In the last day of so, i have seen the phrase and hashtag, “Christian Cleavage” showing up all over the internet and so, being a curious guy, went to take a look at what my extended family is up to this time.
Turns out it all started [was re-ignited?] when an apparently prominent Christian blogger, Jarrid Wilson, wrote a blog post titled, ‘The Problem with Christian Cleavage’ that apparently caused so much controversy and mayhem that he quickly took it down, tweaked it a little and replaced it with the new version titled ‘The Importance of Modesty and Self-Control.’
This is not a new topic in the church. ‘Girls coming to church with their boobs hanging out’ has been debated probably from the time Adam sent Eve out to the nearest fig tree for ‘a quick shop’.
This is something i have had a fairly strong opinion on for a fairly long time, but knowing how minefieldy [it’s a word!] a topic this is, have tended to wait until it blows over – the people on both sides of this heated conversation can get quite animated and pointy.
IN THE LEFT CORNER
Jayson D Bradley’s ‘Christian Cleavage probably isn’t the problem’ which was reposted on Relevant Magazine was the first article i found, subtitled ‘Our talks about modesty break down when we assume the worst of everyone.’ Typically this has been largely the stance of women on the matter, feeling the need [often merited] to have to stand up for themselves. And there is so much truth in this.
Jayson ends his article with three points which he briefly extrapolates:
Some of Church’s teaching on the topic can be drawn out to send the wrong message when we tell both men and women that:
1. Men can’t be responsible for their behaviour.
2. There’s something shameful about women’s bodies.
3. Sexuality is the most important issue in the world.
Taken to a broader perspective than simply what women wear to church, this conversation spills over into the even more significant one that was all over social media last year when the #YesAllWomen tag and movement gained a lot of attention and focus. Concepts like Rape Culture and slut shaming and the need for a deeper understanding in areas where women have often ended up feeling like the perpetrators rather than the victims when crimes have been committed against them. [Questions like “What was she wearing?” and statements such as, “She had been drinking too much” making it seem as if the woman was somehow responsible for being raped]
Rachel Held Evans deals with this side of what has been dubbed ‘Modesty Culture’ really well in her post, ‘Modesty: I don’t think it means what you think it means’ summing up the church issue side of it well when she writes,
We know what it’s like to be told over and over and over again by red-faced preachers that our legs, our breasts, our curves, our bodies have the bewitching power to “make our brothers stumble.” So it is our responsibility to cover them up, to dress modestly to “please our brothers” by keeping them on the path of righteousness.
She even puts a very different spin on it, reminding us once again how the church likes to elevate certain issues or sins above others and harp on certain things while leaving others [often more mentioned things] largely untouched:
In fact, nearly all of the Bible’s instructions regarding modest clothing refer not to sexuality, but rather materialism (Isaiah 3:16-23, 1 Timothy 2:9-12, 1 Peter 3:3). Writers in both the Old Testament and New Testament express grave concern when the people of God flaunt their wealth by buying expensive clothes and jewelry while many of their neighbors suffered in poverty. (Ironically, I’ve heard dozens of sermons about keeping my legs and my cleavage out of sight, but not one about ensuring my jewelry was not acquired through unjust or exploitive trade practices—which would be much more in keeping with biblical teachings on modesty.)
There is so much truth in what these and other people are saying and quite possibly the loudest Truth on this topic that does need to be spoken and understood and taken seriously. BUT the essence of it leads to the conclusion, stated or not, that guys are ‘the bad guy’ and that it is ALL about guys sorting themselves out and letting women wear whatever the flip they want to.
IN THE RIGHT CORNER
The other side of the argument, i saw demonstrated in this piece by Jennifer Leclaire, titled ‘Why do so many ‘Born-again’ ‘Spirit-filled’ Women show off Cleavage in Church?’ This side of the argument is typically held up by men as it focuses on women needing to be the ones dressing modestly and not ‘causing their Christian brother’s to stumble.’
Crosswalk.com had another article similarly titled, ‘Why Do So Many Women Show Off Cleavage in Church?’ and while this one is written by a guy [could not find his name] it is framed as being a piece brought up by his wife.
Jennifer frames her opinion on the topic in the traditional way of looking at the effect that women’s choices have on the poor, struggling men around them:
Paul instructed Timothy that women should “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation” (1 Tim. 2:9), and he told the church at Corinth that “our unpresentable parts have greater modesty” (1 Cor. 12:23). Regardless of how hot it is outside or how busy we are, there’s no justification for Spirit-filled women to come to church wearing clothes that cause some men to pay more attention to the things of the flesh than the things of the Spirit.
