Why Modesty Is Wrong

I am a pervert. At the mall, I’m a pervert. At the beach, I’m a double-pervert. At home, I’m a pervert when I look out the kitchen window at joggers passing by. And then there’s the computer, where I turn into a triple-pervert. I have no willpower. I am nothing more than a weak, sex-crazed monster who thinks women were born for my erotic pleasure.

At least that’s what I’m told.

If I listened to the messages of the Modesty Lifeguards, their shame slathered on as thick as sunscreen, I would be sunburned with false guilt. I cannot do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I am a victim of my own passions, just as Darwin taught. I am a pervert.

On the surface, the intentions of the Modesty Lifeguards appear pure. They want to protect men and women from sexual sin. But the assumptions that lie under the surface are inconsistent with a Christian worldview. Two issues, especially, need to be addressed.

The first is that women are objectified. They are told their bodies, the vehicle God gave them to move upon the earth, are too powerful in a purely sexual sense. A woman’s body exudes so much sexual power, in fact, that men can’t resist. It is clear then that sexual bodies are bad.

Some men do objectify women. Yet instead of challenging this devaluing of women, the Modesty Lifeguards join in with their own brand of objectification. Women are too sexual, meaning they are not persons of value but objects of lust. They are told to accept the false labels, to agree with the lie, to deny their personhood. The only solution that is put forth—given the power of a woman’s sexuality and the assumed weakness of men—is to cover these sexy objects! Modesty is redefined to mean that a woman will deny who she is by minimizing her sexuality. If women submit to the dictates of the Modesty Lifeguards they will be living as shamed, covered-up objects, believing their bodies are liabilities.

The second big lie is that men are pitifully weak and lustful. A biology teacher who is a Christian told me he couldn’t help but hook up with girls because evolutionary biology insists he mate with as many women as possible. The Modesty Lifeguards play into this narrative by agreeing that men can’t help themselves. A woman’s mere presence is taken as a silent invitation. It’s just the way men are.

The result of believing that women are incredibly powerful and their power is present in the attractiveness of their bodies—and that men are astoundingly weak and unable to resist a woman—presents a strange contradiction in this Christian subculture’s view of masculinity. On one hand, men are told to be “strong leaders” to whom “biblical” women submit because women are weak. After all, Eve was deceived in the Garden and the susceptibility to deception, we are told, was handed down to all women.

Yet if a woman slips on beachwear that shows a belly button, these strong men become instant weaklings. Suddenly, the strong male leaders of the church become the weaker brothers who need to be protected from women by women (see 1 Corinthians 7). The only way to protect these vulnerable, slobbering maniacs is for the women to cover up.

Men are taught (though not explicitly) by some sectors of the church that women are objects, not persons, conforming to men’s desires: Martha in the kitchen and Delilah in the bedroom. Women are sexual beings and not a lot more than that. Women are attractive, which means they invite attention. Men learn that all of these things lead to the same sinful outcome. Attraction invites lust, which is equal to adultery. Women then become the scapegoats—blamed for men’s lust!

To prevent these weak men from giving in, women have to accept their role as objects and cover their bodies to mask the female form. Longer skirts, baggier jeans, and proper swimwear are required. Gone is the idea that men could relate to women as persons and could appreciate beauty without losing control.

Recently, one Modesty Lifeguard and widely quoted blogger wrote that when a man lusts after a woman, the woman is also committing adultery with the man. Just to make sure women know how abhorrent a woman’s beauty is in God’s eyes, the message has been manipulated to this: immodesty is adultery. Sadly, the message continues to shift more and more away from honoring women. First, women were denied personhood and redefined as powerfully sexual beings, as objects. Now, according to the argument set forth by this blogger, women are adulterous objects.

How do we guard against the reverse-objectification of women and the strangely parallel emphasis on powerless, oversexed men? There are ways to navigate out of this gnostic heresy and reclaim an appropriate appreciation of our beauty, humanity, and freedom.

First, everyone is beautiful. Beauty is a gift from the Father of Lights. God did not design our bodies so we would live in fear of their power. Arousing desire and sensing our desire are not realities to be feared, but part of the stewardship of being human. God thought our bodies could even inform us about him. To become more fully human means we walk into loving our brothers and sisters with our bodies, unafraid that they will trip over our beauty.

Second, instead of a focus on “covering up what is bad” we need to “dress up what is good.” We don’t need a theology of modesty but a theology of clothing. The first mention of clothing in the Bible is in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve betrayed each other and God. Clothing signified distrust; it was not a protection against lust. Clothing continues to signify relational clues, such as familiarity or respect. For instance, nakedness in marriage is a symbol of vulnerability, bared souls, and trust, while a three-piece business suit signifies respect, formality, negotiation, and sometimes distrust.

Third, we need to acknowledge that dress is not absolute but relative: circumstances and activities dictate the type of clothing we wear. Baggy jeans are not appropriate for running a marathon. Office attire does not fit at the beach. And the most modest of bathing suits is not appropriate dress for a bank loan officer.

If we can move away from the shrill condemnation of the Modesty Lifeguards and return to a positive view of clothing, we may find ourselves both more beautiful and more appropriate to living as valued persons, honoring and respecting one another. God wants every one of us to reflect him in the earth. Objectifying our beauty dehumanizes all of us. Fearing that our beauty is too much for others to handle shames us and others.

