I’d like to ask you for advice on how to answer a modesty issue that is occurring at our church. There is a single young woman who continually chooses to attend church in very risque outfits. This appears to be on purpose. She loves to flaunt herself in addition. Her parents and other siblings attend our church along with her. Week after week goes by and it seems like no one is speaking out against this. It is almost like we’re all pretending to ignore it and are hoping it will end on its own. My family and I can hardly ignore this, and her choice of dress is a complete distraction to us, not to mention we continue to grow angry and concerned about how this could be affecting the men and boys of our church (as well as other young girls). What would you do -who would you approach first? Also -it’s not like our pastors don’t “see” this too. Could they be ignoring it as well? Sincerely, “Sad anp; Frustrated”
She wore what most would consider to be immodest clothing -skin tight jeans, plunging necklines, short skirts–and carried herself with marked insecurity, tugging at her clothes, speaking hesitantly, glancing anxiously from face-to-face as we talked to her. When she walked into our church -when she saw the way the other young ladies dressed–I could almost read the fear in her eyes: “They’re going to look down on me. They’re going to think they’re better than me!”
I wanted to set her heart at ease, but I wondered if anyone did think they were better than our visitor? If anyone looked at her clothes and assumed that she wasn’t passionate about the things of God–that she wouldn’t fit in to conversations about his Word -that because of the way she dressed in contrast with lower hemlines and higher necklines, she was a “certain kind” of person. Perhaps they’d never know that she was sweet and kind, quiet and unassuming, eager to learn about God’s Word. Perhaps they’d only ever see her as a plunging neckline.
Well, they didn’t. They were as kind and sweet to her as any girls could be. And as we got to know our new friend, she began to change. She grew more confident, started wearing a few tank tops under those low-cut shirts, and her hems dropped. Some of this was the result of sweet, frank conversations with women who had taken the time to get to know her and befriend her -others were simply the result of growth in the Lord. Understanding that her body was a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), that the Lord meant for certain aspects of it only to be shared with her husband, that dressing modestly was something we were commanded to do in order to honor the Lord made her a new person. To my knowledge, no one scolded or berated her. I never heard anyone talking about her behind her back. And the young men never spoke to her or of her with bitterness, but smiled at her every Sunday she walked into church and treated her the same way they treated the rest of us.
Immodest dress is a hindrance. When a girl bares it all, it can be difficult for us to see past the skin and realize that the young woman is more than what she has on. In fact, one of the reasons modesty is so important is because immodesty is such an incredible distraction–and not just for young men! Although one of the biggest sticking points for discussions surrounding modesty is an incredible burden that’s been placed on Christian womens’ shoulders not to cause their brothers to stumble, the truth is, I’ve noticed that immodesty affects women just as much -if not more so -than men.
Women often have a problem bristling in distaste at an immodestly dressed woman, assuming that she is lying in wait to ensnare a man, that she is selfishly and knowingly selecting clothes to cause others to stumble, and that she enjoys flaunting herself. And, in this spirit, women–often hiding under the guise of trying to zealously guarding the purity of their brothers in Christ (who I’ve found to have a lot more fortitude in this matter than we give them credit for)–take this modesty issue to such great lengths that they are willing to tar and feather anyone who they see who doesn’t meet their standard, with a view that the offending party is fully aware of her sadistic and sensual hold on well-meaning Christian men.
In reality, however, I have found that this is usually not the case. Young women dress immodestly because they are blindly following fashion trends. They dress immodestly because they are buying what they see off the rack. They dress immodestly because no one has ever taught them to do otherwise. They are not guiltless because of their ignorance (Romans 1:18-20), but for some of them, the starting point for change is going to be a woman who is willing to reach out to them and to guide them aright.