The second article quotes a previous piece by Sharon Hodde Miller in which she comes up with three possible ways of looking at the issue in a way which doesn’t shame women, but still invites them to be aware of and acting on the issue to some measure:
How do we discuss modesty in a manner that celebrates the female body without objectifying women, and still exhorts women to purity? The first solution is to dispense with body-shaming language. Shame is great at behavior modification, even when the shaming is not overt. But shame-based language is not the rhetoric of Jesus. It is the rhetoric of his Enemy.
Second, we must affirm the value of the female body. The value or meaning of a woman’s body is not the reason for modesty. Women’s bodies are not inherently distracting or tempting. On the contrary, women’s bodies glorify God. Dare I say that a woman’s breasts, hips, bottom, and lips all proclaim the glory of the Lord! Each womanly part honors Him. He created the female body, and it is good.
Finally, language about modesty should focus not on hiding the female body but on understanding the body’s created role. Immodesty is not the improper exposure of the body per se, but the improper orientation of the body. Men and women are urged to pursue a modesty by which our glory is minimized and God’s is maximized. The body, the spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God, we display the height of immodesty.
i do believe there is some truth in what these and other people are saying. BUT the essence of it leads to the conclusion, stated or not, that women are ‘the bad guy’ and that it is ALL about women sorting themselves out and doing everything they can to ensure that men don’t stumble.
THE BIG BUT
i have stood in the sidelines of this online debate for months, maybe even years. Because i know that taking either one of these sides and holding to it strongly is likely to get you shamed with a ‘How dare you make this all about us?’ from the women if you’re supporting ‘Modesty Culture’ and an equally scathing, ‘What a lousy Christian you are!’ if you fly the ‘Women, wear whatever you want,and men stop being such sexual deviants!’ flag.
But i haven’t been happy.
i haven’t felt that either side has gotten it particularly right.
Because for the most part, it feels like opinions from either side are delivered to a large extent in a manner which comes across very much like, “I’m right and you’re a dick if you think the opposite!”
The extremes are quite extreme on this, and i haven’t read too much that falls closer to some kind of third way, or a call upon both men and women to step up to the plate.
To be honest, i have heard a lot of ‘Me!’
And therein, i believe lies the problem. Or a huge part of it.
Let me state that i do inherently believe the problem is with the guy. i should be able to control myself. It should not be up to the women to have to dress safely so that i don’t stumble. The problem is typically not the women’s. It is the guy who has the struggle.
But having acknowledged that, perhaps as the woman who understands and gets that the issue and problem belongs to the guy, there is a way of responding in Love that sounds a little bit different from, ‘Well you should really just sort yourself out then.’
Perhaps, as someone who recognises a problem in someone else, there is something i can do, as an act of love, to make it easier for them. And this is the point that i have failed to see expressed much if at all.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul deals with the very real at the time issue of eating food that had been offered to idols. What is interesting to note is how the chapter begins:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
His opinion on the topic is absolute. Food offered to idols is not an issue. It’s not a sin. It is absolutely okay. But then on top of that, he makes provision for someone who may struggle in the area, introducing it with this key line:
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
The eating of the food is not the issue, but if you are are in the presence of someone who is weaker and doesn’t get that that is the case, then choosing to stay away from the meat is the most loving thing you can do.
If i am an alcoholic, then the problem is mine. It’s not your problem, it’s not your issue and you should not be blamed for me being an alcoholic. The fact that you choose to drink should not be in any way responsible for me drinking or not. But, if you know that i struggle with alcohol, then surely a loving act, when you invite me round for a meal, would be to not serve alcohol. Not because you have the problem, but because i have the problem, and you are aware of it, and want to love me well by choosing to not even create the smallest bit of temptation.
This feels like the same thing.
To conclude that the problem is with the guy, so i will wear whatever i want, does not feel to me like a loving response.
To get so heated about this topic, whichever side of it you stand on, and be calling the other side names of any type, instead of having some open and honest conversation and really trying to listen to and hear what the other person is saying, feeling, experiencing, also does not feel to me like a very loving response.
And after all, that is the undebatable command – you will be known by the love you have for each other.