Thursday, August 9, 2012

Parsing Feedback About What Women Wear

"This is the biggest load of crap I've heard in a LONG time!"

The outburst above represents one of many responses to my latest article on Crosswalk.com's Singles channel.  In just a few days, it's become the fourth-most-popular current article on their entire website.

Frankly, I'm surprised it's generated this much interest.  Yes, I knew it's a touchy subject, and when I submitted it to my new editor at Crosswalk, I asked her to be blunt with me if it needed to be watered-down.  Nevertheless, after reading it, she thought it was good-to-go as it was.  But I've been caught off-guard by the affirmation of over 1,100 readers who agree with her.  And me.  Yet even moreso by the people who don't agree with us.

What is the topic, you ask?  Here it is:  "Why What Women Wear Matters."

Yes, that's right - a single fortysomething guy preaching the virtues of modest attire to women in the church.  Not exactly the smartest thing I've ever done, and no, I'm not the only guy who's done it.  I know people - both men and women - don't like to be told how to dress.  And I know a lot of people think virtue is outdated, and, as at least two of my feedback writers have called it, "fundy."

"Fundy."  Short for "fundamentalism," which some Christians use as a derogatory term.  And in this case, I use the term "Christians" loosely.  Anyone who does not have a proper understanding of what sin is and how much the Bible teaches about modesty will likely find little with which to agree in my article.  But with all due respect, that's not my fault.

Bear in mind, it's not like I talked to my Crosswalk audience like I talk to my readers here on this blog.  Frankly, I realize my audience on one of the world's most prominent Christian webzines is broader and perhaps populated by more people who are less willing to read and analyze information than you, my dear blog visitor.  A friend of mine who regularly reads my essays once told me my demographic is too small because I expect my readers to think, to which his good-natured wife bobbed her head and said, only half-jokingly, "that's why I rarely read it!"

Hey - I know some people only want entertainment when they go online.   So for Crosswalk, and particularly this topic, I tried to explain in an inoffensive and careful tone what I believe to be the Biblical point of view about modesty, temptation, and sin.

Thankfully, what I wrote has hit the mark for many of my readers.  Yet, to be honest, I also found some of the negative reader responses to this article weirdly entertaining.

Even if, at the same time, they are rather discouraging, if these people really believe Christ is their Savior.

Free Speech Doesn't Always Produce Truth

One rebuke that caught my eye came from a missionary to Eastern Europe who wrote, "if you're going to be really 'biblical' about this, it's not a man's place to address women on this subject in the first place, and definitely not from a pulpit or in a public forum."  He used as his support the second chapter of Titus, which aside from failing to invalidate the other scriptural supports in my article, talks about older women teaching younger women about purity.

Of course, I'm not sure how this missionary would explain the verses in this same chapter saying men should teach the older women about modesty, and that Christian leaders should "encourage and rebuke with all authority."  I'd be more likely to take this reader's rebuke if he had relevant Biblical proof texts with which to back it up.

In several feedback comments, one woman from Washington state insisted, "sorry, not responsible for your sin or your stumble... Men need to take ownership of their own sin. That's like blaming a rape victim..." and "as a person of faith, if I am wrong, God will convict me of it, and until then you and the author cannot convince me of it."

Actually, I wondered if any of my readers would bring up the rape card.  My personal philosophy on dressing to seduce and then being victimized when it goes wrong is, "if you're not in business, don't advertise."  Pardon my bluntness, but if you dress a certain way in public, how do you expect the public to react?  I realize this is a harsh, male-centric response, but sometimes, actions and attitudes have bad consequences.  I'm not invalidating the responsibility we males have of keeping our own thoughts, actions, and motivations pure.  Nor am I saying that every victim of rape asked for it by the way she dressed.  Sex crimes are abhorrent, but sometimes it seems our society wants to have its cake and eat it, too.  Maybe that should work in a perfect world, but in this one, the way some women dress can go a long (or short) way of explaining - yet still not justifying - why certain crimes happen.

And as far as trying to "convince" this reader to change her attitude, I'm under no grand illusions that anything I write or for which I advocate can, in and of itself, prompt a change of heart in other people.  I'm fully aware that the Holy Spirit alone can point hearts and minds to Truth.  However, anybody who refuses to let the Holy Spirit guide their decisions even at the prompting of Biblically-based articles like mine probably won't welcome the opportunity to grow in faith and sanctification.  Not that my article is any great treatise on spirituality.  But why is this woman even bothering to read anything on Crosswalk if she's not open to learning more about her Savior and how she can honor Him?

Then there's the dismissive man who identifies himself as a salesman from Kohl's who scoffed, "a mix of legalism, fundamental attitude of blame women and nonsense. How fundy."

