Friday, April 6, 2007


There are things that I find very disturbing when I look at Christianity these days, specifically the peculiar, evangelical fundamentalist variety that is so very popular in America at the moment. Case in point, the Modesty Survey. I’m familiar with the sort of mentality that brings us to the Modesty Survey. I grew up in a church where high school girls weren’t allowed to wear tank tops on missions trips, even the ones that were in, say, the Painted Desert in Arizona. It’s somehow built around the idea that it’s inappropriate. The specific language in the survey is that it’s a “stumbling block,” making it a very holy(er than thou) look at a passage from Romans 14. In short, Paul was talking about eating food sacrificed to idols, and said that some couldn’t handle the idea, so it was best to try not to be a stumbling block The only problem is that in Romans 14:12, Paul states, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” Later, in 20-22, he says, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” It’s not a commandment from on high. Paul says that it’s good to not be a stumbling block, but that ultimately everyone has to deal with God on his (her) own terms. The Modesty Survey is the exact opposite of the spirit of Romans 14. Beyond clothing, it delves in to the fact that girls shouldn’t be allowed to stretch or lie down on the floor because that, too is a “stumbling block.” The basic message is that outside of a very restrictive set of rules, anything that a girl does can and will cause the guys around her to “stumble” in to lust. And if that happens, it’s her fault. It’s that exact mentality that led to the burqa in Muslim societies. I’m sure the irony is lost on the Modesty Survey folks. Somehow I have a hard time believing that God would buy, “Well, she was wearing a tank-top,” as an explanation for why I did something lustful. In fact, I think God would get pissed at me for my actions. I imagine any argument I could make would be the equivalent of a rapist standing in court and saying to the judge, “C’mon, she was asking for it.” It’s a weak argument that blames the victim. Now, the weird thing here is that apparently girls were a big part in the creation of this thing. I’m assuming that it comes from that very tight interpretation of the whole, “Don’t be a stumbling block,” thing. It also doesn’t surprise me on a meta level, given the general misogyny of the Christian right (“On the other hand, Ashley continued, a sure-fire way to land a ‘godly Christian guy’ is to tell him you want to home-school your children. ‘He'll be smitten,’ she said confidently.” This quote courtesy of “All God’s Children,” an article in the New York Times a couple of years ago on Biola. It pretty much sums up for me the gender politics in Christian fundamentalism/evangelicalism, but that’s a story for another day). Now, these are teenagers, so I can’t expect too much critical thinking of these issues quite yet (I’m only starting to reason through these things at 25 and I had a head start in that I went to public schools from kindergarten through Western Illinois University. I was also taught at home that there was no higher goal than to think for myself and work out my own beliefs instead of following the crowd. Such thinking is often lacking in the variety of Christianity of which I currently speak). Anyway, there’s a large issue wrapped up in all of this. It goes beyond simple “modesty” in to who we should be responsible for when it comes time to stand before God (Philippians 2:12b: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” tends to be my key concept here). Beyond that, it goes in to the question of who should be responsible for me right now. If I start blaming the women around me for my problems, I’m not actually working on bettering myself, I’m working on judging them. I think that Jesus said it best here: Why do you look at the speck that is in your [sister’s] eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”(Luke 6:41) Besides, I know girls who are very modest and I’ve noticed that it seems to have very little effect on things. If guys are honest, they'll admit that it really doesn't matter. So I think my options are to advocate for burqas or work on myself. I think I know where I stand.

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