Every year at around this time of year, modesty always seems to become a hot topic in evangelical circles. Rachel Held Evans has written a piece about modesty over at the Q Ideas blog which is probably one of the finest you will read.
In today’s culture women, and Christian women in particular, are bombarded with mixed messages regarding their bodies. On the one hand, there is every advertisement in every magazine in every supermarket and every TV commercial on the face of the earth, which screams that women should work to please men by striving to become more sexually attractive. On the other hand, there is every preacher in every fundamentalist church who says that women should dress modestly in order to please their brothers by keeping them from stumbling into temptation. Between the message of pop culture and the message of the church, what women get is something like “Look cute–but not too cute! Be modest–but not frumpy!” It is an exhausting tightrope for women to have to walk, especially in light of constantly changing fashions and expectations.
But if you read the relevant verses pertaining to modesty, what you will find is that they don’t say anything about sexuality, i. e. how much or how little or what parts of a woman’s body she reveals. Instead, they deal with how expensive the clothes are that a woman is wearing. Translation: too much bling, rather than too much skin, is the issue here.
Biblical modesty is not about women managing the sexual impulses of the men around them, either by dressing to attract or dressing to keep them on the straight and narrow. Instead it is about men being accountable for their own sexual desires and how they act on them. When Jesus says that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in her heart (Matthew 5:28), he does not give men the option of blaming it on the what the women were wearing. Instead he says in the very next verse, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out! Better to enter life blind than be thrown into hell with both eyes” (my paraphrase).