Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why Is Modesty a Dirty Word in the Church?

I'm sad to report that modesty is not a popular topic within the American church. In fact, it is so unpopular that it borders on scandalous. It has become what amounts to a dirty word. Why is this?

(This question comes from a prior post of mine entitled Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions.)

Modesty has become a dirty word because the church in general in this country has adopted cultural norms for almost everything. This includes dress. Additionally, we live in a culture that tells everyone, especially young people, to do whatever they want whenever they want. This is the most "me-first", individualistic culture in the history of the world. To challenge this line of thinking is to be labeled a bigot.

Another problem related to modesty is that it is often portrayed as a stereotype of what it is. Those who want to wear whatever, whenever often talk as if modest dress is the same thing as wearing a burka. This is absurd, but I've had people use this "argument" with me. When I've dared to suggest that Christian women should not wear bikinis, I have had people say to me, "What? Do you expect them to wear burkas?" I'm not joking.

Please let me be clear: modesty extends to more than dress, and it applies to both men and women. Modesty ought to impact, for example, the way we speak and the way we eat. Any aspect of our lives that is out of control is problematic.

What I've talked about so far in this post are actually symptoms. The most important thing is having a heart for God. Part of that is placing our own desires below His. We hope, over time, that our desires will in fact come in line with His. Those in the church who don't really care what God thinks have bigger problems than simply not wearing enough clothing.

In the end we must all ask ourselves whether or not we are willing to sacrifice our own desires for the betterment of others. In our me-first culture this is not a popular thing. In the largely me-first church this is also not a popular thing. However, if we are willing to seek God's desires and look out for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we will live modest lifestyles. While this certainly includes how we dress, it extends to much more than that.

Let's be modest in all areas of life. One exception: let's be liberal in how much we love God and our neighbors.


Arthur Sido said...

A couple of thoughts.

I have seen the burqa argument as well. It is kind of like the "what about Hitler?" or "What if someone was breaking into your house to hurt your wife and children?" responses I get to non-violence. They aren't legitimate questions but extreme responses designed to shut down conversation as if there is no third option between a young woman dressed in the equivalent of underwear on a beach or wearing a head to toe burqa. It is intellectually lazy and dishonest.

Second, Christians in America hate the perception that they are being told what to do. This is compounded by a tiny majority in our culture that says that any whim, no matter how destructive, must be indulged by the individual, must be celebrated by everyone and ideally be paid for by the government.

Third, modesty goes way beyond wearing non-revealing clothing but while that is true and needs to be talked about, modesty is also not less than this. I have been told that you can have a modest heart and wear whatever you want and be OK which is baloney. Certainly someone can wear modest clothing and have an immodest or rebellious heart but one cannot dress immodestly. whether that means scanty clothing or prideful, expensive clothing, and somehow have a pure, modest heart.

I think ultimately modesty is such a taboo subject because it makes people uncomfortable and uncomfortable people stop donating to the local church or go elsewhere. In a religious setting like ours that is so driven by money and keeping the doors open and the staff paid, many "leaders" are terrified of their own flock.

Kevin said...

Arthur makes a point I considered as well - modesty also means not wearing expensive clothes or other adornments (1 Peter 3:3). I immediately think of 19th century missionaries wearing full suits that were not only impractical in the climate, but also would have been far beyond the reach of their audience who still made their clothes without the aid of textile technology. Yet to them, their hosts were the ones being immodest!

It's one thing that bothers me about large (and sometimes the smaller) churches in affluent neighborhoods: if everyone in that one building traded their Sunday finest for decent yet inexpensive clothing, they could raise entire villages of the world's poorest out of poverty. Not that giving out money is the extent of spreading the kingdom, but we in the west could be doing much more to bear the burdens of brothers and sisters in poor and hostile places.

Aussie John said...


You're so right! In the area of modesty there can be no doubt that the world has influenced Christians more than they have influenced the world.