Friday, August 05, 2011

Modesty and the Christian Woman

Yesterday the Hermeneutics blog on Christianity Today lit up with a discussion, rant, argument, fuss, whatever you want to call it about modesty and the Christian woman and the church.  I thought it generated more heat than light.  The original post was by a regular writer for the blog, Natasha Robinson, who is an African-American woman who heads a ministry for women.  I appreciate her venturing into these waters, and agreed with her.  She wrote about it, I think, from a black perspective more than white, and I could tell a lot of the responders were more concerned with their own flight from what they called legalism than they were the truth of the Word.

However, that is not to say there weren't some good points made, as well as a lot of snarkiness, on the responses.  So here's my take.  This is why I have my own blog!

Nobody can one up me on having experienced a legalistic past, or having a past surrounded by legalists.  I went to Tennessee Temple, a confused place.   There was a lot of great Biblical teaching there, and a lot of dysfunctional practice.  We had to wear skirts to the knee in the age of miniskirts and never slacks (which means that's all I wear now).  We girls were warned every minute:  You might make the men sin if you don't dress a certain way. 

The argument:  "don't make the men lust by how you dress" has merit and yet has two faults:  men know they will lust after modestly dressed women if that's what in their hearts, and it puts all the blame on the women, making the victim the criminal.  Haven't we seen that enough with rape victims?  However, I don't know how a man could not get totally distracted when some Double D cup breasts are in his face, any more than I could if a man's crotch was so tight ... well, you get the picture.

And yes, there are cultural limitations.  Some sub- and co-cultures say cover the head; some say no sleeveless tops (better advise because of flabby arms than modesty, if you ask me).  But I think the ladies do protest too much when it comes to the issue of skin.  There is no reason for a dress to be above the knees, especially if a woman is on a raised platform or in public view.  There is no reason for a woman to not keep her knees together when she sits (and probably not crossed unless the skirt is a midi).  Most women don't have nice enough legs to get away with it anyway.  There is no reason for cleavage to show.  Straps and thongs can be kept in.  Jeans can be bought in the right size so everything is not showing.  On the issue of shoes, I'll defer.  Some may be unnecessarily sexy, but due to feet problems (and huge feet) I wear flats and envy women who can wear more than a one-inch heel.  And don't even get me started on tramp stamps and butt cracks (more on men than women, that one). 

Every woman my age has walked into church and thought "How did that girl's mom, or dad, let her out of the house like that?" The sad fact is that women do not teach their daughters these things because they ignored them out of rebellion themselves.  But you can't start teaching modesty when the girl is fourteen or fifteen, and you can't just do it by saying "boys will think you're cheap."  Like all child training, it has to be based on a loving, deep relationship and it has to be consistently taught from day one.  Of course, some children just rebel and raise hell with their parents over everything, and many girls have crossed the line from self-esteem to the belief they have the right to control and defeat and impose their wills on everyone around them. 

As the respondents point out, the Bible talks about modesty in terms of not drawing attention to oneself and not showing wealth, especially since the poor could not wear the same apparel. This is a sticky wicket.  If I go to Dillards and pay $200.00 for a pair of really nice wool slacks that totally cover me, is that immodest (since I could get the same for a fifth the price?)  Is it the cost of the apparel or the "bling" of the apparel (as Peter would make us conclude?) 

And don't men have a responsibility to be modest, too?  Can a pastor dress too casually in the pulpit?  What about the praise team?  Should the women in the praise team wear slacks or just modest dresses?  Is there a lustometer for slacks versus a skirt on women?  Why is it considered self-righteous to dress in your Sunday best now, as if you are having an interview with the King of the Universe as opposed to a coffee clatch with friends?  is our worship too much about fellowship and equality and not enough about the glory of God?  If I feel more like worshipping in a nice dress than jeans, why does that make me a legalist?  Doesn't that mean I am admitting that I live in a body and am influenced by it, that I am not a gnostic dualist who thinks my body is meaningless?

Just this year I started wearing slacks to Sunday morning, for two reasons.  I worked in the nursery during worship, and it made more sense to crawl around on the floor in slacks than a suit.  I also didn't want to be seen as legalistic or "above" the other women, about half of which dressed down, in my opinion. 

In the words of Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), we can do better.  And we can stop finding proof texts in the Bible to excuse ourselves.

  

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