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Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 7.46.30 PMI find the whole modesty issue to be such a problem.  There are some who think that women should be modest in church and in dress.  I think it is a matter of control.  I think people should not be slobs.  The greatest irony about modesty and dress is that the one sub-set of religious zealots in the country who are the most obnoxious about their modesty – the Amish – have the highest rate of pedophilia and incest of any other socio-economic group in the country.  So, is modesty even important – or is it in the eye of the beholder?

My mother tells a wonderful story about modesty, culture, and context. Years ago, when I was a little kid and can barely even remember the outfit, she had a red wool 2 piece suit with a fox collar.  The length was right above the knee, Jackie Kennedy chic with dyed to match 3 inch pumps, red stockings, and a red pillbox hat with fox trim.  When visiting my uncle’s church on 5th Avenue, she was late, stood in the vestibule until he finished.  One of the ushers came out and suggested a woman like her might benefit from the good reverend’s teachings.

“What kind of woman do you think I am?”

“It is obvious from your appearance you don’t often attend church.”

“Oh?”

She stood there, waiting for the service to end.  The man kept trying to preach to her, tell her how much she needed to be ministered to by the good reverend.  About 15 minutes later he and my father find her.  He gives my mother a hug, introduces her as his sister-in-law.

Two weeks earlier, she and her sister were late for church, Memorial Presbyterian in West Palm Beach, Florida.  The grandparents’ pew was the 5th from the front.  They were late, so were ushered to the first row.  My grandparents were family friends with the minister and his wife, Ryan and Mattie Wood to the point where they are always considered our third set of grandparents.  My mother was also very good friends with the assistant pastor.  He was hilarious over the suit.  My aunt was wearing a suit with a different shade of stockings.  They set on the front row and crossed their legs, pulling the skirt way up over their knees.  The assistant pastor was praying.  He started laughing so much, it interrupted his prayer.  My grandmother, who was always in control, hissed up to the pew in front of her (an aunt) to tell my mother to behave.  By the time their hissing reached my mother, Dr. Wood was hilarious.

My grandmother was not amused.

Somewhere, packed up, is the suit.

Funny thing about that suit, every single inch was properly covered.  She was not properly modest in that usher’s opinion.  He did not even think she could be a woman of strong faith.  Funny thing about modesty is that I’ve seen my mother wear mini-skirts to church that were a good 8 inches above the knee.  She wore sleeveless tops.  If low-cut had been in style, she would have worn that.  She never did a lot of low cut, and never did much in the way of sleeveless after a time because she though her shoulders and arms were either too bony or flabby.  It had nothing to do with modest.

“…Another summer Sunday, Wooten was wearing a sleeveless black-and-white polka-dot dress and “my little matching shoes and hat,” when the pastor’s wife said sweetly: “Honey, aren’t you cold?” It took Wooten three days to realize she was likely being politely asked to cover her shoulders…Charisma Wooten, a singer and actor, had been a parishioner and lay leader at Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ in Riverdale for more than 30 years when she was told moments before taking the pulpit for a Scripture reading one baking July Sunday a couple of years ago that she couldn’t because she didn’t have on pantyhose. Wooten said she was wearing a dress that nearly hit the floor, but Church of God in Christ is a formal denomination where ushers wear gloves and the handbook says that “dressing in a sensually provocative manner produces inclinations to evil desires.”…”

It is all a matter of how you look at things.  My mother had a friend who was visiting her fiance in a rural part of South Carolina.  It was the early 1960s.  She had a French twist (she always did), make-up, a yellow dress, full, right above the knee, matching yellow stockings, dyed to match shoes, short matching yellow gloves, with a matching hat and purse.  When she walked in, the minister began preaching about the whore Jezebel who had just walked into the church.  She was later introduced as the younger minister’s fiance.

“….We have several reasons why I wear dresses only. The main reason is not to defraud men with the way I dress. If a lady wears pants, a man’s eyes are drawn to a part of her body they should not be drawn to. This can cause a man to have impure thoughts. The same thing with tight, revealing tops or low-necked blouses. We have heard some say, “But he is responsible for his thoughts!” Yes, that is true, but it is also our responsibility as a godly woman to dress in a way that would not provoke those thoughts. Would you be willing to deny yourself the “pleasure” of dressing the way you want to help a brother in Christ? “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:13). We could paraphrase it and say, “If a certain type of clothing make my brother to offend, I will not dress that way…”

This NOT about modesty, it is about control.

The Pink Flamingo has a very real problem with the so-called “Christian Modesty Movement”.  It is not about modesty, but about another way of controlling women.  It is based on control, self-righteousness, and an anti-woman bias.  Much of the problem is the way self-righteous, bigoted, men look at women, determined to hold them inferior.

“…With temperatures in the 80s by 7:30 a.m. services, this is the season for church bulleting items like the one in Our Lady’s: “Dignity & Decorum: Please try not to wear beach shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Thank you.”..”

I agree with this.  It isn’t about modesty as much as it’s about being a total slob in church.  I can’t stand that.  People need to dress with a little dignity, going back to the old ‘Sunday’ best.  Then again, the idea of ‘Sunday’ best is a late Victorian and Edwardian concept designed to exhibit the conspicuous consumption of the increasingly wealthy middle class during the Gilded Age.  Before that era, ‘modesty’ was about going to church and not making someone feel uncomfortable because they were not as wealthy as you and couldn’t afford fancy clothes.

