How many times have you heard calls for women to dress modestly in terms of “you don’t want to be a stumbling block”?
Phew. This has been a tiring week on the blog–and I knew it would be. I’ve been talking about how the idea that all men will lust is wrong, and how we need to reframe the way we talk about lust and sex.
Today I want to end this topic and move on (I’m so looking forward to our July Sizzling Summer Sex series!).
But there is one more thing I really need to deal with, and it’s the idea that women can “cause a man to sin” by what they wear.
Today, let’s look at what Scripture actually says, and find a healthier way to talk about modesty that accomplishes our goals of getting both genders to act respectfully towards each other.
I’m passionate about this, because I blog primarily about sex and marriage from a Christian point of view. When I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, it was because I feared that women were believing such shameful messages about sex, and it was all so unnecessary–because there’s a better way to talk about it. I hope I can help us get to that better way today!
First, I would hope we would all agree that Jesus lays the blame for lust at the man’s feet.
As I showed at length on Tuesday talking about “every man’s battle”, Jesus says that if a man lusts after a woman, he has already committed adultery in his heart. And it is better to cut out his eye than to lust.
He never once says that it is the woman’s fault.
But here’s where we throw in a caveat:
Yes, Jesus may have said that lust is the guy’s sin. But the Bible also says that causing him to sin is the woman’s sin!
We say that we believe that there’s no excuse for lust. But then we’re quick to point out that women really are to blame because of how they dress.
People use several main Scriptures for this idea, but I’m going to focus on two today, since all the Scriptures basically echo one of these two approaches. 1 Corinthians 8 focuses on not causing your weaker brother to stumble, and then Matthew 18:6-9 focuses on how it’s better to have a millstone around your neck than to cause a little one to stumble. Let’s look at how both of these arguments relate to whether it is the woman’s fault if a man lusts after her.
The Weaker Brother Argument: We should change our behaviour to look after the weaker brother so that he doesn’t stumble
In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is making the “weaker brother” argument. Paul says that once we’re in Christ, we have great freedom. We can eat meat sacrificed to idols, for instance, because we no longer have any idols. God is over all.
But if you have a brother or sister who thinks that it’s wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and you glibly do eat meat like that, and they follow you–then you’ve now encouraged them to violate their own consciences. You’ve caused them to stumble.
In other words, the “stumbling” that Paul is talking about is not committing an actual sin, like lusting or stealing or lying, but violating your conscience and your vow to God. So the concern in this passage is that we cause someone to stumble when we undermine their faith.
We as Christians we say believe that there’s no excuse for lust, but then we’re quick to point out that women really are to blame because of how they dress.
And this can be so damaging!
Paul is not addressing the scenario where a woman may cause a man to lust
Please hear me on this one, because this distinction is important (and major hat tip to Keith Schooley in Monday’s comments for reminding me of this): While Paul is talking about how we can sin against someone by being a stumbling block, he is NOT saying that we bear the responsibility for someone committing a sin. He IS saying that we bear the responsibility for weakening someone’s faith.
So can a woman weaken a guy’s faith by what she wears?
Yes, I think she can. If a woman deliberately decides to exercise her freedom in Christ in front of her male brothers who are really struggling, and does so knowing that they are struggling (which is the scenario that Paul lays out here), she can make him think, “I really can’t get over this sin.” And she can cause his faith to weaken.
So, “Yes, this passage applies!”
But it’s not that simple.
Who is the “Weaker Brother” in this Story?
We think of the “weaker brother” as being one who is more susceptible to sin. That is NOT who Paul considers the weaker brother. In this case, Paul calls the “weaker brother” the one who does not have as much knowledge and the one who is not as mature in the faith.
In many cases, teenage girls are being asked to change what they wear for the sake of adult men who are pastors, elders, even family members! When I was on Up for Debate radio on Moody recently talking about modesty, this scenario was presented:
What do we do when a woman who is seeking walks into church wearing something really inappropriate, like a skimpy sundress? How do we tell her that she’s a stumbling block?
My response: You don’t! Because in this situation, SHE is the weaker brother. The men are more mature in the faith. It’s her faith that God is most concerned with. He leaves the 99 to find the 1.
What if setting a modesty dress code actually becomes a stumbling block for women because it weakens their faith?
If women can be the weaker brother, then let’s see if this Scripture actually can be turned on its head with the modesty issue.
Here’s a comment that was left on my post on Monday about men being visual:
When I was a teacher at a Christian school in my 20s I ended up on the “dress code committee” in charge of revisions to the existing dress code. Because the building was not air conditioned, they had decided to allow shorts in warm weather months (early fall and late spring). We had to determine an appropriate length. In the course of the discussions, I was forced to stand up and be the example of why longer shorts were better. The administrator in the group explained to the room that I was a good example of the problem with shorts as my legs were “just too long” and no matter what I wore, unless it was a long baggy skirt, I would be a “stumbling block for men” and my body was “really just a problem”.
I can’t tell you how damaging it is to be told BY YOUR BOSS that God made you wrong and your existence is essentially a “problem” for every male person you ever meet.
Whose faith was being weakened in this scenario? The men’s, who were worried about this woman’s legs? Or the woman’s, who was being told that God made a mistake when He made her?
Or here’s a comment that was left on Facebook about the same post:
I was weeks away from my 21st birthday. I had recently moved to a new area. I was attending a wedding. The first I had been to after my engagement fell apart. I shopped for weeks looking for a dress I felt beautiful in. I was sitting at a table with the only people at the shindig I knew. There was an older lady (mid to late 70s) whom I was greatly looking forward to getting to meet because I had heard about her kindness and grace. She sat next to me and informed me I needed to find somewhere else to sit because my dress was too low and it was making her husband uncomfortable. I was shocked. I immediately left and cried in the parking lot before driving myself home. About 10 years later I pulled that dress out of storage. Resting my pointer finger on my collar bone my ring finger touched the neckline of the dress. It was then I realized my clothing was not the issue.
In this scenario, whose faith is being weakened? The 70-something man who had been a Christian his whole life, or the 21-year-old grieving woman with a heart to be accepted into Christian community?
Or how about this one, also left on the Facebook post:
When I was 16 I was told to put a sweater on at Christian school because my figure was causing a male teacher to stumble. I was dressed within our dress code and nothing inappropriate was showing. I matured early and there was no hiding it, nor should I have had to. My parents tried to find a solution with that staff member and his solution was for me to get to school early so that we could “pray for my soul” together before classes started. Luckily my parents had discernment and pulled me out of that school, but I was ashamed of my body and have struggled since with body image, allowing true intimacy in my marriage, etc. as a result of that experience.
If we want to use the “don’t cause a weaker brother to stumble” passages to address modesty dress codes, then, we must be intellectually honest and say that while we don’t want men’s faith weakened, we must also never, ever cause women’s faith to weaken by saying there is something inherently evil about their bodies.
The “Causing a Little One to Stumble” Argument
In Matthew 18:6-9, Jesus says this:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Unlike the Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 passages, here we are talking about causing someone to commit an actual sin, not just weakening the faith. This passage, at face value, does look like it can be applied to the scenario where a woman can cause a man to lust. So what can we learn about modesty dress codes from this passage?
Jesus is referring to a deliberate action that lures someone away from Him.
In this scenario, I don’t believe that Jesus is talking about causing someone to sin by accident. Indeed, in the Old Testament there were “cities of refuge” for those who had caused bloodshed by accident, and those people were treated very differently from those who had deliberately shed blood.
In everything, the state of our hearts matter. So if we are deliberately dressing in such a way that we are aiming to entice men to lust, then we are sinning. Period. Absolutely. We should not wear attire with the intention of causing men’s thoughts to wander or with trying to seduce anyone. In that scenario, it certainly is better to have a millstone placed around our necks and be thrown into the sea.
But what if that’s not our intention when we get dressed?
When I was on Up for Debate radio, a woman called in with this comment (and I’m typing this from memory):
I was once in church and I saw an absolutely gorgeous woman. For a minute I felt really jealous, because I’m a larger woman. And I asked God, “Why can’t I look like her?” And God told me, “Be grateful, because you don’t cause men to sin the way that she does.”
She may have believed that that was God’s voice, but I firmly believe that it wasn’t. This woman was saying that another female, through no fault of her own, caused men to sin simply because of how her body looked. And God saw her body as a source of evil.
Follow that argument logically, and what you have is this:
Some people, even if they love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength, will cause people to sin simply because of who they are and how they were made.
Even if they do nothing, they are a stumbling block that may cause someone to sin.
Yet what does God say about stumbling blocks in this passage?
That it would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea.
Is that what we really believe? That a woman, through no fault of her own other than simply existing, would be better off if she were thrown into the sea because of the effect she has on the men around her?
I would hope not! Yet, logically, that is where this argument goes. Women’s bodies are inherently sinful; therefore women are inherently bad because they cause others to stumble. And so it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea.
Now there might actually be some who agree with this logic. But aside from being completely oppressive, it also doesn’t hold up if you read the verses following. That’s because:
Even in this scenario, Jesus puts the responsibility on the one sinning
Yes, the person who causes the sin would be better off thrown into the sea. But then what does Jesus say is the solution?
He points back to the person who is sinning. In the very next verses, He says, “if your eye causes you to stumble, gauge it out.”
Jesus never lays the responsibility for sin at someone else’s feet
Even in the passages that we often use to claim that women’s clothing choices can cause men to sin, God still does not lay the blame at women’s feet! If anything, we should be using those passages to show that women’s faith matters, too, and that we should never put undue burdens on women for other people’s sin.
Shaming women into thinking that they are inherently evil, just because of how they were made is just plain wrong. God made us all in his image.
So What Can We Conclude About these Two Stumbling Block Passages?
These passages appear to be saying that it is wrong for women to deliberately dress in order to entice men to lust, both because that can weaken their faith and can cause him to sin. However, the passages also say that it is wrong to shame women about their bodies. In addition, Scripture clearly says that women are not to blame if a man actually does lust, and that if a man lusts just because of the way a woman looks, when she is not deliberately trying to get him to do anything, then that is entirely on him.
Saying definitively, then, that women bear the responsibility for men’s consciences because of the “do not cause a brother to stumble” just doesn’t hold up biblically.
Okay, then. So do we do nothing about modesty? Just like yesterday I presented a better way to talk about men’s sexual needs than the “obligation sex” message, so today I would like to present a better way to talk about modesty than the “don’t be a stumbling block” message.
A Better Way to Talk About Modesty
Here’s what 1 Timothy 2:8-9 says:
1 Timothy 2:8-9
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
Now, in that context, modesty wasn’t primarily about not being sexually alluring as much as it was about not flaunting one’s wealth. You can see that this is Paul’s primary concern because he goes on to talk about things which obviously cost a lot of money (jewelry, certain clothing, hairstylists) rather than about hiding a woman’s figure. This wasn’t about body shaming women; this was about ensuring that Christians were approachable, appropriate, and open to all, so that they were good witnesses for Christ. We have interpreted this passage to be about lust when really it wasn’t. It was about dressing so that we honour Christ.
So here’s a recipe for modern day modesty:
I simply ask myself these three questions (and these are what I talked to my daughters about, too):
- Who am I dressing for? Am I dressing to impress a guy? Am I dressing to impress my girlfriends on Instagram? Or am I dressing to show respect for myself and my Saviour?
- What is the first impression people have when they look at me? How will people characterize me based on what I’m wearing?
- Am I approachable, friendly, and open? Do I look like I welcome conversation and healthy relationship? Am I on par with others whom I will be with? Or does my clothing set me apart from others?
Like this? Pin it to spread the non-shaming message!
Look, despite all I’ve written about how we shouldn’t blame men’s sin on women’s clothing choices, I’m totally appalled by what some teenage girls and some women wear. I share the angst that many people have about “how do we help people understand that some clothing choices are just plain bad?” I really do.
But I think that there is a healthy way of addressing this, and an unhealthy one. I believe that if we ask my three questions, we get to the heart of the matter: how do I best reflect my Saviour? In all things, am I doing this to please God or to for other reasons? Am I a good ambassador for Him?
When we instead try to focus on rules which address girls’ bodies, though, we can easily cause shame. Besides, that approach ONLY deals with the sexual issue, and not even the main question that Paul was directing towards Timothy in his letters–whether women were dressing to appear stand-offish and better than other people by flaunting wealth.
So let’s stop framing things in terms of sexual shame, and start pointing people, as always, towards Jesus and reflecting Him. Then we’ll cure the clothing problem, help create a healthier, more welcoming atmosphere, all while not shaming women into thinking that they are inherently evil, just because of how they were made.
And that’s it! The series on body shaming women is now over! It’s been a long week. But I’ve so appreciated your comments, and let me know what you think!
Other posts in this series:
Monday: Men are Visual, but does that mean all men lust?
Tuesday: Why the “Every Man’s Battle” Idea Backfires
Wednesday: 12 Ways to Help Christian Men Stop Lusting
Thursday: How Can We Talk About Men’s Sexual Needs without Shaming Women (this was really the heart of what I was saying all week!)
I started reading this article with the intention of being offended. When I finally got to the bottom of the article and saw your Pin “New non-shaming Modesty Rules” my first thought was finally. Someone. Gets. It. Yes. Thank you.
You’re so welcome, Kat! And I’m sorry I scared you initially. 🙂
Sheila, I appreciate many aspects of your article. But when I read on this subject, I always feel something is missing and I can’t put my finger on it. Before being a mom, I would have wholeheartedly liked your article. But my reservations come because now I am a mother of a son. As I pray and seek the Lord in raising a boy, I have had to look at the world (or attempt to) through the lens of raising a male. What I’m seeing, as early as 9y, are aggressive girls, and many who both purposely and inadvertantly dress and behave in ways that tempt males to sin in how they dress and behave. I honestly think that with the rise in feminism, comes some empowered girls who have no conscience or character and who take no responsibility for their actions and rest all the blame on the male. I don’t see these types of girls addressed, and they do exist. and no one teaches girls that clothing designers do just that: they design and many of them attempt to bring out seductive qualities. We are not teaching our girls this. As a mom, I would like to see girls taught that wearing yoga pants with no underwear and a tank top with no bra doesn’t leave much to the imagination, no matter how inintentional and innocent the girl is. My point is, it’s a two way street. For the sake of your brother, put on the sweater. Yes, there are creeps like the adult teacher in your article that wanted to pray with the girls soul though her form was no fault of her own. That man is just plain creepy. But there are innocent young males out there, like my son who is entering his tween years, who could be helped out not only by teaching him how to regard and treat girls respectfully, but also girls who dress and behave decently ant treat boys respectfully. As we empower girls to stop being shamed, there needs to be a balance where this completely laying the blame on male’s feet has to be checked. Otherwise, we will raise a generation of Marilyn Monroes blankly staring at a man and saying, “what? This ol thing I’m wearing… I didn’t mean no harm boo poop ee dupe! Oh please. As women we are smarter than that. Let’s carry our part in the responsibility with gravity and care, because we respect ourselves, we respect men and most of all we respect God. It goes both ways: Do not sin. Do not tempt. To have this perspective, you must understand that though male and female are equally valued in God’s sight, they ARE different. Just as much as women don’t want men to lead them on emotionally in a relationship, (many do this unintentionally) we should take care in what we wear. Both sexes CAN make each other stumble.
I do agree with what you’re saying, absolutely. And I did raise two daughters to really think about what they’re wearing, too. I just did it using the language at the bottom of this post, rather than the shaming language.
All I would say to counter what you’re commenting is this: We can get the same result by asking kids to focus on Jesus, rather than by telling them not to cause someone else to sin. The “not causing someone to sin” is a toxic idea when it comes to lust. But asking kids to focus on “who am I dressing for?” and “what is the first impression I’m giving?” gets you to the exact same place as what you’re saying–but it does it without rules or body shaming messages.
It really does. I raised two girls like this, who honestly do understand how boys think. And they’re very respectful (in fact, my youngest daughter’s boyfriend says that one thing he appreciated about Katie was that there was always a ‘mystery’ about her because she didn’t ‘advertise’ everything, so to speak). But they weren’t raised to feel shame. And I think that’s just so, so important!
The thing is, the world is literally flooded with sexual content, and with girls trying to dress up as sexy as possible (who sometimes also want to use their sex-appeal as a tool of manipulation). And I don’t see that changing any time soon. Protecting somebody from all that seems impossible to me. Maybe even dangerous, as when it hits them in the face, sooner or later, it will have even stronger effect.
So I think the only way for men to attain chastity / purity is if they strive towards it and work on it. I wrote a comment to https://baremarriage.com/2017/06/men-are-visual-lust/ about how this can be done in practice (it worked for me for the past 7 years, and based on discussions in online forums, for others too). But I don’t think this applies to a 9yo boy, I think he will have to walk this path later on.
With this, I don’t mean to place the blame on women, or anything like that. I think this is the fault of a society that devalues women, and that has low expectations of men in terms of their ability to remain chaste.
I have 2 boys and I don’t see this issue-one causing the other to sin…From either side as a “topic to teach my children”
-I teach them they are responsible for their actions and choices. Period.
-my children are exposed to the world (not sheltered) we live overseas and LGBT community is normal, transgender is normal, different religions and nude beaches ect…are all things my children have seen since birth.
-we talk about other people’s choices and how we make our choices, never belittling or putting anyone down.
-I teach kindness and mutual respect to others-with the understanding we all have different values and make our choices according.
-my kids have friends from all walks of life and NEVER say stuff like…”they make me feel/do this”
-I believe just the verbiage of it all comes from conservative Christian church messages…
-boys will believe “a female” tempted them if that’s the message they hear.
-I don’t talk that way or even bring that idea to the playing field.
– we mothers of boys can change the script.
I think your last statement is so important. We need to change the script for our boys.
Really terrific capstone on all of this, Sheila. I think you’ve handled the passages in a wonderful and biblically accurate way, and I think your three questions sum up the issue nicely.
Thanks, Keith! And thanks for the idea for the post. I was going to end this series after 4 posts until you made the wheels in my brain start to crank…. 🙂
That is a really good way of handling those scriptures. The usual interpretation is so carnal. Paul wasn’t talking about sex. He was talking about faith and the gospel. The culture at that time was even more immodest than ours and the church was able to survive. The problem today is most of us are very immature in the faith. We are literary still infants when we stumble over this issue.
Thanks for this week’s topic, and for your vulnerability and endurance! (I’m looking at the times some of your replies came. Well after my bedtime!) While my husband and I haven’t completely agreed with everything, we’ve had great discussions about it all. And the things we didn’t agree with were usually sorted out/clarified through your responses. The important thing is you got us communicating with each other about it.
One of the other dangers of dress codes and their enforcement happens when they are enforced on some and not others, as was the case in my high school. I was pulled aside a handful of times for having skirts or shorts that were too short. We had the fingertip rule, where the hemline had to be at or below fingertips when your arms are relaxed at your side. As a pale, curvy girl, whose shorts DID align with the rules, who got called out of class and told I couldn’t wear them again (mind you I never was told to change), and seeing the skinny, tanned girls get by with things that were obviously not acceptable, that does real damage in the opposite direction. I thought of my big muscular thighs as something gross instead of the beautiful way my Creator knit me together. I spent years sweating in pants or wearing men’s gym shorts in the summer because I didn’t want anyone to see how gross my legs were all summer.
Fast forward to being married and struggling to reconcile “mutual sex” after my husband’s confession of sporadic porn use and my self-image issues, sex felt purely physical and obligatory. Through seeing his hard work, both with his accountability partners and prayer, as well as his honesty with me, I’m starting to see it all in a different light. Now, instead of retreating into a hole when he reminds me it’s been a while, I see it as a gift that he is saving his desire for me. That doesn’t means it’s easy to respond in kind, but it does mean that through prayer and tips I’ve gleaned on you blog it is getting easiER. (It also helps that he’s always been a big fan of my thighs, even at their biggest after babies. ?)
I found your blog after getting and loving “Good Girls” from our local library during the worst of our struggles. This is getting verbose, but it’s mostly a big THANKS for putting this all out there to help us have a long and fulfilling marriage AND sex life.
And Tom, your comments have also gotten a lot of people talking. Thank you, too, for your openness and vulnerability. Praying for you.
Oh, Lydia, what a great comment!
I too am really bothered by the fact that more curvy girls are often called out for modesty infractions, while the “skinnier” girls are let go. It so contributes to body shaming in our culture, which is already bad enough. I had never even heard of the term “thigh gap” until my girls were 14. It wasn’t a thing when I was young, but now it totally is. And my girls inherited my definitively NON thigh gap thighs.
I’m so glad that you and your husband have come so far! That’s so great.
And I agree about Tom. He’s not attacking anyone in his comments; he’s genuinely struggling and starting discussion, and I appreciate that.
I agree with you. I still struggle when I see mid thigh short skirts, barely- covering -the -butt shorts, skin tight pants, and off the shoulder tops that Christian girls and men wear. Especially when these women are pastors, pastor’s wives. I want someone who is going to model to my 11 yr old daughter how to respect themselves in what they wear and how to not dress in a way that draws overt attention to the figure that God has given them. I want my 13 yr old son, who has hormones raging, to have what a woman who respects herself and who God made her to be modeled before him. I am not an old fuddy duddy woman. I enjoy knowing that I look nice and fashionable but I also respect myself and I hope that it shows in how I dress. I am trying to teach that to my daughter and son…but man is it hard when so many in the church don’t dress modestly! BTW, I was talking to my hubby about the idea of men being responsible for their own sin of lusting – he totally agreed but shared that he feels that when women wear the above mentioned things to church that they are being selfish. I thought that interesting….
I mean girls and women
I think so much of this comes from parents not talking openly with their kids. I honestly think that if an 12 or 13-year-old dresses with super short shorts or spaghetti straps or tight tops that they aren’t trying to attract male attention like that. I think they’ve been told “this is what is pretty” and they want to look pretty. They’re just keeping up with what fashion is!
What bothers me is when adult women get upset because teenagers are dressing seductively–but they don’t sit down and talk to those teens. Because I think if they did, you’d find that those teens really aren’t intending anything overtly sexual. It’s just that what is considered pretty is often very revealing in today’s culture.
But when we assume that they have some nefarious intent, then we start to see females as the enemy.
So I think it comes from adult women having conversations about what it means to respect ourselves. And acknowledging that when we wear certain things, the first impression we give is “I want you to look at my boobs.”
See, you can have a very, very nice figure, and even wear clothes that do show that figure, without giving that impression at all. It’s not like you can hide your figure. But you can dress in a way where the first impression is not “she wants me to check her out.” The first impression can simply be, “she’s really stylish and respects herself.” But we aren’t taught how to do that, or how to think like that. So we just need to change the conversation first among parents, and then to teenagers. But let’s not assume that people are deliberately trying to be seductive, because I’ve talked to very few that are.
Exactly! I don’t think that each 13 yr old girl is trying to be “sexy” and yes they are probably trying to live up the latest fashion trends. Why are parents buying this for their kids? I’ve been floored numerous times by what parents allow their daughters to wear! But when they see the youth group leaders doing it – it is an even harder “battle” to tackle.
I think if youth group leaders are doing it than it’s up to the parents of kids in that youth group to have a talk. And again, the focus just needs to be on “are you dressing to show that you respect yourself?” And “honestly, what is the first impression people are going to get if they look at you?” And talk about how you want to teach your daughters to have a positive self-image and to respect themselves, but it’s hard otherwise.
I really think that this is a conversation that a lot of women honestly have never had. And if we paired it with “let’s go down to Goodwill and have a big women’s day and look at the outfits we can create!” or something, that’s even better. In fact, that’s an awesome youth group activity–everyone gets $10 and let’s see what we can come up with that is fashionable and that says, “I respect myself” and “i look awesome” at the same time. Because respecting yourself does NOT mean that you dress frumpy! In fact, those who respect themselves usually look WAY better!
I don’t entirely agree with you. I understand where you’re going, but not everything you say is biblical.
The entire book of proverbs speaks of women leading men astray.
I personally believe any woman concerned about her attire, should praise God she feels this wat and yes, adjust her clothing to dress modestly.
A woman of God, accepts this readily and proudly, so she may glorify God in everything she does…. Including her clothes.
So many of us want to be “liberated” yet quickly deny responsibility when or choices affect others.
Joanna, can you please point out where my argument is not biblical? Where, when I was discussing the Bible passages, did I go wrong?
To address your use of Proverbs, those verses are referring to women who are deliberately enticing men to stray, an action and intention that I clearly said in my post is wrong.
However, that’s not what this post is talking about. This post is referring to blaming men for women straying when women are not deliberately trying to do that at all. Please do not conflate the two. Intention matters. Do not heap sin on women where no sin is found.
I’m going to sound super harsh here … but there actually are 13 year old girls who are trying to look sexy. I know one 12 year old (in my youth group when I was 12) who was pregnant and a stepchild of my aunt who had two STDs by the time she was 13. When they were butt-shorts and spaghetti straps, the message was intentional. It’s not a majority, but a significant enough amount to influence a bunch of little girls who don’t know better.
The problem is that we don’t explain that kind of signaling well to young girls. There are sexually precocious ones who have figured out what all this means — and a lot of other ones who just think it looks pretty or “mature” or fun/wild, and don’t realize the larger connotations. I think Sheila nailed it with that comment.
Oh, isn’t that sad? I wonder how much sexual abuse plays a part in that. So sad.
I also think that people forget that just as men are visually stimulated, and this often lends itself to the sin of lust (which is not right of course) women have a desire for men to think they are beautiful and capture their attention, which can lead to dressing immodestly. Just as a man visually enjoying his wife is not wrong, but outside of marriage is, a woman dressing to make her husband go “woah!” is not wrong but can cause them to do that all the time and try to attract attention from all men. I think people are quick to offer grace and understanding to men while not to women, but when you think about it it’s two sides of the same coin. No, purposefully dressing immodestly is not right, but I think grace can be offered when we remember that women want to be beautiful just as much as men want to enjoy that beauty. That is what I always try to remember when I see girls dressed poorly. No, it does not excuse them, but it is more of an action directed in the wrong way.
Wow, I never thought of it that way….the amount of shame and fear women have had put upon their bodies really is a stumbling block! I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed to God to change how I look. I know women who purposely keep themselves overweight or frumpy to avoid unwanted attention from other men. Although, in my case I have asked God to make me more beautiful and sexy so my husband would notice and want me more. Frankly, if I wasn’t married I would dress more modestly than I do. Hubby encourages me to show it off a little and dress up more. So, I feel like I am either unsubmisdive and displeasing to my husband, or causing men to stumble.
I actually pretty much gave up the fight and wear what I want now, although it is generally less modest than I normally would wear, but still modest to world standards.
Now that skinny jeans for men is popular, church has become a place where young men wear them sometimes. They reveal the shape of man butts, and even the outline or bulge of the genitals. Nothing detailed, but akin to a knit top hugging the breasts, or skinny jeans hugging the hips and buttocks of a women. Now, that can be a shock to some, but everything is still covered, and everyone has eyes and faces to look at.
We are humans, male and female, with bodies and private parts. Each and every one of us…It really doesn’t take much to recognize our humanity and biology and respect the human.
Media has reduced us to body parts.
I used to belong to a camping group. We would spend a LOT of time together, all us married couples, camping. There isn’t much privacy in camping in tents, so we became a bit desensitized to certain lacks of privacy. We learned you can grant someone privacy while being right there with them. You don’t have to look. We learned that couples have sex in their tents and it is noticeable. We can smile and be happy for them and not dwell on it (but maybe tease them a little the next morning). If this can be done in the secular world, it ought to be easy for the church.
Hi Libl! Yes, I think one of the big tragedies is that women have been told that there’s something wrong with their bodies. And combine that with the messages that we also get from our culture and it’s just really toxic.
Isn’t it funny how we actually make ourselves a stumbling block? I prayed for years God would make me a boy, would remove my breasts, my hips. So he gave me a body my husband adores. I struggled so long because others notice too. So after one particularly bad modesty meeting at church I decided to repent for being female. Abba let me have it. He let me know I was created to be beautiful and not a stumbling block. By trying to cover myself up, to not make ANY man stumble, I was making myself be the Holy Spirit and I was damaging my own soul. I was basically telling God he created me wrong. How awfully arrogant!
I don’t think about how other men see me. I dress what makes me feel confident, is appropriate for the situation and makes my husband smile (i work with him). I don’t have legalistic rules because I know what Abba said to me. I refuse to be dictated by others legalistic ideas that oppress who I am. I have freedom in Christ and called to walk in that freedom and preach the good news of the gospel. That is a greater responsibility than keeping a teen boy from responding to a girls body, when that’s what his body was designed to do.
We need to be MORE mature in the faith. We need to offer FREEDOM in Christ. We need to be the GOOD NEWS to others. That requires us so long at others naturally but spiritually.
My husband and I talked about this last night. We work around people who dress less than what Christians would consider modest. I have a figure and there is no way to hide it. I don’t have men lusting after me, even if I did, it’s not my fault. My husband doesn’t lust after the half dressed women in the office. That’s because we both decided to start walking in the faith and it had matured our faith.
Sheila has handled this beautifully this week. I’m left with this: in all things may Christ be glorified!
Sorry for any weird sentences. My phone autocorrect phrases.
Odd, isn’t it? If we focus on Jesus instead of ourselves the choices become clear.
I KNOW!!! Funny thing is, I’ve started to realize that works with pretty much everything…. 🙂
I’m a curvy girl, and I’ll tell you that I received way more sexual comments and harassment from random people on the street than my very skinny friend. I wish I could tell you why that is, but I honestly don’t know. I just know that now that I lost 20 pounds and I’m smaller then I’ve ever been and I’m able to wear clothing that wouldn’t have been modest on me before. I really think manufacturers make clothing to show off a woman’s assets, and curvy girls don’t need the help. So, they look like they are trying to flaunt their chest and butt, in reality, they are simply trying to cover up as opposed to going naked. I’ve struggled with clothing for years and years. I’ve done everything I know to do to dress spiritually, and there have been times when my husband or parents back in the day, would tell me my clothes were revealing. It was highly discouraging because I worked so hard to be modest and it felt like a losing battle. Currently, I’m smaller now then I was as a teenager. I can wear so many clothes now and I haven’t looked inappropriate one time. I feel for my curvy sisters that are really trying to dress modestly, but still getting called out for what they are wearing. I spent many many years feeling horrible about myself because I thought I was a huge stumbling block to everyone around me. Sheila, your series has certainly helped.
I’m glad, Keelie! I’m NOT a curvy girl, so I can only imagine what that feels like. There are so many clothes I couldn’t pull off because I had very little chest.
But isn’t it interesting that no matter what we look like, we always feel like it’s wrong? It’s really too bad.
I remember being post partum. I had just fed the baby, put him down for a nap, and got dressed for a birthday party. I wore a dress with a surplus top for easy access nursing. I had a little “million cleavage” but nothing in your face or out of place for where we were going. About 3 hours later at the party, I noticed a fellow’s eyes bugging out as we made introductions. My baby started fussing so I excused myself to get comfy and nurse. When I went to extract a breast, I noticed why his eyes were bugging out….my breasts had filled with milk and were pouring out of my top!!
Normally, I am small chested, but with a newborn, I would get pretty big-chested. Totally out of my experience or comfort zone. Add the fact that breasts need accessibility for baby, and I had babies through summers, and none of them were good murders and modesty just flies out the window in utter frustration.
I also have a more shapely rear end. I am basically Marilyn Monroe from the waist down. Lol!!! That means regular jeans don’t fit, so leggings are my best friend. Skirts, too, but my backside can’t be hid. I gave up trying, but I am no Kardashian deliberately showing it off.
*milk boon cleavage* not million cleavage. Lol!!
*boob. Darn you auto correct!!
*nursers, not murders oh dear goodness!!!!!
When you are well endowed on top you are either seen as immodest because your clothes fit your top or you wear large flowing tops and look pregnant. It is not fun.
Curvy is more revealing because, well, there’s more to be revealed. Like a V-neck on someone with a large chest looks very revealing because of cleavage — the big visible line between breasts — even if it’s not particularly low. A small breasted woman can wear something with an even deeper cut and appear less revealing because of the lack of cleavage, even if it goes well down between the breasts. There’s no cleavage there, just rib-bone.
There are pluses and minuses to each; it’s just why things like dress code violations tend to fall disproportionately on curvier girls. It’s more obvious.
I loved these modesty rules! I do think a big part of the issue is simply what our clothing options actually are, though. I’m fortunate to have grown up with a mom who knew how to sew and taught me to do it, because the only way I could find skirts that fit my Christian high school’s ” 4 inches above the knee when kneeling” rule was to make them myself. And I’m pretty average height. Even walking through the kids’ section at Target yesterday, while there were some cute maxidresses, even the little girls’ shorts were super short and tight. I only have boys, so length isn’t an issue, but I strongly suspect that if we do ever have a daughter, I’ll have to make at least half of her wardrobe myself, if she’s to have any hope of being both modest and stylish.
Do you remember that blog post that went absolutely crazy a few years ago? A mom took a picture of the length of the size 6 girls’ shorts and size 6 boys’ shorts at Target–and showed the difference! I think Target may actually have changed after that!
I guess I probably should have added that I don’t necessarily like the messages that boys’ clothes can send, either! I hate it when relatives give us shirts that say things like studmuffin or lock up your daughters and stuff like that, and I refuse to put them on my boys. They’re still two and under, but it’s not too early to start teaching them to treat girls with respect, and those shirts seem to contradict that.
YES! I think that’s the other piece of the puzzle.
You can’t let your 4 year old daughters wear tiny shorts and open mid-riff, spaghetti strap tops, or whatever and then when they hit their teens all of that is suddenly off limits? What are they to conclude other than that a woman’s body is shameful? This very same clothes was ok last year, but now that they have boobs (or the beginnings of boobs) its not?
I think deciding on what you will allow your kids to wear (male and female) and enforcing that strictly from the time they are toddlers clarifies that modesty is about Jesus and not about shame.
Finding modest clothes in shops can be hard. We normally had all day shopping expeditions in several stores in order to find good clothes choices. It’s harder when your budget is very tight. Going for timeless-ness, beauty and quality over fashion helps. We were always taught to buy a few high quality, timeless pieces over heaps of junk fashion.
It’s definitely harder on a tighter budget. Some girls in our church gets around things like the open back tops by wearing camisoles. Or they wear the short skirts over capris-length leggings. Tunics over their yoga pants/ legging. Courtney from women living well has videos/ blog posts about using tank tops/ camisoles to help make popular fashions more modest. Learning to sew really does help.
I fully agree. My wife and I did not allow our daughter to wear mid-riff shirts or bikinis when growing up. We would emphasize how beautiful she was and how much God loves her for being who He made her to be. Likewise, our boys had limits. They could not wear t-shirts that were deemed inappropriate, including those that degrade women (its shocking to see how many are out there and being marketed to teens).
I hated that! They still do that. My daughter plays basketball and we have to buy boys shorts to get the length. most of the teens I know are frustrated by the way they are treated.
It really can be possible to recognize that yoga pants on a teen working it is not immodest. A bikini on the beach is not immodest. Nike pros in a volleyball game is not immodest. It’s context.
Perhaps the three questions Sheila posed should be asked by both the person wearing and the person looking. Stop assuming the worst about the other.
Great finish for the week. To be honest, I think this article could stand on its own. My wife dresses to look nice, but also in a way that shows respect for herself. In doing so, the natural effect is that she dresses in such a way that a man would be lusting no matter what she wore.
I do find your articles to be quite interesting. My wife and I chose our church very carefully and have never attended a church that places the blame for the sin of one on another. We have never been in a church that stated or even implied that a wife should be intimate with their husband to keep them from sinning. The most satisfying sex is one where both are fully satisfied. I find it sad that such churches evidently are out there.
Finally, it is absolutely appalling that a Christian school would support a teacher who is not showing self control, especially with a student, but it is likely a problem with coworkers as well. The young lady should never be subject to this situation.
Thank you for these posts. I began reading them with hesitancy, but glad I kept going. As a teenager, I developed VERY quickly and became “large chested.” I constantly wore baggy clothes (like 2-3 sizes too big), out of concern for modesty stressed by my family and church. In my early 20’s I read “I kissed dating goodbye” and thought I was forever cursed because of my chest. I thought men would always lust after my body and I would have to wear a tent for the rest of my life. I even thought I should wear a Muslim covering! I eventually walked away from Christianity because something in my soul said that if the only way I would be acceptable to God was head-to-toe covering -it wasn’t worth it to me. Thank God for his grace and mercy in opening my eyes years later that he was NOT like that! It’s been a long faith journey and I am still learning. But I do appreciate you fighting this battle! Blessings!!!
Wow, Ashley. THIS is why I do what I do. Thank you so much for sharing that. You have no idea how much that encouraged me. And keep seeking! Jesus so loves you, and when you reach out, you’ll find He was there all along–and He was so upset for you as a teenager when you were made to feel such shame, too.
That’s such a good example of what Sheila was talking about! Imagine in our effort to be righteous we are actually making people lose their faith. I can’t imagine the Father likes that.
Another excellent post! Remember it was said about Isaac’s wife Rebekah, “Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”. The same was implied about Isaac’s mother Sarah. Both ladies were “brick houses” and made a king stumble. God condemned the king!
If a man has a problem with women in church maybe he should wear a blindfold. The reality is men are blame-shifting. “The woman whom You gave to be with me…” The solution is for men to be addressed head on about this issue as you are doing. They need to acknowledge that this fantasizing problem is a product of their past indulging in pornography. It has dug a rut in their mind. They need to be instructed to re-train their mind to think righteously about the sexy women they see, and to praise God for them: “Wow! PTL for that beautiful, full figured woman.” Many men fear facing this because they have little confidence in themselves based on past experiences and failure. The LORD will give them the ability to overcome if they will face their fears head on, not try to hide.
Love this, Doug! Thank you.
I am like Keelie here where I’ve lost 20 pounds and am able to wear clothes I’ve never been able to wear before. I also have the curves, too, and I get comments all the time about what I wear from older women in the church, about modesty, blah, blah, blah, and “just because you can wear certain things now, doesn’t mean you should.” I feel I dress modestly but I also want to wear clothes that are flattering to my figure, since I did work hard to get it. I also get tired of “the inside is what’s important, not the outside.” I realize that, too, but why are we made to feel that if we try to take care of the outward, too, that we are lax in taking care of the inside. I personally liked reading the blog this week, because even though it was a tough subject, sometimes these things need to be said, and its not in the church.
Exactly! I sometimes think that people want us to believe that “frumpy is more godly”. It’s not! Part of looking approachable and friendly, which was the whole point of Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 2, is to look as if you take care of yourself and you respect yourself!
Congrats on losing 20 pounds! WOW! That’s a lot of work, and you should be really proud of yourself!
As someone who’s rather curvy, and whose husband is pretty open and honest about what he is and is not comfortable with other men seeing me in, I say just go for it and wear clothes that make you feel beautiful! 🙂 God created beauty, and he created women to be beautiful! It’s OK to love that about yourself–he created that part of you! He didn’t only create the inside. And the outside is the vessel through which we talk to people about Christ, and it’s important to take care of ourselves so that we can be better ministers for Him (being more approachable, more relatable, etc).
Wearing form-flattering clothes isn’t immodest, it isn’t wrong, it isn’t sinful. If you’re wearing clothes that make you feel beautiful simply because you want to feel beautiful and want to celebrate the body God has given you, there’s nothing wrong with that 🙂 The problem becomes when we wear clothes to entice men–but that isn’t what you’re doing at all. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the series this week–my mom worked really hard writing them!
Wonderful take, Sheila. In the comments, it seems the stories have been especially enlightening. So let me share another. A few years back at a Christian youth event where I was a volunteer, there was a girl wearing a T-strap sports tank top. Underneath she wore a camisole. No bra straps were peeking out, the shirt was not too tight, and everything was covered. Someone asked me about her attire, and I said that I didn’t have a problem with it, because it showed nothing more than what a regular tank top (an acceptable choice in the dress code) would show; it just had the straps in the middle instead of the sides. (Mind you, it was blazing hot in Central Texas in summer—just so you understand the clothing choice better.)
Later that day, I spotted a young man with a cuss word on his shirt. I pointed this out to his group leaders. More than one of the men said something like, “Well, you didn’t have a problem with what that girl was wearing.” That has bugged me ever since. Were they literally saying that this girl in her full-coverage tank top was analogous to a guy advertising curse words at a church event? Since when is this girl wanting to be comfortable in 90°F weather as bad, or worse, than blatant profanity?
At this same event, I’d previously asked girls to change their attire when it was uber-clear that they were attempting to be distracting in their appearance, but that’s a far cry from the message we sometimes send young girls. Thankfully, the approach in recent years has been that we are not called by Christ to be the Dress Code Police; rather, youth souls matter much more than a slightly too-short skirt or a shoulder-baring tank top.
Thanks for an excellent series and lots to think about and discuss in our Christian circles.
Oh, J, isn’t that ridiculous? If we’re going to enforce dress codes, it really needs to be for both genders. And that’s just so infuriating!
Thanks so much for this series! I work for an anti-trafficking organization, and we struggle to recruit male volunteers (who provide security, drive, pray, and help model healthy, platonic man/woman relationships). Your posts have given me the vocabulary to encourage them that they can serve alongside women (Christian or unChristian), in settings where sexual exploitation (and more) are happening, and not lust. Men are the solution to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation because when lust is conquered and sex is restored to the confines of a covenant marriage, the demand for the sex industry disappears. Thanks so much for articulating what I’ve been struggling to articulate on my own!
Oh, what an amazing ministry that sounds like! Thank you so much for doing that work! It’s so needed.
I think it’s important to remember that when women are asking themselves these three questions that not every women will have the same answer. I wear leggings and tunic shirts a lot. Not to solicit attention but because I am comfortable and look friendly and approachable. Unilaterally condemning a women because she ‘wears tight clothes’ is ridiculous. Or for whatever reason. I wear in between length shorts (I don’t wear butt exposing shorts but neither do I wear just above the knee boy length shorts). God gave me lovely legs. I wear bikinis sometimes, albeit mostly at the privacy of the cottage where it’s my husband and immediate family. I expose my shoulders with tank tops. (To be fair I rarely do any of this in combination). I feel I am beautiful. (Took me a LONG time to come to this after history of sexual abuse and modesty message being hammered in… for a long Time I wore nothing bu XL men’s sweaters). People are allowed and able to appreciate beauty. I can’t and won’t take responsibility for men’s decision to lust or dwell. As I won’t take responsibility for my abuser’s decisions. I was a girl. As an adult, I have one son. If I have girls I will teach them to respect themselves , honour their relationship with God. And yes don’t set out to entice but it is still ok be to beautiful and comfortable with that. So I guess what I’m saying is that modesty, taught this way is going to look different from women to women.
I am not a big fan of the available clothing for little girls. The work prostitots has been tossed around and unfortunately sometimes the clothes do make our girls look like this unfortunately.
With my son I am going to teach him to respect people. No matter their gender or who they are, their size, or what they are wearing. To appreciate if someone goes out of their way to look nice but not dwell and most of all to control their own response.
That was supposed to say the word ‘prostitots’
Can I just say, this entire series is one of the single best things in the Christian blogosphere that I’ve read in a VERY long time?! Seriously, I love it! So, so good, and well written. Thank you SO much for this, it’s been a real blessing.
So, I feel like putting almost any focus on how one looks in clothes is a mistake, especially for young girls. What we need to focus on is how the clothes feel, and how they make one feel. My teen years (and probably most people’s as well) was a time spent figuring out who I was, and that meant a certain amount of experimentation with my style. I tried a lot of things that weren’t really me, but I tried them anyway because that’s how I thought I was SUPPOSED to look, even if it was uncomfortable to me both physically and emotionally. It took me a long time to learn how to dress for myself, in a way that makes me happy, comfortable, and most importantly, confident.
I’ve learned I don’t like tight, restrictive clothing, so now I don’t buy anything that doesn’t let me move and breathe freely. It’s not what’s fashionable, but I’m happier that way. I’ve learned that I hate shaving, and that I’m really bad at it (could never do it without accidentally cutting myself). So I’ve done away with that, and am much more comfortable in my skin now that it’s not covered in scratchy stubble and nicks and razor burns, but rather soft, fluffy hair and smooth, undamaged skin. If it offends others, that’s their problem, I’m not going to hide it away under long pants and sleeved shirts and suffer in the summer heat, or subject myself to self mutilation any more to make other people more comfortable than me. I’ve learned that I don’t like having long fingernails, even though that’s what our culture says is the most pretty and feminine. They limit what I can do with my hands, and that I cannot have. Plus, when they’re too long I risk accidentally scratching and hurting myself or others, I’m clumsy like that. So they aren’t for me, now I keep them quite short.
In all of this, I’ve had to redefine for myself what of means for me to be feminine. I’ve had to tune out the other voices telling me how to be a woman, and listen to my own heart instead. Its been a long journey, and I don’t regret the experimentation it took, but I do wish it hadn’t taken so long. It might have taken less time if there had been someone, some voice telling me that how I look to other people, what I wear and the beauty rituals I perform, and how it makes others feel, is less important than how it makes ME feel. I don’t know if it would have made much difference, but I wish someone had asked me, “is what you’re wearing comfortable? Do YOU like it?” instead of “is what you’re wearing modest enough (or pretty/feminine enough)?”
By putting the focus on making other people comfortable, even when it meant covering up and being more modest, I was still being told that my comfort, my happiness and wellbeing, was of secondary importance, and that lead me to try to conform to a bunch of conflicting standards when I was young. It was a confusing time. It’s no wonder it took me so long to find a comfortable middle ground, that is more modest than what the world demands but less confined than what the church demands, that is truly me.
And I was only able to do that by disregarding how I looked and focusing on how I feel. Experimentation isn’t bad in and of itself (how else was I supposed to learn what didn’t like?), and I feel like we should let young girls the freedom to do so and learn about themselves. But we need to make sure they know that their personal comfort comes first, and it’s more important that what they wear makes them feel good about themselves than look good. That as long as they like how they look, other’s opinions don’t matter much. I’ve not done away with all beauty rituals, I just have only kept the ones I like and truly make me happy, and I look beautiful in the clothes I choose to wear, in large part due to wearing what I wear with confidence. That is the one true beauty secret, that works for EVERYONE, not just me.
Sheila writes “all the while not shaming women into thinking that they are inherently evil, just because of how they were made”. Good enough, but how about next week you focus on not shaming men into thinking that they are inherently evil, just because of how they were made?
Tom, hasn’t that been kind of the point, that Sheila has said over and over again? Being a man is NOT synonymous with lusting, any more than being a woman is synonymous with being a sex object.
Both men and women were made for more.
Hi Tom. I was reading this passage this evening, and thought of you as I have seen your comments on Sheila’s posts all this week. Since you have commented again, I thought the Lord might intend it for you and me also.
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (The KJV has “lust” here) But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17 – 24)
All kinds of lust are part of our old, sinful nature without Christ. He calls us to renew our minds and to cultivate our new nature – which is holy, righteous and totally pleasing to Him. You were not created to sin, either by original creation or new birth.
It’s been a very interesting week and I am very thankful for all that you have posted Sheila and that you are bringing up something that important that needs to be addressed in church. Something that really got me thinking was the: to notice is not to lust. It will still take time but after reading that I have started to realize that I lived in paranoia in vain. Today I have met two of my “temptations”. My coworker and my wife’s aunt who both are very beautiful women. A little older but very beautiful and I have always tried to avoid eye contact or look at them because I have always felt the attraction and this feeling of pleasure in my body because of their beauty but I realize now it’s ok because I never think more than that. I don’t undress with my mind I just think they are beautiful and it’s really liberating to not needing to look away all the time. I still feel some shame and guilt but i hope that will change in time so thank you for that!
Now I just wonder because I have been so indoctrinated with the way of thinking that the church has preached: is their any clothing that is wrong for women? I don’t mean to criticize but I hope you understand that this is a whole new way to think for me and I want to understand. I understand that clothing is something cultural but can it ever be wrong? I wonder because many girls are growing up with the worlds way of clothing and we have a strong feminist movement that is growing that basically saying the same thing as you are writing but they phrase it in another way. They also say that women should have the liberty to clothe themsleves as they want and they shouldn’t be afraid of men because of how they clothe. I agree but the clothing today that girls learn from is very revealing. Again I don’t want to criticize I just want to understand.
Thank you again for the great posts!
(EDIT: this comment has been edited because of its length, feel free to comment if I have misrepresented anything you said)
Hi there! Great question. I think if you ask the three questions I have at the bottom: Who am I dressing for? What’s the first impression someone who looks at me will have? Am I approachable and friendly?–those will pretty much cover it. If you’re wearing short shorts and a tight shirt with lots of cleavage, the first impression people will have will be: “She really wants me to check her out.” If you’re wearing something comfortable and stylish, the first impression people will have is, “she’s really confident and friendly.” If you’re wearing something sloppy, people will tend to think: “she’s insecure and/or a little lazy” (that may sound harsh, but it’s true). So we just ask, “what is the first impression? Is that really who I am, and who I want to be?”
On a side note, I still find it very interesting that people are picking up on the modesty/sex issue and not the modesty/money issue. Paul was very considered with the modesty/money issue. My girls were once in social situations where certain other girls wore ONLY brand names, and expensive ones at that. It made the whole group feel as if they weren’t good enough unless they wore the certain brands. The issue was not cleavage but instead basic snobbery. We don’t want people feeling like they’re “less than” because they don’t wear the right labels, either. I think that’s something to consider as well.
I guess i get what you mean but you left the part where I talked about girls feeling that theire way of thinking is right and that they can feel God say that in the same way the women you mentioned felt God told her that. You have one view of what modesty is and even if you have a more understanding and free way of see this thing with modesty but I still think you are influenced by the time you grew up where “right” and “wrong” clothing was very clear. I hope you understand what I mean. Youths of today have a different way to see these things because the line between “wrong” and “right” clothing isn’t the same today as before when even unchristians knew what was “wrong” and “right”. So even if your three questions are good is theire a risk that the line of how you can dress go to far? Even among Christians. We see a new generation with men and women who grow with more and more revealing clothing and a stronger message that you can dress as you want. Can it become an issue in church or is it totally ok to dress however you want as long as you feel that you are approachable. Because what determines approachable? Is it when a man can approach you? If a man shouldn’t lust then she should be able to dress as she wants. I hope you understand what I am trying to say. my church has talked about dress code with the girls who sing and play in the worship team because they are mostly girls and one girl udde to go up there with a cleavege and other examples. Was that wrong then of the church? Or should we just accept that a new generation is growing up with a new way of thinking? Again I just want to understand.
Great point! You said, “So even if your three questions are good is there a risk that the line of how you can dress go to far? Even among Christians.”
Yes, there is a risk.
It’s scary! Because what I’m saying is, “People need to listen to the Holy Spirit and have a relationship with Jesus and do what’s right!”
But that’s scary. What if they don’t hear right? What if they do the wrong thing? So that’s why we’d better have rules!
But that’s not what God says. God left us the Holy Spirit RATHER than rules. God took a HUGE risk. Instead of saying that Christianity is a bunch of rules, He said that Christianity was about a relationship with Christ and learning to hear Jesus’ voice.
And that means that God left open the door to the chance that people might hear wrong.
But He decided that risk was worth taking, because He wanted real relationship, not robots following rules.
So, yes, there’s a risk. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s the glorious, chaotic beauty of a relationship with Jesus!
Sheila, you answered this commenter’s question so beautifully. It so hard for us to be okay with the risk that we or someone else may do something “wrong” because in our hearts we all want to be our own savior. Self salvation is so much easier than accepting grace because then I control it. If I follow these rules then I am okay with God when God actually says if you accept my son who died in your place and took the judgement for your sins then you are right with me. I think this is where people even run into issues with marriage because we look to the Bible as a guidebook to our lives and it is but what we really want are formulas we can follow that will guarantee us that we doing things the right way and therefore will have the “right” results. That is one of the reasons why people who believe in very hierarchical marriages defend it so adamantly because they believe if they follow a certain formula then God has to reward them with certain results. It just doesn’t work like that. Ask any woman or man who believed with every fiber of their being that they were following the Bible’s commands on marriage and still had their spouse leave them. I am one of those who would be accused of not following the Bible’s “commands” on the hierarchy of marriage and yet I just celebrated 20 amazing years of marriage with my husband. So looking to the Bible for formula’s that “guarantee” a certain result is a fruitless endeavor when we will gain so much more by just seeking God and his voice and his heart. Like you have said in this series over and over both in the issue of lust and the issue of modesty if we point people to seek more of God and look at themselves less then most of these issues would be non-issues.
Melissa, that is perfect. Thank you.
I guess you are right. I would prefer the robot thing. The relationship thing is really hard. Hell seems inevitable for me becaus will don’t fix the relationship thing but I understand what you mean. Thank you for your posts and you answers. I’m really impressed how you taken time to answer so many posts even the stubborn and stupid ones(in written some of those). You have blessed a lot of people with that.
God bless you!
I love your answer on this one. I know some women don’t see a problem with some styles of dress that would make my wife uncomfortable if she wore something similar. However, her relationship with Christ is just that, a relationship. It isn’t rules. It is listening and communicating with God almighty, seeking to please Him. While there are areas that scripture say “do this” or don’t do that,” God wants our hearts more than our dress codes.
He really does! And I’m so glad for that. It’s actually such a blessing–to be in a relationship with a Saviour who wants to have us wrestling through things, because the wrestling is a part of it. He wants us to challenge Him, to knock on the door of heaven, even pound it sometimes. He wants the prayers in the middle of the night. And He wants the quiet sitting in His presence after we know He has heard us, and comforted us, and told us something wonderful. And that’s a little bit of joy that, unless you know Him, you can never really understand.
I love this message Sheila! The Holy Spirit rather than rules! Yes there is a risk, but there is always some risk for any reward worth having! The way you’ve replied to this commenter is exactly how I live my life as a Christ follower, although you have written it so much better than I ever could!
Yeah, okay, but here’s the thing: if everything is hunky dory in Christiantown because females are dressing “responsibly”, and guys have their stuff together because of it, what do you suppose is going to happen when an irresponsibly dressed non-Christian woman walks onto the radar? I am of the opinion that, in the company of Christian males, she oughta be as safe as a baby in a bassinet. And as respected. If she’s not, following Christ is worthless.
Anna, I would love to say you are absolutely correct, and in theory you are. However, both Christian men and Christian women are works in progress. It may not be this particular area we struggle with, but it could be. We can only be responsible for ourselves, which for me means keeping my thoughts regarding sex and intimacy focused on my wife, regardless how anyone is dressed. It shows her honor and pleases God.
I do think clothing is very cultural. There are areas of the world where women regularly are topless. And I doubt men in those cultures brashly stare whether they are Christian or otherwise. And missionaries in these situations would have to adapt. They couldn’t not look at a women. They would have to adapt and be able to see the whole woman no matter what or what they aren’t wearing. So I actually completely agree…. clothing is very cultural. In our culture ….which is changing… then there is the question of how far we should bend or change. And I think the important thing is that we not shame other women. If I there is a women who is ‘weaker in her faith’ then it’s the responsibility of the men around her To control themselves and maybe the women around her to discuss talk and lead by example… but this is just my opinion. Because clothing is cultural and our culture is changing.
I want to address the first part of your comment about finding these two other women beautiful.
I find my boss attractive. But, I don’t avoid him or quit work. I KNOW I am not going to cross that line. He is married and I respect his wife. I am married and I respect my husband. I also want to keep my job. We would totally NOT be compatible, so even fantasizing about what-if scenarios is stupid. I don’t dress up when I go to work, but I don’t ugly up, either. We chit chat, but keep it very platonic. There’s no physical touch and we are open with our spouses.
Besides, his attractiveness does not detract from how I see my husband. But, I am not going to beat myself up for finding him attractive. But, I am not going to indulge in it, either. I look,at him when we are talking or I am receiving instruction, but I don’t “linger look” to feed pleasure.
It is like walking in the grocery store. You smell the bakery. Mmmm…it smells good. But, I am there for salad and a pot roast. I can be aware that there is a bakery full of delicious goodies, but I don’t need to go over there and press my nose on the glass browsing all the cakes and donuts, and I certainly don’t need to steal or buy them to stuff my face in the car on the way home.
That’s such a great way of describing it!
Very interesting series–so much truth! Thank you.
This is amazing Sheila. You did a wonderful job of breaking this down in a readily applicable and understandable way.
Thank you so much!
I remember several years ago my pastor approached me after a service looking for advice. One of the elders had approached him saying that the worship leader was “causing him to lust” and she should not be on stage at that time. This particular worship leader was a curvy girl who was very pregnant and, at risk of being crass, wouldn’t have starving babies 😉 Any movement would cause a bit of “movement” in feminine areas.
I remember standing there in stunned silence before I tore a strip off of him, on behalf of all women, so that he could pass along my message. How dare a man blame a woman for carrying new life? How dare he blame his sin on her? I think that I may have gone on a bit harshly (and apologized to him later for my tirade) . However, that issue never came up again in our congregation. It is another example of taking the plank out of our own eye before pulling the splinter from another. Not only in issues of modesty but all sin and disputable matters.
I don’t say this phrase very often, because I think it’s silly. But, “You go, girl!”
Hmmm…remember The Hunchback of Notre Dame animated movie? Religious leader dude wants pretty gypsy girl murdered because he is lusting after her and cannot have her. He becomes obsessed with her and fights God, resenting his vows to the church, and abusing his position to be rid of her.
I believe we have a problem right now where it’s not that women and girls aren’t asking these questions – rather they are ignorant or in denial about the answers. Regarding a revealing (low cut) top or tight short shorts: “What, this? It’s just cute! I feel good in it. Everyone dresses like this. What’s the big deal?” But those clothes DO send a message. So perhaps some questions that have more objective answers would help.
I do think it’s interesting that more conservative branches of Christianity want to focus on modesty, but ignore what the Bible says about costly apparel, etc. Now I don’t feel I have a complete understanding how to apply that to myself. Can it depend on a person’s income, perhaps? But regardless, there is a lot of it in my church. Like you mentioned, certain brand names that everyone has. I think I’m the only woman in the late 20’s to early 30’s group that doesn’t have a Coach or Kate Spade purse. I’ve actually told my husband not to buy me a Coach purse. We haven’t been able to afford a home–I shouldn’t be spending loads of money on accessories like that. And please don’t anyone reading this think I’m knocking you if you own those brands! It’s just that for our lifestyle and budget , I feel it’s too extravagant.
I JUST created a Facebook Post to talk about that that will go live tonight! You’re the first one that’s brought this up. It’s so interesting that this was really what Paul was concerned about!
I believe the scriptures and the holy spirits leading teach me to not consider the what we will wear, what we will eat…
Within my heart the same happens while deciding what to wear. Because I no longer live but Christ within me I dress without much thought at all and when I check the mirror I see through the living loving eyes of my heavenly father.
I am grateful for the emphasis to always be his Love to others is what always matters most.
Love aka 1 Cor 13
All this makes me think of how orthodox Muslims treat their women – by covering them up. No man is allowed to look on a woman he is not married to because she may lead him to sin. How very glad I am that I am Christian. As I said the other day, women are meant to be beautiful. In all shapes and sizes, all women are beautiful in their own way and no-one should ever be ashamed of that or of being woman, or feminine or dressing stylishly. I disagreed about breastfeeding (still do), but this post is amazing and I agree with everything. Women ahould be proud of who they are in Christ and should rejoice in who God created them to be. They should never feel the need to be ashamed just because they happen to wear a skirt.
I know I’m a bad Christian; I know it’s true, and maybe no one should listen to me for a second. I’m old (as a believer) and cynical and I’ve had the joy stomped out of me over and over, but I can’t help but think that burqas and harassment on the streets for women who don’t toe the modesty line, are the natural end of all this.
I had a very good friend who lived in Turkey for eight years in the eighties and nineties, when she was a single woman in her twenties. She said she always dressed very conservatively (always dresses that covered the knee, and sleeves that came down over the elbow) and she said she had men constantly hitting on her, following her down the street, saying obnoxious sexual stuff, and had been basically masturbated on more than once while riding public transportation. Guys would stand in the aisle while she was sitting in an aisle seat and grind into her shoulder. Yeah, live with that a minute. But the burqa women…they were good women, moral women, MODEST women. And they got left alone, but they had to entirely cover to earn the privilege. I just think it is way too easy for the human mind to go down this path. Everybody gets on the same page at a church, and the guys in that environment are all respect and polite behavior, but woe to the woman who steps in unknowingly dressed “wrong.” Let the whispers and judging begin.
Okay, you can tell me I’m wrong, but I just haven’t seen any behavior in the Christian community that gives me much hope of avoiding that.
I heard a christian man once expressing his frustration about his battle with lust and he basically said that he wished women wore burquas or disappeared so he wouldn’t struggle.
He got called out on that statement, but there it is.
Unfortunately, Anna, I think many strains of Christianity thinks that way. But not all. I’ve been in so many healthy churches, too! They just don’t tend to be the ones with the mega pastors and the ones who are loud on the internet. But many denominations treat women very well, and still stick to the gospel (the Wesleyans come to mind). So don’t give up on Christians! So many great traditions out there. It’s just that the more rigid ones seem louder.
Thank you, Sheila, for that comment. My wife and I attend a fantastic church where people are held accountable for their own actions, not other people’s actions. We are also encouraged to search the scripture to better understand God’s best for us.
Exactly! And I do think that we’re going too far towards the Muslim ethos on this. It’s really scary!
I still feel shame to this day thinking about a couple of incidents as a teenager that a couple of male family members came to me and told me I needed to dress more modestly…and then the time another female family member told me to “change out of those tight jeans now” in front of a whole bunch of people. It was very humiliating, and I remember feeling so frustrated at the way God made me and trying to figure out how to look pretty without causing guys to stumble. It was a battle that couldn’t be won. I honestly just wore what other girls were wearing and no one had ever talked to me about modesty, but when someone finally did, they gave the message that modesty was essential to protect the men. It honestly triggered a lot of my sexual abuse history. I just felt like another object to men who had no self control even though they supposedly had the Holy Spirit living in them. Now that I’m married, there is no shame, and I feel I dress more modestly now than when I was constantly being told I wasn’t! I really loved this post, especially when you brought up the point of “what if the women are at the time weaker in their faith?” This is EXACTLY where I was all those years ago!
Isn’t that just so sad, Nicole? I feel sorry for “young” you, and I feel so badly for all the young Christian girls who are hearing things like this.
I can’t thank you enough for this series. You’ve really “hit the nail on the head” for how I’ve felt in my marriage. I’ve endured a lot of betrayal throughout the years. I shared this series with my husband trying to open communication as I we trying hard to repair damage caused by both of us. His response was “you’re just jealous of everyone!”. Any advice for handling a response like that? This, along with alcohol, has been the biggest source of conflict on our marriage.
I pray your message can be heard, but I feel like as long as men are doing all of the teaching the focus will always be on their needs. Thank you for everything you do. Your blog has helped me in so many ways.
Thank you for that encouragement, Pamela! I’m so glad that it helped put things into words.
As to how to talk to your husband about it, do you guys belong to a small group? I think if a small group were to talk about these things, perhaps it would help because he’d hear other men also talking about it. But it also sounds like you guys may need to see a third party, especially if there are addiction issues involved with alcohol. I’d highly recommend a counsellor, or seeking out an AA group in your area and seeing if they have Al Anon, if the problem has gotten serious. That can be a real godsend when you’re not sure what to do!
I say, “you bet your last dollar I am jealous, and rightly so! I am all about a Godly marriage, a mutual, loving, respectful, exclusive marriage! Like God is a jealous God concerning His church only worshipping him, I am a jealous wife concerning being one flesh with you. I will not be a part of your harem, and I certainly expect my husband to not only respect me, but other women, too. A gentleman respects a woman’s privacy even and especially when she doesn’t respect her own. Unfortunately, when you engage in such lascivious behavior I do not see you as a gentleman, I have a difficult time respecting you as my husband, I have an even harder time wanting to share intimacy with you, I feel our marriage is on shakey ground, and most of all I worry about the condition of your soul and your walk with God.”
Whoa. That’s good!
“And it is better to cut out his eye than to lust.” This of course is untrue without the proper context. Jesus is not saying that it is better for a BELIEVER to cut out his eye than to lust. Jesus is saying that, if you’re not saved, then it is better to cut out your eye than to lust, because just one sin will send you to hell.
So here is my deal. I just looked up Mark’s version of the “cut it out” verses. I thought it was interesting that right before that Jesus said the part about if anyone causes one of the little ones who believe in Him to stumble, it’s better for a millstone to be put around their neck and for them to be thrown into the sea. Then the verses that comes after the “cut it out” verses are about salt losing its saltiness, and can you make it salty again. So here is where I’m going. Was Jesus telling believers or unbelievers that if they cause a little one that believes in Him to stumble, it would be better if they get a millstone? I think most of us would say believers, right? So what about the salt verses. Who is Jesus speaking to?
So here goes. If the first set of verses was to believers and the last set was to believers, doesn’t it make sense that the middle set is to believers too?
Ashley, if you feel it’s about believers, are you then saying that a believer can lose his salvation? Or are you saying perhaps that cutting out one’s eye is better than lusting because it’s better for some reason other than one’s personal salvation, perhaps another’s salvation?
I believe that “working out your own salvation” is a continual thing. It’s a walk with God, not a one-shot deal. I know this is a subject many disagree on, and I respect that. But yes, that is my view, and I believe this passage supports that.
I do believe a follower of Christ can backside enough to give up, turn, away from, or lose their salvation. Not everyone whow says Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of Heaven. Of the 10 virgins, only 5 make it to the wedding feast. All 10 virgins were believers, but only 5 were prepared.
I do believe continued, compromised, unrepentant sin may indeed place you in a precarious situation before God.
One of the deacons in my former church was a man on fire for God. His love for Jesus was evident in his service, prayer life, preaching, teaching, and gifts of the spirit. Then, as his wife and grandchild fell seriously ill, he turned his back completely on God and became a wiccan.
“Continued, compromised, unrepentant sin may indeed place you in a precarious situation before God”.
Absolutely! To my mind, most likely because such a pattern a of sin in the life indicates that new birth is highly unlikely to have happened in the first place!
Best make sure that we truly know the Saviour and have the power of His Spirit within before we get too complacent about eternal security.
“By their fruits ye shall know them”.
I don’t know a better way to put my response other than: Facepalm! (sigh)
Tom, my look at it is different. I don’t think you can lose your salvation. Gowever, what could be worse for a saved Christian than to lose their ability to effectively witness? In my opinion, to lead someone away from God should be one of the biggest tragedies. We do not want to “lose our saltiness” because we want to be good witnesses. What would be worse, losing an eye or losing the ability to witness to non-Christians?
This topic makes me angry. Thank you for writing about it.
I am pretty. I used to feel such guilt to admit that, but I am. I was born this way. Even without makeup, I am pretty. When I was a young girl, I got entirely too much attention for my looks. I hated it, and I hated myself because of it.
Then, as a teen, people were mean to me. Girls picked on me renlentlessly. Boys would ask me out (I was not allowed to date), and when I turned them down, they would call me a ‘tease’ despite me giving them zero encouragement. I dressed modestly, but I matured early. There isn’t much hiding developing breasts from pre-teens who are all obsessed with who has them first.
I began to dress alternatively and got in with a terrible crowd to try to prove that I was tougher than I looked. It was rough.
I can’t count the number of times I was assumed to be promiscuous simply because I was large chested! How ridiculous is that?
I remember a painfill embarrassing moment in middle school when we had co-ed swim during PE. We had plain, one piece bathing suits. A male teacher pulled me aside and told a female teacher that I looked “obscene” because I had breasts in the suit. He wanted to know if there was something else I could wear. I was mortified.
Now as an adult, I am much more comfortable in my own skin, but I mourn for myself as a teenager. I should have been able to find worth in who I was in Christian even as a teen. I shouldn’t have hated what God had created simply because othere were uncomfortable with me.
Now, I find I am comfortable in some.clothing items other women aren’t. (Bare shoulders, for example, do not bother me at all.) I am also really uncomfortable in some things that other women aren’t. For example, I HATE wearing anything even remotely low cut. Probably because my boobs were such a big problem for me when I was younger.
But, anyway, this long post to explain that I think we have to be extremely careful how we approach modesty with young girls. They are already so uncomfortable with the changes of their bodies. So, scary changes plus hormones and then we have to add in this weird topic of placing an ethical standard on clothing their rapidly changing on their bodies? Yikes. That’s tough. And it is a conversation that girl will likely remember her entire life. You don’t want it to be a bad one.
At this point in my life, I am not really concerned at all what other Christians think of me and my clothing. They aren’t who I answer to. But as a new Christian, it is also very scary. When you become a Christian, your entire life changes. It is much the same as being a teen girl! So, again, we have to use extreme caution.
Very well said, Jen! I’m just sick about that incident when you all went swimming. How can anyone blame you for your body? That’s just ridiculous. I’m sorry that you went through that, but I’m glad you shared, because people need to hear these stories!
Hi, although I’m not Christian, all the teachings of Jesus PBUH reflects in my religion and men and women have equal responsibility towards modesty. So diverting the gaze is part of the piety they’re both asked to maintain. As far as women’s body it’s meant to be attractive yet again it’s to the woman’s discretion at which times she wants it to be. While God has given us beautiful bodies, it’s our responsibility to maintain it’s respect, our dress code is example not to be transparent, not revealing and not excessive. When i cover up. I have done my part, so that men would do there’s. Clothes sends a message of your values, so i don’t believe it’s fair to wear tight revealing clothes and then feel ashamed to how God has created you!
I really appreciated this post, but have a few quick questions:
I have a LOT of boys. We’ve chosen to avoid public beaches just to avoid having temptation in their faces for hours at a time. ( They are aware that it’s their choice to look away in general public settings if a woman’s outfit causes temptation) My teen-aged niece does not profess to be a Christian. She and her best friend wear bikinis, probably just to look cute and not sexy. Broaching the subject with her mother ( my sister) brought up the ” body shaming” conversation. She does not think that the girls should have to put on a shirt if they are around my boys. Any thoughts on how to handle this type of thing with non-Christians?
Go back and read the entire week of Sheila’s posts.
Honestly, I really would never frame it in terms of “I’m worried about my sons”. That’s not really appropriate, especially if she doesn’t share your faith and they’re cousins anyway. That can seem kind of, well, creepy.
I had a friend in this situation, and she just talked about the “first impression” thing. It’s like when you go to a job interview. You may be the most amazing candidate in the world, but if you’re wearing sloppy clothes, they won’t hire you, because whether we like it or not, clothes are the vehicle with which we tell the world “this is what I want you to think about me.” So that’s what I’d talk to your sister about, if I were going to talk to her about anything at all.
I’d say this: there are predators out there. And there are guys who simply want to get into a girl’s pants. And those guys are scanning the area, seeing who is a likely pickup target. And they will naturally go for the people who seem to be saying, “I’m interested, too.” And chances are your niece isn’t interested at all. She just thinks she looks pretty. But if you ask, do you want her to get attention from guys who think like that?
So if I were to talk to her, that’s what I’d say.
But honestly, I’m not sure I’d talk to her. You’ve said they’re not Christians. It’s obvious that this is a topic that’s really uncomfortable for your sister. So you need to ask yourself, “by bringing up this topic, am I bringing her closer to Jesus, or further away from Jesus?” Are you being a stumbling block to her? She’s the weaker one in this case, and that needs to be your primary concern, not just the effect on your boys!
I hope that makes sense.
What an awesome post, Sheila! What are your thoughts regarding the desire to be attractive to the opposite sex as a single young woman? When I say that, I don’t mean appearing in a way that says, “I want to hook up”, but rather just presenting oneself in a lovely, feminine, clean, orderly way… a youthful way, too.
This whole series has been spot-on, and a much needed message to us Christians. Thank you Sheila for being willing to speak out on lust and how we treat it. I completely agree with what you’ve written, but there’s one thing I would add that seems to be missing from the discussion. When considering modesty in dress, I think the three rules you give are a great foundation. But there’s another important thing to remember – the shame of our nakedness. The reason we wear clothing (at least around people besides our spouse) is to cover that shame. As we make clothing choices, we also need to remember to ask if this actually covers and hides enough of our body. I’m all for dressing attractively, and I can’t draw lines for other people. But when we are choosing clothing, maybe we should ask ourselves if we’re covering more than the fig leaves did that God deemed inadequate garb. And I might add, the Genesis account makes no mention of causing brothers to stumble 😉 I think to understand modesty, we must go back to when God insisted on clothing Adam and Eve, and seek to understand His heart on our dress.
Shame is a hard word for people to swallow. Our bodies aren’t shameful, yet exposing our nakedness outside of the marriage bed and outside of context is.
Consider it this way. Sex in marriage is holy, wonderful, worshipful, and good. But, the same act outside of marriage is shameful.
Even in the uncorrupted, sinless everlasting we will be clothed. Why aren’t we all going to be naked in eternity like Adam and Eve were in the garden?
Sheila, I just want to thank you again for all you have tackled this week. I confess I felt a little worn down just reading the comments throughout the week, so I am guessing you are EXHAUSTED. So I just want to reintegrate how much women like myself appreciate it. I appreciate you SO much. Please keep up the good work, even when it gets hard. What you are doing is SO important. So very important. Thank you for what you do.
Another random thought I had. I appreciated so much when I saw Keith pop in to your defense after a comment on an earlier post. That made me wonder how some of the male readers would have reacted to these posts had they been written by a man. For those who struggle with lust or are in conservative congregations that unintentionally teach that women are “less than,” is it that much harder for them to hear what you are saying because you are a woman? Maybe that’s oversimplifying, but I feel like certain male readers dismissed the series simply because you’re a woman and you don’t understand their struggle. *sigh* So frustrating when we simply ask them to listen to our struggle for a moment and all those men can say is “But what about MY struggle?!” When did this become an either/or issue, not a both/and?! Thank you for pointing both men and women back to Jesus and our responsibility to be His ambassadors in all we do.
Sheila, while I haven’t agreed with everything you wrote this past week, as a man I would like to say thank you for writing these pieces from your perspective and viewpoint. Actually, I should clarify: I didn’t agree with everything you wrote upon first reading it, but after digesting it for a few days I began to understand where you, and other women commenting, were coming from. The great thing is that it got me thinking. My wife and I had a discussion about lust, and how we approach our own personal hang-ups surrounding it. We also had a great talk about how to approach modesty with our young daughter.
Ideas that challenge your opinions and perspective can be hard, but if we humble ourselves and remain open to the viewpoints of others, it’s usually for the better.
Oh, thank you for that comment! That’s really encouraging. And I’m so glad that this led to discussion with your wife, and greater understanding, because that’s really what it’s all about.
Thank you so much for this. I am currently at a camp in the role of female head school counselor. The kids all have to sign a dress code agreement (and it’s pretty strict) before they come and in my role I am having to enforce it. Tonight my husband, who is serving as the male head high school counselor, and I had to have a heart to heart about it with about 150 kids. I have always struggled myself with strict dress codes… Partly my rebellious spirit and partly because of the shaming it caused me as a kid. I had just read this article and was able to come at it with a better perspective and capped it off with two of the three questions in your “who am I trying to impress” section. Thank you for your ministry to me personally over the years for my marriage and for this opportunity in particular. Thank you for speaking truth and honoring God.
Oh, that’s so neat that it was used like that! Thanks for sharing!
My young daughter went to a Christian school. She would usually wear regular jeans with a loose model T-shirt. Because she was so skinny, you could look down her shirt a bit sometimes, if she was playing in the playground (if you tried hard). I was told by the teacher to let her wear tighter things that closed well around her neck, because otherwise it would not be ‘fair on the boys’. She was only seven. Seven, with not a curve in sight. I detest the sexualization of young girls and robbing them from their childhoods by making them responsible for the sexual feelings of boys, before they even should know such a thing as lust exists.
She is no longer in that school. Hopefully it did not affect her too much.
When I was younger, I actually left the church for a very long time because of the whole women as a stumbling block thing. I was taught that women were the reason sin existed in the first place. Everything that I was taught about Christianity seemed so oppressive. Women were evil, the bringers of sin, and it didn’t really matter what we did, we were going to hell no matter what. My parents were not that oppressive but every single time I went to church I was taught that every action I did from breathing, living, listening to music, you name it, was going to send me to hell. So I adopted the idea that I was going to hell anyway. This made me start to really dislike God. I didn’t want anything to do with a God that was supposed to be all loving but that would condemn me to an eternity of suffering for any little thing that I might do. I could also be very rebellious so as far as I was concerned if that was God’s view on it he was getting a big middle finger from me because there were many things about myself that I just couldn’t help. So I chose a different religion altogether for many years. It wasn’t until just 4 years ago that I started to study and try to learn what God was really about. I’m still learning slowly but surely but the God I was taught about and the God I’m getting to know are two vastly different beings. The culture I grew up in that taught that we are inherently evil is so massively damaging and causing so many problems for young people. I’m nearly 30 now. I married a man that was not good to me and I stayed miserable and scared in a very unhealthy marriage because of fear of God condemning me to hell which stems back to oppressive teachings I remember. I’m so glad that the God I’m getting to know now through my bible and places like this blog isn’t the same as what I was taught about when I was younger.
I agree with your article.
Another aspect of this is that it portrays men as uncontrollable sexual beasts who immediately go into lustful mode if they get a glimpse of female flesh. Noticing an attractive woman is not the same as lusting. This culture also tells men that they cannot trust themselves in the presence of any woman.
I understand that if a women dresses in a way to purposely cause a man to lust then she is perhaps to blame, but what about rape? “What was she wearing? What did she say, do, drink?” If we can blame a woman for a man’s thoughts, why not his actions? Regardless of what a women is wearing, the man always has a choice. Lust, rape, violence is always a choice. It might be hard, but I think in the end it’s always a choice. If a man has a lust problem and a women dresses immodestly on purpose and he lusts, maybe she is to blame, but if a man has a problem with controlling himself and raping women, then is a women to blame if she acts/dresses/or says something that sets him off?
That’s an excellent point, Anna.
I’ve been needing to update my closet a bit and am also working through some hurtful moments last summer from my VERY conservative friend, similar to the story in your post about the gal that went to wedding and was dressed in something she thought was perfect for the occasion. (I had asked my husband if the slightly low cut dress was ok for an event because it was all I had besides sweats- it was 93′ out and I was 8 mo. pregnant!) Anyway, he thought it was fine and not suggesting anything to anyone but my dear friend disagreed and disapproved and began earnestly lecturing her daughters about “modesty” rules whenever I was around them for a couple of months.
Also, I just finished Emerson Eggrich’s “Mother & Son” that had a similarly unhealthy “traditional” view about “modesty” and male sexuality and I have been struggling to sort through just what exactly to teach my kids about it all, when the church seems to have so many strong voices that don’t seem to be getting it quite right. I really appreciate how you handled the topic here and the scriptures involved and everything. Thank-you!
You’re so welcome!
I’ve never understood the scripture about it being better to be thrown into the sea if we cause someone to sink or cutting off our hand that causes sin rather than be thrown in the fires of hell. I’m sure I’ve gotten angry enough at my kids to cause them to sin. Does that mean I should be thrown in to the sea? What about asking for forgiveness from God? Isn’t that why Jesus died on the cross?
sheila, you’ve saved some of my faith in god today. Im not even christian. i’m a muslim and i have been driven so far away from my faith because of the messages in scripture and quran about me, my body and what role i play in mens lives, especially as an object of sexual enjoyment FOR my husband and clearly disregarding any sexuality of my own while simultaneously being raised with scripture that constantly tells me to be modest, that i am inherently evil and sinning because i am a woman and beautiful to men. that paradox definitely does not allow me to open sexually.
i wonder if you have any comments on men being ‘given young virgins’ in heaven. reading these passages, of being ‘rewarded’ in heaven by women, young girls and those too, whose main value is in their beauty and re-virginizing ability (disgusting), took me away from christianity, and also islam. i am deeply struggling with inherent misogyny in the abrahamic faiths. the mere concept of being rewarded or incentivized to reach for heaven and salvation, being related to beings/virgins created just for sexual gratification is wrong! its objectifying! its horrible! it makes me feel like a useless worthless tool in GODS eyes. and also is a big part of the problem, because this is what shapes mens minds and views of women and sexuality. if god doesnt respect our worth, then why would men? i thought could rely on god.. 🙁 i am deeply hurt by these sentiments.
i just want to say thank you for being so brave and honest in writing this. you are full of light. god bless.
I’m so glad you came upon this site, and that you enjoyed the post!
I just want to reiterate, though, that in Christianity there are no “virgins” as rewards in heaven; not at all! The point of heaven is that we’re intimate and united with Christ, in a non-sexual way, not that we get sexual rewards. The reward is to be intimate with our creator.
And in Christianity, Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” Patriarchy is a result of the fall, when sin entered the world, not something that God ordained. Actually, the reason that men rule over women is a result of the fall. Eve was told “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” It wasn’t like that before sin. And then Christ came to reverse the curse, so that we are free from that.
I’m sorry you’ve been brought up to believe that God doesn’t love women or that God sees you like this. He really truly doesn’t. He loves you dearly, so much so that He died for you, so that you could be assured of salvation because your sin was paid for. And that’s the beauty of it; that we live under grace, and not rules. God doesn’t think of you badly because you’re a woman. If people ever say otherwise, then they truly aren’t of God.
Thank you for these posts. Your articles to be quite interesting. Its good to learn how to dress for myself, in a way that makes me happy, comfortable, and most importantly, confident.
Thank you so much. This is an amazing way to approach this topic and I appreciate having this info before my kids (boy and girl
5 and 7) are older. And as a teacher it gives me another way of opening a discussion as well. Just thank you!!
Here is a question I have for the Christian community: Why do we always teach our daughters to dress modest out of respect and to “honor” our brothers in Christ, all the while a very high percentage of the young men in our lives watch porn, which often “dishonors” women, and we remain silent. Can someone please explain that! The vast majority of sexual/visual temptations that most males face is self afflicted via tv/movies/internet, yet we act as if women were responsible. I was raised in a conservative Christian home and could never understand that.
Porn is a HUGE problem, to be sure. In fact, porn is the subject of most of my really high trafficked posts on this blog! I guess I would say that I haven’t found that youth groups don’t address porn; In fact, in most youth circles and youth conferences it’s talked about constantly. But I think it can actually be talked about too much. My future son-in-law never had any interest in porn, but then all these youth conferences were making it sound like it’s such a temptation that guys can’t resist, that he started to wonder what was wrong with him if he wasn’t tempted! We need to talk about it without making it sound like it’s insurmountable. And not ALL guys watch porn. So, yes, it’s a huge problem. But let’s not make the problem bigger than God, I think.
Thank you for responding. I am not trying to blame men because most are truly good human beings. I am glad churches are confronting it, but I still often hear it implied that men are victims and women culprits. We teach our young people that men are visual because that was the way God made it, the problem is so many societies have distorted human sexuality and the human body, due to this what so many men are visually attracted to is unrealistic, and to teach girls this can be devastating. My husband of 25+ years had a vast collection of dirty magazines before he met me, due to that his brain became wired to that and he has never been visually stimulated by me, his wife. That was not God. Though we lived in a messed up world, for me personally, I have been more damaged by the Christian community then I ever was by the world when it comes to this.
Agree, Jodi! I actually did a week long series in June on how the church teaches this really badly. You may enjoy it: Do all men lust? Why Every Man’s Battle is wrong; 12 ways to help men fight lust (and they’re not what you think); how to talk about men’s sexual needs in a healthier way; and how “don’t be a stumbling block” is the wrong modesty message.
Lol. I had already read them all and was encouraged by them. It just greatly saddens me that so many well intended Christian authors (every mans battle, for women only, etc.) give a distorted view of human sexuality without looking at the big picture, they compartmentalise men and women which is damaging to those that don’t fit into the mold (your future son in law is a perfect example). As a women to not have my own life partner not visually attracted to me is devastating, And my younger self went to Christian material for validation, to know that I didn’t do anything wrong, and that I was created in Gods image….and to read in these books that God created them that way was devastating, makes a women feel inadequate. Fortunately, I have a fantastic husband and wonderful marriage, but there will always be that scar! Keep up with your wonderful posts, though I haven’t agreed 100% on all of them, you have a way of making things seen from another perspective.
I’ve been saved since I was a kid, got really into studying the Bible at 9 (I’m 37 now), Christian friends, , Christian in-laws, and have been a a handful of all male bible study groups. The topic of lust always comes up because its possibly the male mind’s hardest struggle. But I have *never* heard a Christian guy say “its the women’s fault.” I’ve heard that rationale from non-believers, but christian men have all known that Eve blaming the serpent, and Adam blaming Eve were not valid excuses when God faced them. Yet the serpent was still Eve’s stumbling block, and Eve was Adam’s.
There is still an element of consideration towards the next person’s weakness. If I know my wife is dieting on Monday it’d be extremely inconsiderate of me if Tuesday I brought home pizza, root beer, and brownies. I know that’s her weakness and I shouldn’t be making our kitchen conducive to her failure. If she fails its her fault for making the bad choices, but I had a part to play in helping her screw up. Likewise Christian women shouldn’t be making themselves conducive to men’s failure, because the choice is the men’s, but visual stimulation is a major pleasure center in a man (it literally feels soothing to at a beautiful woman, our brain releases dopamine). Women know by a certain age that short shorts, low cut, tight clothes show the form of the buttocks, are all sexually attractive to men. So Christian men aren’t blaming women for our sin, we’re just saying some common sense consideration would help us succeed in our diet. Especially with how you dress in church, which Jesus and God said is to be “a house of prayer.” We expect to go to the Lord’s house with our guard down to learn about him, not to see appealing fashion that flirts with our sensual senses.
God created the chemistry between men and women, and we both have a part to play in helping each other succeed and fail, what one does WILL affect the other. I get the idea this article is trying to avoid some of the responsibility.
God bless you, Sheila. God really used you for His Glory. Your series regarding everything about “every man’s battle” and women “causing men to stumble” spoke volumes that you are rightfully dividing the Word of Truth. You are a faithful steward of studying God’s Word proving yourself unto God. God answered one of prayers and I’m free from this battle when a guy broke my heart in 2017. Thank you for backing your message up with 1 Corinthians 10:13, Colossians 3:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 and other scriptures pertaining this topic. A lot of people confused appreciating beauty versus lusting after it for long periods of time. It’s not the same thing. When we entertain our thoughts by thinking impure about our brother or sister, we are committing sin against ourselves not the other party. They can’t help the way God created them. Psalms 139 states we are fearfully and wonderfully made! I’m free from this bondage that put a dark stain in my heart and I cried endlessly thinking I am to blame or God made a “mistake on me.” God blessed you tremendously for writing a passage for speaking the the true gospel that sets the captives free. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty! Amen!! Be blessed. I love you with the love of Christ, my sister in Christ. Keep doing what God is blessing you to write for God’s glory! Yea and Amen. 😊😊💗💗💗
Oh, thank you so much for sharing that! That was a great encouragement to me this morning.
I believe that maybe this issue of a stumbling block is being interpreted wrong. Here is what I think is meant. Men are visual creatures, thus wearing skimpy clothes temps men to sin. I look around today and see women that are showing more breast than is covered. This causes lustful thoughts to men. The point is this. The stumbling block isn’t the female herself, it’s the revealing clothes. Cover up. I am a guy who prefers modesty. The sin for the female comes when she knowingly dresses immodestly. I’ll try and explain with a little equation.
Female immodesty = female sin,
Female sin promotes male sin. And what does sin = death and violence. Cast the sinful clothing into the sea. Situations like being asked to wear a heavy sweater are wrong. God made women as they are, so don’t be ashamed to be a woman, curves and all. Women don’t have to show off the assets to be attractive. Modesty will attract good things, as seen God’s eyes. Thanks
Kenneth, I have some problems with what you’re saying.
First, you say that KNOWINGLY dressing immodestly is a sin (I’d agree).
But then you say, “female immodesty=female sin”. What if she doesn’t know? And how defines modesty?
You’re also saying that the female sin comes first–that female sin causes male sin, and thus, by implication, the woman’s sin is worse. That’s not what Jesus said. Jesus laid the blame entirely on the men’s feet for lust, and I think if men focused more on their own sin, rather than saying, “if those darn women didn’t sin, we’d be better”, we’d be much further ahead.
Kenneth, don’t you think women have eyes too? And I assure you men can also dress in such a way as to cause people (both female and male, yes, there are queer folks in churches too) to lust.
I can’t count the times I have forced myself not to stare at a guy’s butt in jeans that were just a bit too tight, or enjoyed a shirtless beach volleyball match during Christian summer camps a little too much.
But I never thought their “immodesty” was sinful, I accepted it as my struggle and grew into a mature Christian who does not look at men as pieces of meat, regardless of what they’re wearing.
Is it too much to ask of men to do the same?
The questions are the way to go. It’s really all you need.
Hi Sheila, I’ve read your blog for years and have learned so much from your site (plus, you put things into words better than I could!). Do you have any resources or posts for young Christian women heavily struggling with their faith due to frankly, the disgusting, perverted attitudes that are so prevalent in church?
I grew up with a “Love and Respect” type father who would constantly make disgusting, sexually-charged comments towards my sister in particular in the name of “stopping men from lusting.” My mom disagrees with so much of what he says but goes along with it because “obey your husband.”
This, combined with toxic theology/beliefs about God and going to a Christian college that was obsessed with women’s clothing but the guys would get away with an annual prank NAKED – has severely hurt my idea of Christianity, Christians, and God’s goodness. I know Christians should be more focused on Christ than other Christians, but it’s so difficult without many strong, godly Christian women (and men!) role models.
Hi, Anon. 🙂 I just want to say that I totally understand. The places I have found this toxicity the most rampant are Christian schools, Christian colleges, and conservative Christian churches. I think it’s because the people are often more cloistered and sheltered from the rest of the world, and so, frankly, you end up in an echo chamber of fundamentalism much more easily. Also, I think that many of these places have a lot of people who are culturally fundamentalist Christians but who don’t truly understand the grace and love of Christ. Christianity is about a religious, strict way of living life instead of a way of serving in the name of Christ. There’s an “in” group and an “out” group, and the people’s jobs in these circles is to police others’ behaviours to make sure it’s clear who is “in” and who is “out.”
I have found that looking for Christian community outside of conservative Christian bubbles is much more helpful. For example, I didn’t go to a Christian university but went to a regular university and joined the Christian campus group that was the least conservative Christian. As a result I was surrounded by Christians who weren’t afraid of scientific thinking, Christians who had come to the faith later in life, and in general Christians who were serious about their faith because even though they were in an environment in which it would be easier to NOt be a Christian, they were still going to the groups and the events. (it’s easy to be a Christian in a Christian college, harder in a secular one, so in essence you already are a self-selected group of people who really do love God but are living in the “real world.”) It’s where I met my husband, only 6 months after he became a Christian.
Obviously you’re likely not in university anymore if you’ve already graduated from a Christian college, but I just mean to use that as an example. When it comes to finding community after school age, look for churches that affirm women. Look for church communities that lift up and empower women. And then throw yourself into volunteering there, because the people who are also heavily involved in Jesus-centered-women-affirming churches are much more likely to be safe places because women are seen as co-labourers in Christ instead of potential sources of temptation.
If you live in an area where there are no women-affirming churches, I first of all highly recommend you check out new denominations you may not have considered. I was shocked when I actually looked in my neighbourhood how many churches around me are pro-women, when I thought that I lived in a town with a lack of churches that respected women adequately. But some places are honestly so deep into purity culture and patriarchy in the church that it is simply not a safe place, and it may be worth considering if there are good job opportunities for you in a place that is more safe for you spiritually, a place where women are treated with respect and dignity instead of lusted after or seen as less-than.
I’m sorry you’ve experienced this, and I hope you can be encouraged to know that your experience is NOT typical of Christianity. It is, unfortunately, VERY typical of a loud sub-group of Christianity that you seem to have been a part of for some time (and I have been a part of it in the past, too). Yes, we should be more focused on Christ than other Christians. But if the Christians around you are not acting like Christ, it may be time to let yourself admit that they may not actually even be Christians after all and instead go and seek out people like you who are already currently seeking God and not allowing toxic power-focused theologies to damage or harm the weaker members of the congregation.
I said a prayer for you as you search <3
hi Anon! Totally get where you’re coming from. We’ve struggled with a lot of these things as well. I would read Talking Back to Purity Culture from Rachel Joy Welcher; read anything by Rachel Held Evans (not everyone agrees with all of her theology, but she helps those who have been traumatized by church think a different way); anything by Brian Zahnd or N.T. Wright. Watch Greg Boyd’s sermons on YouTube–especially the series he has on Twisted Scripture. I hope that helps! And believe me–I hear you!
I am a man, and a pastor. I have a wife and an adult daughter.
First of all, I am really sorry for the way so much of the church has been mistreating and hurting women!
However, there is another aspect of this that’s not addressed here: not only are women hurt and shamed, but men are also mislead by this wrong ‘theology’. We are told that noticing that a woman is beautiful, is sin. We are told it is lust – when it really isn’t.
I can notice a beautiful flower in someone’s garden – it’s not a sin. But if I go in their garden and steal that flower – or even if I obsess or plan or fantasize about stealing from someone else’s garden – then it becomes sin.
I admire sport cars – but I really don’t want one. My Ford fits me just right. I like to look at the nice yachts in port – but my fishing kayak is all the boat I want.
You get the idea – we are teaching men that noticing beauty is lust; it isn’t. Lust is when you have inappropriate thoughts about a person.
We are telling women that men can’t control their thoughts. Sorry, but that is simply a lie! Everybody can control their thinking. The Bible calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. When we blame women for a man’s sin, by that we also tell men that they are not responsible for their thoughts and attitudes. By doing that, we have failed both women and men.
My daughter is very beautiful. She is also clever, and wise and creative. She has good fashion sense, and she often wears short dresses when the weather is nice.
I don’t just notice her beauty, I know she is beautiful. I am proud to be her father. But I would never lust for her, or think any inappropriate thoughts – even typing that here is difficult! Does my son-in-law lust when he sees her beauty? I sure hope so. Should anyone else? Absolutely not – no matter how she is dressed! But should other people admire her beauty? Well, yes!
This is the worst defense of this verse I have ever seen. Sad. No theologian ever thought or the Timothy ever expressed this was just flaunting wealth. Now as we have deveolved where everything is permisable and acceptable. We are supposed to be holy and not conformed to this world. I cant believe how poorly written this argument is.
So you’re saying that expensive clothes and gold jewelry and expensive hair dos are about cleavage then? What kind of jewelry do you think she was wearing?
Seriously, just look at the words in the verse!
You are walking dangerously close to having a millstone place around your neck, next to a very deep ocean; and if you are an authentic, learned, knowledgeable, and wise Christian, then you already are aware of this certainty. My prayers are with you.
It’s so interesting that you merely lob accusations and threats, all wrapped up in a spiritual bow, rather than actually trying to deal with the issues that I have raised.
I remember Jesus having something to say about that.
Intentions in what you wear or feelings about it don’t matter and not being a stumbling block to others is an important value. We are not called to be so self focused, we are called to care about our brothers in Christ. Claiming that modesty makes Christian women ashamed of their bodies is a bad argument against it. It’s just bad.
We are not to focus on our feelings to the point we make excuses for inmodesty. It’s ridiculous and damaging. As someone who dressed in ways that many people on this blog would claim is up to Culture, it does do things to men if your Intention is for it to or not.
To those who focus much on looking beautiful and showing curves moreso than obeying God. That’s pride. If you want to look enticing do that for your husband at home. It’s ungodly to want such attention from those who are not your husband. I’ve been there…
Save yourself shame, regret, and backsliddeness and just be modest. I gave up on showing my curves. I look beautiful but not enticing.
But some men have foot fetishes. What if it’s your feet that cause them to stumble, rather than your curves? Or what if it’s your wrists? Maybe you should cover your wrists because some men are attracted to wrists.
(Do you see the problems here?)
I’ve always talked to my daughter about this in terms of clothes communicating messages. Police or nurse uniforms communicate a message. Super-expensive branded clothes (particularly worn in our church, which is in a very poor area of the city) communicate a message. Professional suits communicate a very different message from exercise clothes.
The message changes depending on culture. What message clothes send in one culture is different from the message that the exact same clothes send in another culture. It can also vary tremendously in different age groups within a culture.
So I’ve framed it in terms of thinking about the message she is sending. Are the clothes she’s wearing going to send the message that she wants to send? Professional? Ready to muck in at the nature reserve?
I guess that’s pretty similar to your rules 2 and 3, in a way. What message am I sending?