This is a topic that I’ve been meaning to address in more detail, as it is one fraught with many-layered hurt on both sides. But this morning, as I was sipping my coffee and scrolling through Twitter, I noticed Rachel Held Evan’s link to this article over at Her*mentutics, the feminine arm of Christianity Today:
I read the article, which is thoughtful and well-articulated, as well as the early comments. And once again, I found myself disagreeing with Ms. Held Evans (no, I will not turn in my feminist card, thank-you-very-much).
You see, I am a late comer to this faith party, the Mowgli of Christianity. I was raised outside of the nuanced, Louis XIV world of Evangelical modesty. I spent the first few years struggling under the weight of trying to catch up to these gilded-cradle royals; tugging at my skirts, folding my arms over my chest, keeping my eyes on the floor, and flushing when older women in the church talked to me about dressing modestly because their sons and husbands shouldn’t have to be confronted with the female form while they’re trying to worship. Their eyebrows were raised in judgment at my plunging neckline and snug fit of my shirt; when all I wanted was to be done wearing maternity clothes so I could feel pretty and to have easy access so I could nurse my baby and get back into service.
But, reader, I am also the wife to a man who, many years ago, struggled with lust. I am too familiar with that haunted darkness. So hurt by this sin that I began to objectify my sisters for the opposite reason. I became the haughty judge of short-lengths and necklines, the disgusted tisk-er at barely-there swimsuits, the bent and frowning, bitter woman who loathed women dressing intentionally provocatively. Because it might draw men’s eyes; it might somehow diminish my beauty. Sin heaping upon sin.
Sin has a way of devastating everyone involved - and causing all effected to stumble.
As we healed from this, and the many other sins I inflicted on our marriage, I recovered my knowledge of truth. That women, being created in the image of God, are inherently beautiful, our beauty a gift to be delighted in and shared. For when this beauty is objectified, bartered, or shamed, it is not because of us – the debt of that sin is heavy on the one who acts upon it. So I read articles like that above with great trepidation. I have heard many voices telling their stories of shame – because they weren’t allowed to lead worship, lest their figure cause male congregants to lust. I can’t imagine how much that must hurt. To be told you can’t exercise the gift you’ve been given because of who you are. And I have watched as good men fell head-long into the ocean of lust, dragging their families to drowning with them. As a feminist, and mother of a soon-to-be-teenaged daughter, I do not want my child to objectified, to be seen as a sum of her reproductive parts – to be made less in the eyes of males. Nor do I want my son to reduce any female to that either.
And that’s the thing: I struggle with how to honor God, both sexes, the beauty He created in them, and how to guide my children away from the miry pits of inappropriate seduction and lust.
I agree with both the author, Peter Chin, and Rachel Held Evans in that lust is a sin in the heart of the individual.
The responsibility for lust cannot be levied on its object.
I also agree with Rachel in that women should be dressing to please the Lord and not humanity. Dressing to please the Lord must have as its inception one’s love of God and, therefore, love of others, as Jesus noted that these are the greatest commandments [Matt 22:37-39]. Paul’s exhortation in Romans 14 is applicable to the modesty discussion because he notes that our willful actions [dressing to attract the attention of either sex] can cause other believers to stumble. Knowingly causing a brother or sister to stumble is not loving them. As Paul asserts, the love to which believers are called requires the voluntary abdication of personal freedom for the sake of another; it requires self-sacrifice.
Therefore, dressing to please the Lord carries with it the responsibility of considering others and how our actions might affect them, as much as glancing at an attractive person carries with it the individual’s responsibility to guard against lust.
What are your thoughts, reader? How do you address modesty – with your children (male and female), with your spouse, with yourself?