Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Problem with How we Often Approach Modesty Conversations

"Be careful what you wear, you don't want to cause your brothers in Christ to stumble by how you dress."

"Men are visual, so it really matters what you wear."

These are just a couple of examples of the messages about modesty I heard growing up in the church. And often still here today.

Then you look at communicated dress codes: They're almost always much more detailed for women than for men. In some cases, they see to be almost exclusively addressed to women.

And that's wrong. And it's a problem.

Hear me clearly:

I'm not saying that these sentiments are wrong. I'm not saying women shouldn't be aware of how they dress and the impact it may have on others. Those things are part of living in healthy community.

But, we absolutely cannot stop here. We cannot stop with just telling women it's all on them with regards to what the Christian men in their worlds think.

What I am saying:

When our focus when it comes to modesty is almost exclusively focused on women's choice of dress, we're doing exactly what we complain about our society doing to women and speak out against in other settings. In framing our discussions of modesty around only what women wear, we're reducing women to nothing more than sex objects. The very same thing we decry in the society in which we live.

We also marginalize a segment of women. We make it seems like only men are tripped up by what they see. Our silence on men's dress and need for modesty pushes the segment of women who struggle with that they see on the sidelines. Left feeling unacknowledged, unimportant, and completely silenced. Silencing them is the worst part of it, in my opinion, because it means they're left alone in their struggle, feeling like they have no place to reach out for help. Their struggle is invalidated and made to be no big deal.

I've had a few instances where this topic has come up in conversation recently that have fueled this post. In some of the conversations, my thoughts have been listened to and considered, regardless of whether they agree with me. In others, the response has been an almost immediate dismissal with a "yeah, but . . ." It's the second response, the dismissal, that really spurred me to write this post.

When I look at Scripture, I don't see responsibility for another's actions being placed on one group of people, but rather, I see all people being called to responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.

There are a couple of Scriptures, I commonly here in discussions about modesty:

". . . Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister." (Romans 14:13b)

"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." (1 Corinthians 8:9)

I have heard both of these verses used as support for the statements I opened this post with. And, while they do apply to that, we can't limit them to a discussion on modesty for women. Taken in the larger context of where these verses are pulled from, Paul is talking about how to live in Christian community. Paul's not even talking about modesty is dress, although the principle can be applied there. But, if we're going to apply it there, we need to be applying to both men and women equally.

We're being unfair if we use it to justify talking to women about how to dress and don't also talk to men about the same thing. Both men and women have a responsibility in this area. And it's important.

In an increasingly sexualized society, we need to have regular and honest conversations about modesty and the implication of how we dress. But, it must be a balanced conversation. We all, men and women, have a responsibility here - both in how we dress and in what we choose to dwell on in our own thoughts.

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