When the “Modesty Police” Miss the Point (by Tim Fall)

I posted this the other day on Twitter and Facebook.

 tim

 

It’s a take on Matthew 5:27-29, where Jesus teaches:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

The picture/meme I came up with is about where to put the responsibility: on the one doing the lusting, not the one who is the object of lust. It became one of the most widely distributed memes I’ve posted and garnered a lot of comments, especially on the Facebook pages of people who shared it with their own readers.

A lot of those readers missed the point, like this comment from Kevin at Jory Micah’s page:

“If her body is showing, it puts a stumbling block in his path, she is the one who opened the lustful door.”

Kevin and other commentators can’t help putting the blame on women, even though Jesus placed it solely on the man doing the lusting.

The point is that if you sin it’s your responsibility. No one made you do it.

It’s not that the Bible never mentions women and modesty in the same passage. It does. But that does not change the point of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. And it also does not really answer the question of what amount of clothing would the “modesty police” accept as sufficient to take all blame away from the woman and leave it solely with the man in their opinion.

From what I’ve read over the years, one person’s idea of modest clothing is another person’s striptease act.

What skirt length: Above the knee, below the knee, ankle length?

Sleeves: capped, short, long?

Neckline: above collar bone, below collar bone, allow a slight swell of breast? (Gasp! I used the word breast! At least I didn’t write “cleavage.” Oh no! I just wrote “cleavage!”)

It doesn’t matter what women wear; men will still lust after them. All this effort to decide what women should wear, in order to keep men from lusting, misses Jesus’ point: If you lust, stop it!

For broader application: if you’re sinning, stop it. Men and women both. Stop it.

And don’t try to deflect the conversation away from your own sinful behavior by shifting the blame onto someone else. Blame shifting didn’t work for Adam in the Garden (“The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it”) and it won’t work with your lust, men.

Besides, you can handle it.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13.)

It’s about what you are doing in your relationship with God; not what other people are doing in relationship to you. If you belong to Jesus, you always have a way out of temptation.

So don’t pluck your eye out and don’t tell women to cover up. Instead, do as the Bible tells you:

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13-14.)

That’s the way to dress modestly. Be clothed in Jesus.

tim1

Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 28 years with two grown kids, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. Tim blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook too.

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17 Comments

  • I love this. When my sisters and I were in Christian school, my mom was obsessed about the clothing we wore. No skirt or dress was shorter than two fingers BELOW the knee, no blouse was lower than two fingers below the clavicle and most were much longer/higher. One Sunday my older sister (probably about 14 at the time) wore a new skirt my mom had bought for her. It was long, probably landing around shin length, but in that space between the shin and the knee was a 2″ piece of lace. Do you know some man had the nerve to go to the pastor and tell him that strip of lace caused him to wonder what was under the skirt? And instead of that man getting counseling for lusting after a young girl, the pastor’s wife came to our house and had a talk with my mother and my sister was no longer allowed to wear that skirt to church, because it caused a man to lust. I can’t tell you the number of times we were held responsible for someone else’s sin. It disgusts me to this day. I don’t advocate women walking around in barely anything, but I also believe that men need to take responsibility for their own actions. Just one added note that our pastor told us recently, and maybe this could have helped some of those men back then. All of the thoughts that come in your head are not yours….they are placed there by “someone” else. You don’t have to claim them or act on them!

    • He wondered what was under a 14 year old girl’s skirt? Sorry, but that has all types of “No” written all over it. Too bad the pastor and his wife put the blame on your sister instead of where it belonged.

      • We need more posts like this, and more sensible Christian men to counter the creepy and unbiblical modesty culture that has taken over so many churches. Women can complain about it til we’re blue in the face, but unless the modesty police of the world see men who actually have some self control, they won’t believe they can control their own thoughts independent of what enters their field of vision. Well done and God bless you.

        • Thanks, t. The modesty culture really can get quite creepy, and that (to me) is one of the indications of how unbiblical it really is.

    • I don’t know what’s worse, that he wondered what was under a child’s skirt, or that everyone was comfortable and familiar enough with that to talk about it openly. Just disgusting

  • Yes, I agree with this so much. If you ask 1,000 Christians to define modest clothing, you’ll get 1,000 different answers. There’s no way every single women can dress in such a way to keep every single man from lusting. Asking us to do so is absurd! The Bible is clear, multiple times, on taking responsibility for your own sin. That includes lust!

    • “There’s no way every single women can dress in such a way to keep every single man from lusting.”

      Precisely, Brita. These types of rules are written with the rule-maker in mind. They don’t work for anyone else.

  • The thing that killed the modesty as a lust avoidance was years back one of the young men at church gave a public confession to a group of men of having a shoe fetish and looking at such stuff online. In talking with one of the elders he admitted that the guy in question needs to take responsibility, since I asked about how modesty applies in this situation. I realized this is a case in which the only thing a woman can do, to follow the modesty crowd, is to wear a floor length dress so that no one can see her feet and to never drive if there are male passengers — an obviously unreasonable burden!

    • That is a good example, although a heartrending one as well, of how the problem is in the beholder, not what’s beheld. Jesus put the responsibility on the beholder for a reason.

      • I wasn’t saying that at you, Tim, so I apologize if it came across that way! What I actually meant was that every year at this time, seemingly all the Christian magazines and websites come out with at least one piece on modest dress for women. You can count on it as surely as the ubiquitous anti-Halloween pieces at the start of fall! 🙂

        I love your blog.

  • Makes me wonder. REALLY wonder. Some time ago this couple posted how they believed that it “should” be OK for people to walk around naked, any time. The justification was that lust was the problem of the one looking. BUT the next part of the post talked about the irresponsible action that this was, and since we live in a fallen world, so many bad things would be the result. (After more than 10 years, this is a bad paraphrase)

    I saw a dangerous idea, and something that could have been stated differently. In the military and in ministry we teach that one needs to reduce the view-able areas (one pilot said “targets of opportunity) while the pilot needed to focus on the real objective.

    There are women (and teens) who will dress in what we call inappropriate ways because they seek the attention. Somehow this was not addressed. (Since the word “ALL” was not used except here, it will not come up again)

    We need to recognize that both can be guilty, the mature Christian (and the professional military man) will not be distracted much by the extra skin showing.

    As a senior Chaplain, (now retired) I would have handled the 14 year old and the dress situation differently. The man would have been properly spoken too about his bad choice of words, and the “pastor” would have also been properly (can’t a better word) dressed down. (military word for thorough scolding)

    For the record, you are right about the man’s part. But in bringing this out the opposite side of the coin did not receive proper attention.

    • Are you responding to Marcia’s earlier comment where she spoke of her younger sister’s experience?

      As for promoting walking around naked, that’s not what this post suggests, of course. What I do suggest in it, though, is that if a guy finds himself lusting the first response should not be to blame it on what women wear but instead the response should be to look to his own heart and direct his attention back to Jesus.

      • INDEED! He is not without responsibility, often it is more his responsibility than not. Her job is to reduce the “targets” while his job is not to respond to ANY of them.

        To respond to your question, I was referring to the story shared by Marcia. I do hope she sees this, for that Pastor was clearly in the wrong.

        There was a Bible Institute that i lectured at that only recently removed its restriction on women wearing red. Extreme discipline kept me from laughing.

        Hope I clarified after the odd intro. It was attempt to show opposites that compete to create something sensible (a variation on a old philosophical principle).

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