Talking back to patriarchy, part 4: Joining the great modesty debate

shade010610_3764

Modest enough?
From shadeclothing.com, designed by Mormons

In the last year or so there have been approximately two million blog posts on modesty.  This post will make it two million and one.  Approximately.  These posts are not about the kind of modesty that deflects praise – “Oh, no, really.  Don’t mention it.  It was nothing.”  This is not modesty as an antonym for arrogance.  This is something else entirely.

It’s time to define our terms again.  In biblical patriarchy modesty means to dress so as not to draw attention to yourself – particularly sexual attention.  While in theory this goal should apply to both  males and females, most modesty teaching is directed at girls and women.  You can hear that emphasis in C.J. Mahaney’s definition of modesty:  “Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress. It’s a desire to serve others, particularly men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality.”  For the purposes of this post let’s use Mahaney’s definition and call this idea “Modesty Doctrine”.

I want to lead with who I am.  I was raised by a fairly modest mom, with fairly modest standards.  No halter tops, no strapless dresses, no bikinis.  I still tend to be on the conservative side with my daughters.  I’ve never purchased a bikini for any of them, and fought a losing battle against strapless dresses.  I’m hardly a libertine when it comes to clothing,  but I’ve become less and less comfortable with the usual arguments we give young women in the church for how they should dress, and why.

Modest enough? from apostolicclothing.com

Modest enough?
from apostolicclothing.com
“We’ve got you covered!”

Help a brother out?

Designer Betsey Johnson famously said that women don’t dress for men:  they dress for themselves and for other women.  This may be true elsewhere, but in the patriarchal church women are absolutely instructed to dress for men –  because it is so easy, you see, to cause a brother to “stumble”.  If you’re not from these parts, you may not understand the use of that word, so let me give you the scripture from which it’s drawn:

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.”  Romans 14:13

To “cause”  a brother  to “stumble” is to cause him to sin.  Many, many young women are taught that their manner of dress has the power to do that very thing.  I heard it myself, as a teen.  Men are “visually oriented” and a loving sister in Christ will be aware that her appearance may cause her her spiritual brothers to fall into lust, or worse.

I’m going to share several excerpts from posts making this argument so that you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

I understand that our culture has placed a huge significance on gender independence and that considering the struggles of men while choosing your clothing seems almost oppressive, but as a man I can tell you that we are sinning constantly as we try to fight through this culture of sexual openness.  Proverbs 5 makes it apparent that God designed the female body to be pleasing to a man.  We are warned that we are to be satisfied visually by our wives and to avoid the women who try to entice us.  God created your body to be a sacred object, it is a powerful tool that is meant to be used to created desire in your husband.  To show off your legs, chest, stomach, or butt is to take something that God intended for the marriage bed and put it on display for anyone to see.  This public display not only cheapens the value of your body it throws a massive stumbling block in the way of men who were designed by God to be drawn to your body. – G.N. Davis, “On Modesty”

“But it’s HIS problem if he lusts after me” you may say, “If what I am wearing causes him to lust, then he has bigger issues that need to be dealt with before God.” And though that may be true, it DOES NOT negate the fact that you are still partially responsible because you are the “walking temptation” to begin with. Is that to say that had you not been around this brother would not have lusted after someone else, no, but that is to say that YOU are responsible to make certain that you are not causing your brother to stumble. – Kristy Ferguson, “Are You a Stumbling Block for Your Brother?”

Sometimes when I see a girl provocatively dressed I’ll say to myself, “She probably doesn’t even know that 101 guys are going to devour her in their minds today.  But then again maybe she does.”… I don’t know because I’ve never sat down with a girl and asked why.  All I need to know is that the way she presents herself to the world is bait for my sinful mind to latch onto and I need to avoid it all costs…..I  must confess that even church can have several mines scattered about.  To the girls who are ignorant please serve your brothers in Christ and have your dad screen your wardrobe….And to the girls who don’t follow the pattern of the world, thank you….You are following scriptures commands and you are helping your brothers in the process. – a college student’s testimony from C.J. Mahaney’s book “Worldliness”

Modest enough? junieblake.com "Where modest meets fashion foward thinking"

Modest enough?
junieblake.com
“Where modest meets fashion foward thinking”

Bad ideas, worse consequences

There are many problems with Modesty Doctrine as articulated above, but I’ve made a short list of some of my concerns.  What’s wrong with encouraging modesty in order to prevent men from stumbling?

1)  There’s no consensus on what modesty looks like.  Many Christians refer to Paul’s instructions in I Timothy for guidance:

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, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.  I Timothy 2:9-10

There’s no mention there of the “stumbling brother” argument, but that doesn’t stand in the way of those who tie the aforementioned passages together.  What modesty means, practically, differs widely depending on who you listen too.  The Mahaneys have a checklist which includes items such as banning visible underwear lines or bras peeking out of sleeveless shirts.  This checklist is even more specific, giving “finger” measurements for necklines and hemlines.  This minister’s wife makes sure all of her sleeves comes to the elbow.  Jack Schaap used to rail against open toed shoes.  For the Duggars modesty means being covered from the neck to below the knees, even when they’re swimming.   Jamie Balmet is a young wife who has written an entire series of posts on modesty, and yet her suggestions would be considered immodest by many others in the patriarchal church.  Does modesty simply require covering certain parts of the body, or should clothing be loose enough to conceal shape, as well?

So if there’s no universal guideline that we all agree on , how can we hold each other accountable for failing?  And yet people are held responsible, blamed and shamed for falling short of subjective standards – which leads me to problem number 2.

2)  Modesty Doctrine holds women spiritually responsible for men’s responses

You may not see an issue with a bikini – but if it puts lustful thoughts in a man’s head – you have just caused sin in your brother (sic) life.  You have now sinned.  One day you will give account for that..Is dressing immodestly sin?  Yes. There is no way around it. God’s Word tells us clearly to dress modestly – therefore if you or I don’t we are in sin and will one day give account for our actions. – Jackie Osinski, “Should Christian women dress sexy?”

