Recently, Randy Alcorn was asked about modesty in the church. Â This is an age old question in the church; but one I really haven’t heard for a while. Â One side of the coin says that women need to watch what they wear to make sure men don’t lust after you or look at you ‘that way’. Â The other side of the coin is that men just need to not lust. Â I don’t know that either one is practical; or that the issue is quite that simple.
Here’s the question and answer:
QUESTION: My husband and I are glad that the church is finally talking about the problem of pornography and purity in the Body of Christ, and helping men address this issue. But why do we never hear about purity for women in the way they dress? Iâ€™m talking about women who profess to be Christ-followers. They become a stumbling block to their brothers when they dress seductively or dress to be sexy as the world has deemed fashionable. Please address the issue of modesty.
ANSWER: That is a great question, and itâ€™s very problematic. Just recently I was speaking at a church, and found I could not look a certain direction at the congregation because of how one woman was dressed. This happens frequently. Iâ€™ve been in churches where I canâ€™t look at the worship team because of how a woman is dressed and swaying seductively while holding the microphone. Itâ€™s something you would expect in a nightclub, yet itâ€™s in the churchâ€”the Body of Christ.
Iâ€™m all for sex and I think itâ€™s great for a woman to be sexy with one personâ€”her husband. The irony is there are cases where women have gotten so used to appearing sexy in public yet actually have no sexual relationship with their own husbands. So we have two issues going on related to the issue of modestyâ€”modesty in public, and modesty when the Body of Christ is assembled. And this latter one is huge.
When I was a youth pastor, many years ago, we had a problem with swimsuits that is much worse today for church youth groups because of the change in fashions. The way girls wore their two-piece swimsuits, and even many one-pieces, showed so much. You have young men on a church retreat who are looking at these girlsâ€”their sisters in Christâ€”and thinking what young men think and being led into temptation. Iâ€™m not justifying the way men think. It is a problem, but it is also trueâ€”as the person indicates who asks this questionâ€”that thereâ€™s a responsibility here for girls, and certainly for their dads and moms, to seriously consider this.
As for the part of the question asking why this is not being addressed like it should be in churches, I believe the answer is fear. I think there are many pastors and church leaders, who, like many husbands and fathers, are afraid to speak up for fear of offending women who are fashion-conscious. Some women think that to be fashionable, you have to have outfits that are sexyâ€”including the split skirts, the very tight skirts and pants, and low-cut tops. All of these things send a message to men, and pastors are very self-conscious about speaking up because they think, There are women who will think I am a pervert for even mentioning this. â€œOh, is that what the pastor is thinking about when heâ€™s up front?â€ Itâ€™s a difficult situation, but itâ€™s an issue I believe male leaders of the home and church need the courage to speak up about and address directly.
We also need godly women (especially godly women who can be reasonably fashionable and attractive in the right sense of attractiveâ€”not sexually attractive) who will lovingly challenge other women and let them know they are sending a wrong message. And if they donâ€™t care about the message theyâ€™re sending, then somethingâ€™s really wrong and they need to repent. We need open, clear discussions about this so women can become aware and understand the issue.
The Bible says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. That compels us to honor God in all we do and say. Sadly, many inappropriate relationships develop in the church. Sometimes they start in small groups; others start through working relationships between church staff. There have been adulterous relationships that began during small group retreats, where women and men dressed and acted a certain way. Many of these relationships could be avoided if we paid closer attention to how we dress, how we come across, and the kind of affection we show.
I love to show physical affection. I often side-hug women I care about and knowâ€”if I have a close, appropriate brother-sister relationshipâ€”by putting my hand on their shoulders and pulling them toward me. But I avoid full-frontal hugs. Women sometimes are not aware how these kinds of hugs can affect their brothers in Christ.
Here are some of my random thoughts/comments. Â Not that you asked.
1. Â I do think it’s totally acceptable for church leaders to ask ladies (or men) in positions of leadership to dress accordingly. Â We’ve all had instances when we’ve seen someone serving in leadership at church and had to look at each other and say “what were they thinking!?”
Sometimes they are sexually provocative. Â Sometimes they are just weird. Â Sometimes they are inappropriate. Â Sometimes they are just bad judgment.
Like wearing biking shorts under a short skirt.
Or wearing a prom dress to sing on the worship team (not particularly sexy, I might add, just out of place and inappropriate)
2. Â Can I say it? Â For many men, the lust factor is not determined primarily by clothes. Â Some ladies could wear very provocative clothes and not catch a man’s eye in that way. Â Others could wear a full length parka and catch men’s eyes. Â What clothing they are wearing is ‘a’ factor, but not the ‘only’ factor.
3. Â Side hugs have always caught me to be a little weird. Â I save hugs for weddings and funerals primarily. Â Although, it could be that I’m just not a real touchy-feely kinda guy. Â Side hugs can be just as lust-filled as ‘full frontal’ hugs. Â Depends on the guy; and the girl; and the thoughts that those side hugs provoke.
4. Â God made men to notice pretty women. Â For some reason. Â And that’s not a sin. Â I’m glad he did. Â But just because a man notices a pretty woman does not mean that he wants to sleep with her. Â (OK… some men automatically go there, but that has not been my experience in the church).
5. Â I was just talking with a church leader this week who said they had a problem with the way a young, attractive staff person was dressing. Â The first plan at his church was to write a dress code policy. Â He said that was silly. Â What needed to be done was to talk to the person directly. Â In this sense, church church does fear in this situation. Â I’ve never met a church that liked to confront. Â It’s much easier to write a policy.
6. Â Is it the responsibility of women to dress appropriately? Â Yes, absolutely. Â And it is (I think) the responsibility of their husbands (if they have one) to keep that in check. Tell your wife if something makes you uncomfortable (because if it makes you, the husband uncomfortable), it will probably make other men take notice as well.
7. Â Is it the responsibility of men not to lust? Â Absolutely. Â And you need to guard your heart (and your eyes) when you’re tempted. Â For sure, don’t run up to the lady that tempts you and give her a side hug.
How do YOU deal with modesty at YOUR church? Â Have you had to have hard discussions with individuals about what they wear? Â How did that go for you?
What’s the best way in the church to promote modesty without being a total prude?
Is this really even an issue for you at your church?