Warning! Slightly risque language ahead. You have been warned.
Another day, any yet another Evangelical explaining the importance of women covering up their bodies lest they cause men to “sin.” Today’s member of the clothing police is Kara Barnette, wife of Tim, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Faith, North Carolina. In a post titled Modesty Matters, Barnette had this to say about modesty and the dangers of women spreading their “sin” to men:
It’s that beautiful yet dreadful time of year when summer clothes come-out. And it seems that every summer shorts get shorter, necklines plunge lower, styles get tighter, and fabrics are so thin that one could read a newspaper through them. Yet issues over modest clothing aren’t just significant to the Amish and crotchety old people who complain about “those ‘dang teenagers.”
When a glutton eats too much, no one else gets fat. And when a thief steals from a convenience store, only the thief goes to jail. But when a young lady dresses inappropriately, the effects of her sin are expansive.
Her sin spreads.
As she strolls down the beach in her immodest bathing suit or worships on a Sunday wearing a revealing dress, everyone who sees her is handed temptation. The men and boys around her must battle the sin of lust, while the women and girls around her must battle the sins of bitterness and jealousy and the temptation to show-off their bodies, too. Everyone is distracted by the young lady’s clothing and everyone struggles to think pure thoughts.
Sadly, today there is often little difference in the immodest clothing choices between girls who’ve never heard the name of Christ and those who come from Christian homes. Satan is winning the war of indiscrete clothing, and these are the weapons he’s using on parents:
My daughter must dress in short/tight athletic-wear to play her sport. Newton’s Lesser-Known Fourth Law of Motion: A volley ball will travel at the same velocity and direction whether it’s served by a player dressed appropriately or by a player dressed inappropriately. (The law likewise holds true for golf, tennis, and soccer balls, as well as for the dynamics of jogging, cheerleading, and dance…) Joking aside, if a team uniform doesn’t meet God’s standards and an alternative is not allowed, then God doesn’t want my daughter playing that sport or participating in that activity. Her personal testimony is worth even more than an athletic scholarship to college.
I can’t find modest clothing for my daughter. Principals often hear this complaint from moms about school dress codes, and youth pastors similarly struggle to enforce clothing standards for youth groups and camps. God has plenty to say about ladies dressing modestly (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Timothy 2:8-10, 2 Peter 3:1-4), and He doesn’t give commands that our daughters cannot follow. Shop a different store. Order on-line. Buy a sewing machine and make clothes yourself. Or have your daughter wear the same modest clothing over and over if that’s all she has. Parents must go to whatever lengths necessary to help our daughters protect their purity.
My daughter will hate me if I make her dress conservatively. Following the Lord’s commands should not be a chore, but a joy! Teaching a daughter to present her body as… ‘a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to the God, which is her spiritual service of worship’ (Romans 12:1) ought not be a knock-down fight in the dressing room at the mall; it should be a pleasant experience as she learns to embrace colors, fabrics, and styles that please God and accentuate her beauty. All rules given by the Lord are for our good and His glory, so helping girls learn to dress modestly can be a fun and creative challenge.
Modesty isn’t an important Scriptural issue. Tell that to the wife humiliated by her husband’s pornography addiction. To the congregation who lost their pastor because he had an affair. To the teenager who has to inform her parents she’s pregnant.
My daughter needs to show some skin if she’s going to get a guy. Allow your daughter to dress provocatively so she can catch the attention of boys, and you’ll get your wish. But it won’t end well for her.
While you would never throw chum into the ocean water where your little girl was swimming, you’re doing something far more dangerous when you allow her to capture boys with her body. It’s a deadly proposition.
Just ask Bathsheba.
2 Samuel 11:2 simply states… and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. David’s sinful lust of Bathsheba was provoked because of her revealing appearance. David didn’t fall for Bathsheba because she was a great conversationalist, or because he felt an emotional connection to her, or because she could cook a delicious rack of lamb.
He fell for her skin.
And while we will never fully understand Bathsheba’s culpability in the affair, we know that it sure caused her a lot of grief. Literally. Bathsheba would eventually grieve both the death of her faithful husband Uriah and the baby she conceived with David.
When we allow our daughter to show too much skin, we lead her into temptation. We deliver her into evil. And that evil is contagious: it not only harms her but will infect every person she contacts.
Once again, we have an Evangelical blaming “immodestly” dressed women for the inability of men to keep themselves from “lustful” thoughts. Pathetic men, they are, who can’t control their thoughts once their eyes focus on women showing too much of their bodies. In Barnette’s mind, dressing “immodestly” causes women to spread their sin and we all know that women spreading their sin leads to them spreading their legs.
Yes, we live in a culture when women publicly expose more skin than previous generations. My God, my wife wore a dress to a wedding last weekend that showed a bit of cleavage! What’s the world coming to? Doesn’t Polly know that she is spreading her sin by wearing a 38DDD push-up bra? (Her first push-up bra, by the way — a sure sign of her atheistic depravity.
Barnette’s problem is that she is immersed in a Fundamentalist religious culture that treats human sexuality as something that must tamped down and, at times — because the Bible commands it — denied. Women are viewed as Jezebels, temptresses out to bed every man who casts a gaze their way. These weak, pathetic, horn-dog men have little or no power to keep themselves from lusting (evidently God living inside of you is not even enough), so it is up to women to keep men from lusting by covering up their bodies and avoiding behaviors that might lead men to think they are “available” — Greek for “easy.”