Girls, do you know what we would really like? We would like to come among our Christian sisters and not have to fight and struggle in theflesh. We do not need to have to wrestle in the flesh at church or at church activities. We men, whether young, old, single or married, are faced with this every day among girls of the “world.” But we would like to have rest in our Spirit man when we come among Christian girls…Thank you, dear Christian sisters, for hearing our hearts on this subject. Once we have conveyed the truth of the matter to you, you become responsible before God for what you do with the truth.- “A letter from Christian guys”

culottes

Modest enough?
athletic culottes from dressingforhisglory.com

Lip service is sometimes given to men’s responsibility for their thought life, but the burden shifts quickly back to women and their appearance.  “Now, granted there are a few people out there who could be stirred up by a cardboard box all the way from head to toe,” Michelle Dugger writes, “but regardless we want to maintain modest dress….I realize that you can’t keep somebody from having wrong thoughts, but I do think you have control at least on how you present yourself.”  And why should you control how you present yourself?  “We don’t want to play peekaboo so that there’s a visual element that might defraud someone.”  (Defrauding is an important concept in this discussion, but I’ll get back to that in a minute.)

3)  Modesty Doctrine presents a distorted picture of female sexuality.

“Males are visually oriented.  They react to what they see.  Women react to what men say, or to touch.”  I heard it over and over as a teen and young woman, explaining why female modesty is so important.  I’m not here to suggest that there’s no difference between the sexes, but I’m certain it’s been exaggerated.  Women do respond to visual stimuli and a culture that says otherwise creates a new set of problems.  Perhaps that’s why the church has been slow to address the increasing number of women using pornography.  A girl raised to believe that women don’t experience visual stimulation is in for a world of confusion and guilt when she experiences it firsthand.  But boys are not in much better shape, because…

4)  Modesty Doctrine creates a shame-based attitude toward sexual attraction in men.

Jesus took lust seriously, no doubt.  But is all sexual attraction lust?  Contrary to what Modesty Doctrine says, I believe sexual attraction and even sexual arousal are completely normal, morally neutral components of our humanity.  What if, instead of teaching our sons that sexual  desire is sin, we taught them to keep it in perspective?   Desire may lead to lust, but it is not lust in and of itself.  Perhaps we could teach our sons (and daughters) the difference, and we could also teach them to view others (regardless of how they’re dressed) as people, not traps.   The unfortunate alternative is this – a boy going through the world with his head down, seeing every attractive girl as a potential problem.  Modesty teaching is harmful to men and women, as Sierra writes in this excellent post:

 When you’re taught that merely seeing something can defile you, guarding your eyes from “evil” becomes your eternal chore….Men who are raised with the modesty doctrine learn that everything women wear is directed at them. When an “immodest” woman walks by, it feels like both a test and an assault.

Modest enough? liliesapparel.com "Modest and feminine clothing"

Modest enough?
liliesapparel.com
“Modest and feminine clothing”

5)  Modesty Doctrine objectifies women

Over and over in modesty culture women are talked about in ways that turn them into objects or commodities.  From G.N. Davis, quoted earlier in this post:  “Proverbs 5 makes it apparent that God designed the female body to be pleasing to a man…God created your body to be a sacred object, it is a powerful tool that is meant to be used to create desire in your husband.”  I’m not denying that desiring and being desired is part of what it is to be human, but to see women only in that light is lopsided.  Do we exist only to satisfy men?  Debi Pearl thinks so:

When a woman gets old and realizes that there is no man to love and cherish her, it is sad indeed, for she has failed in the very purpose for which she was created.

Or consider the famous “chocolate cake” analogy, used in a post to discourage women from wearing bikinis:

Let’s try and put ourselves in a guy’s shoes. I think we can all agree that as girls, exercise is important to us. We want to stay healthy and are often working on getting fit. We work out and stay away from carbs or sweets. We use all of our willpower to not eat the chocolate cake on the counter! Now, let’s pretend that someone picked up that chocolate cake and followed us around all the time, 24/7…This is how I imagine it is for guys. Girls are walking around all the time with barely any clothes on at the beach or pool! Guys can never get a break from it, even if they’re trying to see past all the bodies to find the smiles and personalities within the girls. – Rachel Clark, “The Bikini Question”

Twice while researching for this post I ran across the phrase, “If it’s not for sale, don’t advertise it.”  One of those was in a an open letter from Christian men to  their “sisters” in Christ.  Really?  Is this the respect women can expect from their “brothers”?  Or listen again to that victimized college student telling “immodest” young women that they are “bait for my sinful mind.”  And what if the young man does, in fact, take “the bait”?  Then….

6)  Modesty Doctrine blames women for sexual assault

Yes, I went there.  Some of the arguments for modesty don’t simply suggest that immodest women drive men to lust.  It’s worse than that.  Listen to blogger Kristy Ferguson on the subject:

Lust turns men into wild ravaging dogs, and causes them to do and to think things that (if they are men of God) they are FAR from proud of afterwards. Why would you want to be responsible for causing another to sin ? Why would you want to have to stand before God and answer for that ? – Kristy Ferguson, “Are You a Stumbling Block for Your Brother?”

Modest enough? Swimwear from hydrochic.com

Modest enough?
Swimwear from hydrochic.com

And about that chocolate cake analogy….what is cake for?  I mean, for what purpose does cake come into existence?  Easy answer, right?  Cake is made to be eaten and women are made to be…..

We can never get away from the chocolate, it’s always right there, tempting us and even smelling all ooey gooey and chocolate-y. Most of us, myself included, would find it easy to break down and eat the cake. And we would probably continue to break down and eat cake, because it would always be there. Our exercise goals would be long gone in no time. – Rachel Clark, “The Bikini Question”

I suspect that if I spoke to either of these bloggers they would say they were simply talking about lust, not rape or assault.  But the logic is right there on the surface.  Women drive men to lust, lust turns men into animals, and who could blame the man if he breaks down and “eats the cake”?

Here I want to return to Michelle Dugger’s use of the word “defraud”.  That’s Bill Gothard terminology, by the way, and here is how the Duggers define the word:

For us the definition of the word defrauding is to stir up desires in someone else that cannot be righteously fulfilled…Growing up I would wear a bathing suit or shorts and not realize that it was revealing. When I got older I really felt convicted about my responsibility for how I was causing others to be defrauded. And I began to cover up because I felt responsible for my part in that.