There is another way. The God who became flesh wants to see our beauty. Let’s dress knowing that he celebrates us as his created reflections on earth.

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72 voices on “Why Modesty Is Wrong

  1. Dale hit it right on the head. For most my life, I’ve been made to feel a whore because of the modesty patrol. I’ve had it where men won’t even look at me when in conversation with them. I walk away feeling ashamed and dirty. God has brought me out of legalism and I am now enjoying the freedom of being a woman, a daughter of God, valued by God! Dale has put into words that I have held in my heart for so long. Thanks, Dale!

    • Kristen, I am so very sorry you had to endure that for so long but so very glad God’s love and grace has broken in to deal with the shameful messages. You are not a liability. God intended you to be female so the world can know better what he is like!

      I do often wonder if the Modesty Lifeguards have noticed the casualties strewn down the beach behind them. Do they care? Do they want to help? Are they willing to re-examine Scripture and find a narrative outside the American Evangelical 1950s-1970s? Breaks my heart.

      Keep growing! You are loved and valued and God is excited you heard his song above the noise of the crowd.

    • I ditto Kristen Zuray remarks. I believe this is the same attitude that puts abused women in silence. I had an experience at a former church where a new overseer had just introduced himself to to congregation. He spoke about having a father’s heart and so on. His message made me feel safe and protected. It “sounded” good. I approached him afterward in the foyer where everyone was congregating and welcome him. However, I may have been invisible. It was confusing and hurtful. We’ve even had women in ministry that seemed to hate other women in fear of their husband being a target. They mostly spoke about the Jezebel Spirit and how everyone need to repent and were filled with demons. The Religious Pharisee Spirit was alive and active. It put me in such bondage for too many years. Now I am set free from all that witch craft mumbo jumbo. Thank God! : )

      • Crystal, fly free!

        I have found it often that Christian leaders talk like politicians. Whatever words will get them the job is what they will use. So many will say “we value women” from the stage but are chauvinists off stage. This of course is not a reflection on Jesus and his Church. But it is a reflection that many members in Christ’s body don’t know how to tell good fruit from bad. Too many tickled ears.

  2. Dale,

    Thank you so much for your continued clarification and words of wisdom regarding modesty, sexuality and gender among other things. I most certainly agreed with everything you said, especially as I have come from a home where I was shamed because of my curves and early bodily development. Lately, with the help of my husband, I have come to a point of redefining modesty and dressing not to cover myself up but to express my soul. A shift, I might add, from allowing others to define me (idolatry) to allowing Christ to show me who I am.

    Anyway, after reading this blog and the blog that you quote about adultery, I am curious how you might exegete the Matthew passage specifically with the use of the preposition there? I myself will take a look at the passage, but I would like to hear your take on it as well. Why does Matthew use the word “with?” As I am about to begin seminary, I am brushing up on my Greek and this will provide some good self-assigned homework for me. Your input would be greatly appreciated.

    • Marie, that is spot-on! I love your approach.

      On your question about the Matthew passage, I addressed that in a longer series I wrote on modesty. Let’s just imagine for a moment that we are guilty of another person’s sinful thoughts toward us (just ponder that sentence for a second and see if it sounds biblical). So the woman who is lusted after is now an adulterer. Let’s turn the table a bit and say a gay man found Jesus attractive when he was teaching with such power. Let’s say he lusted. Was Jesus then guilty of gay relations? Or if a woman on the hillside munching on bread and fish was thinking, “Boy, I wish my husband was like Jesus” and starts daydreaming about what life would be like when they ran off together. Jesus could not have died on the cross if this logic is correct. That’s how this logic goes and the desperate ends a controlling culture will go to keep everyone in lockstep with the group through shame.

      More at the link addressing the ‘with” in Matthew here (section is halfway down): http://www.soulation.org/freeatlast/2013/06/modesty-codependency-and-culpability.html.

      For the whole series, start here: http://www.soulation.org/freeatlast/2013/06/six-wrong-assumptions-from-the-modesty-lifeguards.html

  3. The introduction to this very interesting article, plays to the public the same way, ” I suck without Jesus” does. Without an explanation, the slogan (if you can call it that) demands an explanation. This article gives one as, I am sure, one would have for wearing the t-shirt.

    • Lori, thanks for commenting. I’m not sure its analogous. The beginning of this article is telling what I had been told all through my years growing up fundamentalist-evangelical. I concluded that I was pervert and merely having sexual body parts ugly to women and ungodly to God. So I began this article saying I was one if the shame-based modesty messages are correct.

      It would be like my giving a hypothetical that I am unpatriotic if I didn’t vote for a certain president. But the truth is, I am patriotic, not because of who I voted for, but because I voted. I am revealing the lie.

      I would never put “I am a pervert” on a t-shirt.

      The shirt, “I suck without Jesus” is actually a common message from the same evangelical circles who prize themselves in being Modesty Lifeguards. At the heart of both issues is a gnostic disdain for humanity and sexuality.

  4. I have struggled for years in relation to being “modest”; often placing blame on myself for inappropriate encounters against my will because I wasn’t dressed “modestly enough”. Thank you, Dale, for continuing to be a voice advocating for intelligent conversation about hard issues instead of playing the blame game.

    Rarely (in my experience) are any conversations happening to teach the males how to resist/fight the temptation, and if there is it seems that the fight is against women and not their fleshly desires.

