The Matter of Modesty: A Christian Culture

Spring is nearly upon us and Summer will be right at it’s heels. So of course we are bound to start seeing Jessica Rey’s viral swimsuit video pop up in all of our news feeds very shortly. While there are lots of blog posts out there on this topic already, I wanted to toss my opinion into the mix. I believe the modesty teaching has been blown way out of proportion and is harmful to men and boys and women and girls alike. Over the next few weeks I plan to explore several different aspects of the modesty culture. I hope you will join me with an open mind. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and solutions on this topic as I’m sure this post will not end the debate.

Modesty in Christian Culture

I grew up in a conservative Christian culture where girls are taught that the way they dressed directly affected the way men and boys thought of them. Women could cause men to stumble in their walk with Christ by revealing too much skin or too many curves which might trigger the men to imagine what was beneath the clothing and then to imagine…other things. So in my family, there were no tight or low ridding jeans, no v-neck tops, no short shorts, and certainly no two-piece swimsuits. In fact, as I got older, it became popular among the people we associated with, for the girls to wear shorts over their swimsuits and sometimes t-shirts. I also knew a few people who wore culottes in place of shorts. When I was 12 years old I was wearing clothes that would be too big for me today so that I wouldn’t cause men to stumble. I fought vehemently against these family guidelines as I got older, but interestingly enough, when I was around people from ATI circles I felt very uncomfortable in the clothing that my family had concluded were modest. I wondered how these people might be perceiving me or my family. So usually I’d just stick with the safe route and wear a skirt or a dress.

In a post on his blog about modesty, John Piper says,“Women, evidently, are wired to want men to notice their bodies…Women should handle the desire to be noticed by preserving it for one man, whether he is present yet or not.”

These notions permeate Christian culture whether they come from individuals, organizations, or churches. People like Beth Moore, Sadie Robertson, Joshua Harris, Candace Cameron Bure, and Jessica Rey, to name a few. (Speaking of Jessica Rey, please read about why the Princeton Study she cited doesn’t even apply to modesty here and here.) Then there are also people like the Duggars—who are into über modesty— and random moms posting on the web. Though these people speak in favor of women dressing in a modest fashion, the range that is deemed acceptable is very wide. I’ve heard most everyone’s arguments on modesty. But I no longer find much value in their points.

The Sex-Driven Beast that is Man

Since dating and marrying my husband we’ve had several discussions about modesty. Usually, me asking him Is this too low? Too short? Too tight? Too loose? The answers were no, no, no, and noAfter hearing his answers, I was surprised. Now I’ve begun to realize that maybe, just maybe, not all men are sex-driven beasts who cannot control their lustful urges.

I looked online to decide if my husband was the only male who didn’t feel that a man’s lust is a woman’s responsibility or that they are helpless at the sight of a woman’s thigh. I found a good number who agree with him. Like this guy or this guy or the guy that was interviewed by this girl, this mom who wants her sons raised differently. Even Jefferson Bethke (whom I disagreed with in another post) agrees with my husband.

It’s this realization that brings me back to the question that I’ve been wondering for nearly 20 years and has actually deepened the question: How is it my responsibility to make sure men have clear consciences and furthermore, if not all men see modesty as an issue, is it possible that some men have been led to believe that what they experience and think is lust is actually just attraction?

Attraction Versus Lust

The following words are all synonyms for lustful: concupiscent, goatish, horny, hot, hypersexual, itchy, lascivious, lecherous, lewd, libidinous, licentious, lubricious, oversexed, passionate, randy, salacious, satiric, and wanton.

These words are synonymous for attraction: appeal, attractiveness, desirability, seductiveness, seduction, allure, animal magnetism, charisma, charm, beauty, good looks, eye-appeal.

There is the slightest bit of overlap here, but the words are not synonymous for each other. I would venture to say that the way we typically use and understand the words is quite different as well.

James 1:12-15 says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

I say all of this to say, I don’t think it’s bad to feel attraction. Attraction may be an emotion or feeling that could lead to lust, but that doesn’t mean attraction itself is wrong. This would be like saying hunger is wrong because it could lead to obesity. Hunger and attraction are both good things. We could look at them as signals designed by God to tell us something about our bodies.

If one considers lust a sin, differentiating between these two words is important because they are the difference in sinning and not sinning (if you haven’t already please read my post about sin and grace).