From the male perspective, defrauding seems to mean something like this:  “You promised something and failed to deliver.  You started something that you won’t finish.”  Remember, we’re talking about sexual desire here.  How is that not enabling to rape culture?

Many years ago, in my 20s, I worked as a church secretary.  One afternoon I was waiting for the bus ride home, as usual.  I remember exactly what I was wearing.  My skirt was a dark blue, fell below my knees, and was pleated and full.  My top was a long sleeved button-up pink blouse with a wide, girlish collar – the sort of goofy thing I wore a lot back then.  I was wearing hose and blue flats.  I would have passed almost anyone’s modesty test, and that was the afternoon I was sexually assaulted.  A man pulled up in a car and asked me for directions.  After he said he couldn’t hear me, I stepped closer to his car – close enough for him to reach out his window and grab one of my breasts.

Let me ask you, which article of clothing was it that defrauded the man who assaulted me?  What exactly was I wearing that made me a “walking temptation”?

FLDS Women

Modest enough?
FLDS Women

Stating the obvious

We shouldn’t have to say this, especially among Christians, but nevertheless, I will:  Women, you are not chocolate cake.  You are not bait or a landmine. You are not for sale.  It doesn’t matter what feelings you “stir up” through your appearance, you are not sexually obligated to anyone.  Here’s only one of many differences between chocolate cake and you.  Chocolate cake cannot consent, or refuse to consent.  You can.

Men, you are not “wild, ravaging dogs”.  I know this because I’m friends or kin to lots and lots of you and I’ve seen that you are capable of interacting with all kinds of women in ways that do not dehumanize either them or you.  Don’t buy the lie that every attractive woman is dressing at you, or that every sexual desire is a sin.

We can do better.

Is real modesty a worthwhile goal?  Yes, of course.  Is real lust a problem in the church?  God knows it is.  But as is so often the case, the patriarchy addresses these subjects in a way that is gendered, hierarchical, authoritarian and simplistic.  And the cure may be worse than the disease.

Other posts in this series:
Talking back to patriarchy, part 1
Talking back to to patriarchy, part 2:  Watch your language!
Talking back to patriarchy, part 3:  It all comes down to authority
A footnote on modesty:  Why no one gets to drop the mic
A footnote on modesty:  For my children

 

About Sharon Autenrieth

Wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, follower of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, church, feminism, gender, patriarchy, religion, sex, spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to Talking back to patriarchy, part 4: Joining the great modesty debate

  1. Dave Henry says:

    What a fantastic post. This is something that everyone in the Church needs to hear. Rather than teaching my little boy to be shamed by his sexual feelings as he gets older, I would rather teach him to love and respect women as fully realized human beings, and not to see them as 2-dimensional sex objects. This is ironically the same problem in rape culture and modesty culture.

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  2. Heather says:

    I thought this post was great and that it hit on all the major points, except for one thing. What *is* lust, exactly? I grew up in a Quiverfull home so I’ve heard this word used to describe so many different things, yet the more I think about it the more I conclude that it’s a made up term that when it comes down to it, means nothing and is used in a general manner to label, sex shame, and control people.

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  3. maryormartha says:

    Thank you for sharing my post, even though you don’t agree with it, lol. I love discussion and learning about other people’s viewpoints. It helps me to be a better minister’s wife.

    My husband is a prison chaplain at a maximum security prison here in Texas. It is known as a “sex offender unit” because approximately 60% of the offenders are in there for sex crimes. I would encourage everyone to read my post about “the elbows”, lol. That particular statement is made because my upper arms are flabby, and who wants to look at that? ; ) The post is titled “Personal Guidelines for Modesty, and It shows you where I came from and why I make the decisions that I make as they apply to my life. These are guidelines that I only hold myself to, not everyone else.

    Again, thanks for sharing my post. I encourage anyone who has questions to contact me. More fodder for you can be found in my “Joy of Being a Submissive Wife” series.

    http://musingsofaministerswife.com/2011/11/18/the-joy-of-being-a-submissive-wife/

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  4. jilldomschot says:

    What is up with that picture at the top, where the woman is pigeon-toed and holding a lolly pop? Maybe the infantilization of women in Christian patriarchy would make for a good study. Also, I found that quote above, by the young man who wants to be free of sexual desire around Christian women, to be a bad indicator of how Christians feel about sex. Assuming this man wants to marry a Christian woman, isn’t it a little strange that he doesn’t want to desire one? Are Christian men and women to rise to some Greek platonism with chocolate cake on it that must never be eaten? (Okay, that was a stupid pun.) Thanks for your article and blog.

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    • This is a great comment, particularly. the phrase “Greek platonism with chocolate cake on it”. 🙂 I had the same thought about that top photo, by the way. The particular visual imagery that is often attached to patriarchy blogs is something I hope to write about eventually.

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  5. Lana says:

    Great post. It’s funny also, in dressing for me, we are also have to dress nice and pretty for me, which by homeschool standards as a kid meant long hair and skirts. It’s all kind of funny to me now.

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  6. Martha says:

    I think your point about modesty being subjective is so true. I find the whole thing frustrating. I think culture has a lot to do with it. I sat in church in South America and saw women’s breasts regularly when they had nursing babies. That would cause strong repercussions here, and not just from the those teaching the things you have mentioned. There it was just a part of life and nobody paid any attention that I could tell.

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  7. I love this post. I know that there is plenty of research out there that proves wardrobe has nothing to do with sexual assault.

    Women and girls should dress as they please and everyone should respect them. Men should respect women, no matter what they are wearing.

    Everyone should stop judging women by their wardrobes and stop comparing men to dogs or other animals.

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  8. reformed4christ says:

    I think that it is honestly laughable that I get to be quoted here so that it can be pointed out just how wrong I am 🙂 My thoughts on modesty come directly from Scripture, not from me. It actually makes me glad that someone who claims to be a Christian feminist is NOT in agreement with me, there would actually be problems if you did agree! lol

    I think your error here is in that you have allowed the wicked feminist agenda to creep into your heart and mind and that has tainted how you view precious things such as modesty. Modesty is a beautiful thing when done with a heart that seeks to please God. When I dress modestly it is not done begrudgingly but actually with joy because I know that I am honoring and pleasing and bringing glory to God in the midst of it. I know that I am protecting the eyes of my brothers in Christ and that the light of Christ can shine through my face and those around me won’t have to turn away because I am being sensual.