    There was an interview a few years ago where an Imam alluded that they lust after women in hijab’s more than they lust after women who are “immodestly” dressed. Personally, I don’t think it matters what the woman wears (to a point) but where one allows their mind to take them in that moment of gazing.

    To me, this is a battle that has created a massive relational division between men and women. One that is filled with so much distrust, that they believe the other has ill intentions towards them. (I.E. Men believe women are objects of lust, women believing men only want to objectify them even when they are wearing a potato sack.) We need more unity as we journey and I believe this conversation is one of the biggest obstacles we need to work through to have healthy female and male relationships.

    • Esther Joy, thank you!

      The story of the Imam is intriguing. I suspect in their culture that “imagining” what is under all that fabric must be cultural habit. But since nobody will know (unless a scantily clad text message photo is taken) all women are now sex objects. The problem, of course, being the objects. Until they learn to see women as human, they will remain objects no matter what they wear, a lot or a little!

      As for those conversations among males on how to resist temptation, I’ve also rarely heard women taught that either. And women find men visually appealing too (secular culture knows this already). In the countless talks I’ve sat under from school teachers to Sunday School workers to popular books, they rarely teach what it means to develop a soul that does *not* like sin. They teach that resistance is simply looking away. But what does looking away tell the opposite sex when someone cannot be present with them because they bodies are too beautiful? (Answer: Read Kristen’s comment above). In light of Scripture’s purpose for humans and the community God calls us to cultivate, something is terribly amiss! We rather need to cultivate will-power and develop a taste of the right application of our desires. Once one has tasted healthy gourmet food, fast-food just isn’t appealing. Same with what feeds our sexual desires.

      And I agree, it is one of the big obstacles between men and women. It is also what fuels the kind of patriarchy that does not allow men and women to see each other as humans but as objects for our needs: men are made to support women and women were made to satisfy men, etc. Surely, God speaks to something more free and abundantly alive than this!

  5. men need to take responsibility for getting their stuff in order so that they can look at an attractive woman without sinning. period. there is no getting around that.

    Women can dress in a way that objectify themselves. http://www.qideas.org/video/the-evolution-of-the-swimsuit.aspx “Modesty” should be a practice of not doing this.

    i think this article is responding to a straw man. it’s not about women “covering who they are,” rather it’s about reserving the proper place for sexual interaction. if someone’s going to reveal their butt and boobs to me in a matter intended to provoke sexual interest, that is an adulterous initiation. yes, it’s common place and a regular part of society. it is still sin.

    and the fact of the matter is that generally men are weak and lustful, and it is just going to keep getting worse until Christ returns. we’re stuck in a vicious cycle. we lust, we see images that feed and strengthen our lust, and then we lust all the more strongly. now it is not the responsibility of the women to control the lust of a man, but she should also be aware that we do lust. it’s not her fault that we lust, but it is a separate sin if she is intending to cause others to lust. we need to distinguish between the two.

    this article also talks about “covering up what is bad.” again, we have a straw man. that’s not what modesty is about. it’s about reserving the intimate parts of our bodies for the righteous place for them.

    this article also misunderstands the nakedness and clothing of Genesis 2. Adam and Eve were in a perfect marriage, which is a singularity that we cannot ever again have on this earth. We cannot make the argument that because Adam and Eve were naked and it was good, we should all be naked now and it will be good. The system is different now.

    finally, this article writes that dress is relative. yes, it is. and sin is still sin. your baggy jeans aren’t a sin. but if you want me to stare at your boobs, regardless of it i lust or not, you are sinning. if i lust i am sinning. if you want me to lust, and i still don’t lust, you are still sinning.

    • Elliot, thanks for your comment. Some of my reply will be a repeat of what I write in my article no would encourage a re-reading of it without being guarded. These nuances are subtle and require special reflection.

      Also, please read the other comments here and my replies. That will also flesh out some of my perspective. “Dressing up what is bad” is far from a strawman in the Modesty Lifeguard culture. The other comments from women attest to this, which represents countless women and men. You will also notice a link to other articles I’ve written on this addressing many if the misconceptions in the evolution of the swimsuit rhetoric.

      That said, we agree on several practical counts. Which makes me wonder why you think I supported people acting adulterously. I cannot find that in my text nor anywhere in my own beliefs.

      • Stacy, did you see my reply to Elliot?

        I actually think he didn’t read carefully and was putting up a wall of defense rather than considering what I was saying. I would recommend you re-read the article too as it helps repair some of the many misconceptions that are born from twisting the Bible to make it fit some pre-made conclusions.

    • The problem is you have mistaken the intent of a woman who is dressed provocatively. Most woman don’t get dressed with the thought, “Gee I really hope I can get some men to stare at my boobs today and lust after me”. They get dressed thinking things like, “I hate my stomach and my breast are a part of my body that I’m not embarrassed of. I’m going to highlight what I like about myself and hide what I don’t”.

      We get dressed for ourselves. We choose clothes because we like the way we look in them. Very little thought goes into how will men respond to my outfit . The only time I consider others opinions on how provocative my clothes are is when I am going to church and worried about being judged.

      The assumption that woman dress like whores because they how they want to be treated or be thought of just proves how objectified woman have become. Not all women who are dressed provocatively are looking to provoke sexual interest and not all women who are modestly dressed are sexually pure.

