Um, ladies?  Can we talk?

It’s not like we guys don’t appreciate how you look in all of these flattering summer fashions you like to wear.  We know that currently, to be stylish is to show a lot of skin.  We also know that since we’re supposed to control our sexual urges, and we’re supposed to let you wear whatever you want… or don’t want… we’re supposed to keep our opinions on this matter to ourselves.  

Frankly, however, it’s all very convenient for you, but not so much for us.  Because even if, in our silence, you think we don’t see all of that skin you’re showing us, don’t be mistaken:  we do.

And more often than not, it’s causing us to stumble into sexually impure thoughts.

We’re now into the dog days of summer, and this year, the styles for women seem to rely less and less on fabric and more and more on exposed flesh.  After all, the less we wear, the more comfortable we feel in the heat.  We get it.  If we could get away with wearing shorts and tank tops to church, we would.  And it’s not like we men would prefer that you dress like shapeless, dour prudes.  But please understand:  you’re not doing us – or yourselves – any favors with some of the stuff you’re wearing.

Or, not.

Rules or Responsibilities?

Sure, this sounds like the same old sermon about “nice girls” you’ve probably heard from some curmudgeonly old preacher, or maybe your own strict parents, or maybe some domineering former boyfriend.  And sometimes, people make rules simply to have rules, so they can evaluate how obedient everybody is.  Some religious sects force their women to wear ankle-length skirts and long-sleeved blouses, regardless of the weather, but even then, modesty is relative, isn’t it?  If men really want to undress you with their eyes, we have an amazing ability to do so – no matter what you’re wearing.

Inversely, however, have you ever wondered whether guys who appreciate the “less is more” philosophy in women’s clothing truly have your best interests at heart?  The more they see, the less their lustful brains need to work.  Why bother trying to attract guys like that?

So this isn’t about rules, or rulers for measuring skirt length.

What women wear has been a topic of conversation in practically every generation since God introduced Eve to Adam.  In some cultures, women literally wear practically nothing, but then again, the same goes for their men.  It’s less a matter of modesty or immodesty, and more a primal accommodation for climate.

But does that mean our summertimes in North America provide the perfect excuse for seeing how little fabric we can get away with in public?  You ladies may think so, but then again, you may not fully appreciate how visual men can be.  Particularly in our sexually charged culture.

On the beach, of course, things are somewhat different, even though relative modesty should still be a virtue.  Unless you attend a church whose Sunday services take place on a beach, however, we rarely confuse corporate worship with the frivolity of swimming.  Yet how many men at your church are met each Sunday with amazingly short skirts, provocatively deep necklines, and sheer fabrics of the thinnest materials which cling ever so delicately to, well, your most delicate spots?  Swimsuits may hide the bare essentials, but some of the things some of you wear to church don’t really cover up much else.

You expect us to be men of God.  You hope that we be chaste, as well you should.  After all, you know what lust is.  You know that just looking lustfully at somebody is a sin.  

Might you be contradicting yourselves, meanwhile, when you wear what you wear and then get upset when we sin with our eyes?

What is the extent of your culpability when we men lust after you?  Are we men supposed to simply look up at the ceiling when you walk by?  How fair is it for you to figure you can dress however you want to dress, and it’s up to us men to deal however we can with the sin it causes us?

The writer of Proverbs 11:22 put it bluntly: “like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.”

In other words, even if you’re drop-dead gorgeous by anybody’s standards, if you lack modesty, you’re demonstrating a lack of integrity.  And even though our society tends to reward people regardless of their integrity, doesn’t God expect us to hold higher standards?

We’re supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ.  Maybe in your family, growing up, you didn’t care how you looked in front of your male siblings, but now that you’re grown up, how appropriate is childish behavior?

Dress for True Success

When you’re shopping in the mall, or surfing clothing websites by yourself at home, perhaps the allure of trendy fashions tends to displace more rational evaluations of what styles are appropriate for public exposure.  Retailers don’t want you to think about modesty; they want you to purchase what they have to sell.  And they probably don’t lower prices just because what they’re selling these days features less and less fabric.

Unless, of course, you genuinely do intend to seduce men in your church by what you wear – and the way you wear it?  If that is the case, then perhaps the man you end up seducing will match your ambitions.  But that will be a pity for both of you.

Indeed, men, how much of this problem is perpetuated by those of us who shamelessly flirt with women who dress immodestly?  Maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg kind of thing; do women dress immodestly to gain attention, or does the attention women receive simply by being a woman feed even a subconscious desire to stoke their allure?  After all, women have been known to dress to impress other women, but men can encourage such fashionista posturing for their own benefit and disguise it as female empowerment.

Not that covering one’s entire body like a babushka readying for winter is the appropriate response here, either.  Feigning piety is as much a sin as men lusting and women causing us to lust.

And yes, intentionally enticing your brothers in Christ to sinLuke 17:1.

Instead, shouldn’t modesty that comes from an understanding of one’s true value before our Savior translate into respectable clothing choices that honor others?  The same grace God exercises to save us from our sins is available for all of us to use as we interact with each other.

Maybe this all still sounds too much like subjective standards being applied to something in which believers have freedom.  But where does God ever say freedom in Christ means we can do whatever we want?  1 Corinthians 6:15.  Doesn’t this mean that beingPsalms 132:9 never goes out of fashion for believers?

Some of us men will be more grateful than others, ladies, if you take our request to heart.  Even so, Whom should you be hoping to please more than any of us?

From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.

Publication date: August 7, 2012