Female Modesty

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  July 6, 2013

             Last week I wrote about the dangerous and destructive power of shame in the life of a Christian. The volatile toxin of shame frequently releases its vicious venom through the pages of scripture and cultural assumptions that attempt to interpret it.

            I remember an occasion many years ago—long before I began my studies for ministry. I visited a church in the town I lived and listened to a sermon preached on the subject of female modesty.  Citing 1 Timothy 2:9-10 as his source, the preacher proceeded to berate the female youth of his congregation for their dress.

            He made it very clear that God held these young women fully responsible for the sexual purity of the men in their presence by interpreting the Bible to mean that if they failed to dress modestly, as the Scripture clearly stated, that the young men in the church could not help but be distracted by their feminine traits and would subsequently be forced to stumble into sin.

            It was a disgrace to Christian authority and a shameful abuse of both women and the Bible! More to the point, it serves as a vivid example of how easy it is for shame to presume to speak for God and distort all that God intends for good!

            The use of “modesty” in this context is actually a perverse distortion of the Bible’s actual meaning. The Greek word frequently translated in terms of as “modesty” is the same word used only a few lines later in 1 Timothy 3 that attributes qualities such as respectability and quality behavior as attributes to which a man must aspire if he is to assume leadership in the community of faith.  In addition, the example of “modesty” that is used in the scripture referring to women has nothing to do with the attire of her dress or any sexual messages she may send. Rather it is defined in terms of ostentatious or flamboyant display of material wealth.

            In the context of the Bible where this word for “modesty” or “respectful” is used, the true meaning comes in terms of “orderly” and in keeping with what is proper for glorifying God. Once again, shame’s stealthy presence rears its invisible head to spew the toxic filth of its lies. Shame never brings out God’s grace or glory as it merely turns God’s greatest creation into an object of judgment and guilt.

            The matter of shame is also strongly addressed by Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount. Notice that in Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus never holds the woman responsible for causing a man to stumble into lust. Rather, he clearly says that if a man does look lustfully upon a woman, he is guilty of adultery and not the female he is choosing to turn into a sex object. Jesus then goes further to tell the offending man that the penalty for his adulterous gaze is that his eye be gouged out.

            The horrific consequence of the—often well intended—push for female modesty is that today we live in a culture where the female body is simultaneously the source of more shame and disgrace than at any time in human history. Many (if not most) women are frighteningly ashamed of their own bodies and this shame manifests in everything from eating disorders to numerous health and behavioral disorders.  In the courts, women are repeatedly victimized by the system and are publically blamed for provoking men to unwanted sexual attention and rape. Nursing mothers are shamed for nourishing their children at the breast. The value of a woman in the media is defined by her sex appeal rather than her divine beauty! Many women live in shame!

            Female modesty is only one example of how the subtle and vile poison of shame infiltrates life and reaps devastation. Christians, however, have the power to be the change!