    • Elliott, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I can see your points. However, from my point of view as a woman, it’s a little more complicated. Like Kristen, I’ve experienced being around “Christian” men who wouldn’t look at me, even when I was dressed in a business outfit. In my ex-church, the men were taught never to meet with a woman alone (except their wives), for business reasons or any other. There were a couple times I had meetings like this where a man had to bring along another man–they called it building a hedge. I felt like he had to be chaperoned against my evilness. This sort of thing was so shaming. And then, yes, for women then to be taught that we’re supposed to submit to men in marriage when there’s this message that we are to be guarded against–it’s really damaging. Twenty years later, I’m in therapy to undo some of this. I guess I would also like to ask how you can tell if a woman wants you to look at her boobs. I totally get that some people dress very provocatively. But for other women, what God gave them in the bust area is going to be hard NOT to look at no matter what she wears. I can’t see how that makes her an adulterer.

    • Thank you, Elliot. You expressed several of my thoughts on this. I am very liberated by knowing, resting in, my identity in Christ Jesus, and because of that (not in spite of it!) I can reserve my beauty for my husband’s pleasure alone, and apply the Bible truth of limiting my freedom for the sake of another. What I wear or don’t wear doesn’t make me any more or less Christ’s girl!! :)

    • Thank you Elliot. This article seems to really complicate a simple issue. Women, respect yourselves and men by dressing modestly. I don’t dress modestly because I’m ashamed of my body, or because I think men are perverts. Good grief. Quite the opposite. Like Elliot said, dressing is about respect–for yourself and others. “Modesty police” might have issues, but so do those who flaunt their “beautiful” sexuality indiscriminately. And I think we all know which are more plentiful.

      • Did read my reply to Elliot who appeared not to have read the article?

        I think a careful reading of my article will show I’m actually making the issue less complicated. And regardless of simplicity or complication, I think my article is better aligning with the whole scope of scripture than the current Lifeguards would have us believe.

        That other people may be flaunting themselves does not negate anything that I said. That is just as much of a problem as the Modesty Lifeguards but in the opposite direction.

        Whether we shame ourselves (Modesty Lifeguards) or exploit ourselves (Flaunting it), both are problematic and neither one follows what I wrote in my post.

  6. Amen! I’ve felt the shame this article talks about as a young person for having a curvaceous body. It was an unspoken belief that if you have curves you are immoral! I remained pure while others shaped differently were the loose ones. So unfair and sad!

  7. Interesting subject, and an important one.

    Fundamentally at heart of the sexual objectification issue is the human heart: by this, I mean the attitudes and thinking patterns we choose to adopt. Many factors can influence our thinking, if we allow them to, especially elements in our society and various cultures (the media, entertainment industry, etc). Raging hormones can also make right thinking difficult, both for men and women.

    When Jesus spoke about the lust of the eyes, he addressed the human heart, male and female alike.

    I’d like to offer a perspective that others may or may not agree with. I won’t feel insulted if some take issue with it:

    Our society at large makes far, far too big a deal of the uniquenesses between us in terms of gender. The characteristics that males and females share far, far, FAR outweigh their differences. Both genders have the same basic needs whether spiritual, emotional or physical. For example, our bodies are incredibly similar. The fatty tissue (adepose fat) that makes up the majority of the female breast is the same as that of the male breast.

    The problem (perhaps especially for men) is the way we think. We’re curious and fascinated by the most undeserving things. Imagine a male cow lustfully ogling the udders of a female cow.

    To move on from the physical to the spiritual: from a Biblical standpoint, men should think of women as sisters or mothers, and women should think of men as brothers or fathers. This creates love and respect. If only we would set our minds on the things above, not below.

    In short, if we will allow ourselves to be disabused of illusions and burn through the fog of lies in which we are constantly enveloped, see people as they truly are, and examine our attitudes, we will see that our hearts are at the heart of the matter.

    • Christopher, well said. I agree that men and women are far more similar than we are different. One of the key differences is our body. My wife’s book is superb on this point and I recommend it! Ruby Slippers by Jonalyn Grace Fincher.

      Solomon saw that breasts meant something more than fatty tissue, both for men and women. And that’s a big deal. I certainly don’t want to reduce us to atomic parts. These parts have meanings and beauty, just as a famous sculpture is more than the marble from it was carved. Love-making among humans is rich with a poetry that the the reproduction of cows cannot touch. After all, love is happening among humans. We engage one another sexually, not just for children, but to feed on the love of one another. Appreciating the beautiful parts of our bodies is important for that poetry, on my view.

      Yes, this is a matter of the heart, when it comes to how we see one another. At the same time, God designed beauty to help us reveal the poor motivations of our hearts and see that Someone greater is among us.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

        Men and women have so much in common that it’s actually overwhelming to ponder it. We’re just not THAT different! I’m a man, and have been literally surrounded by girls and women my entire life–my entire household is female, my workplace associates, etc.

        I’m really simply saying that no one should think of the opposite sex as strangely foreign, shrouded in mystery–such thinking leads to the objectification of the opposite sex. I just feel that society at large creates a misleading mystique and over-glorification of sexual matters in general, as well as distorted and overblown view of the differences between men and women. One always hear men say that they can’t understand women–this is just an arrogant effort of men to distinguish themselves.

        If we would try to understand one another, and see how very much we have in common (an overwhelmingly large ratio of common to different), and eliminate the mystique, we could think of one another as family and treat each other with respect and love.