Most Evangelicals are Republicans who supposedly believe in personal responsibility. One need only listen to Evangelical congressmen pontificate about welfare and the importance of holding assistance recipients accountable for their behavior to see this thinking at work. Yet, these haters of the poor attend churches that preach, when it comes to sexual matters, that heterosexual men are not totally accountable for what are deemed immoral behaviors; that women who tempt men to lust are also culpable for their “stiff prick having no conscience” (a line told to Midwestern Baptist College ministerial students by crusty IFB preacher Paul Vanaman).
Lust is a religious construct meant to elicit fear and guilt. Two thousand years of preachers lustily preaching about the dangers women present to unsuspecting men have led to the female sex being blamed for the inability of the males of the species to keep from wanting to bed women they find attractive. And therein lies the problem. Evangelicals live in denial of their biology — that men and women being physically attracted to one another is necessary for the propagation of the human race. Some Evangelicals will grudgingly admit the biological aspect of human existence, but will then say that our biology has been corrupted by the fall — Adam’s and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden.
Remember the story? God created Adam and Eve naked, put a mystical fruit tree in the middle of their subdivision, and told them he would kill them if they ate fruit from the tree. Adam and Eve ignored God’s threat and once they ate kumquats off the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they became knowledgeable of good and evil. Since that day, all humans are cursed, born with a “sin” nature. According to Evangelicals, we don’t become sinners, we are by nature sinners — haters of God. This is why we need the salvation that was made possible through the sacrificial death of the God-man Jesus on the cross.
The first thing God did after confronting Adam and Eve over their poor choice of a snack was to kill several animals and make the sinning couple one-of-a-kind fur outfits — covering up their nakedness. Implicit in this story is that nakedness is sinful. Christians, Muslims, and Jews have spent several millennia drilling this idea into the minds of primarily the fairer species. Why? Because it was Eve who first ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was Eve who gave a kumquat — I love that word — to Adam. Get the gist of the story? Adam may have been the head of earth’s first family, but Eve is the one that plunged the entire human race into sin. A woman was to blame then, and women are to blame now.
Let me conclude this post with my view of human sexuality and personal accountability. I am an atheist, so Barnette’s Puritanical, anti-human views on sexuality play no part in my sexual ethic. I recognize that I am sexually attracted to some women. How women dress can get my attention sexually. As Polly will attest, my eyes have on more than a few occasions been drawn to the comely shape of women who are not my wife. (And Polly will admit to the same. Last weekend she told me over dinner, why are some gay men so damn attractive? I laughed, thinking of how, not so many years ago, such a discussion would have been impossible.) I subscribe to the look but don’t touch school of thought. Everywhere I look I see attractive women. I saw them as a fifteen-year-old Baptist virgin and I see them forty-five years later as a well-used atheist. What I have learned as a grown-ass man is that I am TOTALLY responsible for my sexual behavior. I am TOTALLY responsible for how I deal with my sexual desires. It is up to me, not women, to control my sexuality. If I behave inappropriately, the only person responsible for my behavior is yours truly. I am mature enough to be around women I might find attractive, and if I feel some sort of sexual stirring — down boy, down boy — it is up to me to control my physical response.
My wife and I are in a committed monogamous relationship forty years in the making. Now that we have been liberated from the sexual bondage of Christianity, we are free to embrace our sexuality, while, at the same time, living according to the commitment we made to each other thirty-nine years ago on a hot July day in Newark, Ohio. Both of us are TOTALLY responsible for how we behave sexually. Knowing that marriage is far more than sex, neither of us worries about the other being tempted to sin by a nice ass or an attention-seeking babe or hunk of a man. (And yes, both of us are comfortable enough in our sexual skins to admit that there are times we have found someone of the same sex attractive, all without flying a rainbow flag on our porch.)
Humanism and Buddhism teach me to treat others with respect, and while I may not be able to control what happens to or around me, I am responsible for how I respond to these outside influences. When a nurse puts an IV in my arm I know it is going to hurt, and that it might take her several attempts to get the job done (thick skin, deep veins, genetic curse). I also know that it is up to me to decide how I respond to the nurse. After making sure the nurse has sufficient experience to do the job (I am considered a difficult stick, so only the experienced need apply), I turn to humor to control the pain that is coming. I tell the nurse about my best and worst phlebotomist list, sharing stories about who is at the top of the list. Once the IV is in, I let the nurse know where she placed on my list. By doing this, I am choosing to be accountable for how I respond. I have heard more than one patient go into a profanity-laced tirade at a nurse who couldn’t magically make an IV insertion pain-free. It is not the nurse’s fault, and blaming her is misplaced. So it is with people who wrongly want to blame women for the moral failures of the human race. Barnette’s blaming of women for unapproved chubbies is misplaced. Men are, from start to finish, responsible for how they respond when sexually attracted to women. Instead of long lists of rules that have proved to not work, why not teach not only men, but women too, how to behave sexually. Surely Evangelical churches can teach men that the Billy Graham rule — never allow yourself to be alone with a woman who is not your wife, a rule even Jesus didn’t practice — is fear-mongering bullshit; that the Vice President of the United States should be able to have a private lunch with a woman without fearing that he will succumb to lust and try to fuck her. Surely the people who gave us purity rings made in China can instead teach men and women that it is not what you wear that matters — no ring has ever successfully kept young adults who want to have sex from doing do; that the choice of how to respond to sexual attraction rests solely with us, not others; that inappropriate sexual behavior by me is not anyone’s fault but mine.