Words related to modesty:

“…acquiescence, compliance, deference, passivity, resignedness, submission, submissiveness; ingenuousness, naïveté (also naivete or naiveté); directness, plainness, simpleness; bashfulness, diffidence, mousiness, quietness, reserve, reservedness, retiringness, sheepishness, shyness, timidity, timidness…”

A woman wrote a list of what a woman should NOT do at church.  Notice they never write lists for men?

  • Use a small bag
  • Don’t wear heavy make-up
  • Don’t wear summer colors in fall or winter
  • Don’t wear things that have not been recently purchased

Damn, but I violate every single rule.  I love beautiful large handbags.  I think we are living in the golden age of hand-bags. My style hasn’t changed in 20 years, but my bags do.  I also wear make-up to church.  Once again, why don’t they discuss how men dress?  Oh, I detest winter colors. I always wear pinks, turquoise, and lighter shades.  I detest winter clothes.

A young woman wrote:

“…Let me explain: I propose that we’ve lost sight of what lust actually is. In fact, we have confused biological sexual attraction with lust and called it sin. This is one reason why shame is so rampant in Christian circles, why we hide rather than confess our reality, why we try to control rather than offer each other the open love and freedom of Christ: we have made into sin something that is not sin.

God created you to desire another person for affection, intimacy, and relationship! Being physically attracted to someone is not lust. Wanting to kiss someone is not lust. Enjoying kissing someone is not lust. Those desires can be a catalyst for lust, but in themselves, they are morally-neutral, God-created, biological and chemical reactions.

Your body recognizing sexual compatibility with another person is not inherently evil. Don’t get me wrong. Lust is serious and lust is a sin. But lust is about control, not just sex. Lust is dehumanizes a person in your own heart and mind. It is the ritual taking, obsessing, and using someone else for your own benefit rather than valuing that person as an equal image-bearer of God.

Lust is forming people in your own image, for your own purposes, whether for sexual pleasure, emotional security, or moral superiority. In lusting, you are creating a world where every other person exists for your approval or dismissal. Lust reduces the complexity of each individual and their story to something you get to manage. Lust certainly can have a sexual component, but when we reduce it merely to sexual reactions, we miss out on God’s heart for all people: infinite value.

In the book of Matthew, when Jesus said “if you even look at a woman with lust…” he wasn’t condemning a physical sexual response as sinful, he was lifting up the inherent value of all women and men. The Sermon on the Mount repeatedly describes the worth of each person, no matter their circumstances…”

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Modesty in dress can also be the most immodest thing there is.  In many cases, today, it is about showing off how religious and self-righteous you are.  There is nothing modest about that.  If someone wore the deplorable outfit on the left to church, I would look down my nose at them.  Yes, I know that is tacky, but in my not so humble opinion, they are very poorly dressed, looking like a slob.  There is nothing modest in their behavior, only CONTROL.  They base their version of modest on things written thousands of years ago, and their own ignorance of history.  If only they knew how ignorant they were, they would be humiliated at what they were truly advocating.

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Sorry, but this is repulsive.  So is this:

Screen shot 2013-07-20 at 10.15.43 AM

This is pure crap, but it is considered ‘modest’. Any woman who wore this shit out to be shot for crimes against humanity.  There is a difference between dowdy and tacky modest and just plain well-dressed.  The dresses shown here for ‘modesty’ are what I wore in college.  I don’t see anything any different, or why they should be quantified as ‘modesty’.  They are tasteful.

There is a bottom line.  The whole ‘modesty’ industry is male oriented, with a bunch of self-righteous women trying to tell the rest of us how to live and dress.  They take their cues from a man’s version of how women should dress – 2000 years ago.  I wonder if they take into consideration that, at that time, women did not wear anything under their gowns.  Do we go around without bras and panties because they had not been conceptualized during the time of St. Paul?

Come on people.

Use your heads!

One definition of modesty is humility.  There’s nothing remotely humble about today’s modesty movement.

While we’re at it, the traditional nun’s costume comes from the medieval period, primarily the early medieval period.  At that time, women who went into the church did so because they were trying to avoid being married.  It was the only way a woman could avoid dying in childbirth, where she had maybe a 50% chance of survival.  For the first time, the Church gave women an opportunity to do something other than die in childbirth.  That is one of the reasons it the idea of entering a convent was so appealing.  Women were expected to be able to read and write.  They could be scholars.  They took with them the costume of the day.

As an Episcopalian, I refer to C. S. Lewis who basically delivers a knock-out blow to the whole modesty movement.  To be  honest here, I truly detest the movement and have no respect for anyone who advocates it.  I find them to be abjectly ignorant of history.  Thank heavens for C. S. Lewis.  In Mere Christianity he wrote:

“…The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of ‘modesty’ (in one sense of that word); i.e., propriety, or decency. The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the customs of a given social circle.

Thus, while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes.

A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally ‘modest,’ proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or unchaste)….

When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as so often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable. (83-84)..”

It looks like it works both ways.

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