Modesty Police – a misuse of power and authority

I posted this a while back on Twitter and Facebook.

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

***

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5 Responses to Modesty Police – a misuse of power and authority

  1. Exactly. Very good post, Tim. You always get me thinking!

    My children, male and female, have learned about modesty but I allow them to figure it out for themselves, for the most part, although I have told both of my daughters to put on a longer skirt or some leggings not because I have a problem but because there are certain things I don’t want to see. This is arbitrary, however, and will differ from person to person, family to family.

    I think the idea of being modest in appearance is not about sexuality but about a general attitude to life itself. Modesty is an aspect of humility. When we reduce the concept of modesty to female attire we completely miss the point. That said, as I’ve grown older I have recognised that my desire to wear certain clothes is actually a desire for attention, and that is not a Christlike desire. It can be so very subtle, though, and it is so deeply ingrained in Western culture (that a woman’s value is in the way she looks) that it can be difficult to break free. Personally, I have put on a lot of weight in the past few years and it’s only now that I am fat that I see how very judgmental I was in the past and how judgemental society is of women. What I’m saying is that this is a very important issue for Christians today yet we’re so used to it that we can’t see the wood for the trees.

    • Tim says:

      The way you describe modesty is the way I see it spoken of in the Bible, too. It’s about a person being attired in a way to call attention or not. Its not just whether clothes are skimpy or abundant, because even the most abundant clothes can be immodest according to the Bible’s way of looking at it.

      P.S. I took a line from your comment (“When we reduce the concept of modesty to female attire we completely miss the point.”) and posted it on Twitter.

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    In defining the abstract (non-concrete) we as humans will use the concrete, like the hemline, etc.
    I have shared these standards, and they MUST go together:
    -Reduce eye-targets (eyes will wander, make it less appealing by clothing choice)
    -Train the eyes to stay locked on the face

    Male and female like should embrace these, for “all have sinned…”

    you seemed to state these a bit differently:
    “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.”

  3. joepote01 says:

    “The point is that if you sin it’s your responsibility.”

    Exactly! Avoiding lust is our own responsibility. Dressing modestly is also our own responsibility. We cannot blame others for our own sin.

    Even more to the point in this specific passage, sin is a heart issue. No amount of avoiding trespasses can free us from the entanglement of sin. Only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can do that.

    Thanks for another excellent post, Tim!

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