Ahh, yes, the easy way out of letting truth change one's self.  Accusing it of something you like to think makes it inapplicable to you.  It's popular in some quarters to brand everything we don't like in the Bible as "fundamentalist," since that term is considered akin to being legalistic.  Meanwhile, careful readers of my article will note that I took great pains to not prescribe any particular fashion, lengths, or materials, because I'm not interested in rules.  I'm merely trying to remind my sisters in Christ that some fashions work better for our sanctification process than others.

Speaking of the anti-fundy folks, my Kohl's scoffer was followed by a Canadian young woman who wrote, "'women causing us to lust'... uhhhhh that's where all you guys have had the misfortune of being [here she used vulgar language, so I'm changing what she said to simply "taught"] by fundy preachers. My husband did not grow up fundy and no woman no matter how she is dressed is causing him to lust. He couldn't believe that 'men' actually try to blame women for impure thoughts."

Young lady, let me congratulate you for being the only woman in the history of the world to find a man who doesn't lust.  Wow.  First the vulgarity, then the "fundy" slam, and now claims of a miracle.  Please forgive me for not taking your comments with even a grain of seriousness.

They do sadden me for your sake, however.

Inevitably, a couple of feedback writers tried to compare what I wrote to something a Muslim might teach, since most Muslim women are expected to not appear in public unless they're covered from head to toe.  The people who wrote these comments don't seem to be regular readers of Crosswalk, or even professing Christians, so actually, I'm glad they visited the site, even if they felt the need to be confrontational.  I'm aware that several tweets were sent out by people with their own anti-Christian agenda, hoping to ridicule my content and foment similar discord among their Twitter followers.  I hope these folks left Crosswalk's website being even slightly uncomfortable with what they currently believe, even if they mask it with shallow condescension.

Where's the Love?

It seems to me that at least some of the women who took strong offense at my article are women who, judging purely by their photo in context with their comments, may have been able to parlay their physical appearance for their own personal gain.  They're women who maybe have figured out how to use their looks and wiles to manipulate men.  Yes, I realize this is a completely subjective assessment on my part, and loaded with pejorative assumptions and crass overgeneralizations.  But viewing men as simply entities with which to be toyed, or barriers to be overcome, or objects to be acquired, or pawns to be exploited would be an easy way to explain the fact that these women obviously care very little about men, their brothers in Christ, and how we should all be helping each other.  Shrugging one's spiritual shoulders and saying we're each responsible for our own sin is not a Biblically-defensible attitude.  It's selfishness, arrogance, pride, and probably even anger at having something pointed out to you that you know, deep down, is something you're not handling properly.  It's certainly not out of love for your fellow believers that you defend behavior of yours that causes others to stumble.

One young woman brought up the sin of gluttony, and tried to hypothesize that following the logic of my article, she should stop eating in front of people who struggle with overeating.  Actually, if we know that a fellow believer in Christ struggles with overeating, shouldn't we, in fact, take care to accommodate that person if and when we eat together?  If you love that fellow saint, you'll allow the Holy Spirit to compel you towards actions which place the needs of others above your own.

Still, unlike sex, food is something we all need to survive, and it's rarely the mere sight of food that causes one to overeat.  Lust for immoral sex is neither provoked by nor manifested in the same ways gluttons lust for foods that are bad for them.  Think about it:  sexually impure thoughts are always sin, but can one lust after carrots?  If we entice gluttons to intentionally eat food we know is not good for their physical well being, then yes, we sin.  But just eating in front of a glutton isn't the same as women wearing skimpy outfits.  Unless, of course, the glutton also has some sexual fetish with food, but at this point, we're really wandering into the realm of bizarre behavior.

Speaking of bizarre, Christ teaches us that if our eye offends us - in other words, if we're tempted to sin by something we see - we're to "pluck it out."  Ouch.  That's what we men are trying to avoid here, ladies.  So if you really don't care if your menfolk end up wandering about blind, then you'll help us out.  It's the same with eating:  the Apostle Paul says that if his eating meat causes a brother in Christ to sin, he would "never eat meat again."  Maybe that's a bit of hyperbole on his part, but the point is clear:  we're not to do things that help to cause other brothers and sisters to stumble in their faith.

So for all you dear ones who had a fit after reading my article on prudence, piety, and propriety regarding clothing, don't get mad at me because what I wrote is true.

Please take everything you don't like about it and compare it to God's holy Word.  Don't rely on opinions or pop theology or pop culture to decipher the truth.  Actually, I'm glad a lot of people have lashed out and expressed their displeasure at what I wrote, even if maybe they didn't read it completely or accurately.  At least maybe if they simmer over this article long enough, they may begin to think about its contents.

And if this really is the biggest load of you-know-what that you've heard in a long time, you need to start attending a Bible-believing church.
_____

10 comments:

  1. As a guy, I was very thankful that you had the guts to write what you did. I fail to see why any woman would want to be a walking temptation. Your article is one of very few that addresses this topic. I think this is because there is a strong desire to not want to be judged by anyone. That as Americans, we are individualistic, and shouldn't have anyone tell us what to do.

