|Camp Swim Time|
Now that summer is upon us my Facebook page is rife with posts about swimsuits and modesty. I want to begin by saying that I place a high value on modesty and have read both links I have received (one that is very popular right now of Jessica Rey speaking) and one that I have only seen once. Further, I want to say that I place a value so high on it that I am concerned with the way it is treated and taught in the church (when I refer to the church I mean the body of believers as a whole and the place we meet).
I am troubled with the church in the state that is in today in quite a few ways and I freely admit that as a woman this particular aspect affects me. However, if it only affects me and not also a significant other half of the population I would not be so impelled to write about it. An attitude and teaching that is perpetuated like this keeps us divided, unequal, and therefore, makes it difficult to use all of one's abilities to reach out to those within and outside of the body of believers-to love our neighbor as deeply as we should, the neighbor that we see next to us in the pew, in a store, and on the internet.
The church I grew up in had a few rules when it came to any sort of outing and a large percentage pertained to the way we dressed, most of it being directed to the female population of the league of extraordinary youth. We had rules about sleeveless shirts, the length of our shorts, the tightness of our clothes, and, the most layered, what we could swim in. The girls were required not only to wear a one piece swimsuit but to also wear a T-shirt and shorts over the swimsuit. Don’t forget that the t-shirt could not be thin or white and the shorts still had to measure the correct length. And I don't mean TO the pool I mean IN the pool. The boys did have to wear a shirt as well.
We also had a Sunday School series that was called “Someday…A Marriage Without Regrets.” It covered roles of men and women, communication, etc., etc. I don’t remember a lot about it but I do remember a few scenes that have stuck in my head. I remember them as clearly as I would like to on an emotional level but not as clearly as I would like to for purposes of sharing. That being said, one particular scene: a girl-tall and beautiful- standing up in front of our class both boys and girls. The question was about modesty. When I say “modesty” I mean the definition that Christians have come up with to mean the way that a woman dresses. The boys were encouraged to answer as this girl stood in front of the class while the teacher said: “If _____ was your girlfriend and she was dress in such and such a way…” I don't remember specific words but I remember shame. I remember I wanted her to sit down, feeling embarrassed for her, I wanted to tell the proud answer givers my opinion but sat there, instead, knowing that a differing view was not actually welcome; knowing that I was an exemplary youth and that if I said something against it I might be looked at as less, embarrassed that I should be sitting in shame and not the in the glory that God made me- God’s glorious image. There was shame of my body, shame of sex, shame of being a woman. I remember being angry-angry that she was standing there helpless while guys were allowed to criticize her and all womanhood in a roundabout way; while guys were allowed to be above us; while guys were allowed to be unaccountable.
Once again, I believe that modesty is a virtue something to be pursued. I believe in the right of men to want a “lady” but also in the right of a “lady” to desire a “gentleman.” I believe that God calls all of us to help each other and that modesty in dress is beneficial. I also believe that modesty does not have only to do with outward appearance and that humility, modesty, and self-control should be expected in men. I believe that a man’s desire is not uncontrollable and that his lust is a choice. I believe also that there is a very real problem not addressed- this problem is that the church does not acknowledge the very real feeling, desires, and nature that a woman deals with as well. That the call for women to be the “gatekeepers” of purity leads to them having to tend to a man’s desire and hold back her own as well. It is taught that women are reactors so that any desire she feels has not originated in her but has come out of desiring affection or previous lack of affection in her life, want to please, or debasement. Ironically, while this shows our lack of spirituality a man can be fully spiritual when he admits to being lustful. In fact, he is now fully a man.
The series that my Youth Group did led to many discussions about women and modesty both from our teachers and within the youth group from teen to teen. It led to male youth feeling "led" and very proud that they could come up to a girl and let them know that their particular outfit was "making them stumble,” thereby, shaming her but elevating himself somehow. There was no shame for their stumbling, only toward the stumbling block. No matter how hard we would have tried or decently we dressed their mind was their own stumbling block. There was no love and there was no humility. There was no modesty in their attitude.
1. Having or showing a moderate or humble estimation of one’s merits, importance, etc.; free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, or great pretensions.
2. Free from ostentation or showy extravagance
3. Having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc.; decent.
We are all called to humility, modesty, and love. As men and women we are equal and different-then again, not so different really. We must all uphold one another. We must not perpetuate women as less, women as seducers (I was taught about the “strange” woman and her luring of men), women’s desire as unnatural (looking only to please and for affection), women’s responsibility as sole gatekeeper, women’s gullibility.
One more story. I was on Youth Drama Team at our church. We regularly presented skits and plays before the sermon at our Friday night youth gatherings. So many of them were powerful and I remember being affected by quite a few of the characters I played, all in a good way even when it was painful emotionally. However, I do remember being required to be in a certain skit that I am still ashamed to have been a part. A boy in our youth group, being inspired by all of the talk about modesty and girl’s dress, wrote a skit. It was approved and my best friend and I were picked to do the two parts it required. I remember reading it and being conflicted, memorizing it and feeling ashamed and angry. The skit featured two female biblical characters (I believe it was Jezebel and Potiphar’s Wife) discussing modesty and all of the hurtful thinking that has been spouted by the Christian church was packed in that little space of ten minutes. I cannot even quote the script verbatim because I don’t have it anymore. I kept almost all of the scripts I received but not that one. I grimace thinking about that play. I was so ashamed after the skit I didn't want to come out of the changing room afterward. Funnily, I remember my best friend doing a pretend tease and saying: “Take it off, take it all off” while we were changing, which was pretty clever considering what we had just done. I think we were both ashamed Ironically, I did glance at myself and my outfit in the mirror on my way out and wonder if it met all the standards it should.
This is all a problem because it focuses on how we relate to men and not to God. It makes our lives centered on them, not around God. It makes men elevated, and women left alone. It creates a culture that faults anything that happens to a woman's body and emotions to her lack of spirituality. It stunts women's creativity, talents, and gifts. It stunts the work the church can be doing in this world that needs us. Not just the teaching that modesty and the suffusion of male lust is up to the woman, but the thoughts that molded that idea in the first place and then the attitude it perpetuates.
Men, we will uphold you. We will try to act modestly, dress modestly, and behave so-for God. And we ask you to do the same. Act with humility and do not blame your lustful thoughts and actions on anyone but yourself. You are in control of them. Also, we need your help because we do not lack desire-physical desire. We have desire both for love and for your body. We enjoy the sight of your body, your looks, and your touch as well and not just when we are loved or think we are loved by you. We believe that you can be hurt by a physical relationship without love just as we can and that we can enjoy a physical relationship without love just as you can (though neither of us should). Act with modesty in speech, in manner, toward us. Act with responsibility just as we will.