Why All The “Modesty Conversations” Miss The Point

Last summer, the feeds in my various social media channels blew up with articles on modesty.

How low is too low when it comes to necklines? One piece or two piece swimsuits (or, the generally-church-camp-approved tankini?) Spaghetti straps, tanks, or sleeveless? AND THE PLIGHT OF THE YOGA PANTS (oh, but it’s okay if your butt is covered!)

And then articles followed on what Paul meant when he spoke of modesty (more of a financial context), how men (and women) are responsible for their thoughts and actions (pluck out your eye, sinner! it’s not my fault you can’t look at me without seeing me as an object!) and how culture plays into what we consider “modest” even means.

The summer heat is upon us once again, as are all these conversations on modesty. In a mindless and brief skimming down my Facebook feed Sunday night, I’m fairly certain I saw more posts on modesty (and satirical ones at that) than I did the World Cup.

(What has this country come to? Come on, y’all. It’s the World Cup!)

The arguments were all the same, men and women pitted against the other team, one side crying “FREEDOM” and the other crying “RESPONSIBILITY!”

…as if these two are mutually exclusive?

This is not a post on whether or not your bikini will make Jesus mad or cause a man to lust after you. This is not a cultural dissection of contextual modesty. I’ve been to almost every continent and have seen completely covered and completely bare, depending on the culture. I understand how it works.

This is a post on why most of the conversations I’ve read on modesty – regardless of the point someone is trying to make – are, in fact, well…missing the point.

There is something more at stake than your clothing choices. 

And that thing is community.

It is another person, another flesh-on-spirit, imago dei.

It is your family, your brother or sister given with a Holy being, intertwined with your own.

***

BUT FREEDOM!

Paul talks about freedom in Christ. A death on a cross gives us freedom to live. I hear cries of “I am not responsible if someone sins because of the way I am dressed!” And you are not. To a point. You do have freedom. And I think the greatest freedom is to choose to say no to your freedom for the sake of another person.

We hear “Don’t dress to make a man like you. Don’t dress to make a woman like you. Dress to make you like you.”

That, my friend, is not freedom.

Let’s call it for what it is: entitlement. Many of us feel entitled to do what we want, to wear what we want, and to behave how we want to behave. Loving another is not about how we feel or even embracing our freedom.

True freedom is laying down your life for another.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:3)

***

 

BUT REALLY, PEOPLE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN THOUGHTS! I COULD WEAR A MUMU AND BE A “STUMBLING BLOCK!”

Yes. People are accountable for their own actions. You could wear a mumu and someone may undress that mumu right off you. I am not minimizing the responsibility we all have for our decisions to act against what we know is true and right and lovely.

“Well, if I walked into a McDonald’s and ate 70 Big Macs, I’m responsible for that, not McDonald’s.”

You’re right. But McDonald’s was not created in the image of God.

You were. And so is your neighbor.

We say someone else should take responsibility to not sin & we have freedom to do as we please. True. But let’s take this a step further. 

Maybe we should take responsibility for another so they can have freedom instead of struggle.

The truth is we are responsible for one another. We are not to judge or criticize people for thinking or acting differently than we do where there is freedom, but we are also to encourage others to be holy, not condemn them to it.

There is not love in telling a man or woman to suck it up and deal with their lust problem so we can dress how we please.

***

There is a picture here larger than the conversation of modesty. We are believers warring against each other under the name of freedom and waving the flags of entitlement. This idea can be copied and pasted over so many areas – alcohol, food, fill-in-the-blank.

My fear is we get so wrapped up in our freedom that we can’t show love – true, sacrificial love – for each other.

And when the world reads our passionate war words, they don’t see the love of Christ we are to love each other with, which is what our ultimate charge is.

“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law” (Romans 13:8)

Comments

  1. oh Anne! Agree times a thousand. This is the post I’ve been wanting to write for years but haven’t [largely because i’m a man person and because of how this argument is usually framed it has felt like it would be more safer or hearable perhaps coming from a woman] but yes yes yes. Entitlement? Absolutely.

    It’s the whole ‘rape culture’ [which i did try write about here: http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/im-not-sure-youre-against-that-thing-you-think-youre-against-rape-culture idea to the extreme – of course what you wear never says it is okay for a man to treat you in any way that is abusive or unwanted, but at the same time that doesn’t mean you have to dress any way you want and disregard the people around you completely.

    Yes, there is the freedom to wear whatever you want. But hopefully that freedom is always tempered with the love that realises that when i dress a certain way it DOES have an affect on people around me and so i can choose to be more gracious and serve them in love.

    wow, just super stoked you wrote this and super nervous for all the trollage that is likely to come your way – praying for protection and thick skin and boldness to keep on.

    Strength and love
    brett fish

    • Thanks, Brett. I’m actually headed to a church camp (a one piece swimsuit one!) this week so I won’t be able to monitor or comment back to much this week. In a way, I’m kinda glad. I’ll let you guys have the conversation from here. :)

  2. Diane Sergent :

    I think We all should be modest in what we where. Because we may be that person who helps another person in their walk with GOD.

  3. AMEN to your last line, Anne. THAT is what’s most important. Modesty does have its importance, yes, but the two MOST important things are loving God with all our hearts and loving (and helping) our neighbors (like the kids in the Gentle Hands orphanage and many others).

    And living in the Mountain West gives you a bit more of a laid-back attitude toward some of the definitions of modesty. This is country where you’re often NOT modest unless you wear jeans, for very good reasons! And, for both sexes, it’s a place where I’ve personally seen preachers preach in jeans, doctors doctor in jeans, and judges judge in jeans. (That’s mostly just because they get so used to them. But I doubt too many people would argue that it’s modest to ride a horse wearing a dress. (If anyone wants to debate that, they should consider themselves invited to attend the National High School Finals Rodeo here in two weeks.)

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  1. […] Essay of Last Week: With 40 links last Wednesday, some things were edited. This one is Anne Marie Miller’s take on why discussions on modesty are often misdirected. […]

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