    Dressing immodestly is disrespectful to men and to God. Thanks for bringing this issue to the fore.

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  2. What I saw in the article comments were a bunch of little girls stamping their feet, saying "I can do whatever I want and no one (particularly a stupid MAN) can tell me what to do."

    We've raised an entire generation of women with way too much "self-esteem" and way too little "self-respect" (or respect for anyone else, for that matter)

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    1. Yes, the recently departed Helen Gurley Brown has a lot of 'splaining to do before God.

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  3. Hi! I´m from Argentina, and I read your article in Crosswalk, where I found a link to your blog. I completely agree with this, and I would like to use the article (a translation) with the young women in my church. Would that be OK?
    Actually, as you say here, the way we women dress explains (unfortunately) why certain crimes happen. Sadly, this cannot be said and understood in any context, but this is something that happens beyond the church and beyond christians. I once took a cab, and looking at some girls crossing the street, the cab driver told me: "I hope the summer ends soon and women start wearing more clothes". Imagine! A man, not a Christian, as far as I know, wishing that! I felt really ashamed, I must say, for all of us who are not really aware of what we may cause and of the way we can provoke men. I try to be very careful, not only with the way I dress, but also with my attitude and words. It´s no use being dressed as a nun if you provoke with your words or attitude. But I am aware that it requires a lot of attention and effort, because I have to take in to account not only what I like, but also what it may cause in others. Sadly, the hard work and effort are not really much preached of this days... so, thank you for the article!

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    1. Wow, Argentina! Thank you for your kind words. Technically, Crosswalk controls my articles for up to 2 years, so I've asked my editor there for official permission - and also checked to see if they have a Spanish translation. I know they have readers from around the world. I'll keep you posted!

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    2. OK, Florencia, I've heard back from my editor. She gives you permission to use the article, only they cannot have it translated. I trust you'll be able to? Thanks again!

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  4. Yeah, isn't that bizarre how Christ tells us to pluck our eye out if it tempts us. Funny that he doesn't tell us to immidiatly eliminate the objects we lust for, or to run away and hide in the woods.
    Christ now that the sin is within us, and even if every singel woman in the world dressed in burka, it would never take away the lust.
    A woman concerned about living for God and not man will find out what is immodest clothing, and she will not wear them. But it is not every man's business to teach her what to wear and not wear based pn wether it cause him to lust. That would be thousands and thousands of different opinions about what's modest and what's not, and none of them would even be close to eliminate men's lust.
    Dressing immodest to entice, and to lust is both sin. But their existence is not dependant of each other. It's completely possible to commit one of them without causing others to commit the other one, and it would still be a sin. So obviously the solution is not to make sure the others doesn't cause me to sin - that would be impossible, you know that. And Christ wouldn't tell us to flee from sin and to not commit adultery in our hearts if it was impossible.
    So I am wondering what do you suggest men do, when they find a church where all the women always wear, let's say long sleeves and feet long skirts, all loose fitting, and yet they still see immodest women every day, on the streets, on billboards, on TV, at work, everywhere.. what do they do? And even if we turned to the extreme methods used in Middle East, forbid immodest pictures, TV-shows, movies, magazines, keep all women indoors and out of work force, make them wear burkas all the time and punish those who don't - and men realize they STILL lust, what then?

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    1. Anonymous, you ask what men should do? They should do the same thing women should do: fall on their faces before our holy God and confess our sins to him - sins both of commission and omission, of attitude and action (or inaction) - and avoid those things and people who claim Christ yet refuse to make Him Lord of their lives. And then seek His peace and pursue it.

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  5. And by that, I assume, you believe we are able to overcome our sinful nature and not give in to temptations, regardless of what other people do and regardless being man or woman..?
    If so, I agree with you.
    I think people react because you seem to put too much blame on women's modesty or lack there of. While it might help being around properly dressed women or no women at all, it is kind of an illusion, cause the lust is still there. And if that is what men really want, to overcome the lust within, they must look for the source of it, and that's not women's immodesty.
    If you really want to help men, you should help them follow Christ in jugding and overcome the sin in their own flesh. Women should do the same. We are not called to remain weak and keep stumbling, we are called to become strong in Christ, and nothing or no one can stop us from living a godly life and stand strong in temptations.

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  6. Anonymous, as a community of believers, we are to encourage each other and seek to put others before ourselves. If you truly care for your brothers and sisters in Christ you'll subordinate your needs and wants for the overall good of God's Kingdom. It's no wonder we have so many factions of evangelicalism, since this basic teaching is all but ignored in our hedonistic society. People who react negatively to these comments merely provide proof of this sad fact.

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