Not Ashamed of Modesty

Feminism constantly tells women we have no reason to be ashamed of our bodies, our desires, our gender, our career goals – of anything really. We can do and be whatever we want and nothing should hold us back. It sounds good in theory, but like many things humans do it can be taken to extremes.

Take the Women’s March from a few weeks ago as an example. If you want to march around with what one blogger I follow delicately called a pink taco on your head I won’t stop you. But those of us who don’t do things like that aren’t any less “women” than you are, nor are we less interested in being treated with dignity, respect, and equality. In fact, that’s a big reason we express our notions of feminism (and femininity) in different ways.

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Today, I’m going to take society’s claim that there’s no need to feel shame about the kind of woman you are to heart and say I’m not ashamed of modesty. Depending on your background this word may have provoked a strong reaction. Perhaps you think modesty is a repressive, old-fashioned list of rules telling women how not to dress and act. Or maybe you think modesty sounds safe – a way to hide from attention you don’t want any more. But modestly is about so much more than a set of rules for covering yourself up. It’s more powerful and – dare I say it? – sexy than we often think.

Let’s start with a working definition of modesty: Modesty is concealing what you do not want everyone to know or see so that you can reveal yourself only to someone you trust. It’s typically associated with the idea of sex and how much skin you show, but it has to do with other things as well. For example, you might also exercise modesty by not calling undue attention to yourself or by reserving certain parts of your personality for people you know well. Continue reading

Balancing Views On Singleness and Marriage

Most modern Christian churches develop a culture that prioritizes marriage. We know marriage is a good thing and that it’s part of God’s plan for humanity. Marriage pictures the union between Christ and His church. Beyond the spiritual aspects, it’s also held-out to young people as a sort of “prize” for listening to what the Bible says about purity pre-marriage.

Since we think of marriage as such a good thing, we think of the opposite as something negative. Western culture is, on the whole, very binary. If something is good, the opposite is bad. Our minds don’t naturally consider that both could be good in the proper context. With this mindset, singleness is treated as less-desirable and if a single person doesn’t want to marry we think there’s “something wrong” with them. But is this really how God views things?

Seeking Balance

It’s a safe bet all my Christian readers know of the verses discussing marriage in a positive light. The marriage relationship was established at creation and in the New Testament Paul connects it to Christ and the church (Gen. 2:18-24; Eph. 5:22-32). Proverbs 18:22 maintains that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing.” Marriage is certainly seen as a good thing in the Bible. I’m not disputing that and I still hope someday to get married. But I think we make a mistake if we assume marriage’s goodness makes being single a bad thing. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Men and Leadership

When people in the Christian churches talk about gender roles, it often ends up being a discussion about women and submission. If you’ve been keeping up with these discussions even a little, you’ve surely learned that good Christian women should view their role as a blessing. You’ve been told that submission isn’t a dirty word, but rather part of God’s ordained order for the church and the family. When we submit, we’re following the example of Jesus Christ and putting ourselves under His authority.

Even though I still hear ministers joke about how discussing submission will get them in trouble, I actually talk with very few women in the churches today who haven’t embraced, or at least acknowledge, the value of being a virtuous woman with a meek and gentle spirit. We might disagree on exactly what it looks like and we all still have much to learn about being a godly woman (though it really should be simple — a godly woman is a woman who’s following God), but we have a pretty good idea what our gender role is.

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photo credit: “Father and son” by Lisa Williams, CC BY via Flickr

We talk about men’s roles in the church far less often. Women hear “submission is a good thing. It’s not always easy but it’s part of God’s plan and sometimes you just have to do it.” But how often do men hear, “leadership is a good thing. It’s not always easy but it’s part of God’s plan and sometimes you just have to do it”?

I wonder if one reason we over look this is because we don’t understand why they might not want to take on their role as head, lover, provider, and protector. Why wouldn’t men want to be the ones in charge? Isn’t it much easier to “love your wife” than “submit to your husband”? They should be thankful they get to be leaders in the family, that they’re the ones who hold public ministry positions. After all, that’s the role everyone wants. That’s why we have to talk about submission for woman so much, because otherwise she’d be trying to steal man’s role, right?

