The question arose on a facebook group, “why do men have more relaxed (or nonexistent) rules in regards to modesty when women have very strict rules?”
At Cedarville (and likely elsewhere) women routinely get harped on the importance of modesty; likewise, guys are repeatedly informed on the importance of purity. This is very one-sided. It’s is a dire double standard, a one way street to a dead end. When women only get the modesty talk, and men only get the purity talk, it reinforces a number of poor stereotypes, such as:1. Men are visual, non-emotional. 2. Women are emotional, non-visual. 3. Men are sexual. 4. Women are not sexual. 5. Women must dress modestly. 6. Men don’t need to worry about modesty. 7. Men can’t helping lusting/thinking impurely. 8. Women are responsible for men’s purity.
And so on. But all of the above statements are in fact false, or at least incomplete. Men are both visual and emotional. Women are both visual and emotional. Both men and women are sexual. If that is the case, then shouldn’t men and women get both the purity talk and the modesty talk?
That said, as I move through this post, consider both men’s modesty and women’s modesty. This conversation does not apply to just one gender, but both.
So then, what about all this modesty stuff? What is the purpose of modesty?
1. Foremost, to represent Christ well and glorify Him by our clothing choices.
2. To extend a loving gesture to our brothers and sisters in Christ who may struggle with lust or objectification.
Generally speaking, I would say that people have the liberty to wear whatever they want, so long as it falls in the spectrum of “representing Christ well” (I apologize for the vagueness of that statement, as I am not exactly sure what that practically looks like; I just know there is a higher ‘vertical’ purpose to modesty rather than just a ‘horizontal’ purpose, if you will). That said, exercising modesty is not an obligation, but a loving gesture, a sacrifice, made for someone else. To say that modesty is and obligation is an easy road to victim-blaming (i.e., blaming the ‘object’ of lust for the luster’s impurity). I liken to the case of an alcoholic. To abstain from drinking in their presence is a nice and helpful gesture, but is by no means an obligation. Should one choose to drink in the presence of an alcoholic, it is still the alcoholic’s responsibility to retain sobriety, even if it means leaving the situation altogether.
There is even a biblical basis for this line of thought. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is explaining Christian Liberty, in that some people had convictions that they should not eat food that was offered to idols in fear of idol worship. Paul explains that there is nothing wrong with eating meat offered to idols, but that if it would cause a brother or sister to sin, then you should abstain in their presence. Paul says:
“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. ” (1 Corinthians 8:9-12, NASB)
In Romans, Paul talks about a very similar situation, saying:
“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died…So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:13-15, 19, ESV)
If we do something that we know in our heart is not wrong for us to do, but would cause our brother or sister to sin, it is wrong for us to do.
Now, sexuality is quite a bit different than alcoholism or meat offered to idols. I would argue that to a degree every man and woman has some temptation in regards to lust (regardless of whether it is acted upon) whereas not all individuals struggle with alcoholism or meat offered to idols. Furthermore, how an individual struggles with lust and to what degree someone struggles with lust is different in each case; what one person finds attractive will vary with each individual. That said, modesty would look different person to person.
So how do we go about making clothing choices? With prudence. Recognizing that our clothing choice matter and change how people see us. I can’t give any specific subscription to what is appropriate and what is not as that may simply be legalism. Burkas or mandatory flannels won’t necessarily keep anyone from lusting; shoot, people without eyes can still lust. Regardless, it not so much what you can or cannot wear, but what you do with the liberty to wear whatever you want.
To those women and men who struggle with lust or objectification, immodesty is never an excuse. No one is obligated to dress for the sake of your purity, and you shouldn’t expect that they would. Even if a Christian feels obligated to dress modestly, there remains little reason for a non-Christian to dress modestly. You ultimately have responsibility to think purely and righteously. You are not a victim and you are in control of your thoughts. To say otherwise is to admit defeat and claim that Christ has no power to transform your mind. Rather, Paul gives us the explicit imperative to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). Don’t victim blame; don’t make excuses. Be the person that Christ has called you to be.
And while immodesty is never an excuse, modesty is always appreciated. I’m speaking to everyone, we choose modesty in our Christian liberty so to bless and encourage each other in our mutual struggle with sin. We “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” for both men and women. Time to get rid of our misconceptions and double standards and love one another mutually in Christ.