The Message vs. the Gospel: Lust and Responsibility

Brazen harlotry from 1916.

One Sunday, about a year or two before I left my Message church, my pastor warned us that one of our own had fallen away. She was the primary pianist for a small church in Maryland. Unmarried and in her early twenties, she was someone I’d always looked up to as a smart woman, an example of someone who didn’t let her spirit get crushed by the constant assaults on womanhood from the Message’s doctrines.

What had befallen this woman? She’d visited a website (which I now believe to be John Kennah’s forum) that alerted her to the discrepancies within the Message. My pastor related this very soberly, not disclosing the name of the website. After making this announcement, he warned us all not to be led astray. “There are no discrepancies in the Message!” he roared. The congregation howled back, “Amen! Preach it, brother!”

Except he didn’t answer any of the said discrepancies. He offered no proof. He only reaffirmed the party line that the Message and the Bible lined up perfectly, which we were all expected to believe regardless of what our eyes saw or our ears heard. By seeking proof, this young woman had gone after the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and followed the hell-scorched footsteps of Eve.

Supposedly.

In a recent post, I dealt with the idea of “defilement” and identified some discrepancies between the gospel, Jesus’ own words, and what Branham did with those words. Branham’s own life story, including his teetotaling and avoidance of tobacco, flies in the face of Jesus’ admonishment that defilement comes from the heart and mind, not from the substances one ingests.

Now it’s time to consider another Scripture: Matthew 5:28. Message believers love this verse, but for all the wrong reasons. They think it gives them the authority to control what women wear and make women responsible for male sins. Let’s take a look at the verse and then what Branham did to it. Here is Matthew 5:28 in context. This passage closely follows the Beatitudes, which are also part of Matthew ch. 5.

27Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

29And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

30And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Jesus is clearly addressing the man in this situation. He talks about the intentions of a man: looking at a woman with the intent of lusting. Then he talks about how that man should be so vigilant against his own sin that he should be willing to lose his own eyes rather than commit adultery in his heart.

Here’s what Jesus doesn’t say: He doesn’t say, “And if the woman’s dress offend thee, speak unto her husband so that he may command her to cover herself or put her away.” He doesn’t say, “And if a woman’s body tempt thee, command her to cover herself lest she send thee to hell.” He doesn’t say, “And if thou feelest attracted to a woman in thy nether parts, thy sin belongs to her, for she didst tempt thee in a manner which thou art powerless to resist.”

Jesus told a man who looks lustfully at a woman to take responsibility for his own behavior, up to the point of plucking out his own eyes. Jesus says nothing, literally, about a woman’s dress. In fact, I challenge you to point out any place in the Gospels where Jesus criticizes a woman for the way she dresses.

(Before you say, “But women back then were modest!” please stop and ask yourself: if women were so modest that men never felt lust, why would Jesus ever have brought it up?)

Now let’s have a look at the way Branham twists and tortures Jesus’ words into a caricature of their meaning:

You take a woman that wears them kind of clothes, and gets out on the street, I don’t care how moral you try to live, at the end of the age you’re going to be called an adulteress. If any man looks upon you to lust after you, and you’ve presented the proposition to him, you’re guilty of committing adultery. Jesus said so. You might be as clean to your husband, or boyfriend, as you could be. But if you dress like that, and some sinner looks upon you, he’s got to answer for it the day of judgment, and you presented yourself.
-From The World’s Falling Apart, Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 12, 1963.

Actually, Jesus didn’t say anything to women about “presenting” themselves to men as objects of lust. Jesus didn’t say anything about their clothes. Jesus never said a word about any “proposition” a woman was making by being out in public and looking attractive. Branham said it and then lied about it coming from Jesus. I’m pretty sure putting words in the mouth of God is considered blasphemy.

“Whosoever,” said Jesus Christ, “whosoever looketh upon a women to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” And before he could commit adultery, the woman had to present herself in that way. As she poured herself, sexy looking, out on the street. No matter how clean she is morally, she’s adulterous in God’s book.
-From Thirsting for Life, June 30, 1957

We’ve already discussed the fact that women wear clothing for reasons other than to attract men. Branham goes so far as to say that it’s impossible for men to feel lust unless a woman is improperly dressed. That, however, is nonsense. They can feel lust just by thinking sexual thoughts. Men can feel lust without a woman present at all. Men can even feel lust towards other men, but that’s another subject entirely. Women cannot prevent men from lusting, no matter how they dress. Branham’s words, however, give men an opportunity to shift the blame onto women and to think, “Aha! That woman’s knees are showing. That must be why I feel all hot and tingly. Harlot!

She's a witch! Burn her!

