Why is the church afraid of modesty?

By Randy Alcorn
Eternal Perspectives Ministry
Sandy, Oregon

QUESTION: My husband and I are glad that the church is finally talking about the problem of pornography and purity in the Body of Christ, and helping men address this issue. But why do we never hear about purity for women in the way they dress? I’m talking about women who profess to be Christ-followers. They become a stumbling block to their brothers when they dress seductively or dress to be sexy as the world has deemed fashionable. Please address the issue of modesty.

ANSWER: That is a great question, and it’s very problematic. Just recently I was speaking at a church, and found I could not look a certain direction at the congregation because of how one woman was dressed. This happens frequently. I’ve been in churches where I can’t look at the worship team because of how a woman is dressed and swaying seductively while holding the microphone. It’s something you would expect in a nightclub, yet it’s in the church—the Body of Christ.

I’m all for sex and I think it’s great for a woman to be sexy with one person—her husband. The irony is there are cases where women have gotten so used to appearing sexy in public yet actually have no sexual relationship with their own husbands. So we have two issues going on related to the issue of modesty—modesty in public, and modesty when the Body of Christ is assembled. And this latter one is huge.

When I was a youth pastor, many years ago, we had a problem with swimsuits that is much worse today for church youth groups because of the change in fashions. The way girls wore their two-piece swimsuits, and even many one-pieces, showed so much. You have young men on a church retreat who are looking at these girls—their sisters in Christ—and thinking what young men think and being led into temptation.

I’m not justifying the way men think. It is a problem, but it is also true—as the person indicates who asks this question—that there’s a responsibility here for girls, and certainly for their dads and moms, to seriously consider this.

As for the part of the question asking why this is not being addressed like it should be in churches, I believe the answer is fear. I think there are many pastors and church leaders, who, like many husbands and fathers, are afraid to speak up for fear of offending women who are fashion-conscious. Some women think that to be fashionable, you have to have outfits that are sexy—including the split skirts, the very tight skirts and pants, and low-cut tops. All of these things send a message to men, and pastors are very self-conscious about speaking up because they think, There are women who will think I am a pervert for even mentioning this. “Oh, is that what the pastor is thinking about when he’s up front?”

It’s a difficult situation, but it’s an issue I believe male leaders of the home and church need the courage to speak up about and address directly. We also need godly women (especially godly women who can be reasonably fashionable and attractive in the right sense of attractive—not sexually attractive) who will lovingly challenge other women and let them know they are sending a wrong message. And if they don’t care about the message they’re sending, then something’s really wrong and they need to repent. We need open, clear discussions about this so women can become aware and understand the issue.

The Bible says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. That compels us to honor God in all we do and say. Sadly, many inappropriate relationships develop in the church. Sometimes they start in small groups; others start through working relationships between church staff. There have been adulterous relationships that began during small group retreats, where women and men dressed and acted a certain way. Many of these relationships could be avoided if we paid closer attention to how we dress, how we come across, and the kind of affection we show.

I love to show physical affection. I often side-hug women I care about and know—if I have a close, appropriate brother-sister relationship—by putting my hand on their shoulders and pulling them toward me. But I avoid full-frontal hugs. Women sometimes are not aware how these kinds of hugs can affect their brothers in Christ.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has excellent material on modesty and purity. She has a wonderful booklet titled The Look: Does God Really Care What I Wear? as well as several resources about the freedom of modesty at her ministry’s website, www.reviveourhearts.com.

I do believe modesty is something we need to take a very close, careful, prayerful look at in the Body of Christ. We need to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.


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