    I will pray that God reveals the truth of this to you, because right now, you are doing nothing but simply leading women astray with false truths and ideas that have no backing in scripture.

    Here is a great quote from Paul Washer on this subject :

    “A great man by the name of Conrad Murrel once said – “You can go a thousand miles one way and walk in falsehood and you can go a thousand miles the other way and walk in falsehood, but to walk in the truth is like walking on the edge of a razor blade ” It is very easy to fall off one way and be liberal and it is very easy to fall off the other way and become a legalist, especially when the Bible does not specifically say all that we want it to say.

    This passage does not say that clothing cannot be beautiful or attractive, as a matter of fact the Proverbs 31 Woman she dressed herself in Purple. But you appearance should not be a stumbling block to other people. Here are some words that I think that you should avoid : luxury, extravagance, sensuality. Here are some words that would be very proper : beauty, excellence, simplicity, modesty, frugality.

    If your clothing is a picture frame for your face, it is of God because it is from your face that the glory of God should shine. But if your clothing is a picture frame for your body, it is sensual and it is wrong and you are a stumbling block.

    There are certain women who, their heart is not right with God, so even if they wear decent clothing, everyone knows that they are sensual. You cannot hide your heart behind religious clothing. My wife and I have talked about this several times, she has a friend who is very beautiful lady, I mean she could be a model or something, but she is a very godly lady. When she walks in the church and you see her, the only thing that really comes into your mind is; there is a beautiful lady. Nothing else. But there are other women who are not even half as beautiful as she is and the moment that they walk into the church you have to turn away because they are sensual. A lot of it has to do with the condition of your heart.”

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m familiar with Paul Washer. And in the passage you’ve shared he’s added another astonishing level of pharisaism. It’s no longer enough to dress in decent clothing: Paul Washer can now see the heart and decide who is too sensual to be looked at. I’m glad Jesus didn’t operate that way with women!

      I’ve been there. I’ve been in the bonds of law and legalism and man made regulations. I am so grateful that the grace of God has set me free and continues to set me free to listen to His voice and not voices like Paul Washer’s. I pray that many, many others will experience that same freedom.

      Here’s a pertinent scripture:
      21″Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Col. 2:21-23

      Grace & peace,
      Sharon

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      • Garrett says:

        Matthew 5:27-38
        27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
        Romans 14:13
        ”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.”

        Jesus actually informed us that it was a sin to lust, his servant asked that Christians not put a stumbling block in front of another Christian.

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      • Can you point to any place in my post where I said that lust was not a sin? I actually linked to the passage in Matthew.

        Do you believe that every incidence of sexual attraction is lust? If so, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one!

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      • Belle Vierge says:

        To Garrett: I strongly disagree with your interpretation of Romans 14. If Christians were actually called to adapt every single one of our daily behaviors in order to prevent the sin of every single person we might ever encounter, then we would never be allowed to drive a car, or eat meat, or have a glass of wine, or go on vacation in order to help weaker Christians who think as stewards of the Earth, we shouldn’t pollute or eat animals, Christians who think alcohol is sinful, Christians who might envy the luxury of a vacation. But Romans 14 is only ever used to control the dress of women.

        I elaborate further on the misuse of Romans 14 in my blog post on modesty and bikinis, http://www.findingmyvirginity.com/2013/08/my-bikini-answer-all-women-cannot.html All Women Cannot Prevent the Lust of All Men. From there, you can also find a previous post in which I explain the difference between sexual attraction and lust. A biological response to stimuli is not the same as the objectifying, degrading thoughts or actions that make up lust.

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  9. Garrett says:

    Hello Sharon, as the author of one of the blogs you mentioned I feel invited to share some thoughts on the subject. I have seen both sides of this argument written on extensively and those who fall on your side frequently imply what I assume you do not mean as an attack, the idea that those who would avert there eyes from an immodestly dressed woman must simply be those who view women as “2-dimensional sex objects”. I mean no disrespect in my reply I simply wish to give the male perspective of someone who has lived in a world that does not value modesty. I have heard many times the argument that teaching your son to avert his eyes will teach him to view women as sexual objects, I want to assure you that men will have no trouble coming to that conclusion on their own. As a typical every day American man, I have spent large amounts of time watching porn, following women and staring at every exposed part they offered, and thinking impure thoughts about said women. Society will teach boys this, not parents. I offer as evidence writing such as the book “Hero” written by Fred Stoeker (Every Man’s Battle) and his son. Fred grew up the way I did, objectifying women as sexual objects for his enjoyment, please note that he was not taught about the sin of lust and as a result society taught him. The book was co-written by his son who was taught these things and has an encouraging story of purity that ended with a marriage to a woman with whom he shared his first kiss. On the other side though we have the typical man who though pictures, posters, music, TV, and many other sources has been taught that women should show off their bodies. I would really like to see how a study was conducted that proves a rapist would be no more attracted to a woman wearing a two-piece than one wearing the LDS dresses in the picture you provided (not that I advocate such dresses lol). In reference to your comment that Paul’s letter to Timothy is not specifically tied to his letter to the Romans I would simply offer that the entire New Testament is tied together and that when the same author teaches that one Christian should not put a stumbling block in front of another, and that Women (and men in my opinion) should dress modestly, I would say it’s pretty hard to honestly not tie them together. Paul was in fact referring to some Christians eating meat in front of those who though the eating of meat was sinful. Obviously the reason for this is because it would put temptation in front of the latter to sin by consuming the meat, which seems like a pretty easy comparison to one Christian dressing in a way that tempts another to lust. I will agree with you that lists are a negative here. And that in most cases modest dress is not a rubber stamp, but that aside I can imagine that certain things should be obvious and therefore simply attacking the concept of modest dress seems hardly practical, perhaps attacking extremism would be more appropriate. I leave you with this, the typical alpha-male portrayed in movies and TV who treat treat women as toys and believes in a simple formula that can get a woman from her bar stool to his bed in 45 minutes is indeed the typical male, and he is hungry for anything you give him. Sorry for the length of my reply, but this is something I am passionate about as I lived my life viewing women as sexual objects because I was not taught about the danger of what a woman’s body can do to the pleasure center of a man’s mind. Thank God that in my twenties I realized this and learned to respect women, which healed my marriage through the work of the Holy Spirit, and learned to keep my eyes from temptation.