This idea stems directly from latent misogyny in American culture. It is the same attitude as the one that recently led a Toronto police officer to tell women that they are responsible for being sexually assaulted because they “dressed like sluts,” which sparked a wave of protests this year. Despite the potentially off-putting name “SlutWalks,” the idea behind the protests was that rapists are responsible for rape, and that women have a right not to be raped, regardless of what they are wearing.

Branham actually encourages men to think of women as sex objects by painting a picture of men who cannot control their sexual urges. This is contrary to Jesus, who said that men who can’t control themselves are welcome to pluck out their own eyes. Branham tells women that they will answer at the Last Judgment for made-up sins that Jesus never imputed to them.

Moreover, by claiming that “immodest” women are “presenting themselves” and “propositioning” men, Branham implies that there is no other reason for a woman to walk down a street than to be seen and evaluated by men. This is the very definition of the male gaze, and it’s arrogant and dehumanizing to women. Plenty of creeps on the street have lusted after me in a long skirt and a baggy sweatshirt as I walked into the grocery store. How do you figure that one, Branham?

The point is this: In Matthew 5, Jesus told men who leer at women to take whatever measures were necessary to control their own behavior and avoid their own sin. Nothing in the passage is addressed to women or touches on women’s clothing at all. Branham makes Matthew 5:28 mean the opposite of what it actually means. If that’s not “reasoning with the Word” or “adding to or taking away from the book,” what is?

  • http://twitter.com/delesmuses Jennifer Vaughn (@delesmuses)

    Good article. It’s amazing how men will ignore every biblical instruction given to them or change it into a command for those under their authority to follow. Proverbs is notoriously used this way: Single women are constantly accused of “seducing” single men, but everyone ignores the fact that the passages used to condemn them are directed to men only and concerned with married women only.

  • Kristen

    Fantastic reasoning!

  • Arthur

    Reasoning and logic, the bane of fundyland. Perhaps that is why the Message church i was raised in taught that “common sense is of the devil.” Yes, that is a literal word-for-word quote. I had the unmitigated joy of having an ex-IFB preacher who converted to Branhamism to pastor the church I attended for 10 years in my childhood. He combined all the worst points of the IFB with the doctrines of Branham. Small wonder he later attempted suicide.

  • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

    Thanks for the fresh perspective on Matthew 5. The question that I would have is, does the presence of a command for the men (Do not lust!) and the absence of a command for the woman mean that the woman is free to dress however she wishes? Could she wear cleavage bearing tops and short skirts, or go topless and there’d be no reason for her not to?

    If this passage contains no command toward the woman (which I believe you correctly argue), is there a passage geared toward women’s clothing? How should a woman dress?

    • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

      Thanks for your question – I’d love to hear some of the others comment on it, too.

      Here are my thoughts: Women should dress in clothing that’s suitable for their activities and their culture. Swimsuits for swimming, suits for work, etc. The amount of skin we bare is culturally coded: if you watch TV shows like “What Not to Wear” from an anthropological perspective, you’ll see the hosts teaching clients to follow cultural norms. They frequently steer people towards showing off one “asset” and concealing the rest, because that’s what’s considered a normal standard of modesty in the West. According to them, cleavage would be okay but not when combined with a very short skirt, because it’s excessive to show off everything at once. That said, there are cultures in which showing one’s face is considered immodest (parts of the Middle East where Islamic fundamentalism is strong), and others in which toplessness is the norm because breasts aren’t considered sex organs that need to be hid (usually in rural sub-Saharan Africa).

      Now, I know you are asking a “right and wrong” question and what I’m saying sounds a lot like, “It doesn’t matter because it’s culturally relative.” That’s not what I mean. Modesty, by definition, means being unassuming and moderate in behavior and appearance. It means not drawing undue attention to yourself and avoiding excess. Because we do live in a culture that has rules about what’s appropriate in various situations, there are “right” ways to be modest for us. I just think it’s important to recognize that this term, because it’s tied to the idea of being moderate, changes by context. It does matter that we dress the “right” way to our culture to avoid (at best) being ostracized or (at worst) locked up for indecent exposure!

      Even in Western culture, there is no single form of dress that will stay modest in all situations. For instance, you might have a modest, middle-of-the-road swimsuit that would be wildly inappropriate in the office. Conversely, when I had to wear long dresses with sleeves to the beach as a girl, I stuck out like a sore thumb and was therefore immodest. (I know modesty has taken the meaning of “uncovered” and this example sounds silly, but I certainly wasn’t exercising moderation covering up like that, and I probably made a lot of other people feel awkward around me. I certainly drew undue attention to myself with it!)

