Sorry for the shocking title. How else would I get you to read the things I write?
There’s been some articles floating around social media lately dealing with modesty from both sides. As I’ve grown older I’ve grown more interested in this topic. I was raised in a rather Conservative atmosphere, so the “Modest is Hottest” mantra has never been far away from my mind. I’m no stranger to the thought process and reasoning that goes with this mantra; I actively took part in it. In many ways, my opinion has not changed on the issue. I prefer modesty, not just in dress but in manner.
But that’s all it is. MY OPINION. The opinion of one insignificant man, nothing more. I don’t get to decide the absolute line between modest and immodest. I don’t think any one person gets to do that. The only person who can decide whether something is modest or immodest, and then impose that opinion, is each of us, on ourselves. Only I get to decide if I am immodest, by examining my motives for acting the way I do and wearing the things I wear. Do I do it for attention? Affection? Comfort? Convenience? How can anyone but me decide that?
I firmly believe that modesty is a matter that each of us must decide within ourselves. A Romans 14 issue. And no, I don’t use that lightly. I know far too many people refer to that verse as an excuse for their behaviors, but hear me out.
Let’s examine the two extremes of the modesty debate, or what we could call the “weak” in faith and the “strong” in faith. Don’t let those words fool you or make you think that you are strong or you are weak. The point of those verses wasn’t to say one was good and one was bad; simply, that there are those whose conscience don’t permit them to partake of an activity, and those whose conscience does. When this issue is not one of “salvation”, it depends on the individuals involved to decide on the action to take.
First, the “weak” side, or the ones who choose not to partake. This extreme believes that any act that could cause lust, any outfit that could draw sexual attention, is sinful and wrong. These people believe that it is the job of each of us to choose what we wear and how we act in a way that prevents anyone from looking with lust, ever. The thing about this side is, they believe it is THEIR job to let other people know that they are wrong for wearing what they wear, rather than letting that person decide for themselves. This is the side I’ve grown up with, and at times it got out of hand. It got to a point where church members asked homeless people or new guests to leave our church building because they were not dressed appropriately, i.e. not in slacks and a tie. Translated to women, this means no sleeveless shirts or dresses, no tank-tops, nothing tight or bright. They use verses in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3 to justify this line of thought, that women ought not to wear any clothing that might draw attention to themselves, not recognizing the context of these verses whatsoever.
On the other side of the extremes are the “strong” group, or those wanting to partake. These people are the ones who argue about their rights and freedoms to a fault. They believe anyone, man or woman, has the right to wear and do whatever they wish and that it is not their fault if someone stumbles along the way. After all, we all have our freedom of choice, right? It can’t be someone else’s fault if I choose to do this or that. This side argues that the “weaker” Christians have no right to impose their beliefs and opinions on others and that by doing so THEY are sinning for being judgmental.
Neither side is right. Remember, we ARE dealing with extremists on both sides, so they can’t be completely right.
But… neither side is absolutely wrong either.
One of the things I keep hearing on the side of those who deem others immodest, is specifically directed towards men. They say that men are visual creatures, we are turned on by what we see. That we can’t help but lust when we see a pretty girl in a particularly alluring outfit. It’s just boys being boys, it’s a guy thing.
But do you know how frustrating it can get to hear men and women say that?
Women, how annoyed, nay, FURIOUS, do you get when someone assumes that you’re frustration or anger in a moment is because you are on your period? How angry are you when someone reduces your thoughts and feelings, your legitimate concerns and frustrations and serious reservations, to one big ball of uncontrollable hormones that should be dismissed? Like somehow, you are not ever allowed to be mad, unless you are on your period or pregnant, and at those times your anger is dismissed because it isn’t real, it shouldn’t be taken seriously because of whats going on with your hormones? It’s demeaning and patronizing for someone to pat you on the head and say “Poor little girl, we’re gonna ignore your legitimate feelings because we assume they’re related to your biology that you can’t help.”
I am a guy. I am turned on by what I see, and I am particularly drawn to sins of a sexual nature. I have struggled my whole life with the things I look at and the movies I watch. I am ashamed of the thoughts I have had and the things I have done and watched while I was alone. It amazes me how easily my mind can wander to things of a sexual nature, just by one image on TV or one word on the internet. I really am wired to be a sexual creature.