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    • Garrett,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I absolutely want you to feel invited to participate – that’s why I link. Well, for that reason and so that readers can put pulled quotes in context.

      I agree with some things you’ve said here, particularly that list making is not the best approach. Even so, I readily acknowledge that as the mother of young girls (8,11,17), we do have a few basic rules. When they’re adults they will have to decide for themselves how they want to dress, of course.

      I do believe in teaching boys about lust – and girls, as well. I just disagree with some on how we should go about it. Is there no middle ground between averting your eyes from a girl in a cami at the beach (a specific example from a post) and viewing lots and lots of porn? I think there is. I am married and raising sons as well as daughters. I know the pitfalls and I also have the “optimism of grace”. God can enable us to live with one another with mutual respect, without weighing each other down with unhelpful rules and judgments. Perfect love casts out fear.

      As for the instructions in 1 Timothy, I think they have more to do with conspicuous consumption – with flaunting wealth and status – than “sensuality”.

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      • Garrett says:

        Sharon,
        I agree with your reply. And I am not attempting to say that watching lots of porn and “checking out” women at the beach are synonymous, just complimentary. A large majority of men have struggled with porn, while almost all men have struggled with lusting after the women around them. I am glad to hear that you have some basic rules, that is all I encourage. Sadly, I have observed many who do not set any rules and as a result I see 6 year old girls dressed like in less cotton than what you find in an aspirin bottle. I agree that Paul refers to the flaunting of riches but I also feel that “decency and modesty” applies to a lack of clothing since much like the elaborate dress draws the eyes of people to a physical aspect of your person rather than giving the image of one who professes to worship God. I encourage men to avert their eyes because while what is perceived as sexual varies from man to man, every man will find someone dressed in a way that can cause him to lust. If someone has an issue with open toed shoes then they should not look at women’s toes who expose them. But aside from the extremes I think that (as you do with your daughters) there are some common sense rules that should be taught. Sadly, not everyone in our world believes and worships the Lord. So when I encourage women to dress modestly, for many reasons but in this case to not put a block in front of a brother I do this because I wish that Church was a place where I could not have to struggle. Men need to be willing to Avert there eyes because there are women who enjoy showing off their body and crave the attention of men. Men who profess a desire to maintain their virginity are a conquest for women such as this. So what is a man to do besides remove temptation, much like avoiding movies with nudity. As for Women this goes the other way as well. Of course a man is guilty of a sin when he lusts after a woman. I do not deny this when I ask women to dress modestly. But know that when you tell men that they should simply learn to not view women as objects, you are only reaching the Christian men (though this is still a message that needs to be preached with respect). But that message does not reach the unbelievers who do not care what your views on modesty are. I encourage women to view themselves as worth more than eyecandy to the unbeliever who seeks visual stimulation from them.

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  10. Kate "Paige" Reeder says:

    Sharon, thanks for giving us an overview of “Modesty Doctrine”. What I’d really appreciate, as a companion to this (just in the comments would be fine), is your perspective on a healthy approach to deciding where to draw the line in how you dress (or how you prefer your children to dress).
    A little background on where I’m coming from:
    In the small Christian high school I attended, the stance of the school was one of “not causing a brother to stumble;” but while a couple of outspoken female classmates of mine read this as the school telling us we were as responsible for the guys’ thought-lives as they were, I never understood it that way. That may well have more to do with my own personality and perspective than what the school was actually saying, but what I took away from it was: it’s kind of you to dress modestly. It’s a kindness to make it a little easier for guys to do what is ultimately still their responsibility. The difference in perspective is undoubtedly why my friends felt oppressed by the dress code, while I only felt mildly inconvenienced.
    More recently, I have heard modesty teachings blanket-defined under “rape culture,” which I found shocking and hurtful (since people I respect and care about teach modesty). This is important: there’s a big leap between saying that the way a woman dresses makes a man THINK things and that the way a woman dresses makes a man DO things. If I’d ever thought anybody preaching modesty to me was saying that the way you dress is “asking for” ANY kind of action, I would certainly have joined the above-mentioned classmates in protest. (Furthermore, I’d just like to note that sexual assault isn’t about sex: it’s about power.)
    There are definitely pitfalls in the teaching of modesty, and I appreciate you opening them up for consideration and discussion. In the past such criticism has made me uncomfortable, firstly because I fear a straw-man representation of the culture I was educated in (for the first 20 years of my life), and secondly because I believe it is reasonable to draw a line somewhere and I’m not sure how best to approach that. Your post bypasses both these concerns, particularly by pointing out that you do put some kind of restrictions on what your daughters wear.
    You’ve laid out the problems of the “Modesty Doctrine;” could you please offer an alternative approach for one who, like yourself, is “hardly a libertine when it comes to clothing?”

