Sometimes I can be a little slow to articulate my thoughts. To be specific, I started actively writing this post in the Fall of 2013. I’ve wanted to address modesty, but I’ve struggled to find the correct tone for such a sensitive subject. My views would certainly be described as conservative. Spending 10 years in student ministry with guys telling me about their struggles with lust, I don’t think I’m going to temper my views anytime soon.
This post is coming just in time for swimsuit season 2015. Hopefully, it will spark some useful discussion.
Back in January, RELEVANT Magazine posted an article titled, ‘Christian Cleavage’ Probably Isn’t the Problem by Jayson Bradley. The article itself was a response to a previous article titled, “The Problem With Christian Cleavage,” which has been pulled from the internet apparently. I tried to find it, but I was unsuccessful.
The two posts presented two different takes on modesty.
TWO VIEWS OF CHRISTIAN CLEAVAGE
Unfortunately, since I was unable to track down the original post, I will have to post the 2nd article’s summary of the first.
VIEW #1 | “The Problem With Christian Cleavage” View – Women Are Responsible For Men
Bradley summarized the initial article’s premise this way:
It isn’t my intention to beat up the author; I’m sure he had good intentions and was probably surprised at the response. But, in addition to “mansplaining” why women shouldn’t wear certain items of clothing, the post perpetuated some questionable teaching. I mean, he was only saying the same stuff evangelical youth groups have heard for years.
The gist of the admonishment goes like this:
1. A man is a visual animal.
2. If he can see the “wrong kind” of flesh on a woman he has sexual thoughts.
3. Women are responsible to dress in a way that doesn’t “cause men to stumble.””
Bradley’s bias in his summary is pretty clear, but he’s summarizing a fairly common teaching in evangelical circles, though I would argue a very poor version of those teachings.
VIEW #2 | “Christian Cleavage’ Probably Isn’t the Problem” View – Men are Responsible For Their Actions
Bradley responds with several key points
- “Should We Be Telling Women What to Wear?” – Modesty is the one area where we put the burden of purity on someone else.
- “There Is No Standard Which Even Makes Sense?” – Different people are aroused by different things.
- Teaching View #1 Has Dangerous Consequences – The first view leads people to some bad teachings, (1) “Men can’t be responsible for their behavior.” (2) “There’s Something Shameful About Women’s Bodies” (3) “Sexuality is the Most Important Issue in the World.”
He repeatedly comes back to this theme:
“A major problem with this teaching is that it helps reinforce the idea that women are responsible for what goes on inside the mind of men and that their wardrobe (and not the self-control of a man) is the contributing factor in someone else’s actions.”
He concludes with this:
In my experience, so many ills could be avoided if we were to “treat younger women like sisters, with absolute purity ”(1 Tim. 5:2). That seems like the best possible scenario.”
Two Bad Options
If those are the two options we’re left with, I think we need to come up with some better options. Each of these views has some enormous problems.
The first view presents men as animals that can’t control their behavior. Therefore, women must be the ones to change their behavior. Men’s lust can be blamed on women because they can control what they wear. Honestly, as much as he presented this as a common belief, this is a caricature of what most evangelicals actually teach. Also, it’s blatantly sexist against men.
The second view is equally troublesome, though less sexist. The position goes that men are to be blamed for their lust. Therefore, girls shouldn’t be told what they should wear by men. Likewise, he argues that sexuality is a strange thing. Some people have knee fetishes. You can’t possibly make a modesty list to cover everyone’s weird desires. But, that’s an overreaction. You can’t make a list that covers everything, but HOOTERS and TWIN PEAKS have discovered at least a couple of things which girls have that guys like to look at. You can focus on the .5% of guys who are more turned on by knee caps than boobs, or you can logically conclude that there are some things which are virtually universal in specific cultures. In our culture, guys like to look at girls boobs.
If these are the only two options, we’re in big trouble. We need to find a 3rd option. Clearly guys shouldn’t be treated like animals that can’t control their behavior. However, we also should’t throw the idea of modesty out simply because it isn’t as clear cut as some would like it to be.
Instead we must struggle through some frustrating tensions in our culture.
