Friday, August 15, 2014

What Women Should Wear

There has been a spate of posts on modesty lately that have generated an enormous amount of discussion and emotion. They range from the specific (the biblical ethics of yoga pants), to the humorous (an appeal to men to stop looking hot in suits), to the strangely dismissive (real modesty doesn't concern dress).

I decided to enter this minefield because after I had shared one of the above mentioned posts a young acquaintance commented that, considering all of the justice issues in the world like sex-trafficking, world hunger, etc. why were we even talking about any of this? I thought that was a very valid question, and I'll answer it by telling women what you should wear. Ready?

What Women Should Wear

Women: Please wear whatever accurately represents your inner-life.

In fact, I believe that you are already doing this (as are men, but that's the next post).

You know how the Supreme Court defines speech very broadly? Speech might mean something you say, a sign you hold, campaign donations, or a t-shirt you wear. I think of speech the same way. It is personal expression in all of its varied forms.

With that in mind listen to the words of Jesus with me: "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45, ESV, italics mine)

What we do or say or wear is primarily a function of the state of our hearts. That's why conversations about clothing generate such intense emotion. Clothing at a glance suggests not just utility but a certain disposition of your inner self. If your heart is in need of approval you will project that through your clothing, but likewise if your heart is strong and secure you will project that through your clothing as well.

What This Means for Christian Women

If you are a Christian woman you have a decided advantage in the heart department.
  • You are a chosen and adopted daughter of the King and therefore you know you are deeply loved. 
  • You are made in the image of God and therefore you know that your dignity, value, and worth are immense and settled. 
  • You are a captive whose ransom was paid by your own brother-giving his life in exchange for yours-so your value is decided and infinite.
My appeal to you is not so much to wear what represents your inner-life, but to allow your inner-life to be utterly transformed by the gospel. Then you won't have to use clothing to find affirmation, build identity, project power, or display wealth. Then you will feel so affirmed, loved, valued, and dignified that clothes will be just clothes. Liberation from other people's opinions is a freedom that rivals all other liberties combined.

But Isn't Modesty A Social Construct?

I have read a great many posts pointing out that modesty is completely culturally constructed and that therefore we ought to give up on attaining such a fickle target. Modesty is culturally conditioned I agree, but instead of giving up I suggest that each Christian woman wrestle deeply and in community about how to best represent her God-affirmed value in her particular cultural context through clothing.

Does this mean that societies' perceptions of modesty limit the personal choice and freedom of Christian women? Yes. Every society has developed norms of modesty and for Christian women to violate them or to flirt with them creates a utilitarian problem: their effective witness to the transforming power of Christ to free the inner-life of women from the need for male approval to feel valued is tarnished. (This post is about women, but I want to point out that all of these issues and this one in particular applies to men as well.)

This is precisely the issue in 1 Corinthians 8-10 when Paul talks in depth about whether to participate in the culturally acceptable (for Romans) practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul's basic argument is that the Christian knows it is just meat but in order to limit cultural misunderstanding Christians have an obligation to limit their freedom and personal choice for the benefit of others.

So I am unashamedly appealing to Christian women to dress in a way that is modest for the cultural moment in which they find themselves. This is one way to demonstrate the power of the gospel to so transform the inner-life of a woman that she is freed from the need or desire to construct her identity from her clothing.


Justin Dobbs said...

Well written. Especially this: "Please wear whatever accurately represents your inner-life. In fact, I believe that you are already doing this." If women are to "profess godliness" in what they wear and how they act (1 Tim 2:10), that is communicate to others that they live with thought toward who God is, then what we wear is important. In fact, we might even say, "Please wear whatever accurately represents your view of who God is." And who God is, and who I think He is--these are incredibly important issues. This certainly applies to men as well. Thanks for your boldness to write on this.

Immortally Curious said...

I agree with Justin Dobbs, Jared you have written a masterpiece. I would only like to illuminate the second part of the statements quoted by Justin Dobbs from your article..."In fact, I believe that you are already doing this". The condition of the hearts of many (particularly young) women in church is, and has been for a long time, a direct reflection on what goes into their ear gates and eye gates when they attend congregation meetings. They are not being taught the impact of their wearing sexually enticing outfits to meetings. That the sin of adultery, as specified by Yahushua as even looking upon a woman to lust after her is adultery, makes both parties guilty of the sin being committed. It is exactly the condition of a woman's (or man's) heart, expressed in how she (or he) dresses in public, that can heighten the probability of a man (or woman) committing visual adultery with her (him); again making both parties guilty of the sin of adultery. It's time to teach the "children" in the way they should go so that when they are mature the will not depart from it.