    Like

    • This is tricky, Kate, because any approach I take for myself (or my kids) is personal. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m telling them how they should follow my “guidelines” – so that’s my disclaimer. 🙂 For myself, I think modesty is a moot point. I was a modest young woman, and now I’m a middle aged woman with enough flabbiness to motivate me to well and truly cover up. As for my daughters, the basic expectations are that they keep their breasts, bellies and booties covered. My oldest daughter is very slender, very petite. Most things look modest on her. Daughter #2 is only 11 but she looks a lot older, physically. She’s already gotten some unwanted attention. What she’s comfortable wearing – and what I would encourage her to wear – is different than what her older sister can wear.
      I want my girls (and boys) to think of clothing as self-expression: what makes you happy ? What do you feel good in? But I don’t want them to think that “clothes make the man”. They don’t. Clothes are just clothes and shouldn’t suck up too much attention or money – and that’s true even if it’s clothes that I think are really cool, like steampunk stuff. 🙂 We buy a lot at thrift stores.
      I won’t pretend to myself or to my children that people won’t judge them based on appearance. You have to be willing to accept that, especially if you choose to dress in a way that violates norms.
      But as for not causing brothers to stumble….I just don’t feel the need to apply that to my daughters’ clothing choices, as far as what I teach them. While the principle of protecting the weaker brother is scriptural, you have choose to apply it to women & clothing. I’m not saying that’s wrong; I’m saying that it’s a stretch to say that such an application is required. As I mentioned in a comment to someone else today, I grew up in a church that applied that principle to drinking alcohol – anywhere at any time. Again, it’s not wrong, but it goes beyond the plain teaching of the passage in context. Problems arise when we take such applications and try to force them on all Christians – and I hear a lot of that happening in modesty culture.
      I know this is an incomplete answer, but that’s partly because I think common sense and the Holy Spirit will help each family come to better decisions than anything I have to say.

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      • Gosh, that’s a lame, vague and unhelpful response to your question. I think I need a nap.

        Like

      • Kate "Paige" Reeder says:

        Well, I appreciate the effort. If you wake up with any additional thoughts, you can always add them later.
        Your approach as a parent seems like pretty much what my parents did, although I got plenty of additional input from other sources. I’d like to talk this over with my mom some time.
        p.s. Goodwill and I make all my steampunk clothes. ^_^

        Like

  11. Garrett,

    There are so many things that I want to say. I don’t know where to begin.
    I’ll keep it short.

    “Men need to be willing to Avert there eyes because there are women who enjoy showing off their body and crave the attention of men. Men who profess a desire to maintain their virginity are a conquest for women such as this. ”

    Dude! Get over yourself. Seriously.

    And this

    ” I encourage women to view themselves as worth more than eyecandy to the unbeliever who seeks visual stimulation from them.”

    I can’t stand it when Christians act like they own the market on morals. Being an “unbeliever” does NOT make a person more likely to “sin.”

    Also, women, in general, are not choosing their clothing to seduce men. Seriously, we’re NOT.

    I am 36 years old and the mother of 3 daughters. I wear whatever I like. I choose my clothes based on comfort and personal style. I don’t give a damn what any man may or may not be thinking about when he sees me. That’s not my responsibility. I am happy with my body and my wardrobe and so is my husband. My daughters wear whatever they like as well.

    Also, oh my god you spend a huge amount of time and energy worrying about what women are wearing! I couldn’t describe the outfits of a few women that I see on church every Sunday if you asked me too. I don’t come to church for a fashion show.

    Like

    • Garrett says:

      Pretty much everything you said can be written off as it is the perspective of a woman on how a man’s mind works. I am glad you choose to wear clothing based comfort and personal style, but you are living under a rock if you think that there are not plenty of women who dress to attract men sexually.

      And when it comes to the lust issue, yes being a Christian does make one less likely to sin because we have a reason to think that lust is not OK. When you have spent time as a man among men you can come back and tell me how men respond to women who dress immodestly.

      Like

      • And when you’ve spent time as a woman among women, Garrett, you can come back with some empathy for how it feels to be told that men can read women’s motives by how many inches of lose fabric they have in their shirts.

        As for who is less likely to sin, I would never argue that Christians sin less. I’ve been a Christian to long to believe it. We (as Christians) may have a motive to avoid sin, but I think certain sins are especially in our wheelhouse. It was the religious leaders who Jesus called out for hypocrisy and self-righteousness, after all. And while so much of this conversation is about lust, I’m pretty such that hypocrisy and self-righteousness are bonus features.

        And that’s not even getting into whether or not lust is sometimes produces by desperate efforts to avoid it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that someone like Jack Schaap – who for years preached at women as if they were all harlots – wound up in prison for sex with a minor. If he’d ever learned to see women as partners life, in the the faith, in creation, things might have turned out differently.

        Just my opinion, of course.

        Like

      • You don’t have to be a Christian or have any faith in any god/goddess/whatever to have morals and to be a good person. Having faith does not give you more or less motive to be a good person than not having faith.

        I have been married to an “unbeliever” for over 10 years and he is one of the kindest, most respectful, honest and good people that I have ever known.

        Simply wanting to be a good person and to be a good citizen, neighbor, husband, wife, parent, friend, etc. is motivation enough.

        I am not living under a rock. I think that you are oversimplifying the motivations of a very small number of women who may or may not be trying to seduce the virgin Christian man. (I haven’t met such a woman and highly doubt she exists) As a woman, that has been living as a woman, I know that MOST (if not all) women have no interest in deflowering the innocent Christian virgin man. Quite frankly, that doesn’t exactly sound like a good time. 😉

        Telling men/boys to avert their eyes is ridiculous. Are men and boys supposed to be walking around afraid of the evil seductress that’s obviously out to steal his virtue? Also, does this idea suggest to these men/boys that any woman in a short skirt is some sort of whore that’s looking to seduce him?

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  12. Garrett says:

    I have never stated that all women do this, in fact the majority don’t, and I am proud to say that for the most part women in the Church are at the very least, less likely to be dressing for the purpose of attracting hook-ups. But please do not make the mistake of saying that there are not many women doing this, my comments were addressed at those women and not the general populous. I feel great sadness that in many areas Christians are no better off in the sin struggle than the unbelievers around them. As I mentioned in my statistics on pornography post, the Church is heavily affected by this epidemic but few want to talk about it. Sadly, I believe this is what has lead to much of the ranting from men who claim that women are the reason they are lusting. I condemn the actions of such men as Jack Schaap, both his actions and his message. Not to offend the ideals of feminism, but I believe that women are a gift from God that is to be treasured and cared for, see “make her holy” on my blog. I would like to note that I particularly liked the way Kate phrased it, that dressing modestly is a kindness to brothers who are all the same fully responsible for their sins. What a perfect summary. Please do not mistake me for an oppressor of women, I am sorry that so many men have distorted the God-ordained gender roles and have ordered women to submit while refusing to lead according to their own instruction from God.

