Monday, June 30, 2008

Modesty for Women

Jeff Miller, at The Curt Jester, touched upon a topic that is near and dear to my heart - modesty. His tongue-in-cheek Casual Sunday reminded me of the time I addressed this issue with my last non-Catholic church.

An older woman (maybe mid-forties) came to our Friday night worship service with a very short dress. I was behind her and as she raised her hands up high, her choice of undergarments became evident.

Later, while she left to go to restroom, I followed her. I waited until she came back into the lobby area and gently confronted her. I told her she may not have been aware of what was happening (I gave her the benefit of doubt) but it was something that could be a problem for men.

At the time, I was the church secretary. After the incident, I typed up a short piece of what it meant to be a woman of modesty. My boss (the administrative pastor) loved it but it really didn't go much further than that. He did tell me that although he had brought the issue to the senior pastor, there was the thought that he didn't want the church to be a place of "do's and don'ts." Sadly, too many women seemed to be wearing a lot of "don'ts" and weren't being reminded why that may be a problem.

If anything is seriously going to be done about this issue, I believe it will need to come from other women strongly encouraging their sisters to stop being so stupid. It's one thing to wear immodest attire outside the church - but quite another to bring it in.

When I brought up this issue to some other women, I would inevitably be met with defiance masked by a lack of sensitivity to how men are wired. I would think it goes without saying that men and women are different, but yet some of these ladies thought that if a man had a problem with seeing a woman with tight jeans and a halter top, then it was his problem, not hers.

This attitude has no place within the heart of a Christian. One of the changes that occurs within a believer's life is the realization that the flesh is weak and must be crucified. Thankfully, God does not expose all of our fleshly desires all at once, otherwise we'd be overwhelmed and despondent. But God uses Scripture to remind us of our calling, which is transformation into the likeness of Christ.

Throughout the New Testament, we are exhorted to place others above ourselves, to love our enemies, and to not cause others to stumble in their faith. (Rom. 14:13) In fact, in his letter to the Romans, St. Paul focused on self-denial on behalf of others.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me." (Rom. 15:1-3 RSV)
The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to {its} lusts. (Rom. 13:12-14 NASB)

Jesus gave very strong words to His disciples when He said this:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt. 5:27, 28 RSV)
Not only are women to consider how their behavior and words may affect others, they are called to godliness. Christian women have been encouraged to dress modestly and focus on her interior beauty. St. Paul instructed Timothy about the proper conduct of women in one of his letters:
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness. (1 Tim 2:9, 10)
The Greek word used for "modestly" is aidōs. It means "modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect."

The "culture of death" already has instilled in many women the idea that their bodies are their own - with no consideration for the consequences of such a belief. This has also been translated into an attitude of selfishness - that my will trumps everyone else's, no matter how it may affect them.

Our local city just had a festival. I was appalled when I came across a program for the event. Right inside the cover was an ad showing two women sitting in lawn chairs, with their backs toward the camera. It was obvious both were topless. Underneath this photo was the inane admonition: It Is Up to Everyone to Maintain the Mellow. Why? Because our city has made it legal for women to be topless in public. The event coordinators wanted to remind everyone that any unwanted advances toward these women would not be tolerated. (Good grief!) I wish I was kidding.

We live in a fallen world. Women have the opportunity to be "counter-cultural" by obeying God and considering others before themselves. Dressing modestly doesn't have to be boring. Here is a great link to introduce you to some wonderful modest clothing sites: Modest Clothing Directory. Also, my new Facebook friend, Rebecca Christian, has a nice website, Modestia.

Finally, because I've been studying the topic of headcoverings, I found a great blog that discusses exactly that with regard to other orthodox religions that also practice headcovering. It is Lisa M's, Those Headcoverings, a fascinating blog that is very helpful to any woman examining the issue of the headcovering.

Just be thankful you don't have to attend confession with Padre Pio, who had this sign outside his confessional:

By Padre Pio’s explicit wish, women must enter the confessional wearing skirts
It is forbidden to borrow longer dresses in church and to wear them to confession.”


Elisabeth said...

If you haven't seen Wendy Shallit's books on Modesty - A Return to Modesty and Girls Gone Mild - you would certainly enjoy them. There's an actual political agenda to this issue...

Preach it, Sistah!

Mary Rose said...

Laura, thank you! Yes, I'm aware of the books although I've not yet had the opportunity to read them. I'm interested in the political side, too.

I'm sensing that there are more women than ever who are tired of fashions that make them look like a streetwalker and the culture promoting sex without commitment. I think it's fascinating and praise God for it. May He raise up more honorable women who will crush the enemy under their feet!

Janny said...

I'm wondering how Padre Pio would know how long a woman's skirt was, if she went into a closed confessional behind a screen.


Just a thought!


Rachel said...

I wondered that about Padre Pio too. :) He might walk by the line on his way to the confessional; they'd line up early to confess to him.

Mary Rose said...

Ha! From what I read, those who worked with Padre Pio knew of his strict requirements and helped encourage the women to be dressed appropriately. I also know that people did line up to confess their sins to him because he was known for reading their hearts.

I have to admit that I like the 8 inches below the knee bit. I certainly wouldn't have had to confront a woman who should have known better years ago. ;)

joannaB73 said...

As a woman of mature years and a large bust, I often have to think what top I am going to wear to church, especially if I don't want to embarass the priest when I get communion - a handy scarf is always a help! Some of the scarves the muslim women wear are very pretty and cover what could be an embareesing area! Not that I am in favour of hiding my whole body away but modest clothing is more attractive than a lot of flesh on display. And I think it says more about who we are as people. Thanks for the links to the clothing sites and I love the swimsuits. I already like to buy a swimsuit with a 'little' skirt on and feel more comfortable wearing that.