      You can see this dynamic operating within churches, too. If a very conservative church decides all women need to wear head coverings, and a woman from another church visits without one, the group judges that she is immodest. But if you transport all of them into a wild party in New York, they’re not only going to look ridiculous, but they also all look the same to everybody else.

      In conclusion: I think a woman should dress normally for her culture. Most people in the West like to wear fitted (but not skin-tight) jeans on weekends and loose slacks or skirts for work. Blouses normally expose the collarbone, and most necklines dip enough to hint at the existence of breasts but not actually plunge between them. This can all vary based on body type: if you have a larger bust, it’s a waste of time and stress trying to conceal the fact you have breasts. Fundamentalists have a tendency to look for examples in places like Victoria’s Secret, but that’s not where everyone or even most people shop. For instance, I buy a lot of stuff from Eddie Bauer and consider the outfits they put together normal and thus modest. Other places are J. Jill, J. Crew, Talbots, etc. These are all high-end labels, but they set the norms that more affordable clothes lines imitate.

      It’s ironic, really: fundamentalism has made “modesty” about standing out, when what it actually means is fitting in!

      As far as men are concerned: they will behave in ways that are culturally coded, too. Unfortunately, lots of them believe it’s okay to ogle and yell at women on the street, no matter what they’re wearing. (Check ihollaback.org for examples.) Most men, however, will glance at a woman appreciatively and then move on. I don’t think that counts as the kind of “lust” Jesus taught men to avoid, because it’s a mostly biological response that goes away if they don’t keep dwelling on it. The “dwelling on it” makes it lust, and that’s not something women can control. It’s something women really don’t need to worry about, and it makes me so sad that little girls are taught to think of themselves as objects of lust and police themselves for what’s going on inside men’s heads.

      • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

        Your response is interesting, and well thought out. I would point out, however, that the culture has definitions for modesty as well as for immodesty. For example, the culture believes that a one piece swimsuit is more conservative than a bikini; however, it is normal to see more two piece and bikinis at the beach. By the definition you describe above, it would be modest to wear a bikini.

        I think that you have to have a definition that includes covering basic items (when Adam and Eve were naked, God made aprons to cover them), and then I think that the variableness/culture comes in after that.

        I think that I would add to your definition some kind of concept about how the culture looks at the display of some things. If the culture recognizes a certain look as “sexy”, how can that also be “modest” or “set apart”? If the “What not to wear” people say that you should wear something to be “sexy” should someone that wants to be modest wear that?

        I have a hard time saying that, as a Christian, we should look to world for how to dress appropriately. I’m not saying that we should intentionally stand out (like the Amish) simply because we are supposed to be in the world, but not of it. But I am saying that I don’t think that, just because everyone else is wearing something means that it’s okay for me to dress that way as well.

        • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

          It sounds like you already have a good grip on what you see as modest clothing. There is variety at every level: some one-piece swimsuits have cutouts, some bikinis cover more than others. And so on, ad infinitum. :) You’ve also discussed a basic starting point (the aprons) which grounds everything else.

          I see the tension you’re identifying between wanting to be “set apart” and not intentionally standing out. Here’s how I would approach the question: If you’re a Christian, you’re probably mostly concerned about your spirit. Christianity is about being Christ-centered, kind, humble, thoughtful, and giving. Inward qualities. When considering an outfit, I’d ask myself: “Does the message this outfit sends match the kind of person I am on the inside?” And that’s not all about showing skin: if you’re covered from head to toe in spikes, skulls and chains, you’re quite covered up, but you probably don’t feel like you. It probably feels like a costume, not genuine. Because of the cultural codes we’ve already discussed, certain clothes carry messages of “I’m aggressive” or “I want you to admire my body.” If those messages don’t jive with your values, they’re probably not for you. I think being “set apart from the world” is much more about having core values that aren’t swayed by peer pressure than distinctly “looking like a Christian.”

          Much of “looking like a Christian,” for that matter, is actually governed by peer pressure: women deciding amongst themselves what they think is modest and other women joining in out of guilt (disguised as “conviction”). I’ve watched dress codes get incrementally stricter over a period of years for no better reason than fear. Nobody wanted to be “that lukewarm Christian” or “that backslider” who said, “You know, I actually think short sleeves are okay,” when everybody else was “convicted” by them. See what I mean? It’s just peer pressure, but it slips under the radar because the pressure is directed toward “more strict” rather than less. This is why I think every woman needs to be grounded in her own faith and her own comfort level, and I think cultural norms aren’t necessarily out to get us: they provide a useful barometer of how much we stand out from the average woman at the supermarket.