But guess what?
I AM NOT AN ANIMAL.
God made me the way I am, with sex drive and hormones and everything. But he also gave me free will, a mind. I can make decisions despite my feelings and drives and urges. I am not a rabbit that smells pheromones and starts mating with anything I see. I am a guy who, despite my urges and tendencies, has the ability to choose to not act on those urges. Just like women are intelligent and can be angry or frustrated without it being about their hormones, and are fully capable of being rational and making reasonable decisions despite what their biology might be telling them to do. I am fully capable of seeing a woman in yoga pants and looking away, not dwelling on those thoughts, letting it go the moment it enters my head. If I choose to dwell, to wonder about that woman’s body, THEN it becomes lust. It is then that I have committed adultery in my mind, not when the thought enters but when I let it consume me.
I don’t reduce anyone to a collection of hormones and drives that are uncontrollable. This line of thinking will inevitably lead to some pretty terrible conclusions. By this thinking, it’s okay for men to rape a woman if he feels attracted to her. After all, he can’t help it, right? It’s his biology. And in this line of thinking, women are responsible for getting raped, because “they didn’t wear appropriate, modest clothing” that prevented those thoughts from entering a man’s mind. And that is just sick and wrong to think or say.
Granted, there are those who will abuse this line of thinking for their own gain. Men who will say they can’t help themselves because they are “sex addicts”, or just a stupid man with a strong libido. There are women who will blame their horrible actions and words on “that time of month” or the fact that they are pregnant. Both of these people act like some hormones affecting their brain is a fair way to get out of the awful things they do or say. They are looking to pass off responsibility to their biology. Unfortunately it can be difficult to pick these people out and know the ones who are legitimately driven insane by the chemicals in their bodies. However, the majority of the time, society is not going to take a rapist seriously and let him go because he was driven to his actions because of his “affliction”, just like a woman will not be let go after she drowns her children in a bathtub because of her post-partum depression. Everyone has a choice, even those who have the hardest time with their urges.
I think the bottom line is that both extremes tend to pass responsibility on to another person. The weak side says it’s completely the other persons responsibility to dress appropriately to prevent anyone from lusting, and the strong side says it’s completely the other person’s responsibility to not lust or get sexual thoughts in their heads. Neither side is willing to admit responsibility for the decisions they make and how those decisions might affect anyone else.
I sincerely hope that when you dress, that you are doing it for the right reasons and that you are aware of how it will affect someone else. Having said that, I don’t get to tell you what is right or how it will affect anyone. I don’t get to decide that you are wrong, only your conscience can do that. It is NOT your responsibility to answer to me and what I want or how I feel when I see something. You don’t answer to me, or any man or woman when it comes to your soul. You answer only to God, and if you are making informed decisions for Him first and foremost, no one else can judge that. If you are the stronger in faith, your only responsibility is to not purposefully do things to cause your weaker brothers and sisters to stumble, which only you can decide. If I am the weaker in faith, it is my responsibility to not try to tell you how to live your life or to infringe on your freedoms, only to do my best to serve my Lord and choose the right path.
Everyone, stop passing off responsibility for your actions and thoughts on someone else.
Weak Christians, it is not someone else’s fault that you chose to pursue a sexual thought or to act sexually. No one forced you to do it, you made that decision. Stop telling women they can’t wear yoga pants just because you “can’t help but stare” when they do. Stop telling men they can’t go shirtless at the beach just because you get hot-and-bothered at the sight of their muscles. That’s your fault, not theirs. Rein in those thoughts and take them captive.
Strong Christians, it is not your fault that a weak Christian chooses to act or think sinfully. They will be judged for those actions. It IS your responsibility to be mindful of how you affect those around you, and recognize that you will have to give an account of each decision you made and the motives behind them. If you’re wearing yoga pants to make guys ogle, if you’re going shirtless to show off your body, recognize that you are not responsible for the choices someone makes, but the feelings you intentionally caused them to feel will follow you.
It is everyone’s job to bring about unity, not discord. Stop stepping on toes just because you “can”, and stop judging each other’s motives because you can’t or don’t bother to control yourself. If we all take responsibility for our choices, maybe we can stop arguing about things like yoga pants amongst ourselves all the time, and start talking about Jesus to the people in the world who need Him.