Enough Already with the Modesty and Purity Hype

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 27, 2013.

The other day my 18-yr old daughter posted this picture on my Facebook with the comment, “What I tell you every time”:

modesty

It cracked me up. But what was interesting to me was noticing the large amount of Facebook friends, also former homeschool kids, who were clicking the “like” button. It was as if they were saying, “Yea, what she said!” I loved some of the exchange in the comments.

Our good friend who acts like our adopted son, who opens our front door without knocking, and raids our fridge commented:

Was he a beautiful black man like myself?

His comment got a few likes. I laughed. My 23-yr old son replied:

Yet when guys do that it’s looked down upon…sinful…creeper status…et cetera. Oh the irony.

Ouch! I think he’s right. There does seem to be a distinction that it’s semi-okay for girls to look at guys, but not the other way around.

Several years ago in 2007, there was a modesty survey put out by homeschoolers, Brett and Alex Harris (Brett and Alex’s dad is Gregg Harris’ son, homeschooling pioneer and ther older brother is Pastor Josh Harris, of Covenant Life Church in MD).

Here’s an excerpt from the survey page:

The Modesty Survey is an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty. Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007. For more information, click here.

It has been endorsed by Shaunti Feldhahn (best-selling author of For Women Only), Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author,Revive Our Hearts radio host), Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Shannon Ethridge (best-selling author ofEvery Woman’s Battle series), and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries).

TheRebelution.com is the home of Alex and Brett Harris and online headquarters for the Rebelution, defined as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.”

This survey started out in homeschool circles and quickly spread throughout young teens and adults in Christendom all over the internet, denominations, states, and even the world. I believe the modesty survey was well-intentioned, but the results have not been all positive. Instead, we have discovered a host of other issues that lie beneath the church’s sometimes over-emphasis on modesty and purity.

In the aftermath of the modesty survey, some young men policed the clothing of their female friends and graded the way she dressed by a modesty scale in their head. The way she dressed became a distraction, interfering with relationships. Young ladies were told that they might cause a man to stumble by the way she dressed and this created a lot of pain for young ladies who were burdened with a responsibility they really had no business carrying. And then we had the issue of what to do with young ladies who had curvy figures and no matter what clothes were worn, the curves could not be hidden. Some young ladies resorted to changing eating habits which led to eating disorders to lose weight in order to minimize those curves. Didn’t God create those beautiful curves? Wow, this modesty thing was now crossing the lines into intentionally altering one’s appearance because of not passing a “modesty” scale.

I don’t want to get into all of the problems that came out of this survey because it is very easy to do a Google search and you could spend days reading blog articles and sometimes hundreds of comments on particular popular articles. I really was hoping that after 6 years and hundreds of articles that this subject would die down.

Wouldn’t you know it, the same authors of the infamous modesty survey at the Rebelution blog just last week published a new article: The Other Side of Modesty, this time dealing with guys and how they dress. Really? Do we need to go there? I suppose maybe the young ladies might appreciate a little pushback or balance from their sisters in Christ, but come on. Can we be done with this already?

At our former church, there was almost an obsession on modesty and the topic of sexual immorality came up quite a bit. This was a common verse we heard and probably most of us have it memorized just because we heard it so often:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

I think sometimes we confuse looking with lusting. And that is important to note.

I have a funny story from several years ago. Now, this is “my” version because my young adult kids have a slightly different version. But until they have their own blogs, you get to read my version.

My daughter, Hannah, was probably around 19 yrs old or so and driving with her learner’s permit, so I was in the passenger seat, and my other daughter who was around 12 years old was in the back seat. A police officer pulled us over because of a burned out brake light. Let me be straight up. The police officer was a fine-looking human specimen and while my kids were used to hearing from the pulpit about how evil and lustful our eyes are, after the police officer went back to his patrol car, I said aloud to my daughters that I wouldn’t mind being pulled over again by that officer. If I remember correctly, there was a pause and then some surprised laughter coming from the girls. Their mother, a married woman said that? They were not expecting that comment from me and frankly, I don’t know if I was expecting that comment to slip out, either. Oh well, it came out loud and clear.

Did I cross the line? Some might think so. I don’t agree. You see, there seems to be a fuzzy line that brings confusion and can start to border on legalism, if not into full-fledge legalism. We were created in God’s image. God saw that what He created was good. At that moment, when I noticed that cop, and acknowledged what God had created was good and called it as such, some people have a problem with that because they think of verses like this:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28

Was I looking at this guy with lust? No! He was just nice looking guy. Don’t you think everyone from teens all the way through adulthood know when we are looking at someone with lust? Everybody knows what that feels like — you know – – those feelings we get in our body, the places our mind goes. It’s a no-brainer. My brain did none of those things when I looked at that fine specimen.

I have read of men being physically attracted to women dressed in full Muslim attire with burqa and head coverings. Isn’t that something? We need to realize that women and men, no matter how they dress, will be eye candy for someone. We’ve got two issues going on and I think if we look at these two issues in a non-legalistic way, we can find some helpful guidelines.