          I’m wary of the “sexy” clothing issue because “sexy” is notoriously hard to define. I once had an old man come up to me when I was wearing 19th century garb with two petticoats and tell me that he got… uh… “excited” when he saw women dressing that way. And in the same breath he told me that he wished all women were still “modest” and wore that kind of garb! I wished so badly for a pair of shorts and a tank top so I would escape his attention! There’s no universal measure of what men will find “sexy,” so I think it’s healthier for girls to ask themselves, “Does my clothing reflect my character and personality?” than to be preoccupied with being less sexy than others.

          I also don’t think “sexy” is the enemy of “modest.” Men frequently say that confident, happy women are sexy no matter what they’re wearing. Like I said above, I think trying to keep men from finding you attractive is a pointless, losing battle. It’s more productive, I think, for a woman to look in the mirror and ask if the message she sends is, “I need others to approve of my shape,” because that points to a certain insecurity. It’s an easy trap to fall into because women’s bodies are under constant judgment in our culture (here’s one norm I would love to get rid of). I don’t think dressing for attention is a sin, but I think it can reflect a woman being uncomfortable with herself and her body. And it’s not always possible to look at another woman and know that she is dressing for attention, either: maybe it’s just laundry day, or she’s recently gained weight, or she can’t find a shirt that doesn’t tug on her large bust.

          To make a very long post very short, I think we should focus on our own motives for what we’re wearing rather than identifying certain items of clothing as “good” and “bad.” Being “in the world but not of it” might well mean not looking very different at all, but having different beliefs and values. I do sometimes wear a bikini, but my motives are to feel connected to nature (sun, wind, water, sand) rather than to show off my body to other people. Somebody might look at me and say, “You’re immodest!” but they have no idea what’s going on in my heart and they also have no idea how I dress when I’m not on the beach. :)

      • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

        I understand the point about being set in the “inner man” as far as what is appropriate to dress. Recently, my wife and I decided that we had to take 1 Cor 11 literally and she’s started to wear a head covering in worship. This is totally not what is preached from the pulpit, no one in the church wears a hat, and it did cause us to have some strange looks, but I think 1 Cor 11 is pretty clear on the topic.

        So, the idea of being set in the “inner man” cuts both ways– and I would say that’s important.

        You’re most certainly right. You can be covered head to toe and not be true to yourself. You can be dressed in a uniform and be the object of lust. I don’t think that you can totally use the latter as a good definition for modesty, because in the Middle East muslims have used “showing elbows” as a reason for rape. I reject that out of hand.

        However, you did not address the whole concept that the culture knows the difference between modest clothing and immodest clothing. Stop the average person on the street and show them pictures of a woman in a one piece (sans cutouts) or a tankini versus a bikini and ask them which is modest. I’m sure you know the answer you’ll get.

        As a person on the street whether a long skirt and blouse is modest versus a mini-skirt or plunging neckline. I’m sure you’ll get the answer that the former is modest. Why? Because modesty is a comparison tool. It’s best seen in the comparison of two differing things.

  • FreeFromTyranny

    “But I am saying
    that I don’t think that, just because
    everyone else is wearing something
    means that it’s okay for me to dress
    that way as well.”

    Why?

    • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

      Because I am in the world, but not of the world. That the world does it or that multiple people do it should not be my reasoning for doing something– it should come from the Word of God.

      Many teens are having sex out of wedlock, does this make it right?
      Many people drink and get drunk, does this make it right?

      You can’t look to other sinful people for moral decisions if God has something to say about it.

  • opacity

    “However, you did not address the whole concept that the culture knows the difference between modest clothing and immodest clothing. Stop the average person on the street and show them pictures of a woman in a one piece (sans cutouts) or a tankini versus a bikini and ask them which is modest. I’m sure you know the answer you’ll get.”

    That’s right. Most people IN THIS CULTURE would think that the one-piece is more modest than the two-piece.

    However, I think that both the the two-piece and the one-piece are less modest than just wearing bottoms or even going naked, because by covering *only* very tightly prescribed “bits” a bathing suit attracts attention to them. Rather than do that, just dispense with the bathing suit altogether and present your whole body honestly without fetishizing particular parts of it.

    Of course, in our culture going naked is only appropriate in certain situations where people who don’t want to see naked people are not involuntarily offended. So if I can’t do that and I am going swimming, I’ll wear a one-piece.

    In other cultures, where toplessness or two-pieces are the norm, a one-piece might be an obnoxious display of righteousness.

