Bad Preacher's Wife

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Let’s talk about… No more Virginity!

I was 14 years old when I had my first had my innocent views about my youth group shattered. I was two states away from home, sleeping in a cabin with a very small group of High School girls. The talk was cute and revealing to begin with: who had dated whom and kissed whom when. Some talk about cheating- which I thought would be the most shocking part of the evening. And sneaking off during worship service! And then:

“Yeah, we did everything but have sex.”

Young me blinked. What? What did that mean?What else could there be between kissing and sex? I mean… after kissing you either stopped or had sex, right?

I didn’t know what it meant but it turned my stomach.

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A Response: The Bikini Question

Disclaimer: I am to understand from the comments below that the author of the post, Rachel Clark, is a young woman- perhaps a teenager or young twenty-something and, like me, a member of the church of Christ. While at times I do take issue with her exact wording and examples my real worry is the teaching behind the article and the attitudes and cultural influence that shapes these issues and is clearly seen in the perspective we are given.

Recently I read this article by a sister in Christ about the problems that bikinis, and by extension, immodesty presents to our young people. While I believe her to be sincere in her appeal to young women, I found the article itself and many of the mindsets it presents to be problematic and quite troubling.

The article, like most words on the subject I heard and read growing up, approaches the issue of modesty for women from a perspective that has very little to do with young women and their hearts, souls or confidence, instead framing the need for modesty as an entirely external matter.

Here are four reasons why this method of teaching about modesty is problematic.

1) It is Shame-Based teaching

There are a number of reasons shame-based teaching is not only extremely problematic but against biblical teaching. Never do we see shame or fear used by Jesus, the apostles or in the epistles to communicate the God’s Word- so how dare we use it to do so?

So often it is common for the language we use in discussing not only the human body but in particular the female body (and female sexuality) to be shameful. Women are disparaged, blamed, ridiculed and made to feel put down not only because of their gender because of their bodies and sexuality. This could not be farther from the biblical model of teaching! Christians are told, yes, to control their desires (of all kinds) and not to let their desires control them but never are they shamed for having those desires. Nor are we to feel shame for our bodies – men and women’s relations with one another are written about very frankly in the epistles and elsewhere those relationships are celebrated! Sexuality and the female body are celebrated in the Song of Songs/ Song of Solomon and sex in the proper context is clearly given as a gift from God!

Why, then, do we so often talk about our bodies and the bodies of others with such shame? Rachel Clark, the author of the article, is, she claims, “not insecure about [her] body” and assures us that “no one is forcing her to do anything.” By “anything”, we are to understand, we mean cover up. While that is good and nothing to be ashamed about the underlying views are worrying.

  • She has nothing to be ashamed of in regards to her body. Does this mean others should be ashamed of theirs?
  • Related: Mild fat shaming
  • Shaming women for tempting men
  • Treating female sexuality as a dangerous thing throughout

2) It contributes to Rape Culture

I’ll be clear on the front end here: Rape culture is the pervasive idea that women are the cause of rape. It is the idea that a woman’s dress, activities, attitude or location contribute her* rape. Obviously that is not Clark’s intention at all in her article, likely she would be offended by the very idea that her article may fall into this victim-blaming that contributes to Rape culture. But it does, unfortunately. Perpetuating rape culture is rarely a conscious decision by those who continue these stereotypes that women are the cause of other people’s violence upon them.

This idea is unfair to not only to women but also to men who are portrayed as those who cannot help themselves and must be saved from their baser natures. With this mindset every man is all just one opportunity away from being a rapist- he can’t help it! Men simply cannot control themselves! It, there for is up to women to responsible for the actions of the men around them.

Let’s try and put ourselves in a guy’s shoes. I think we can all agree that as girls, exercise is important to us…. We work out and stay away from sweets. We use all of our willpower to not eat the chocolate cake on the counter! Now, let’s pretend that someone has picked up that chocolate cake and followed us around all the time, 24/7. We can never get away… it’s always right there, tempting us and even smelling all ooey gooey and chocolate-y. Most of us, myself included, would find it easy to break down and eat the cake. And we would probably continue to break down and eat the cake because it would always be there…. This is how I imagine it is for guys. Girls walk around all the time with barely any clothes on at the beach or pool! Guys can never get a break from it, even if they’re trying… So really, how hard is it not to wear a bikini?

Comparing women or teenaged girls to ooey-gooey chocolate cake is, to put it mildly, disgusting. Not because I’m a chocolate-hater, far from it, but because it takes female sexuality and frames it as something that is unhealthy, to be avoided, that is inflicted upon men and that, most troublingly, is also so tempting that it is perfectly understandable if one “breaks down” and partakes of it.

In no way am I saying that Clark is advocating or even implying violence against women here. Not at all. She is almost certainly thinking of sexual lust and nowhere in the text does violence intentionally spring up. But this image that is put forward- of something so delicious, yes, any normal person would “break down” and just devour it without a thought is very problematic when used in this light. It is language and examples like this that teach and reinforce the idea that women and their bodies are a problem. Not only are they shameful but they are, in a word, sinful. Tempting. And it is a woman’s own fault if something – anything- happens as a result of not properly secreting her body away.

