WHY SHOULD CHRISTIANS RETURN TO MODESTY IN OUR CLOTHING?
Eric V. Snow, sermonette, November 10, 2007, UCG-Ann Arbor
During this past Feast in Montego Bay in Jamaica, one of the more enjoyable activities during the Feast was an afternoon cruise in a catamaran. This is a fast boat built on pontoons which has both a motor and sails. Most went snorkeling. My experience not so successful. Visited Jimmy Buffets, a bar on the seashore that had large moored plastic rafts and innertubes, and a water slide from its second floor that dropped a rider into the Caribbean. The salt water stung my eyes: It’s not like swimming in Lake Michigan! But many of the young women and teenage girls (boat on pontoons) trip in ocean by Montego Bay in Jamaica during last Feast. Most wore bikinis or something else highly revealing. As a man, I knew I had the duty to keep my eyes from looking in certain directions. But should I have to do this during an officially organized church recreational event? It’s one thing to me to have to do this when walking around the Holiday Inn near the pools and beach when I was around people in the world, but why here?
S.P.S. We Christians have to fight the world’s fashion trends by wearing modest clothes ourselves instead of skimpy, revealing clothing.
I Timothy 2:9-10
What does “modesty” mean? “Webster’s” defines this word as meaning, “freedom from conceit or vanity . . . propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.” It isn’t “cool,” or the “in,” thing to do, but it’s what God commands. Is trying to fit in with the world our main goal in life? Should our clothing look the same as the world’s? It did on this boat trip during the Feast in Jamaica. It didn’t on the trip to Dunn’s River either, when we climbed the waterfalls.
My radical thinking when meditating on this later: Why should women’s clothing be any lower cut than men’s clothing? Casual men’s T-shirts are not low cut. Think of your typical rock and roll band T-shirt with (say) “Black Sabbath” or “Van Halen” emblazoned on it. So the difference in how men and women dress isn’t merely about comfort in hot climates merely. Men have less they need to cover up than women, but ironically cover their upper bodies better. Women’s clothing also dysfunctional: One of my jobs at work is to adjust thermostats up and down as needed after people complain. Here’s my general observation: At the same temperature where the men are comfortable, women are cold. Then when the men are hot, the women are comfortable. Two possible causes: Men’s metabolism is faster than women’s. But women also wear less: Men wear suits at church services but women often wear skirts and blouses. Therefore, much of women’s clothing is not merely immodest, it’s also dysfunctional!
We have two extremes: Conservative Muslims who wear not just the headscarf but also the veil. Jack Straw was recently the foreign secretary of Great Britain. As a member of Parliament, he once stirred up some trouble by asking his female Muslim constituents to remove their veils when talking to him. BBC News: “Asking women to consider showing the mouths and noses could lead to true “face-to-face” conservations with constituents, enabling him “to see what the other person means, and not just hear what they say.’” He said (WSJ, Bret Stephens) that “seeing people’s faces is fundamental to the relationships between people.” It’s harder to read someone’s emotions and to know what they think if you can’t see that person’s facial expressions.
But the fashion industry of Western society these days at the opposite extreme. To what extent do we as true Christians resist these trends? My impression from this boat trip is that we’re dressing nearly the same as the world around us.
Don Hooser (August 2006, United News): “We have a responsibility to be lights to the world! . . . What kind of first impression is an immodestly dressed Church member making as a representative of Christ and His Church?”
We have to think about the crucial difference between men and women in this area. Men are much more stimulated by what they see regardless of any relationship or emotional connection they have with a woman. By contrast, women are stimulated on average much more by touch and feel the need for an emotional, romantic, personal relationship with a man that they are attracted to. When choosing clothing, young women need keep this crucial difference in mind when they go shopping for clothing.
Carnal men want to “complete the picture” from what they can see. Dannah Gresh, “Christian Parenting Today,” Winter 2002, says she uses a comparison of the male mind to what psychologists call Gestalt theory. Using it, graphic designers will calculate how long to show an unfinished picture to a viewer to entice them to look at it. To complete the incomplete picture intrigues the human brain, so viewers always will pause before filling in the left out details. Similarly, men seeing women in long slits in long dresses, low-cut blouses, tight t-shirts, etc., will often try to “complete the picture” by mentally undressing the women he sees.
To buy what is presently fashionable or popular with other women at school or work often ignores modesty. How much does TV, videos, movies, and fashion magazines influence our clothing choices? Do we or our children think we should dress up like Britney Spears, Madonna, and Paris Hilton? Do little girls want to be like Bratz dolls?
To resist the world requires sacrifice. To dress modestly yet attractively likely will require walking through a lot more stores. Responsible mothers and fathers will have to do battle over the clothing choices of their teenage daughters more. Those skilled in sewing may want to consider making their own clothes. (Mother’s example).
We can argue about where to draw lines, and be highly legalistic with how short skirts can be, how tight jeans should be, and how low cut blouses can be. But can’t we draw some bright lines?: Can bikinis ever be modest? As Mr. Hooser pointed out: “Bikinis cover less than underwear!” Can tube tops, long slit dresses, and miniskirts ever be modest? Try out Mr. Hooser’s “sit-down test,” especially when buying clothing: Sit first, and then bend over while looking in a mirror to see what a carnal-minded man would see. Furthermore, are we practicing “minimalistic obedience”? That is, instead of having a reasonable safety margin against sin, we want to see how close we can get to the line in order to maximize pleasure and minimize pain in this life?
This general principle has to be remembered: True, Christian guys are supposed to control their minds and eyes so that they don’t treat women as sex objects. But Christian women also have a responsibility to dress less revealingly and more modestly.
Men have their responsibility also: Shouldn’t we consider putting on a T-shirt while on the beach also? I do mainly to avoid getting sunburned, but should we do it for modesty also? In this area, the fundamental differences between men’s and women’s bodies require women to cover up more. That may seem “unfair.” But women have their compensations, such as more freedom of choice in what to wear. Women have “burden of freedom” for Sabbath wear, job interviews: What’s acceptable varies much more, but it’s easier to make serious mistakes as a result. God made the differences between the sexes for good reasons that he knows best as the Creator.
Conclusion: God requires Christians need to dress modestly. In Western society today, that often requires us to work harder to dress more conservatively and somewhat differently from the corrupt world around us. For there’s a difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract!