What Christians Ignore About Modesty

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Are you modest? Do you cause your brother or sister to stumble? When you leave the house do you present yourself in a godly way?

Every single person reading just mentally jumped to clothing, without me having to mention appearance or apparel at all. There is a reason for it, too: modesty, particularly female modesty, is one of the most bitter and public arguments in American Christian culture today—and it all revolves around our skirts and our hair. The exact percentage of acceptable skin shown has been ascertained, the lines marked out on thighs and shoulders above which nothing may be revealed and the materials of which jewelry might be made has been parsed out. As a young woman in the church, it seems the only sermon or study ever directed towards me specifically regards my power to make men sin.

But what about my sin?

Stumbling Blocks

"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister." (Rom. 14:13, NIV)

There are dozens of pleas on the Internet, in magazines and from pulpits from straight men to the objects of their desire. They ask women to cover up their bodies so that they do not present a stumbling block for their brothers in Christ. This is a valid request.

It is not right to go to a brother who struggles with lust and disrobe casually or flirt sexually. But these pleas go further: they ask that women should guard against prying eyes at all times, and they suggest the endlessly detailed standards with which we have all become familiar in the modern church. In this way, without ever thinking it of themselves, they put a stumbling block in front of their sisters in Christ. That is also not right.

If the weight of my testimony as a child of God rests on my physical body, then I become an object of sin. In this context, in order to fully participate in the body of Christ, I must turn inward and focus on my physical self, creating a barrier between myself and worship. The focus shifts away from God and instead becomes vanity. It is not only a matter of feeling blamed, or being unwilling to alter my behavior to help others. It is a matter of needing my walk with Christ to be considered equal to that of the men at my church.

Modest Is Hottest

Do me a favor and reflect on last Sunday. Try to picture any of the young girls who attended your church. Hair plaited back, a skirt that goes to exactly mid-calf, a sterling silver cross around her neck, glittery ballet flats, plain and pinkish makeup. You can probably call up the image quickly; I can think of quite a few.

Now try and recollect a young man from your parish. This image is likely a lot less clear and well-defined, but I imagine you thought of a couple of young men in pressed button-down shirts, then another couple of young men in T-shirts and shorts.

Did one style of male dress resonate as "immodest"? Probably not. But what about "less appropriate for church"? Certainly, many Christians would agree that one style of male dress shows more respect for God and His presence, a willingness to exercise humility in presentation. This hits a lot closer to what the Bible is calling us to when it says "modesty."


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