And some of us miss the opportunity to teach and encourage because we’re so busy fastening every single buttonhole to the glory of God (1 Timothy 2:9) that we miss giving him glory by loving our sisters in Christ (1 Corinthians 13). Instead of loving them enough to use Titus 2 as a springboard to minister to them, we snicker about them behind their backs, “Can you believe what she’s wearing today?” Instead of loving them enough to use Matthew 18 as a springboard to confront them about a blind spot they might have, we assume the worst of them and gripe about their malicious intent to rouse lust in the hearts of all mankind. Instead of developing a godly relationship with them, we avoid them like the plague, thinking they ought to know better… but never taking the time to teach them.
What a shame! Modesty–something we do to give glory to the Lord, and, by extension, safeguard ourselves and our brothers in Christ–often becomes something we use to give glory to ourselves and to devalue our Christian sisters.
It may be that our sisters are still growing in the Lord, mortifying the sin in their lives, coming to a greater and greater understanding of God’s Word. It may be that they are dressing in an attention-seeking way, and they need to be reminded that their worth should come from the Lord, not how alluring they can be. It may be that if we take the time to know our sisters in Christ who are struggling in this area that we will better be able to serve them, leading them lovingly back to God’s Word.
As far as the answer to “Sad and Frustrated” goes, my advice would be to repent of any feelings of animosity or bitterness towards the immodest sister in Christ, and to make a conscious effort to bless her with encouraging words. Have her family for dinner! Invite her and her mother for coffee with you and your mom. Spend some one-on-one time with her at church to get to know her better. Broach subjects like biblical femininity, biblical womanhood, and, yes, modesty. Be frank and loving (Ephesians 4:15).
“So and so, you are such a beautiful young woman, and I have loved to see how much you’re growing in grace! Here are some things that I appreciate about you… But I’ve been thinking–when you wear____, it distracts attention from what a beautiful person you really are. God’s Word tells us in 1 Peter 3:1-6 that outward adornment isn’t pleasing in God’s sight unless it reflects the imperishable beauty within…”.
This sort of conversation isn’t going to be helpful to our hearer unless we’ve taken the time to demonstrate that our words come from a genuine love for the Lord and a genuine concern for our sister, and not from a prideful heart. Even then, it might be hard for our sister in Christ to hear. But as we continue to love on her, we might just be surprised at the outcome.
Now, lest my approach seem to undermine the expediency of the modesty problem, consider a few things: first, that if we truly felt the problem expedient, we would spend less time becoming frustrated with the immodest dresser, whispering about her behind her back, or emailing our favorite bloggers about the problem and run to her immediately for the love of our wandering-eyed men. In truth, however, we watch as the problem persists, never taking steps to right it. Secondly, there may be an older woman in the church (Titus 2:3-5) or a peer of the young woman’s father who is able to speak to the young lady as soon as possible -this post is directed mainly at the young woman’s peers, who are less apt to feel they have the authority to approach the situation. Also, I have learned that the men in my life are able to show grace to a fledgling or floundering sister in Christ in the meantime, realizing that they are responsible for guarding their eyes, even when a sister in the Lord catches them off-guard (Matthew 5:28), although Proverbs 7 shows us that a wily sister is not guiltless in seeking to ensnare a man. Finally, showing genuine love to a sister before confronting her can take five minutes or five weeks -it’s all in your attitude when approaching her.
If the young woman is rebellious and persists in dressing inappropriately, ask your parents what they think the next step should be. Perhaps your dad can speak to her dad, your mom to her mother, or they feel this is an issue that does need to be taken to the elders. But, whatever it is, continue to treat her with a kind, gentle, 1 Corinthians 13 affection… and I believe you’re on the right track!
Also, when you recite 1 Peter 3:1-6 to her, remember that your outward adornment should be a reflection of the imperishable beauty within as well. Are you walking in love, as the Lord has commanded you? Does that beautiful modest dress you’re wearing match an equally beautiful, humble heart? I surely hope it does!
I hope this helps! May the Lord bless you as you humbly strive to obey his commands and to give grace and encouragement to your brothers and sisters in Christ who are doing the same.