    It’s not about the clothes. If you’re looking for absolute rules and don’t accept cultural relativism, you need to go back and read Acts 10:1-48 and all the bits of Paul that talk about not being saved by works and

    You do realize that if the goal is to be more modest than others, your wife is going to end up in purdah wearing a burka. Because if she is more modest by covering her head, then all the other women have to cover their heads too in order not to be less modest. So then to be more modest your wife will have to cover even more. It never ends. If you don’t want her in a burka you need to head this kind of thinking off at the pass.

    Rather than fretting about what your wife should wear so as to be the most modest of them all, think about what you should wear. About 10% of all men are significantly attracted to other men. This proportion is higher in large families because the more older brothers a man has the more likely he is to be sexually attracted to men — probably because of the mother’s increasing sensitivity to fetal testosterone. If you are hanging out with males raised in large families, then a substantial proportion of them are sexually attracted to men. If modesty is about sexual attractiveness, then you need to take responsibility for your own attractiveness. You will quickly realize that the goal of preventing all men from finding you attractive is impossible. If it’s impossible for you, it’s just as impossible for your wife.

    If you’re obsessing about clothes, you’re worrying about the wrong things.

  • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

    I’m in the midst of writing another post about similar issues, but I do like opacity’s point: Is being “sexy” the problem? If so, it shouldn’t be just a woman’s problem. Men are also attractive: either to other men, as she pointed out, or to women. Have you ever heard a woman comment that she likes men in uniform? What about a woman who likes facial hair or chest hair? Do you think about whether a woman will be attracted to you when you get dressed?

    A lot of the things women like about men’s bodies are things they can’t change: if they’re tall, if they have a certain kind of hair, if they have broad shoulders. It’s the same with women: we can’t change the size of our busts or the fact that our hips sway when we walk (though some of us have been taught to try). The uniform is an especially common thing for women to like on men, even though it’s not particularly “revealing” in the sense we’re talking about. Men often like women’s figures even when they are relatively concealed: even long gowns “reveal” in a breeze. There is so much energy lost worrying “someone might see.” So much fighting against that instant of attraction, even if it ultimately leads to nothing.

    I think it’s up to your wife to search her own heart about what she wears and to trust her own decisions, just as it is for the rest of us, men included.

  • FreeFromTyranny

    “Because I am in the world, but not of the
    world. That the world does it or that
    multiple people do it should not be my
    reasoning for doing something– it should
    come from the Word of God.”
    We are right back to the point of this post. What does God say about “modest dress”? Sierra covered it quite well when she said “Jesus told a man who looks lustfully at a woman
    to take responsibility for his own behavior, up to
    the point of plucking out his own eyes. Jesus says
    nothing, literally, about a woman’s dress. In fact,
    I challenge you to point out any place in the
    Gospels where Jesus criticizes a woman for the
    way she dresses.”

    “Many teens are having sex out of wedlock,
    does this make it right?
    Many people drink and get drunk, does
    this make it right?”
    I’d prefer to stay on topic. We are talking specifically about modesty and/or the woman’s responsibility to keep the man’s thought life pure. But if you must I am sure you could find verses with regard to premarital sex and drunkeness.

    “You can’t look to other sinful people for
    moral decisions if God has something to
    say about it.” So, what *does* God say? Where is your Strong’s Concordance?

  • Arthur

    If I am living my life under the law, then I need a clearly-defined standard for my dress. However, if I am living under the grace of God, I enjoy the freedom to exercise good judgement, and I don’t worry if my dress is greater than 3 inches below my knees, or some other arbitrary measure.

    It’s all about your perspective, and it really is a law vs. grace question.

  • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

    @opacity: Are you actually going to argue that being naked is modest? When every reference in Scripture to nudity is shame and desolation and we’re commanded to clothe the naked?

    As far as my wife, she does not wear a head covering in an effort to somehow be more modest than those in the church. You missed the entire point. She wears a covering because of 1 Corinthians 11. Obviously it’s off topic, but we did a lot of prayer and reading on the topic before making that decision.

    The point of the illustration was not comparison to the other ladies and some vain attempt to be more modest. The point was that I agreed that men and women need to be concerned that they are right before God first– and use His standard above all.

    @Sierra: I’ve never made the argument that you should totally define modesty by what the opposite sex thinks is sexy. I have made the argument that if the culture defines something as sexy (and women and men are involved here) that it would not, by definition, be modest. Now, it’s certainly possible that uniforms or dresses that are not sold as sexy could appeal to perverts– I know there are many that believe that the school girl look is sexy– and that’s even grown into people like Britney Spears taking that to a “Sexy” extreme. My point is that, if you’re trying to be humble and pure in spirit, you aren’t going to be looking for something that looks like a prostitute or is flashy.