In fact- the language used here is that women are “following around” the men, “never [giving them] a break from it,” like a stalker tempting him with her “chocolate cake” at every turn.

In essence – Asking For It.

And no one is asking for it. Ever. Women and girls get raped every day wearing short skirts, long dresses, cargo pants, V-necks, T-shirts, turtlenecks, burkas. And it’s not just women, men and boys are victims of rape every day. Their rapes are severely underreported but that makes them no less real. Rapes occur every day at any time and in any place. Rapists can be male or female of any orientation. Rape isn’t about sex or temptation. It’s about power. And it is always the Rapists’ fault.

We need to be conscious of these things and the language we use- because what it communicates may be contributing to a culture, an idea that we hate and we would never intentionally support.

(Edit: Some of the well-meaning commenters on the post reinforce these ideas of women at fault and stereotypes, blaming women rape and for being “too attractive”.)

3) This is not the way the Bible addresses modesty – or temptation

“[Modesty is] a God-given responsibility” (last paragraph)

“Why [do I not wear bikinis]? Because I am making a sacrifice for the guys around me.”

Perhaps this idea of “sacrificing for my brothers in Christ” is the extra motivation some young women need not to buy or wear that Bikini they desire. And it is possible that Clark is writing to address these young women. But it is not, in truth, the reason we should be presenting to these young women. Though sacrificing your wants, needs and time for your brothers and sisters in Christ is an attribute we should encourage in our youth and teens- it is an inherently problematic way to address the issue of modesty in our young women.

Why? Because it simply isn’t a correct Biblical teaching.

What do we know about the command for Modesty?

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. I. Peter 3:3-4

likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. I Timothy 2:9-10

What do we see here? Do not dress with braids, gold, pearls or proper attire… we can do whole posts about this, but most commentaries agree this was both encouragement to stand out as different, to not have the appearance of temple prostitutes but instead to be known and behave as women of god, with Good works and beauty from within.

These are the two most explicit verses on modesty- others that touch the subject are Levitical commands about it and others commends for wives about their marriage. What does this mean for the author’s arguments above? What is modesty? Something you do because it is commanded of you, the woman. It is a gentle and quiet spirit. It is being set-apart in the way you dress and present yourself.

What isn’t it? A responsibility to men.

Modesty is a command of the heart that flows outward to the life and body of a person. It is entirely about the woman. Now that’s not to say modesty is not a trait for men. For example, in I Timothy 2:8 it is commanding men to lift up their hands in prayer. Should women not pray? Of course they should! He was directing specific comments to men and then women dependent on their situation.

The other problem with this articles’ premise of women covering themselves for men as a God-given responsibility is that- that’s not how sin works!

Let’s look at James chapter 1:14-15

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Should Christians be aware of the needs of their brothers and sisters? Of course they should! Should se sacrifice for them? Absolutely! But the fallacy that women are responsible (the implication here is solely responsible) for the sin of men goes directly against the word of God. There is always a choice. It is up to us to make the right choice or cross the line into sin. And we can’t blame anyone else for our decision. Whether we struggle with sexual lust, with anger, with theft, with alcoholism… we are always responsible for ourselves.

And to say otherwise is just plain false.

Is it our responsibility to help brothers and sisters in christ not to sin? Absolutely. But we cannot be held responsible when they fail.

4) This style of teaching severely limits what our young women (and young men) can learn spiritually.

We have seen over the past few decades the dangers of pushing to motivate our youth though a litany of negatives and scare tactics. “Don’t drink”, “Don’t swear”, “Don’t have sex”… each of these has failed in the extreme. When we give our youth a checklist of “Don’t” to live by or we present them with consequences as prevention- we severely limit what they can do.

While there are a number of explicitly forbidden things in the New Testament, and the bible as a whole, the message of the church and the message of Jesus is not a message of consequences. It is a message of choice: the choice to live differently, to choose Jesus over the world, to change your life for Him.

Living that choice, as a Christian, is complex and requires daily consideration of how best we can reflect Christ in our lives. Simplistic mantras of “What Would Jesus Do”, “Remember: Modest is Hottest”, “Your virginity is a gift- you only get to open it once!” may be helpful for temporary inspiration or reminders, but they cannot hold under the weight of daily struggles, questions and temptations. And when we teach our youth to hold to a teaching phrase or a consequence as their motivation, we loose so much power and loose the opportunity to teach them complexly and challenge them so that they can face life after high school with confidence. They cannot do that if they have been living by man-made mantras, fear tactics or shame. In fact- these strategies will backfire!

These young people will leave home and within their first four years out of the house they will meet people and hear new perspectives- people telling them they do not have to be ashamed of their bodies! That they do not have to live in fear! That people will love them if they “mess up” and, in fact, those phrases they’ve clung to through their youth are two-dimensional and childish.

And the teens will listen.

And they will fall away.

They do not have to. Just like with sin- it is always their choice. For all those who will fall away (approximately 7 or 8 out of 10), some will hole on to their faith. Others will return to it, one day.

But we can change our views and we can change our thinking now. We can empower these teens by telling them the truth.

And the Truth? Will set them free.

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