Modesty, Part 2: Every Young Man’s Battle, and They Just Need to SUCK IT UP!
My last post was dedicated to the hyper-modesty side of the evangelical world. As I mentioned there, this was MY side for longer than I wish was true. Today, we look at the other side of the modesty pendulum. I use that expression specifically because it has risen to popularity as a reaction against what is (rightly) seen as the overly zealous, often damaging stance that has been the championed by many like my former self.
I referred to the first position as, Every Young Man’s Battle and Every Young Woman’s Problem. Today’s post is:
Every Young Man’s Battle and They Just Need to SUCK IT UP!
What I hear from folks who take this stance is something like the following collection of ideas, which I’ve over-simplified here for brevity’s sake:
- Teaching girls that they should be concerned about what they wear for fear that they may expose too much of themselves has been damaging (this is also true)…so, we should encourage young ladies to value their bodies and wear whatever makes them feel good about themselves. And for that matter, I guess we should stop the thing where we tell guys they can’t have their boxers hanging out either – just to be fair.
- Modesty as a requirement for women to cover up their bodies for the sake of, “not being a stumbling block,” to men is not really biblical (this is true)…so, we should just drop that conversation.
- Men’s lust problems should not be blamed on women (this is true as well)…so, men need to suck it up and deal with their own junk. If your eyes cause you to sin, cut the things out already (That’s Jesus, right there!)!
Just like the hyper-modesty stance from last post, this one also makes logical sense. As a father of a daughter who young men are starting to ogle (that made me a little nauseous to say out loud)…I am all in favor of guys’ taking responsibility for their wandering eyes and not acting like it’s their right to scan my daughter (or yours) as passes by. As a father of 15-year-old son, I’m trying to help him become a man who guards his own heart and eyes with integrity.
But, the problem with pendulums is they are just so swingy (let’s pretend that’s a word). When a position is reacted against, the reaction can almost universally be counted on to over-correct. I see a little of that is happening with the positions taken above. So, let me walk through a couple of spaces here where I see some trouble.
- We can’t trust our sense of what makes us “feel good.” This is sticky ground, I realize. To presume to tell anyone what they should wear is to jump up and down on thin ice. I’m not really interested in doing that though. Instead, I just want to call out a theological problem with the assumption that we should just all wear whatever makes us feel good: sin. Not, “Those shorts are so short it leads people into sin.” Or, “Those shorts are so short it’s sinful to wear them.” It goes much deeper than that. Sin, being thoroughly invasive, affects every aspect of creation. This includes our perspective on how we look, what we think looks good on us, why we would choose to wear what wear, how we feel about ourselves, etc. All of it. So, to assume that the only way to handle issues of how we present ourselves to others is to allow emotion to lead the way is problematic. I am NOT setting up a back door through which we can sneak back to measuring shorts and policing bra straps…I have no interest in doing that at all…anymore…ever. For now, I’m just raising the question that perhaps we need to do more work than just punting to individual preference.
- Everyone’s sin is their own problem, but no one’s sin problem is ONLY their problem. Sin is a communal issue. It is a corporate concern. We can’t even think about calling ourselves the body of Christ if we are going to abdicate our concern for each other’s sin. I am not responsible for your sin. But, I should be concerned about it. I should care. I should want to participate in supporting you as you work to overcome it. And, in some circumstances, I should even be willing to give up my “rights” if it would in some way benefit you. So, while the far end of the blame pendulum that allows women to be made the guilty party to a man’s lust is a bad place to be, the opposite end of total non-concern doesn’t really work either. It’s not loving our neighbor well or treating the members of the Body with the honor they’re due.
- We should not simply write off the Bible. While it’s true that the thing we most often call modesty in the evangelical world today (ideas primarily about what people should wear) is not exactly what the Bible refers to as modesty, I don’t think we need to just punt on biblical reflection. The Bible says nothing specific about AIDS, Syrian refugees, transgenderism, or #blacklivesmatter either, but I think we can find ways of applying the wisdom of God to these and every other concern. The beauty of the Bible is that it offers wisdom that transcends culture, time, opinion, and semantics.
So, what now? That’s really the question. Is there a third way? I think there is. I’ll give you my thoughts on that next week.
Warning: it’s much harder work than either of the first two stances we’ve looked at so far!