    If you look at the Timothy and Peter passages on the topic of modesty, you’ll find that the apostles mention the idea of not worrying about the wearing of jewelry or the putting on of fine apparel. This is the opposite of spending money to be in the latest fashion or trying to be acceptable to the culture as a priority.

    @FreeFromTyranny: I am fully behind the idea of the man being responsible for his lust. I’m no where near some of the other proponents of modesty that somehow blame the woman for the man’s lust. While I think there’s a minor argument to be made via Romans 14, I hold the man responsible for his lust.

    That being said, I don’t believe that the woman can simply wear whatever she wants, or nothing at all, and that’s somehow acceptable. Obviously, if the woman has the right heart attitude she’ll dress right. But I don’t believe encouraging modest apparel is a bad thing here.

    Lastly, God has a lot to say about how to dress– whether it was in the Garden, how the priests dressed, whether to cover the hair or leave it uncovered, and what the priority should be as far as jewelry, clothing, etc.

    Point being, you cannot simply wear whatever you want, and while I believe that a lot of modesty can be defined subjectively, I also believe there are principles that apply pretty universally.

    What I have found is that everyone that defends “I can wear what I want” is more selfish and is a bigger problem than those that seek to have people dress modestly.

    • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

      “What I have found is that everyone that defends “I can wear what I want” is more selfish and is a bigger problem than those that seek to have people dress modestly.”

      I approved your comment because most of it appears to be written in good faith with a reasonable amount of respect for others’ opinions. The section I just highlighted, however, crosses the line from respectful disagreement to ad hominem attack. Please refrain from claiming that people who disagree with you are “selfish” – you don’t know any of us personally, just as we don’t know you and aren’t calling you names for holding your opinions. I will not approve any more comments that contain direct attacks on other people.

      If what you meant to say was that the idea is selfish, please try to word future comments more clearly. The way the above sentence is constructed, it looks like “everyone that defends” is the subject and “more selfish” is the modifier, so I can only assume that you are calling everyone here who disagrees with you a selfish person. This is not good faith debate.

      • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

        Poor use of the word “everyone”– it should have been many.

        I’ve been around long enough to see the concept of Christian liberty taken one of three ways:

        1. Christian Liberty is primarily there for the stronger brother to give up his liberty for the weaker’s conscience. I don’t like this definition because one could easily ask, “When does it stop?!” If I have to give up everything for everyone and for anyone that has a problem with something, where does it end. To me, this is where many of those that are overboard on modesty are– where they not only believe that they should wear modest clothing, but everyone must or they’re not honoring God. Because they believe that they should hold a high degree of covering in order to be modest, then everyone must.

        2. Christian Liberty is primarily there for the stronger brother to do whatever they want, because the weaker brother is not to judge them. This is where I see a lot of the argument against dressing modestly here, specifically in the comments about grace vs. the law (@Arthur). I don’t like this definition because it basically says, I don’t care if other Christians have a conviction about this– that’s their problem. I will do whatever I think is right before God and don’t you dare judge me.

        3. Christian Liberty is primarily there to resolve differences between weak and strong brothers such that they can fellowship together. This is where I am. Paul in Romans 14 has both– Weaker brothers shouldn’t judge a stronger brother and Stronger brothers shouldn’t be attempting to make weaker brothers stumble.

        I believe the passage hinges on the comment that sin can be what a person believes is sin. The example in the passage: If a person believes it’s sinful to eat meat offered to idols, then it is sin for him, and people should not be trying to get him to eat meat. Same for observing some holy days. Paul said that he was free to eat and free to not worship, but that if it would cause his brother to do something that he considered sinful– and thereby sin– he would never eat meat rather than cause the brother to sin.

        How this applies here: Many Christians believe that they should be modest in their dress as defined by their culture and their standards. To them, it would be sin for them to wear a bikini, dress is cleavage bearing shirts or short skirts. These people should not be looked down on or judged or encouraged to wear these things because to them, that would be sin. For some, they seem to be fine with wearing bikinis and short skirts and cleavage bearing shirts, and as long as they fit the test of “giving God thanks or honor” (not the lesser test of “how do I feel in it”), then the weaker are not to judge them either.

        This conversation, and where it has gone with my input, has centered on whether there is a standard that’s Biblical or whether modesty should be culturally inferred. My point about cultural inferrence is that the culture has defined modesty versus immodest clothing, and yet the comments here seem to indicate that Christians are permitted to wear whatever the culture wears that’s normative, rather than modest by the culture’s standards.

        And there’s the whole counter argument in support of modest nudity– which I find no support for in Scripture.