Christian Cleavage | Frustrating Tensions
We live in a highly sexualized culture which is abandoning the concept of modesty. IN fact, we’ve moved so far away from modesty that any suggestion of modesty is now called, “Slut Shaming.” With that in mind, I become seriously concerned with any Christians writing a defense of moving away from defending the idea of modesty.
- Do we really need to be writing articles that give a Christian defense of abandoning modesty?
- Do we really need to write articles which give license to girls to dress however they want?
- In a sex saturated culture, shouldn’t we aim to err on the side of modesty?
Obviously, the article’s purpose wasn’t to do any of those things. The problem, however, is that not everyone who will read the article will have the maturity to understand the underlying message.
I’ve seen countless people over the years share these types of articles on Facebook who weren’t doing so to join the greater discussion about modesty; They did so to justify wearing whatever they want to wear.
Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater
Far too many of the arguments against conservative views on modesty strike me as overreactions.
- Some guys will lust over a girl no matter what she wears…should we put all Christian girls in burkas?
- Some guys have weird fetishes, and girls can’t dress to avoid everything a guy might get aroused by…so why make these rules at all?
- Modesty is such a relative thing. It’s different between cultures, times, and people…aren’t all these rules just aiming at a moving target?
The thought behind all of these types of statements which come up all the time is essentially,
“If we can’t solve everything, why try anything?””
When talking about sensitive subjects, it would probably be wise to avoid absolute language.
- No one vs. everyone
- Nothing vs. everything
- None vs. all
- Never vs. always
Working in absolutes makes interpreting the world easy because everything is black and white. However, it does a very poor job of representing the incredibly diverse and challenging world that God has given us.
There has to be a better option than picking a gender to blame or speaking in absolutes.
A THIRD PERSPECTIVE | Christian Cleavage, It’s Not About Blame, It’s About Sharing Burdens
My problem with the entire discussion about Christian cleavage is that it seems to miss the entire point of Christian community. We’ve never been called to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. We’re repeatedly called to others first living and carrying each other’s burdens.
2a Carry each other’s burdens
We’re called to live in community and serve one another. We’re all sinners. We all have plenty of blame. That’s why we need one another to carry each other’s burdens.
- Am I responsible for my actions? Yes
- Are we responsible to one another? Yes
- Are we to carry each other’s burdens? Yes
The original poster asked this question:
In what other area do we place the burden of our purity on another person? “
When you phrase it that way, he’s right, but the question misses the point. Christians sacrifice their freedom constantly for the sake of a friend.
We don’t place burdens on other people, but we do take burdens off of people!”
Think About It
- You don’t serve your recovering alcoholic friend a glass of wine…
- You don’t make your husband’s favorite dessert for him 24 hours after he started a diet…
- You don’t take your friend who’s struggling with compulsive spending to the mall…
- You don’t put a TV in your kid’s room if you’re trying to cut back on the amount of TV they watch…
Why would you go out in public wearing a string bikini which covers less of your body than your bra and panties?
Why would you post a bunch of pictures of yourself wearing that string bikini for 500 of your male Facebook friends to see?
Just stop and think about how much a string bikini covers. Literally, if you remove any more clothing, those pictures could be used for a demo reel for Playboy.
Honestly, some of this stuff truly baffles me. It’s scandalous if a picture of a high school girl in her bra and panties is circulated. But girls frequently post pictures of themselves wearing the same amount of clothing on Instagram. I honestly don’t understand why it’s okay simply because it’s called a bikini.
Sharing burdens is about a lot more than telling women what to wear. In fact that misses the point entirely. Sharing burdens is about guys and girls sacrificing their freedom to serve others. We can do without Christian cleavage.
- Guys should be conscious about when they’re not wearing their shirt around girls.
- Guys should be so encouraging to their female friends that they don’t feel the pressure to dress like culture says they should.
- Girls should consider that the guys around them are visual in nature and like to look at girls’ bodies.
It’s easy to just make a list of rules for someone else.
It’s easy to throw standards out entirely.
It’s hard to live in the tension of carrying burdens and living in grace.
What do you think about modesty, bikinis, speedos, and Christian cleavage? Comment below and let me know your thoughts!