What Modesty Culture Taught Me
I read an article the other day and it got my mind racing. For complete context, I would suggest reading that article first before completing this one.
As a man who continually wrestling with lust and pornography, this article hit me hard. The “virtues” of modesty culture, the lies that the church conditioned me to believe and that I convinced myself to take as truth.
Guarding your heart to prevent relational issues. Dressing a certain way to please the conservative consensus. Shifting most, if not all, of the responsibility of remaining pure to a particular gender (mainly women). It’s no wonder why it feels like crossing a minefield blindfolded just to initiate a conversation with the opposite sex.
Don’t be a stumbling block
The idea of a stumbling block refers to situations or habits that causes a believer to back track into sin. Or it can be interpreted as a person that is distracting you from Christ. I look at the following verses as affirming both interpretations:
“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”
1 Corinthians 8:9,
“But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
If I am being a stumbling block, I humbly ask how I cannot be one. After all, as a brother in Christ, my main goal is to edify you. But sometimes, my emotions take over all logic. Even ignoring scriptural truth that “the heart is deceitful” (Jeremiah 17:9). So I won’t pretend that I’m exempt from the occasional rebuke. I’m still learning how to separate love and infatuation.
Stay within your group.
I think the church has devalued male-female friendship. It’s an imbalance that I think the church masquerades as a necessity. The status quo that must be obeyed without question. And I think it’s more of a sign of the church’s unwillingness to progress with modern-day relationship dynamics.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve always been relegated to just being around guys for accountability and purity purposes. And while it took a lot of maturing to accept the spiritual benefits of male friendships, I still felt an emptiness of female friendship.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1–7,
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call —
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
As we build these walls, I wonder whether it’s out of holiness or fear of invasion. I look at my female relationships within the church and see the latter. Hurtful, indifferent, or caring out of obligation. No sense of direction or purpose. We’re only friends because we’re both Christians or serve in the same ministry.
Are we friends or work partners?
Outside of the church, I’ve had plenty of female friends. Some of which I called best friends. Although their faith wasn’t evident, these were girls I could confide in and talk to. No need to deal with modesty culture rules or empty phrases that encourage separation. But a direct connection that was imperfect, real, and beautiful.
Of course, there were boundaries that I had to adhere to. Limits to the amount of times we could spend together, the types of conversations to have, and so on. But it didn’t need to be enforced. There was an unspoken mutual understanding that naturally led to a connection. It makes me wonder why I can’t experience this same treatment from the same church I’m called to serve and love.
Fear of man (and woman)
Am I terrified of women?
Yes and no.
Yes, in that first impression is everything. As someone who has trust issues, it’s hard for me to look women in the eyes or even initiate conversation for fear that I may take it too far. Break some sort of unspoken law that may determine the future of our interactions. The paranoia sets in. The fear that maybe she will see through my Christian facade and see a broken man not of worthy of grace and love.
No, in that I can easily detach if you want nothing to do with me. It’s almost a superpower I developed from my tendency to be a loner. I’m now in a season where I’m more content in singleness than I’ve ever been in my adult life. I almost see it as God granting me deliverance from constantly chasing relationship idols. If anything, I’m willing to respect the boundaries and see her as an image-bearer and daughter of God.
Teach a new lesson
I believe that modesty culture has good intentions. And that there should be guidelines on how we view and interact with each other. But these guidelines shouldn’t be laws to a dead religion that only brings death to relationships, connections, and trust.
Rather, I pray that we “aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another” — and more importantly — “live in peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11). Especially with people who aren’t like you. People like me who are estranged and have to watch from the sidelines. People like me who struggle with low self-esteem and have a tough time believing they are not worthy of anything good.
I’m not trying to stage a rebellion or abolish the rules. But rather encourage a rethinking in how the church community functions. Let’s be a light of love for each other and the world. Let’s be willing to tear down these walls and build roads that converge to the narrow path.
Let’s be brothers and sisters united under one Father and his precious Son, our Elder Brother Jesus Christ.