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  13. Raven says:

    Okay, let’s make it simpler and see if the logic works. Where I live, formal dress is a rarity. There are only a few categories of men who wear business suits: lawyers, casino owners, pimps, and one other that I’ll mention in a minute. If I am out driving through town, perhaps I see a man I know standing in front of a building wearing a suit, talking to other men. Given that pimps wear suits, stand in front of buildings, and talk to other men, perhaps I think to myself “Look at so-and-so, out in public, dressed like the most brazen pimp! I just hope he doesn’t know how he affects people who look at him, but I can’t quite believe that he doesn’t. Perhaps he *wants* people to think he looks like a pimp–like a guy with money and women, who can get them what they need. That’s just shameful vanity and pride. And him a Christian man. He’s wrecked his testimony, making people think he’s a pimp. Or at the very least, he’s made them think he’s a casino owner, and that’s almost as bad.”

    Now. If I thought that way, I have, in fact, sinned. I’ve been harsh and judgmental in my thoughts toward this man, which the Romans passage above forbids. Did the man in the suit *tempt* me to have these thoughts? Did he make it an overwhelming possibility that I would sin in my mind? Or is it my problem?

    We can argue that I wouldn’t have been tempted to judge him and think of him as a pimp-wannabe if he had taken the simple precaution of wearing jeans or overalls or welding chaps or whatever. But when the argument is applied to a man, it gets kind of silly, doesn’t it? We know that I should guard my thoughts more and not jump to the worst conclusion about people. The thought-birds might fly over my head, but I don’t have to let them sit in my hair.

    And, of course, the other category of men in my area who wear suits are pastors. Most people don’t have a problem with the idea that pimps, casino owners, lawyers, and Godly men can all *wear the same kind of clothes* without doing the same things. It’s almost as if clothes aren’t that important.

    Like

    • Raven,

      I might be falling in love with you a little……..

      ” The thought-birds might fly over my head, but I don’t have to let them sit in my hair.”
      I might have to borrow this line a few (hundred) times in the future.

      Also, this….

      “It’s almost as if clothes aren’t that important.”

      Thanks for your contribution.

      Like

    • Holly is right – the line from Luther is a great one, and right on point. 🙂 Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Like

  14. Garrett says:

    I understand and completely agree with your example. I am completely against these kinds of assumptions. I do not make the statement that some women dress sexually to attract loose men simply because I don’t know why else they would want to. I make that statement based on their own admission that they dress in such a way as to attract someone for a hookup. It reminds me of a wonderful article I read a few nights ago about a preacher who was hired by a large urban Church. He stopped bathing and shaving and showed up at the Church hours early for the service in which he was supposed to be presented to the congregation. He sat outside, walked around the building, and at one point upon sitting in the front row was asked if he would mind moving towards the back of the room. When the Church elders(who were in on this) announced his name, he walked to the front and began his sermon. As he was speaking his wife and daughter were helping him remove his tattered coat and clothes to reveal his suit on underneath as well as assisting him with trimming his hair. Needless to say, many were moved out of their apathy. By all means, the world needs to hear the message you are delivering in your reply. That being said, the point of my comment has never been about judging people. To summarize my issue I will go back to the example used by Paul. If you and I meet up to have lunch together and you believe that the Bible has commanded you not to eat meat, it would be terrible of me to order the 16 oz sirloin medium-rare.

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  15. Raven says:

    And, for Garrett–I think you really have your heart in the right place, so I want you to hear this as I mean it, coming from a place of love for my Christian brother, okay? I don’t think you’re a bad person or a misogynist. I just don’t think you realize what you’re saying.

    You say you wish that church wasn’t a place where you had to struggle. Amen. Me too. But I do have to struggle in church–not because of anything sexual, but because I had a bad experience with a youth leader. This man hated my father and made life miserable for me and my siblings as a way to get back at my dad. The youth leader also had strong opinions on a number of topics that are areas of Christian liberty–rock music, alcohol consumption, and watching R-rated movies, among others. My struggle? Because I attend fairly conservative churches, I often run against people who have the same opinions. It’s very, very, very difficult for me to not jump to the conclusion that the folks who have these opinions have the same anger and bitterness problems as my abusive youth leader.

    But I don’t have any right to make that assumption about them, do I? If I have an issue with them, should I tell them to shut up about their convictions? Should they drink alcohol and listen to Def Leppard in the parking lot to make me feel comfortable? Or would it be more loving for me to realize that it’s unreasonable–a bit selfish even–to ask other people to go to great lengths to make *my* Christian walk easier? So yes, I wish I didn’t have to struggle at church and that everyone’s convictions matched mine. They don’t. By the grace of God, I deal. It’s called unity.

    And you have to realize that when women tell you “you are asking us to go to great lengths, here” that you need to believe them. They are not making excuses. Dressing in such a way that you could not possibly excite notice from a man is not an easy thing, given that some guys have issues with feet, as has been noted, and some apparently have issues with eyes, necks, and hair (judging by statements made by Muslim imams). How much should I cover? When does covering myself completely serve, in fact, to *draw* attention to myself? (If I walked down the street of my little town in a Mennonite cape dress and bonnet, for instance, I’d get stares from everyone.) These are hypothetical questions for a man, but a woman has Might it be more sensible to say that Christians in general should be sensitive to their culture, be loving toward other people, and attend to the logs in their own eyes?

    In the end, it comes down not to hypothetical situations but the actual situations we are called to address. I have to *actually* forgive that youth leader, again, every time I am tempted to harbor unforgiveness toward him and judgement toward other believers, whether I am provoked or not. Men who struggle with lust have to *actually* push it away every time they are tempted toward it, whether the woman is wearing a tank top or not. There is not a big difference, here. A man’s struggle with lust is *not* a bigger struggle by definition than my struggle with bitterness. One sin does not trump another sin.

    I think you are trying very hard to be faithful to the Lord, and I’m proud of you for that. I’m praying for you to be faithful, and also that you’ll find a few women in your life that will enable you to realize how much is on the line for a girl. Blessings.

    Raven

    Like

  16. Raven says:

    Whoops, that sentence was supposed to read “hypothetical questions for a man, but a woman has to get dressed every morning–they are real, practical, difficult questions.”

