospel, grasp onto Jesus, we teach our men that it's only their fault if a woman is dressed appropriately and that its the woman's fault if she dresses badly.

And then do we inadvertently limit the power of the gospel when it comes to the sex area? Are we accidentally saying that Jesus was really only fully man in every other area but the sex area? Because if he was "fully" man that that means he would have been visual and if he was "visually" able to look at any woman no matter how she was dressed and not lust after her was he then not saying that any man is capable of doing the same?

Obviously there is the sin factor, and Jesus was without sin. But if we believe in the Power of the Gospel. If we believe that when we accept Christ as our savior that we are a new creation then shouldn't we believe that a Christian man is fully capable like Jesus to look at a woman no matter how she is dressed and not sin?

Again, i am not advocating that women should just wear whatever they want just because they can. But I am trying to challenge both Christian men and women how we view the gospel when it comes to this issue. I fear that both sides are truly missing the point when it comes to seeing it in light of the gospel.