        Lastly, I believe that there is a cultural component to modesty, but I also believe there are instructions in the Bible about what we should wear. And as for the law vs. grace and not being under the law, my question there is, did God change? Does He no longer find some things abominable simply because we’re in a new age? Is He more lenient towards sin? If the answer to these is no, then why throw out all the Old Testament (which Paul says is our school teacher showing us that we are sinners) simply because it would be inconvenient.

        • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

          It sounds like you consider the norm to be immodest, which baffles me, honestly, because when I go outside I see women in jeans and t-shirts. I don’t see very many people on either side of the bell curve: extreme Amish-style modesty or letting it all hang out. There are a few, but they’re equally out of the norm.

          A few readers have commented to me privately that they don’t understand why you, as a man, are devoting so much energy to the subject of women’s clothing. Why is this not an issue for women to determine, between themselves and God?

  • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

    The bible teaches that man’s natural tendency is away from God, not toward Him. One only has to look at children to see this in effect– a child that is told that a certain thing is wrong will attempt to push that limit to see if there’s something to it or whether it is malleable. It looks for the boundaries to see if they are true boundaries indeed.

    If you look at fashion over time in the Western world, as an example, you will see that over the period of 200 years the culture has pushed the envelope continually to see what it can get away with. I find this part of the Wikipedia entry on bikinis to be educational:

    Réard could not find a model to wear his design. He ended up hiring Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris.

    So, no, I don’t think that the culture wants to be modest. I think the culture constantly tries to see what it can get away with, and I believe, again, that the culture has also defined what they consider modest and immodest, and what is considered modest isn’t only what you see Amish people wear.

    This is where I tried to explain the whole concept of comparison, but I think I didn’t articulate my point clearly. I think modesty can be contextual and comparison in nature. I believe that if you put up five women wearing different things at the beach– a one piece with a skirt, a one piece, a tankini, a two piece, and a string bikini– and asked the average person which swimwear was modest, I think that person would have a definition of modesty at the beach. I think you could do the same thing for on the street, at a concert, or at church. There is a definition.

    So, I’m saying that the argument that the cultural norm should be acceptable as modest attire, I’m saying that the culture doesn’t even believe that, because there are modest and immodest attire across the culture by their definition.

    As far as your last paragraph, I find it interesting that you can publicly call me out when I make a statement that was too general in the midst of a debate, but you allow for this attack on my character to be presented because of a gender bias. Am I, as a man, not allowed to have an opinion on this topic? Am I not permitted to voice said opinion, to ask questions, and to talk about weaknesses and strengths of various arguments?

    What are you implying by asking why I should put energy and effort into modesty? Have I not shown willingness to answer any question put to me on this topic?

    For the record, anyone that clicks on my link will notice that I run a site that I started with a woman discussing the topic of modesty. Recently, many men have come forward to encourage modesty in women based on their understanding on the whole stumbling block thing– which I take issue with because I don’t think women need to take all the responsibility.

    However, many women find it helpful to have a man’s perspective on what struggles they have, what might cause them to be tempted, etc. I’ve endeavored to fill that need, and to provide that perspective.

    As a writer on the topic, I research the issue, and happened upon this discussion. And as many others have shown here, I have an opinion. If you don’t like my opinion, you’re free to delete my comments or ask that I do not return, and I’ll honor your request.

    • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

      There was no attack on your character. Saying “everyone with X opinion is selfish” is different from asking why a member of one group spends a lot of time writing about the activities of another. A couple of women who read here checked out your website and expressed a desire to know how you came to be interested in the topic. When you wrote, “many women find it helpful to have a man’s perspective on what struggles they have, what might cause them to be tempted, etc. I’ve endeavored to fill that need, and to provide that perspective,” you answered the question. I’m sorry that you felt the question was adversarial. If I didn’t explicitly state that I was interested in William Branham because I was raised to follow his doctrines, it would be a fair question to ask me why I write about him. It would seem pretty strange if I were, for instance, a member of the Eastern Orthodox church with no contact with the Message.

      We are close to saying the same thing with regard to cultural norms. My concern with the “comparison of two items” model for determining modesty is that comparisons can go on until everything is covered (burqa style), whereas in reality everybody draws the line somewhere. You rejected the covering of elbows in Islamist circles presumably because covering the elbow sounds ridiculous and unnecessary. Everybody decides where “ridiculous and unnecessary” begins based (I think) on how far it is from what’s considered normal, or how close it is to a predetermined endpoint (like the burqa or Amish dress).

      • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

        A question beginning with “why” is adversarial. I tackled this in a post at another site. When you ask someone why, it’s in essence judging the person, whereas other interrogatory words do not.

        If people have questions for me, it’s best that they ask me, instead of an intermediary.