• Looking is not the same as lusting. It’s okay to appreciate God’s creation. The key is to do it without lusting. We all know when we have crossed that line. It does not take a rocket scientist to tell us those signs that are happening in our body. If you happened to cross that line, acknowledge it, ask God to forgive you, and move on knowing that His grace is sufficient for you and me.

• Dress modestly. I think most of us can figure out what that means and I also think that as we mature in Christ, the boundary lines may change from time to time. We all know when we are dressing with the intent to attract the opposite sex and we all know what it’s like to dress when we are going to see grandma and grandpa. This is pretty simple. We can figure this out.

As a homeschooling mom of 20+ years, I fell into the modesty/purity hype and created all sorts of rules for my kids. I regret that it had negative consequences in my family. I’ve stopped obsessing about hemlines, etc. When I stopped obsessing about my boys walking past Victoria’s Secret at the mall and turning the television channel when we saw a young lady wearing a bikini on television, amazingly, my children stopped obsessing.

So, in conclusion, I hope we can learn to treat one another with love and grace on this topic… and appreciate God’s creation

12 comments

  • This is good, There is really a difference between lust and creation appreciation. Some people are stunningly beautiful.

  • This modesty discussion really reminds me of stuff I’ve seen in the explanations given for the Hijab and burka, the “official line” regarding those things is they are for modesty’s sake, to protect the women from lustful men who’d be driven to instantly rape them if they saw those women uncovered. Which is just yet another parallel between radical islam and radical christianity.

    PS to any people who participated on Homeschooldebate.com, this is NapoleonGH/OWHolmes. 🙂

  • I guess I’m still struggling to see what’s wrong with discussing modesty. I understand not obsessing on it and just being mature about it (although some people simply are not mature about it…). And I completely understand your distinction between looking and lusting (although “looking” seems to imply intention to me–I guess the alliteration was your aim there). To recognize someone as beautiful is perfectly acceptable! However, a person can dress modestly and still look equally beautiful. There does come a point when one tries so hard to avoid legalism that they become legalistic in that regard and allow things which borderline with sin… I by no means am accusing you or anyone reading this of taking things that far–I am simply pointing out the danger of going too far to avoid legalism.

    I was (or came close to being) guilty of this myself on the issue of homosexuality. I tried so hard to reverse the trend of Christian hatred and legalistic ostracization that I found myself practically defending their sin instead of just defending their right to choose or loving them regardless. I fear that this issue has the potential to do the same–in an attempt to fight legalism regarding modesty, I fear some well-meaning Christians will go too far away from modesty and intentionally (or maybe even unknowingly) wear immodest clothing.

    This is one of those situations where I have no clue what the happy middle ground looks like… How does one stay modest while not staying… too modest. It brings up the issue of how close to sin can we get vs. how far from sin should we go. I do not have the answer, but at this point, I’m still taking the borderline legalistic approach. :/

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      How do you find the balance point when everything is completely-tipped one way or the other?

  • This is so sad. I was incredibly upset when I started developing, because I never wanted to grow up. I just wanted to like my brothers. They were unburdened by such horrors. I was told that I had to wear bras to be ‘modest’.
    This did not help matters at all. These days, I wear bras to make my boobs look BIGGER and BETTER.

  • I don’t have any statistical proof of this or anything, beyond having talked it over some with friends (both male and female).

    Our collective conclusion about the difference between men ogling women and women ogling men is that, when people think about men ogling women, they tend to picture them doing it rather aggressively: women and women ogling men is that, when people think about men ogling women, they tend to picture them doing it rather aggressively: Gestures (pretending to grab her breasts or buttocks, etc.), comments made loudly enough for others to overhear, etc., and often ogling as a group activity (men sharing comments with each other and encouraging each other).

    When people picture women ogling men, they tend to think of them doing it far more discreetly. They don’t tend to picture women acting out grabbing a guy’s crotch, for instance, and women who catcall loudly might be considered particularly vulgar and, well, “masculine”.

    Mind you, I’m not saying any of this is true, but I/we suspect that the double standard is multi-faceted and based on further stereotyping. Women are more likely to get a pass on “admiring” a cute guy because we expect them to do it in a less overt and noisy, and more subtle and, yes, ladylike, manner.

  • Late to the game, but Christ’s words about lust and anger in the Sermon on the Mount were intended to make His audience realize how futile it was to live a life of holiness by following the Commandments, and by default, He was knocking the self-righteous Pharisees off their moral high-horse.

    And with all due respect, until a woman has walked in a man’s shoes for a while, she cannot possibly understand how strong our physical desires are.

    • And until a man has walked in a woman’s shoes for a while, he can’t possibly understand how strong our physical desires are.
      Your point?

    • Please tell me you don’t believe the myth that women are less sexual and less visual than men and that we can’t possibly understand what it means to be a sexual being? Please? I wish that one would die and stay dead.

  • I’m late to this conversation for sure, but ditto what Darcy said! I’m an over-50 woman who spend too much of my life feeling like I have to make this point.

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