        • Yes, yes! Well said. Totally agree. We are not from Mars and Venus but from the same planet. And if the Eden narrative us true (which I believe it is) it speaks far more to our sameness. Eve was not made separately but was taken from Adam after all!

          Our sexuality is our major difference. And if we make that difference into an icon rather than a complement (I’m egalitarian but believe the sexes complement one another) he or she is dehumanizes into our service rather than respected as someone in God’s service. Slaves were treated similarly. The less we think we have in common, the sooner the shackles of control come out.

  8. Dear Dale,

    Thank you! This is wonderfully written, and for once, the comment section has been realized in its full potential. You were able to flesh out your article by thoughtfully answering serious comments. I just wanted to say that this was great and I am sharing. (It has been making its way through all my facebook friends.)

  9. Thanks, Dale. Clear and well thought out. I would like my wife to read this. She is the director of the daycare ministry of our church. The board recently handed her a new dress code policy–based, apparently, on a complaint from an anonymous male about how she had dressed on one occasion. My wife is far from immodest, but does suffer from being attractive. How the church has vilified feminine beauty!!

    I wonder. The purpose of “dress standards” is supposed to be a testimony of the church, to point people to Christ. But if those standards make no sense to those outside the fold, do they really serve their intended purpose? Or is the reality that those with “high standards” really have them for other Christians to see?

    • AJ, I’m sorry your wife has to tolerate that. Confusing attraction with lust has brought a lot of false guilt and unnecessary shame. The evangelical church needs a desperate conversation between the two and the spiritual disciplines to cultivate health in sexuality besides a reaction similar to Prohibition.

      I’m glad you brought up “testimony.” I think for the Modesty Lifeguards, the primary purpose of dress is to stop people from entertaining sex. So the sooner we can forget we are sexual creatures the better.

      Thought your example involved a male, I find in the Modesty Lifeguard culture it is usually females policing other females. What is motivating that? Do some females like the control? Do they secretly want to make the attractive women less attractive so the police can feel more attractive? I wonder.

      But if you look further back in to the fundamentalist roots, you do see the “testimony of the church” to be a major motivation as well. It created (and still creates) a unshakeable paranoia. For it puts the evangelical in the position of being responsible of what other people think about them. “Avoid all appearance of evil” has been taken out of context to mean avoiding even be in a *place* where social taboos may be happening. Jesus was accused of breaking the fundamentalist barriers of his own day surrounding the same issue of “how this may appear to others.” Only in retrospect have we learned to have eyes to see how Love appears to others, which is far more beautiful to look at than a Modesty Lifeguard blowing whistles to those who are out of line.

      The criteria for “High standards” is often “painful standards” or “inconvenient standards.” That is a assumed narrative in these circles that the more inconvenient and painful and difficult a thing is, the more holy it likely is. So by dressing in ways that are *different,* we get to be walking martyrs. Holiness is guaranteed!

      This is so far afield from Biblical culture that it nearly requires a worldview shift to relearn who God is and what he has said.

  10. Thank you! I believed the lies for years, But they weer at constant war with teh reality of life. Was there temptation? Sure. But somehow, I never had sex with anyone but my wife, much less lost all control and raped someone.
    When God made Adam and Eve, he celebrated. He saw that what he made was *good*. Not “mostly good, but those boobs gotta go”.
    If Christ won, and we are his and his Spirit lives in us, why do we run around acting defeated? Jesus was tempted. He still won. So can we.

    • Love it, Miles. “Why do we run around acting defeated?” Good question!

      And I recently learned that in Hebrew, God’s called creation “good” which can also be translated as “beautiful.” When he made Adam and Eve, he made them “very beautiful!” Why would we seek ways to hide it? Do we not trust God knew what he was doing?

      I can well imagine revisiting the snake in the Garden and hearing him say “Hath God really said you were beautiful?”

  11. The article contrasts shame versus openness. This is a false contrast. That girl girl who chooses to dress more modestly is usually not ashamed, but is making a decision of wisdom and/or love for her brother. Those who are ashamed of their bodies, need not be. This natural God-given beauty can be compared to a financial asset. If you have 50k of gold, are you going to forge it all into jewelry and wear all 50k? No, as a matter of prudence and modesty, you’ll wear just a little.

    • Luke, thanks for interacting with my article! I fully agree that shame vs. openness is a false contrast. Fortunately, that wasn’t a contrast I made.

      Notice the comment by Kristen above. It is key to empathizing with women who have experienced the fruit of our errant approach to “protect” our sexuality. Someone beautiful is treated like her beauty is a problem. It is couched in deceptively positive terms of “You are so beautiful, that we must hide it.” But that leads us nowhere and confuses us as a Christian culture. It is damaging for a woman to be told her God-given gift of beauty leads to sin.

      Just pause and consider if you were told that about “masculine” qualities you value, the very ones that make up who you are that cannot go away. I was led to believe by the Modesty LIfeguards that a penis is dangerous and undesirable to women. That does long-term damage on God-given masculine identity. It is a lie used because the truth was too “dangerous” for us to know.

      Well intentioned lies are still lies. And if there’s any place in evangelical culture that needs a robust theological overhaul it is in our view of gender, sex and sexuality.

      Comparing beauty to a financial asset is by no means how God thinks of it. Rather, the comparison itself plays into the objectification I mention in the article. A woman is not a financial asset nor a plucked flower (another metaphor often used).