I’m attracted to all sorts of people, both men and women. There are certain people’s personalities to whom I am more drawn. Some people are more attractive to me because they smell nice. I notice attractive faces and figures on both men and women. I would even go so far as so say that I feel a mild sexual attraction to men whom are wearing suits and wearing them well. 🙂 But that’s about as far as it goes. They don’t literally turn me on and I don’t start fantasizing about having sex with them.

I like what Rachel Held Evans said on the topic:

“Attraction is a natural biological response to beauty; lust obsesses on that attraction until it grows into a sense of ownership, a drive to conquer and claim. When Jesus warns that ‘everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart,’ he uses the same word found in the Ten Commandments to refer to a person who ‘covets’ his neighbor’s property. Lust takes attraction and turns it into the coveting of a woman’s body as though it were property.”

The Church

The issue of modesty is one that comes up often in Church settings. The problem is that it teaches young boys to shift blame rather than dealing with underlying problems. These problems may  be real. Maybe the boy really does go home and begin coveting a woman’s body, but it also might be creating problems where there are none.

Promoting the culture of modesty also teaches young girls to be on guard all the time. It’s hard to be carefree when you must always worry about a gaping top or what someone else might be seeing when they look at you. It puts a man’s walk with Christ before a woman’s own journey. It sends confusing messages about standards, and it could cause girls to question God.

IF women are, as John Piper said, wired to want men to notice our bodies, then perhaps it is GOD who made us that way. Isn’t he the one who wired us? In actuality, I don’t think women are wired to want men to notice their bodies, I think human beings, because we’re not perfect, are tempted to want other people to notice how great we are in all aspects of life.

Over the next few weeks I plan to explore some of these ideas with a little more depth. Here are the topics I’m planning to cover during this series:

  • What Does the Bible Say About Modesty?
  • Titus 2 Women
  • Is the Modesty Teaching Helpful?

Also in The Matter of Modesty Series

The Matter of Modesty: Challenging Traditional Church Perspectives 


7 thoughts on “The Matter of Modesty: A Christian Culture

  1. Great post Kendra! Excited to see you doing a series on this subject. Having it drilled into me for so long, I feel like in many ways it is taking just as long to understand how to remove it’s hurtful and pervasively damaging views of each sex and our interactions.

    The scary thing is that the modesty teachings within the Church often are really no different than a “God and Bible” approved version of rape culture and slut shaming. If women are truly responsible for men’s lust, thoughts, and subsequent actions based on what they wear, then every claim for justification of any level of harassment or assault made based on the horrific line, “she was asking for it” is really no different then telling a woman in the Christian world that “she is being a stumbling block to her brother-in-christ,” by what she is wearing. No that Christian man, who sees her in her un-mmodest dress and notices it, may not choose to “rape” the woman, but according to those same standards and teachings we are taught that even “if a man lusts after a woman in his thoughts, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So by making women responsible for all men’s thoughts and actions in response to their attire, have we then also made them mental adulterers and/or rapists too, for probably only experiencing mere attraction as you discuss?

  2. From my studies, I’ve found the following:
    * All the Scriptures that speak of sexual modesty in attire:
    * All the Scriptures that tell men what they should avoid seeing to avoid lust:
    * All the Scriptures that hold women responsible for men’s sinful lust:

    It’s high time someone speaks up and rebuffs this false doctrine. Way to go!


    1. I cannot promise that everything I came up with is 100% on point, but I did try to do my research. Thanks for the comments!

      1. No worries, Kendra.

        I’ve been looking into issues related to our bodies for a number of years now… It is sad and enervating how much false biblical data and flawed logic has entered into the entire area of “modesty.” It goes deeper than you probably yet realize, but it’s VERY refreshing to a read solid and well-reasoned article like yours! Press on, and follow the truth where it leads you!

        I developed a site with several other pastors designed to help men and women who are ensnared by pornography to recognize and reject the lies that keep them bound to porn. I believe that for men, the foundational like that is at the core of their addiction is one that you mentioned regarding men’s supposed “automatic” responses to the sight of a woman’s body (I LOVE Nate Pyle’s article!). That sight-arousal response is one that it entirely conditioned, it is NOT the way God hard-wired men! And it can be RE-conditioned out of our lives!

        You are welcome to read the rest of the articles on the site, but the specific page that mentions that lie is this:

        Press on! Don’t stop!

  3. modesty is something we were brought up to. in old time it was dishonest to wear, what we call old fashion, a full 2 piece bathing suit. we got used to it. then bi ini, all that fuss. we got used to it. then topless again big fuss. i was once in africa it wa very common to see small boys half naked with their willy hanging. no one bithered. so i can’t understand what is bad or not

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