Men and Modesty

I posted over at the atheist site where I first saw the video – the gist being that I support women dressing modestly but as Christians we’re really bad at helping them do so without guilt-tripping them – and got at least one fairly upset response at my sexism. Fair enough – obviously I knew I was posting on something contentious and I know that any time I post on an atheist website I should expect some hate (not because they’re hateful people but because those people always exist in any group and in this case as a Christian I was immediately the enemy). Even better, though, is that at least a few people did step in and defend me, so I am thankful that although I always do expect a bit of hate when I comment, that is usually a minority against those who seem to appreciate the discussion.

There are a few slightly-unrelated thoughts that I figured I may as well finish off saying here, however: I particularly like that point about hardly being able to blame the guy coming from the framework that he is. Sure, there is some over-generalizing about Christian beliefs, but again I’ve come to expect that on atheist sites. But if you assume the starting point that if all sexual attraction outside of marriage is lust and therefore wrong, then you really have to applaud a guy for being able to ask for help on something that personal. If anything to me that isn’t sexist because it’s saying that men are the screwed up ones who need help.

The second point I’d make is that this video is asking for women of the church to dress more modestly. It isn’t telling them they have to. It isn’t saying they’ll be kicked out of the church if they don’t. It does have a bit of peer pressure involved coming from a pastor, and that is questionable to me, but even that is being said to people who go to his church presumably, so they are girls who are probably on a similar page regarding the theological and ethical issues involved. Meaning that realistically to the original audience there probably wasn’t really any offense or pressure here, because they were probably being encouraged to do something they already agreed with.It asks them for help, and I have trouble really seeing any request for help as sexist. Comments were drawing parallels to burkas, and no, that is not nearly the same thing, not just in terms of it being much less clothing still but also in that it is a request, not a regulation. It also is asking women of the church, not all women. It is not trying to enforce their morality on everybody as would be the case of a burka in some Muslim countries.

Furthermore, I think most Christians would agree that the reason we typically refer to lust as wrong is because it degrades the opposite gender. We think it is more loving to see a woman as a person than as a tool for sexual pleasure. It is not that women are property so we like telling them what to do – it is that we don’t want to think of them as property when that is such a heavy theme of our culture. So long as it is being talked about and asked and not commanded, I think that not lusting definitely is a loving thing. I still think it’s a bit over the top and sexually repressive from my own theological viewpoint, but from the framework of lust being attraction, it makes a great deal of sense and is not at all sexist. But of course as the theologian my main question is: what is lust? There are basically three Christian answers:

  • Lust is sexual attraction to someone who has not offered that to you (usually equated to your spouse). Don’t get turned on, period. If you can’t tell by now, I think this is a very problematic view.
  • Lust is sexual thought toward someone who has not offered that to you. There’s nothing you can do about the attraction naturally speaking, but don’t let yourself consciously think about acting on that attraction.
  • Lust is sexual intent toward someone who has not offered that to you. Even consciously fantasizing is fine as long as you’re not planning on actually doing anything about it.

I also ask: what is modesty? Is it a set of rules like no cleavage, no midriff, etc.? Is it defined by the attitude of the person (ie. is it about whether they are trying to elicit lust)? Is it a culturally-defined thing? What do you think for definitions of each of those?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.