Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Modest is hottest?

A couple weeks ago I sat in the McDonald's restaurant in Jonesville, Michigan preparing a teaching on the subject of modesty. Part of a series of sermons that are directed towards women in our church,  I was particularly nervous as I pondered how to address this sensitive topic. As I sat near the door - the only place near enough to an outlet to power my laptop - a parade of scantily clad women came and went.

Afterward I drove back to the camp where I was chaperoning my son's marching band. Along the way I got stuck behind a buggy full of Amish women and children. Driving three mile an hour down a two-lane road gave me plenty of time to survey the situation. Three women were wedged together on the seat with an assortment of five or so kids clinging to the sides of what looked like part pick up truck, part carriage.

I couldn't help but notice the difference between the Amish women with their long sleeves and covered heads and the tube-top-wearing women that frequented McDonald's.

When I arrived back at band camp, the marching band was readying for their evening rehearsal. As I situated my chair in the pavilion next to the football field, I noticed a freshman clarinet player readying her instrument. Printed on the front of her shirt were the words, "Modest is Hottest."

I stared at the phrase, turning it over in my head thinking, "How can I work that into my sermon?" Then, "Is that phrase even true?" Then, "Where can I get some of those t-shirts to hand out on the Sunday I preach this message?"

It must have been an uncomfortable few moments for her before I realized that this freshman girl must have thought I was staring - not at the message on her shirt - but at . . . what was directly beneath the fabric where it was printed. I know I felt awkward. I tried to explain to her that I was a pastor, but I think that only made things worse.

Later on I Googled the phrase and came across Sarah Pulliam Bailey's well written, cleverly titled Her*meneutics blog. She contends that the mantra hurts Christian women. "Modest is Hottest," she claims, objectifies women, just in a different form. The approach still reduces the female body to a sexual object.

But woman (and men for that matter) are so much more.

We are also spirit and mind. And, together with our bodies, we have been created to bring glory to God.

Who gets the glory goes to the heart of the issues surrounding modesty. Bailey wrote,
Men and women are urged to pursue modesty by which our glory is minimized and God's is maximized. The body, spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God we display the height of immodesty.
She's right. But we must not lose sight of the practical issue at work here, too - one that goes beyond the traditional don't-cause-your-Christian-brother-to-stumble conversation. As much as men are accused of objectifying women, women objectify themselves when they view their body as a marketing plan by which one can attract a man.

When a woman dresses provocatively she is marketing herself to every man. The problem with that approach is that every marketing plan assumes that the one doing the marketing can deliver the goods. But a woman should not, cannot deliver the goods to every man. Rather, she should reserve the most intimate part of her being - her sexuality - for only one man, her husband.

When a man or woman uses his or her sexuality to attract, he or she is writing a check with his or her body that the spirit cannot and should not cash.

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