      A more helpful metaphor may be a sunset. Do we regulate it’s beauty? Do we shame the sun and tell it “You are so beautiful, we must give special glasses and partial glimpses to mankind less they appreciate it too much”? The beauty of God and angels are veiled beauties because they incite fear (and even death). But men and women were made to be beautiful to each other without fear and death.

      Artists, to assist us, “cloth” a sunset so that we can see it’s meaning even clearer. Clothing, among other things, is artwork that helps us see the meaning of our beauties rather than hides it.

      At the end of the day it comes down to this question: What are people for? What is our point of existing? If our focus is simply on keeping others from “sinning,” I’m afraid we’ve missed the mark (ironically, this is the literal definition of “sin”). If our purpose is to demonstrate what God is like, we should dress accordingly in our beautiful bodies (keeping in mind the caveats I listed in the article).

      To read more, check out the link I listed in another comment that fills out more false assumptions made in the modesty debate.

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  15. Dale, I read part of your article. You need to define who you are talking to…Christian or non-Christian…secondly if you are stating something that you think is out of context then you need to quote the scripture and then put it in context. There is a lot of you and your opinion and not much of God in your writing.
    Modesty is put in place to protect mankind (god himself made a covering (garments) for man in Genesis 3:21 because now Mankind had the knowledge of good and evil. Unless we are in Christ we don’t have the ability to do what is right just because it is right and perfect, we don’t want to do what is right because it is foreign to the sinful nature. I can only do all things through Christ if I am in Christ! God is pure and holy sinful man doesn’t have the ability to be pure and holy unless they are in Christ. If they are in Christ they have the ability, but they also have the ability to sin, so we have to choose to do what Christ does. Being pure and holy means that we don’t want to be immodest, we don’t want to stumble someone and we don’t want to set a bad example for others to follow. That is what modesty is all about. If there was no sin then you or I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be impure and unholy, so modesty wouldn’t need to exist…I might add that in revelation everyone is clothed in robes not bikini’s or naked. We are supposed to be like Jesus not like ourselves…that’s why we need a savior!

  16. hi Dale

    I could use some help understanding how Scripture tells us that susceptibility to deception was passed down to all women? I went back and did some checking of relevant texts, and I’m unsure how you came to that conclusion. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing that you could show me?



    • Jesse, thanks for your question. I’m not sure where I say that “susceptibility to deception was passed down to all women.” I certainly don’t believe that. I think both men and women are both susceptible to deception as well as capable of great wisdom.

      1 Tim 2 is the passage used to demonstrate women are more “easily deceived” than men. I don’t think the passage is teaching a comparison of gullibility (though some Christian traditions teach this dogmatically) but is rather addressing another issue in Ephesus. I’ve known far too many men who have been deeply deceived and deluded and far too many women who have the keenest insights in a room of men to say this is an issue only for women. Men and women in community TOGETHER is the best insurance on going forward with spiritual health and wisdom.

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  19. Hi Dale, I sincerely appreciate this article. It brought to mind a comment I heard.. what the difference of lust vs attraction by talking about a car :)
    ‘Just because I admire a car, doesn’t mean that I’m going to steal it, I just find it attractive.’
    I find that sometimes, to be attractive, to feel attractive, and to find the opposite sex attractive, is wrong. Cover up, hide, stay in groups, in the light, in public. Please.
    I also liked your comment here: “And women find men visually appealing too (secular culture knows this already). ”
    I’ve worked in many christian bookstores, read many christian magazines.. and what do I find? Books only for men about this subject.. attractiveness/lust etc. Apparently the writers at Cosmo (which would be the other end of the pendulum) know something else (although yes, they are quite blatant.. whoa!).
    Have you written on both female and male attractiveness/attraction? Or why men are the bad guys (just SHUT your eyes!) and women (COVER UP) are the damsels in.. distress for lack of clothing. I don’t think I’ve ever read an article which says, “guys, please stop smelling so good, looking so good and wearing those awesome jeans.. you are too attractive for single ladies.”
    Attraction can come in many forms, not just (lack of clothes/) visual.
    (Novel done!)

    • Alyssa, love your comment. I’m glad you are thinking through this issue.

      The car analogy works! I think “lust” falls into the 10th commandment “Do not covet.” It is a strong desire to have something that is not your own. As soon as you then seek to have the thing that is not your own, you violate other commandments. The 10th commandment is the commandment for motives.

      There is certainly nothing wrong with being attractive and being beautiful. It’s like telling a good preacher to deliberately preach badly. No Modesty Lifeguard would support that but they remain logically inconsistent because the “sex” thing is involved with beauty/attraction. And “sex is a necessary evil” in these circles (not in writing, but in assumption).

      You’d like my wife’s work on the lust issue for women. Here’s a start: http://soulation.org/jonalynblog/2009/06/lust-alive-and-well-among-women.html. Subscribe to her blog. You’ll be glad you did.

      I don’t think I’ve written about this in particular beyond the Myths of Masculinity that are rampant in the church. Here’s a talk I gave on that: http://www.soulation.org/content/masculine-myths/

      Thanks for the conversation.

  20. This is a wonderful post, Dale. I know from experience how these “Modesty Lifeguards” negatively affect people’s lives. I used to be ashamed to go to beaches because I was afraid I would be seeing women all around proud of their “whoredom” (i.e. bikinis) and it really bothered me. I’ve tried to end my own life because of it sometimes.

