"You have to cover up so you don't cause your bothers in Christ to stumble when they see you."
"Men are visual; they can't help what happens when they see a female wearing flattering clothing; so you always have to dress with that in mind."
I can't tell you how many times I heard those messages growing up in the church. Always from well-meaning people whose heart was in the right place, even if the way went about it wasn't the best choice.
I'm sure there's many people who grew up in the church who would agree they heard the same message. And as a teenager and woman in my early twenties, I bought this completely. It influenced my choice in clothing and my appearance in every way.
When I look back on that now, I'm struck by something I didn't notice at the time . . . how insulting that message actually is to both men and women. I know it wasn't the intent behind the message, but it reduces guys to being incapable of thinking about anything but sex, and women to nothing more than sex objects to anyone of the opposite sex around them. That's not exactly an accurate portrayal.
Yes, there are many who struggle in this area. Yes, there are those who make poor choices in this area. But, I fear we've strayed too far in the opposite direction in the message we preach on this topic. We may have the best of intentions, but I wonder if we're actually doing more harm than good.
Before you jump all over me - I'm all for modesty in how we dress. I'm not trying to take away all responsibility from women in how they dress. But, I don't think they should be the ones to carry the weight of what everyone they may have contact with during the day thinks either.
Scripture makes it clear that each of us is responsible for ourselves alone before God - not others. Yes, we should love and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ enough to not knowingly do things that will cause them to stumble in their own walk with God. But, that doesn't mean we should live our lives spending all our time worrying about whether or not we're causing a fellow believer to stumble. They are ultimately responsible for their own sin before God, just as we are for ours.
I believe that in the message we have been preaching about modesty, we have been unintentionally making women responsible for someone else's sin - in this case their brothers in Christ. And that is wrong. They aren't responsible for it and they shouldn't be made to feel like they are.
Should we be teaching the importance of appropriateness in how we dress? Absolutely.
Our culture crosses the line on what is appropriate and modest all the time. We, the church, have a responsibility to teach it as part of living a life of integrity as a follower of Christ.
We also need to be teaching all to take responsibility for their own sin and to go to God with it, rather than blame it on someone else and the way they dress. That's also part of living a life of integrity before God, as His child.