I said before that sometimes I feel like a contrarian, but with the statement I’ll make today, perhaps it is more than that. Perhaps it is heresy. With so much popular opinion stacked against me, I feel there is little room but to conclude that I am wrong. The only reason I stand forward and make my claim is because it continually comes back to me and I wonder if by chance it contains some validity after all. So often I feel like a Christian heretic, clinging to a belief that so blatantly contradicts what other Christians believe. And yet I can’t help wondering, so I lay forth the argument, open to the possibility that I’m completely off my rocker.
So here is my potentially-off-my-rocker claim against Christian modesty…
I think Christians are emphasizing a false modesty that seeks to cover breasts and bra straps and panty lines and bare shoulders, all for the sake of roaming male eyes. We are allowing society to define modesty for us, reacting to ever-shrinking hem lines and swim suits. All the while we are giving into the very haughtiness we seek to avoid, thinking we are hiding sensuality, when really we are giving into the primacy of appearance, valuing our image more than our hearts, emphasizing our outer adornments and fashion sense more than a heart after God.
While men do honestly and legitimately struggle with lust and passion, we are doing the work for them, effectively crippling their resolve and making it virtually impossible for them to be in public without averting their eyes from the heathen girls who give no such thought to modesty. If a man can’t deal with lust in this world, how does he get out of bed in the morning?
All the while we are celebrating and promoting a false ideal, holding aloft the world’s standard of beauty, slim hips, ribs showing, perky breasts, smooth skin, muscles, tanned, etc. We cringe and flinch at the real human body, wrinkles and sags and pastiness, rather than embracing the human body as beautiful. We seek to hide our flaws and blanket our sexuality, never embracing it for what it truly is, never accepting the human shape as beautiful no matter what size or proportion it comes in. Beauty has been redefined for us, and we have no understanding. When Photoshop and the surgeon’s hand define beauty, we have lost our eyes.
The Bible makes some pretty clear statements about our appearance:
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (1 Tim. 2:9-10)
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34)
We can learn a few lessons from these verses:
1) God is concerned with the inside, not the outside.
2) So don’t worry about the outside.
When the Bible does talk about modesty, it’s more in relation to showing off expensive clothes than anything sexual. Yet that’s all Christians fixate on. The sensual. Apparently Sunday morning can be fashion show, as long as it’s not a strip show. Somehow we translate away Paul’s command for women not to braid their hair or wear gold or pearls or expensive clothes the same way we translate away the surrounding verses that call for a woman to be silent. Yet the call for modesty stands. And somehow it means don’t let anyone see your bra strap.
All the while this fuss and muss over our clothes, even though we’re told not to worry, is justified because we’re told not to be stumbling blocks. Men are lustful creatures, and we don’t want them to be tempted by bosoms, bare shoulders or bottoms. So to keep men from masturbating after church (apparently that’s the fear, though it seems more likely they’ll find other, more timely methods of that) we come up with rules of modesty, guidelines and tests to keep us in line. All the while mentioning that it’s not legalistic, it’s just a test to keep in mind. Yet these ministries repeat their rules and tests ad nausea and you begin to wonder how it isn’t legalism.
The best is that all the complaints are simply a reaction to the surrounding culture. The guidelines are culled from MTV and Playboy, the line pulled back to a comfortable conservative evangelical distance and cemented as a rule. A rule to constantly change with the rising hemlines of history. They tell us today to keep your skirts down to your knees, make sure your bra straps and underwear don