    But… he was the one that stopped me. It was at my darkest moment, that he stopped me from taking my own life. “My yolk is easy” he says. It’s a long road to try and have the wounds healed, but I know Jesus will heal them. As of now, I am free to enjoy women and love them. I would still love a girl “modest” or “immodest” or anything.

    God loves us unconditionally, regardless of status, size, body-type or wardrobe. The woman’s body is not a sinful thing that causes men to “stumble” and therefore must be hidden, it’s a beautiful thing created in God’s image. It’s because of our sinful hearts that we lust, not because of what women wear or don’t wear. Our sexuality is not a bad thing, either. It’s something that God designed us with. Having strong sexual feelings isn’t sin, it’s also something God gave us. Wanting to see a woman’s body and liking it’s form isn’t a sin either, it was designed that way so that men could desire women.

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  23. The Bible itself tells us to dress modestly. It says so in 1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, and in other places as well. And God doesn’t want us to be modest because our bodies are objects, but because they deserve respect and honoring, just like the Holy of Holys was honored and respected by being placed behind a curtain. It was covered because it was special and powerful, and so are our bodies.

    • Hotter Than Thou, thanks for your comment. Based on what you said, your name is ironic. Yes, I’m aware of those verses and I believe them. However, what does “modesty” mean in those contexts and how does it relate to the context of my post? Has the word “modesty” shifted in English to connote new meanings that were not intended in Bible times? Since when did “simplicity” mean “shame” and “codependency”?

      Both verses you cite are very consistent with my article. And yet you insert into your own context new meanings, like comparing a woman with the Holy of Holies… the place where the unholy instantly died?? That has powerful rhetorical punch in women’s bible studies, but it is inconsistent with Scripture. Actually, women were originally clothed, like men, because of sin. They were not clothed because they were too special for others to handle. That’s in my article above.

      Besides, I never said anything about not covering. I would challenge you to re-read my post with fresh eyes. It is a broader Biblical vision that what most of us (including myself) has been taught.

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  25. Hi. Read and re-read your post. Also read a vast majority of the comments and your responses.

    Let me say first I am and have always been very large breasted and curvy person. As a teen I volunteered every summer at a Christian camp. I was told I was to wear sweat shirts and padded bras in the not air conditioned camp to hide my breasts and nipples. Needless to say, I was ashamed of my breasts and my body. Now before you apologize to me and express your disgust hold up there a minute… What they did was wrong and actually dangerous on the 100 degree weather. The lesson that an appropriately drssed girl needs to go to extremes to hide was wrong BUT The Lord allowed it to grow me, my faith, and to get me Into the scriptures to search the subject like a Berean. I don’t regret those times I endures that. It was part of gods plan for my life.

    There is certainly a destructive teaching out there that woman’s and men’s bodies are evil and should be covered and avoided at any cost. This is not taught in the scriptues. We are after all fearfully and wonderfully made. This idea can easily translate onto the marriage bed where there is shame where there shouldn’t be. Men and woman are amazing creations that are put here to glorify god. Long and short. It’s not for our glorification but Gods. Seems like the article sort of glorifies the body. Exposes it and magnifies it.ayne not your intention. But just the feeling I got

    With that being said, ode art is and can be subjective. What I think is a normal fitting t shirt those in charge saw breasts! Dear lord, a girl with breasts! I was clothed, t shirt didn’t fit tight, didn’t conform but was still bad. I think those hints can be harmful certainly and knowing why I do know I would tell the guys to become responsible for their minds, control their own bodies, and take every thought captive! Men are responsible for men. Even if a naked girl prances in front of them hopefully they will have enough control over themselves to flee youthful list and fornication!

    Something I have learned though, for as wrong as it is to do this to people the scripture teaches that woman clothe yourself In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety 1 Timothy 2:9. I love that scripture not because it gives us our list if acceptable clothing, down to your ankles, up to your neck but says, be deliberate. Dress yourselves very intentionally. Not just because it is on fashion, because I’m accentuating the hot bid God has given me or because I have the right. Intentional Christianity. I won’t give you a list of rights and wrongs bit prayerfully considering before god what he would have us to wear. I think or would rule out a lot of our Christian liberties.

    One real issue I did have with your article though is this. When ad and eve sinned in the garden god killed the animals as a covering for them. They were ashamed that they were naked and hadn’t realized that yet. It wasn’t about trust or anything like that. It said they were ashamed because they were naked. Simple. God them covered them. Doesn’t say if he used 1200 yards of fur do so or just 2 yards. Simple. God covered their nakedness. We should in like manner take our bodies serious. We were not made just for beauty but to commune with The Lord. I’m thankful for my husbands beautiful body and nakedness is an amazing things inside of marriage. We need not be ashamed we are beautiful creatures bit we should carry ourselves in sobriety and in all things go to The Lord for his desires in our lives.


    • Brandy, thanks for taking the time to read so much before commenting! I’m glad you have a genuine stake in the current debate / issue!

      Two things to clarify: 1 Tim 2:9 must be read in historical context. In Ephesus, female power and mimicking the temple of Artemis was a major problem. Paul is offering a corrective here. He is not necessarily offering a universal. In addition, it’s tough to know what “modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety” even translates to today. Even the most modest in the “modesty debate” would be considered immodest to many dress standards in the ancient Mediterranean world. I like your use of the word “deliberate.” I think that’s consistent with what I am saying throughout my points. But we are deliberate in a certain direction towards God rather than in seeing ourselves as liabilities to man.