        I don’t have a problem with you having trouble with the doctrines of William Branham regardless of what church you may or may not attend. I don’t think people are limited to have an opinion simply because they are a certain sex, go to a certain church, or have a certain background. Now, it may be that certain features add weight to an argument (personal experience, etc), but the argument itself should be able to stand or fall on its own.

        This is why I take offense to many in the pro-choice crowd that have problems with men having a pro-life position. They reason that since a man does not give birth, he should remain silent on the issue. Same thing here: what was implied in the question “why is he so passionate on this issue” was “He’s a man, he should have no say.” To which I saw, my argument is the same regardless of my sex.

        Since you clarified the issue, no harm taken.

        As far as your second paragraph, your comment is precisely why my site exists– to help explore the boundaries and what people consider modest. Everyone does draw the line differently, and yet there is a general consensus among the Christian men and women that I talk with that there are things that are definitely immodest and things that are generally modest depending on how they are worn.

        I think that this is more faithful to the principal of modesty than simply accepting the societal norm.

        • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

          Well, I disagree with that characterization of “why.” I am asked “why” on a daily basis in graduate school; it’s sometimes fatiguing and irritating to defend all my opinions or explain myself, but it does challenge me to be more self-aware. I think that’s a good thing. Many academic authors begin their works by explaining the “why” not only of their project, but also the “why” of the development of their interest in it.

          I think your analogy with the abortion debate is apt, but I think there’s another way to read objections to male input on subjects of what pregnant women should do and what women should wear. It’s not about the validity of one’s arguments. The gender of the person doing the arguing doesn’t make an argument stand or fall. I think the objection is more about the fact that, for men, the debate has no real-life consequences. Men don’t have to change their behavior based on the outcome of the debate.

          A man’s argument may be totally watertight, but that doesn’t mean it can’t affect women adversely. To take a racial example, there were a number of logical, coherent arguments launched to support segregating black and white children into separate schools; whatever logical merits might have been in those arguments (for example, that children learn best in a familiar environment with other children like them) did not prevent segregation from being harmful to black children.

          Men involved in modesty debates, as you note, are often trying to shift their own responsibility onto women: their arguments can sometimes be logically sound, but they have much less to lose in the outcome of a debate. It’s almost like taxation without representation: the ones whose lives are most affected by the outcome of a debate expect to be the ones to set its terms.

  • http://isthismodest.com Is This Modest (@IsThisModest)

    I’ll agree that why is not always accusatory, but as someone who was trained multiple times in counseling, one of the things that we were told refrain from was asking someone why because it immediately puts them on the defensive. Better to use a more information gathering tone.

    All I’m saying about the men commenting on abortion and modesty topics is that the arguments from men cannot be dismissed out of hand simply because of gender. Obviously, the argument for segregation proved wrong in practice. I could even make a great case for non-coed schools, or even getting rid of public schools or Christian based schools instead of secular humanist schools. All would be off-topic, of course. The point is that the argument must stand or fall regardless of the presenter.

    And as far as men and modesty, Is This Modest started because I was talking with this woman that believed that things that I could struggle with was “cute”. She had no idea that it could cause an issue.

    Until you’ve been the guy that walked up to the bank teller who’s wearing a low cut top and you actually have to actively avoid looking, look everywhere else but at the money she’s counting, and she’s totally oblivious, you don’t understand how a woman choosing not to show her cleavage or her legs helps you out and makes you admire them as a person more.

  • Flora

    But, if the Bible doesn’t say it’s a woman’s responsibility to help out strange men, why would a Christian man say that? If you’re asking, as a favor, for women to cover up so you don’t have such a struggle with lust, that’s a fair distance from describing modesty as a virtue, or a way for women to show they are Christians, which is how I commonly see calls to modesty worded. It’s more in the realm of charity, which is a virtue on its own but not the same virtue as modesty.

  • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

    I am closing comments on this thread. Debates about modesty and Christianity can be endless and can easily dissolve into repetition. Since “Is This Modest” has a whole website devoted to the topic, further debate might be better pursued there.

    With regard to the last comment from “Is this Modest”: A man having an awkward moment at the bank, where he is forced to have self-control and look at a woman’s face rather than her breasts, in no way entitles him to argue that half the population should change its dress to suit his comfort level.

    Women are harassed, scrutinized and demeaned over their clothing and their shape daily. Women in evangelical Christian circles are made slaves to the idea of “modesty,” constantly questioning and doubting themselves, making all their decisions based on male desires. This is not liberty (“Christian liberty” or otherwise) and I will not allow my website to be used as a platform for this nonsense.


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