There was an article posted on Relevant Magazine entitled, ‘Christian Cleavage’ Probably Isn’t the Problem. In it, the author addresses yet another article, The Problem of Christian Cleavage (which was later renamed).
I’m not writing this post to beat up on the author of that post (or Relevant Magazine). I’m sure he had good intentions. There’s a host of articles out there that make many of the same points, so he’s certainly not alone in his opinions. He’s just saying what evangelical bloggers have been saying for years. All of his arguments are good, but in my opinion, he stops short of where he should have gone with them. I’ve decided to take his arguments and apply them in a less rigid, puritanical way.
If you, as a woman (or a man, incidentally), walk outside completely naked, people tend to frown on that. Actually, if you even start talking about it, you’ll get a lengthy admonition that goes something like this:
- Men are extremely visual.
- If a man sees you naked, he will have sexual thoughts.
- Therefore you should wear clothing (and not walk around naked) so as not to “cause your brother to stumble.”
It’s a tired old argument against Christian nudity that’s often accepted without any questioning. But is this really a biblical argument?
Should We Be Telling Women to Wear Clothes?
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that it’s true that a woman walking around naked can prompt him to lust. If that’s the case, do women then bear the responsibility to adjust their behavior (in this case, putting on clothes) in order to help him? Most men would respond in the affirmative. Women should wear clothes in order to prevent men from stumbling.
Throughout history, women have generally worn clothes. There’ve been nudist exceptions in various cultures, but the male patriarchy has almost always found clothes to make women wear. But in what other area is it acceptable to put the burden for one’s own purity on someone else? You wouldn’t blame your addiction to gambling on the fact that your neighbor owns a deck of cards.
I’m not saying Christians aren’t responsible for one another in some ways, but should we really be limiting the freedom of half the population for the sake of other people who struggle with natural tendencies? I’m not buying it.
The Only Sensible Standard Is No Standard At All
Since different people react differently to different kinds of immodesty, there’s no way to know what parts need to be covered. Kneecaps, noses, feet accompany the obvious parts in having the power to send men into a lustful spiral. There’s just no way to be completely sure you’re not causing someone to stumble unless you’re covered entirely from head to toe—and even then there’s probably some inappropriate website dedicated to precisely that (see rule #34).
Since no sensible standard can be set forth, what are we to do? The only sensible thing to do is to throw off standards—and clothes—entirely. Moreover, any standard is inescapably wont to reinforce the idea that women and their clothing is responsible for the sin of Christian men.
What Is Lustful Intent?
We all know the popular and deeply flawed interpretation of Matthew 5:28. Jesus says that if a man looks at a woman with lust for her, he’s already committed adultery with her in his heart. Men then presume that if they see a woman and have a sexual thought, they’ve already sinned and might as well have committed adultery with her.
But is that what this passage means? May it never be! If it meant that, then even a brief sexual thought is sin. Even reading certain parts of the Bible would be sinful. That’s why some translations choose to render this text “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery.”
It’s not sinful to have a sexual thought. There’s a battle going on in your mind. It’s really only sinful if you dwell on that thought, if you indulge it. The command isn’t to not have lustful thoughts, despite all contextual evidences to the contrary. The command is to make sure that you fight those thoughts, take them captive and don’t give in. Whether women are forced to wear clothing or not, those thoughts can still occur—the issue is if you’re doing battle with the thoughts.
Moreover, Jesus commands men to take responsibility for their own sin—to cut off the offending member of their body if needs be. The weight of the command falls on men, not on women. If a man looks at a woman and has a lustful thought and dwells on it, it’s not because she wasn’t wearing clothes; it’s because he wasn’t fighting. Women should not have their freedom revoked because men refuse to fight their own battles.
Men need to own their failures here and stop arguing like Adam in the garden, “the woman made me do it!” If men stepped up to the plate in the battle of their mind, nudity would be no big deal. And the fact that men aren’t stepping up to the plate shouldn’t restrict women from having the freedom to prance about in naught but their birthday suits.
Let’s be honest here. When we place the burden of making sure that men don’t stumble on women, it causes them to feel a weight of shame, guilt, and fear that simply isn’t their burden. Moreover, setting the standard at any level of modesty reinforces this behavior. Regardless of how loose or strict we make the standard for necklines and skirt lengths, there’s always the possibility of accidentally violating this. That’s when women are blamed and men are excused. Shame, guilt, and fear set in when the fault is really on the man. It’s obvious that the correct response is to obliterate all standards, to give women the freedom they deserve.
The church is sending out the wrong message and it comes out in the following ways (and probably more).
We send the message that men can’t be responsible for their behavior. Modesty teaching makes every woman responsible for every man’s sin. It gives men an out when they’ve sinned and it’s actually something they need to deal with. Commonplace nudity will make this exceedingly obvious. Moreover, just because men won’t own their responsibility doesn’t mean a woman should give up her freedoms to help him with his job.
We also send the message that there is something shameful about a woman’s body. If your body makes someone sin, that makes you feel like your body is something shameful to be hidden. But the Psalmist said somewhere that he was fearfully and wonderfully made and this applies to everyone universally and equally. Bodies shouldn’t be covered up as though they’re shameful; they should be put on display like a really nice sunrise. Women should have freedom here, as it’s the best way to eliminate shame.
Lastly, we send the message that sexuality is the most important thing in the world. Think about it, every time a woman gets dressed she has to think about helping other people not think about sex. The very idea of modesty presupposes that 50% of the world can’t stop thinking about sex and then it enforces that same problem on the other 50%. Women shouldn’t have their freedom restricted by that burden. Moreover, if nudity were common, we’d be used to it. Sex wouldn’t be on our minds because we’d be spending less time and effort trying to keep everyone from thinking about it. Modesty stigmatizes sex and effectively enslaves women; the only solution is unabashed nudity.
So maybe the issue isn’t about cleavage, navel manifestations, short skirts, or even full nudity. Maybe the issue is that men need to get their act together so that women can enjoy whatever amount of clothing (or not clothing) they wish.
One Giant Footnote
If you’ve read this blog before, you probably know I’m not serious. All of the above is satire. I also don’t think the author of the original article was arguing for Christian nudity. The difficulty I have with the original article is that it doesn’t help to set any standard other than taking responsibility off women. This article makes the point that if we take all responsibility off women as the article suggests, there’s no reason given for any form of modesty or even clothing in general.
The original article, then, is less than helpful because while it exposes a problem (which I do believe is a problem), it fails to provide a reasonable solution. I’m not happy with where the article landed and I’m not happy with most of evangelicalism’s teaching on modesty. In my next post, I hope to provide a biblical and helpful alternative to both.