      On the first mention of clothing in the Bible, you need to back up a few verses. It was Adam and Even who created the first clothing, not God. You may not see “trust” mentioned verbatim in the text, but it is implied, I believe, in the context. Their blaming, their covering, their hiding… all of it was was from being ashamed and distrustful of one another.

      I love your last line. We are beautiful and we should carry ourselves in sobriety in all things for the Lord’s desires in our lives. That, in itself, is the game changer in this debate. For too long we’ve capitulated to the culture’s and other’s desires for us. God has a far better way.

  26. I do not believe this article is biblical. It doesn’t approach modesty from a perspective of biblical study. It approaches the subject with a lot of preconceived stereotypes. . . stereotypes that I think aren’t accurate but are broad sweeping. Doing a study of this nature and not even mentioning 1 Timothy 2:9 is irresponsible. I do not believe you can study “shamefacedness” and come to the same conclusion as Dale does. Frankly, the title of the article is enough to miss the mark of the biblical litmus test. One instance of the misconstrued study here is treating “beauty” and “modesty” as if they were analogous. Ladies (and men), when considering differing opinions, prove everything by the Word. After all, it isn’t Dale or me that you’ll answer truth, holiness, and purity.

    • Morgan, “not biblical” is a strong charge when the Bible is used throughout the article. Maybe it isn’t the way your tribe uses the Bible, but to discount it entirely simply isn’t fair.

      Not addressing 1 Tim 2:9 was on purpose. Look at the verse in context (not to mention historical context). Please parse out “shamefacedness” in the greek and report back (the NIV translation will give you a head start). And if you are consistent with how you want to apply this verse, you’d also be banning the wearing jewelry.

      Rather this passage is not about sexually covering up but about simplicity (which is what “modesty” actually means) and respect. The women in Ephesus were disrespectful and pompous, behaved superior to men, and believed they had clout with their female god, Artemis. Paul was correcting that (and the rest of the passage bears this out). And that context has nothing to do with the modern notion the Modesty Lifeguards throw so many women into today and use verses like this out of context to bludgeon them.

      I think the title passes the biblical litmus test because modesty as defined by “covering up” is not how the Bible addresses the topic. And it is ruling by the negative. It’s like teaching driving by merely applying the brakes.

      I don’t think “modesty” and “beauty” are analogous. Did I say that? I recommend re-reading this article. Put down the defensive posture the title may make you feel and let the scripture and process of this article present itself as intended. Then report back. Thanks!

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  28. This is a refreshing perspective and I appreciate your writing it. Scripturally speaking, modesty is important, but you are pointing out that God created the human body in His own image and His design is good and rightfully pleasing.

    Has anyone ever heard someone say that even a fully dressed woman can be immodest? Talk about shaming someone for how God made them!

    Sadly, living in a culture where the media has twisted the female form through photo-shopping, many females feel less than beautiful. No one looks like the people in the magazines after all, but human nature is to compare ourselves.

    I feel sad that many women don’t feel lovely as God created them and that they sometimes shame other women they feel jealous of.

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  30. I don’t think modesty is immoral. I do think policing others’ lives runs a bit counter to Christ’s purpose – hence, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

    However, if the intention is to protect people from sin, that’s not such a faulty motivation. We are also called not to do anything to cause our brothers or sisters to stumble.

    Christ is the Paradox of paradoxes. While he is adamant about the spirit of the message, sometimes the interpretation should be applied in moderation.

    I think if a woman feels shamed because a man won’t look her in the eyes, then she has objectified herself by assuming
    her sense of self worth comes from human beings. People have strange mannerisms, especially Christians.
    Jesus said, “If one member of your body causes you sin, cut it off. It is better to enter the kingdom of heaven without one member than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
    To avoid sin is imperative.
    Maybe that seems extreme and legalistic in our modern era of utilitarian ethics, but perhaps that sense of torture comes from a society that is wholly disobedient and rejects God.

    We often say we live in a Christian society, but cultural Christianity has done much to dishonor and disconnect us from God. And now we are told that God is liberation. (The Hindus assent to this view)

    That is true to an extent. But God is also justice and judgment. And He is a righteous God.

    Inasmuch as I feel Christ has set me free, I rejoice in the suffering created by the standard He has set impossibly high.

    I think women today would do better to turn off their televisions than to run from a pastor who emphasizes modesty. That’s an opinion. But with all things, God is standard. We have such wide interpretations of Scripture, people seem to gravitate to what suits their personal values and tastes, not where they feel the most challenged to serve God in all aspects of their lives.

    I, for one, don’t support soft Christianity. Christianity is a soft message, but it carries a big stick. I do my best not to forget either incentive.

    Love and prayers to all the faithful.

    • Hey Clint, I do think avoiding sin is imperative… but when we focus on sin incorrectly we even make a bigger mess of sin, like when we abstaining from things God never called us to abstain from and indulging in things God told us not to… simply because we misunderstood. Good intentions can still be wrong. I think that’s why grace is so beautiful. It lets us fall down without shame so we can get up and keep growing. The devilish thing is when we lack grace and insist ignorantly and arrogantly that our way of seeing things is the first and last word on a matter.

      This life is mix of quandaries difficult to untangle. God holds us in all of it and gives us tools to grow and navigate it. My hope, with this article, is to help untangle a few strands that have engulfed this topic.

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