    Like

  17. Garrett says:

    I understand Raven, and agree completely. i also have lived my life in a very conservative tribe of Christianity and have many experiences similar to yours. My brother, who was a youth minister for a few years and missionary before that) was asked to leave a congregation he was to guest speak at for not wearing a tie. I hope I am not painting myself in that light, though I admit clarifying the extent to which I present an issue is not my strong point. I agree that one sin does not trump another. And I certainly do not blame a woman for the sins of a man. I likely have views that are if presented the right way could bolster the urge in you to return to a state of bitterness, and I hope I have not done this. It is a rough situation trying to find a balance, but know that specifically I am not writing to the women who wear reasonable clothing and still find that some men have an issue with their toes (I know people who have expressed this issue). And I am completely of the mind set to hold men accountable for the lust in their hearts, I preach this to those around me and recommend resources to help them learn to tame their passions. Just as I do with those who would let conservative views loose via harsh language because of the damage they cause to others. I speak to those who are unaware or uncaring of what the temptation they could be presenting. Much as you would be kind enough to remove your wine collection when your recovering alcoholic friend is around, I simply encourage people in all situations to aid there brothers and sisters. Coming from a tribe that has caused more than enough division over some of the most miniscule issues I concur that Unity is an important topic to be at hand in our world today. Bless you for the message that you carry to others.

    Like

    • Dave Henry says:

      The example of hiding the alcohol when the alcoholic comes over makes sense if you’re talking about someone whose brain chemistry is actually altered (in the case of substance addiction). But dressing a certain way for all men is an unreasonable expectation. It would be wise to be more modest if one were going to be around sex offenders or nymphomaniacs, but just dudes in general? Ninja please.

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  18. Raven says:

    😉 Thanks Garrett. I think we agree on a lot of points, and it’s probably good for everyone in the discussion to stop and think of things from other people’s viewpoint–you’ve been helpful to me. I have company this weekend so if the discussion goes on to address me and I don’t respond, it’s just because I’m taken up with my guests, not because I’m ignoring you all.

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  19. Hollie says:

    Here is my issue –

    That meat we all keep coming back to, yah well, it was not inherently sinful. The idol lacked power. The idol was not a real “god”. There is only one true God. Therefore meat sacrificed to idols was not sinful. I may be wrong here. But the context of the Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 clearly states that the problem was not with the “meat.” In fact, Paul makes a very clear case that the “meat” itself was not sinful.

    What I do hear in the these passages is stop judging. You think its okay. Don’t flaunt it. Don’t tell the weaker brother how crazy they are because they don’t eat the meat. Be willing to put yourself self and your knowledge and/convictions on the back burner for the weaker. What is your attitude here toward your brother or sister? Are you showing love? Or are you thinking about your self and your desires?

    Oh and another thing…Can these scriptures be used for anything other than meat and drink? Did Paul intend for them to be a blanket principle for ALL things that are stumbling blocks? Sometimes I am not so sure.

    You could say that we don’t struggle with meat sacrificed to idols in our culture, so of course we have to use the verses as principles…Really? Gluttony is a huge problem in our Christian culture. When we overeat (raising my hand here as a frequent, willing, participant), are we not just eating meat sacrificed on the altar of our stomachs? The food is not sinful. The way in which I am using it is. Or.. When I bring that decadent dessert to the church picnic, knowing full well there are at least 3 diabetics that are going to be there, am I being a stumbling block to them. Should I just not bring that dessert? What about fruit? It is considered healthy by most…yet will cause a sugar spike for the diabetic. Am I sinning if I bring grapes and strawberries to the picnic? Should I just bring nothing?

    At some point the problem gets turned back to the one that has the problem. The diabetics in this case. They know they are diabetic. They know what the sugar will do. If they choose to eat it, it is their choice.

    How does this work for modesty — I am not sure if it does, but lets roll with it.

    So if the problem was not with the meat, then it is not with the clothes. The clothes, themselves, are not sinful. The same principles for judging would be in effect. Don’t judge your brother or sister by what their do or do not wear. Show love. Don’t judge. Be mindful of the attitude in which you wear your clothes, and the manner in which you look at others.

    But ultimately, it is not the clothes…it is a matter of the heart. I think Jesus says it best. Matthew 5: 27-30 — 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

    Notice, he did not say if you lust after a woman…makes sure she puts more clothes on. No that is putting the blame on the wrong person. He is where is your heart? You have already committed adultery by the look. Get rid of your eye if it causes you to sin, or your hand. Not the other person.

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  20. Pingback: A footnote on modesty: for my children | Strange Figures

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  23. Manner. C says:

    So there is a quick and easy refutation of some of this doctrine, through analogy. If women “cause” lust and are therefore responsible for men’s actions toward them, and of course they cannot be excused through ignorance, and they have no sexual agency in their “God Given” role, so then also children “cause” lust and are therefore responsible for pedophiles actions towards them in the same way…………….RIGHT? And since logic and tolerance and not much of a concern in these circles, the following argument may be the most effective in face to face confrontations….so if a “homosexual” male lusts after a straight, christian fundamentalist male, then that straight man must have done something to “cause” the lust………….RIGHT?!? 😀

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  24. April K says:

    Let’s not forget that anytime the Bible speaks of a lustful woman trying to seduce a man, revealing clothing is NEVER mentioned! It’s always the “smooth words” and “honeyed lips” and “perfumed sheets.” So, ladies, you know what to do now. If you want to honor your Christian brothers, stop with the satin bedding and pillow talk and the Chanel 5. 😉

    Like

  25. jubilare says:

    Lots of food for thought, here. I agree with you when it comes to condemning blaming and shaming of girls and women, and of course, with the fact that the male side of this equation is almost always downplayed or absent. But at the same time, revealing clothing seems to distract a lot of guys from the fact that a woman is, in fact, a person and not a tool. The truth is, I want to be engaged as a person, and I don’t want to make self-discipline harder for the men in my life. Not dressing in what I consider provocative clothing is helpful in that regard. However, I want to be met half-way, at the least. I want men to choose to see me as a person, rather than expect to see me as a temptation.

    We have a huge problem with objectification in our country. No question about that. 😛

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