Thursday, March 03, 2005

Propriety, and This Concept of Modesty

I was talking to someone yesterday about Bible college and Christian bubbles and concepts like those, when we got on to the subject of modesty.

He spoke of a particular school he knew of where females were not allowed to wear any sort of a shirt exposing their shoulders. This, for guys, he said, made shoulders a sexualized body part, when they shouldn't be.

The concept of modesty is so complex. Paul of course instructed us in 1 Timothy 2: 9 and 10, "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God."

But braided hair is no longer considered immodest.

When I first started Bible college, in 1998, we weren’t allowed to wear tank tops that I can recall. Skirts had to be 2 inches above the knee or longer, shorts were to be mid-thigh at least, boys couldn’t wear earrings, no cleavage was to be shown, amongst other things. I didn’t have a problem with those rules, I had never worn those clothes before.

But other people had problems with those rules. People liked to push the envelope every year.

Eventually, we could wear tank tops. Eventually, boys could have earrings. By the time I finished college, what was once a rulebook morphed into a few pages of general guidelines.

Each decade, and even each year, brings with it new norms in fashion and acceptable levels of modesty. I think Christina and Britney helped bring it to a whole new level. Levels of modesty are constantly changing. Paul’s guidance only gives clear-cut levels acceptable for the time of writing.

When I was a youth intern, I remember giving a seminar at a camp the church’s youth group went to for a week. I gave two sessions of the seminar, one for junior high and one for senior high aged youth. The subject was modesty and appropriateness. It got quite heated.

I’ve worked at camps with a variety of different clothing rules… no tank tops, no halter tops, two finger strap rule, no cleavage, no bikinis, no tankinis, bathing suits worn with t-shirts, no stomachs showing, no short shorts, etc. etc.

In my head, what is acceptable is just so cut and dry in my head. There is no question to me about the fine line. I know what is acceptable.

I wonder why that is though. Is it because of the college system I started with? Is it because I was one of the rule makers at camp? Is it because I always had a high personal sense of modesty? That doesn't make me better than others, it just makes the concept of modesty, and being modest, easier for me. I wish it was easier, and understandable, for more.

I don’t understand why people have a problem with being modest. Why people fight modesty rules. Extreme rules, those I don’t understand. But general guidelines… come on, those are easy to follow.

Our culture teaches us that it’s okay to be immodest. It teaches us that that is the way to go. Especially for females. Men want to see all that flesh.

Paul didn’t give us cut and dry standards of what clothing is and isn’t acceptable, but he did however tell us that we should dress with "decency and propriety... with good deeds." That is what is appropriate for all who profess to worship God.

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