I Still Don’t Understand Religious “Modesty”

Perhaps it is just something peculiar to my neurodiverse brain (probably), but religious “modesty” practices are nonsensical. Why is an ankle-length skirt “modest”? Is an exposed calf that alluring? And why is such skirt a “modesty” when the presence of the ass is still known and the form of the breasts is still evident? The reality is that there is no universal anatomic feature that captivates every man. As is best known, there are “ass men” and “tits men” and yet this is absolutely too reductionist. Men are likewise captivated by crotches (not just by camel toe either), thigh gap, exotic hair, full lips, glam makeup, tight stomachs, elegant hands, stately shoulders, etc. If all sexuality were to be avoided then women would be reduced to wearing a burka and niqab, and that is as misogynist for its oppression as it is misandrist for its casting all men as mouth-breathing brutes. As so many endeavors of fallible humans, “modesty” expectations seem to be calibrated to behavior conformity rather than mentality, for as Scripture holds, man looks externally while God looks internally (1Sam 16:7 “But the LORD said unto Samuel, ‘Look not on his face, or on his stature because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart’.”). Just as every body type is different (endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph triangle, inverted triangle, hourglass, pear, column, etc, etc), so too “modesty” must be different for every person, bodily as much as mentally and emotionally. And this goes for men too where it is not just his ass that appeals universally to all women, but also robust shoulders, broad back, powerful thighs, chiselled jaw, penetrating eyes, disarming dimples, hairless/hairy chest, etc, etc.

The modest person does not achieve modesty by obscuring that which might attract or distract another, but rather by not emphasizing any feature with the intent of playing such feature to one’s advantage. In a congregational setting, the focus should be upon the Almighty so anything that draws attention to God’s creation rather than to the Creator is immodest, perhaps even idolatrous. After all, what human can take credit for beauty? There is a clear line between stewardship of our earthen vessels and vaingloriousness. This is not to say that a man or woman should avoid positive grooming and styling, but some healthy self-examination is in order. No, a person with physical disfigurement need not eschew measures to conceal burns any more than a mastectomy patient should forsake a prosthesis. At the same time, however, there remains a distinction between confidence and dependency. There is nothing shameful in availing oneself of such measures to restore one’s confidence, but all would agree that it is psychologically healthier to have self-confidence independently of the external. So the use of cosmetics is not a malum in se, but one should ask oneself why one feels a burden to embellish one’s appearance just because one is part of the front-and-center worship team (again, 1Sam 16:7). Indeed, while watching various YouTubes and Pandos, I do wish that male vocalists and musicians would apply some liquid foundation and translucent finishing powder to nix that oily T-zone glare, but Western culture says that men should be disconcerned with such things while women should be obsessive with such things. And anyone who transgresses these arbitrary delineations runs afoul of Skirts, Pants, and Deuteronomy 22:5.

Paradoxically, I agree that Christians should represent the Kingdom positively—why should the Almighty’s redeemed children live as if impoverished (Psalm 50:10)? At the same time, why should we who are to be characterized by love make a showing of excess when excess could be directed to almsgiving? Yet by another token, there are circumstances where a pricey gift is an appropriate gesture of love and appreciation for a spiritual leader (Mk 14:3, Jn 12:3). So can a preacher wear a designer suit? That is between him and God who knows the circumstances and the heart. Can an evangelist drive a luxury vehicle? That is also between her and God who knows the circumstances and the heart. Should we construct beautiful places of worship? I think so (Mt 6:22, Lk 12:34), but not to obsession (Mt 6:24, Lk 16:13).

During the corona hysteria I discovered one Tennessee church’s online stream and I couldn’t fathom how anyone allowed one vocalist to wear her particular cameltoe bluejeans on stage every week. Even at the risk of judging, I will say that her wardrobe and her body language STRONGLY communicated an unquenchable psychological need for attention (which was done with otherwise unassuming articles of clothing). Lately I have been watching a Texas church’s monthly worship nights and I am perplexed by the cosmetics. From a technical video production perspective, those men need to do something with their oily T-zones! From a metrosexual perspective, some of the older women seriously need some one-on-one MUA tutoring—cheekbone rouging ended in 1993! Hello, you’re fifty now, not twenty, and today one contours the cheek from ear to mouth. And one does not typically use color eyshadow as much now. Earth-tones are more the thing for routine application. I do not find their makeup conceited or offensive (retro-sad, yes) but it provokes a reflection on Mike Warnke’s joke, “Q: Well, just how much makeup should a Christian woman wear? A: I don’t know, it depends on her face!”

How we present ourselves reflects how we perceive ourselves as much as how we perceive our station. I am becoming more and more convinced that middle-of-the-road is where balance lies. Makedown is good for stage lighting and video recording, and I rather now grasp the utility of clerical and choral robes. Those who are front-and-center are performing a service.

One Reply to “I Still Don’t Understand Religious “Modesty””

  1. So this brings me to see a benefit to the traditional robes for front-and-center people. Or perhaps it’s like judicial robes where the robe symbolizes official acts and loss of individuality.So why not a “uniform” for stage staff? Like khaki pants and an embroidered polo? Just thinking out loud.

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