But don’t men try to steal woman’s role as well? Or, to phrase it differently, aren’t both gender’s tempted to shirk the responsibilities God has given us and avoid living up to His expectations? Continue reading

The Church Isn’t Ruining Your Love Life

This past week, Boundless.org shared two posts related to Joshua Harris and courtship culture on their Facebook page. One was an NPR interview with Harris and the other was a link to Harris’ call for feedback on the ways I Kissed Dating Goodbye has affected you. It’s a popular topic, since so many people in the churches blame courtship culture for problems in their relationships and hurt in their lives. They say the church’s attitude towards dating and courtship made them feel ashamed of their bodies and their sexual desire, that it set up intimidating expectations for relationships, and it is why they’re still single (or, for some, unhappily married).

The complaints aren’t all directed at courtship culture, either. Another article I saw this week was published by Relevant Magazine and didn’t mention courtship at all. How Christians Ruin Dating is specifically addressing ways that singles in the church feel their fellow Christians are ruining their dating lives. There’s too much obsession with romance, too much gossiping about couples, too much emphasis on marriage. We just need to chill, they argue.

For those of us who are single young adults in the church, there’s no denying that the culture we grew up in influences how we view dating and relationships. But we’re also grown-ups and it’s time to stop blaming the church for all our relationship problems and take responsibility for the choices we’re making. We can’t keep using the argument “Christians ruin dating” as an excuse for not finding relationships. Courtship culture, church gossips, the pressure to get married … those don’t keep us from finding a spouse. We do that when we use the problems surrounding Christian dating as an excuse to not ask someone out, or to turn someone down when they ask us out, or to sabotage potential relationships. Continue reading

Transgenderism: So Much More Than A Bathroom Debate

I’m late to the topic of Target and Transgenderism, but at least that gives me the benefit of seeing how the Christian boycott and other reactions are playing out. To date, the AFA boycott pledge has 1,301,411 signers and American Thinker estimates the boycott has directly cost Target upwards of $9 million (though Target’s CEO denies this).

Describing the boycott as “Christian” isn’t entirely accurate, though. There’s been plenty of mixed reactions within the faith as well, ranging from extreme to apathetic to somewhere in between. We have a Bible-waving woman walking through Target yelling, “Are you gonna let the devil rape your children?” and a straight, conservative preacher’s wife still shopping at Target. There’s no consensus even here.

Transgenderism: So Much More Than A Bathroom Debate

While I don’t like the idea of a man walking into my bathroom, I think the whole transgendered bathroom debate is distracting from a larger issue. Society treats transgenderism as a lifestyle choice, but it’s not. It’s a mental disorder, and pretending this is a civil rights issue rather than a psychological one robs people of the help and support they need. Continue reading

Behaviors, Boundaries and Bromance

Is what we consider appropriate behavior and boundaries as Christians based on the Bible, or on our culture?

Clearly, it’s a little of both. We avoid plain “thou shalt nots” (e.g. the culture says sex is great in many contexts; we teach sex is only appropriate in the type of marriage God set up in the garden of Eden), yet we tend to go with what’s culturally appropriate in how we interact with others (e.g. in Western churches we don’t “greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” though Paul and Peter both tell their readers to).

Part of this makes perfect sense. You don’t dress exactly like people did in Bible times because 1) you can’t find ankle-length robes for everyday wear in stores, 2) clothing designed for a Middle Eastern climate isn’t practical world-wide, and 3) these styles would be considered inappropriate or even immodest in some cultural contexts. So we apply the principle of dressing modestly rather than trying to recreate Biblical fashion.

But what about other topics? How much should we go with what is culturally appropriate verses what is traditionally appropriate in Christian communities?

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Brotherly Affection

After my brother came back from teen camp, I learned that a pastor’s wife was concerned about the hand-holding, arms around shoulders, and hugging going on between the young men at camp. She was especially worried by the use of the term “bromance,” and how the teens’ behavior might be seen in light of the recent Supreme Court decision.

I understand why this upsets adults who have seen their culture change from “men don’t have feelings” to one that encourages male expression of emotion and accepts homosexuality (two things not necessarily related, except in this sort of discussion). I know why young men expressing affection for their guy friends scares middle aged and older adults. I’m just not sure God shares their fears.

Then he [Joseph] fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him.(Gen 45:14-15)

Similar scenes play out when Esau and Jacob are reunited (Gen. 33:4), when Joseph sees his father again (Gen. 46:29), when the Prodigal son returns (Luke 15:20), and when Paul says good-bye to the Ephesians elders (Acts 20:36-37). Now, you might say they just got swept away in emotional reunions or partings and that this wasn’t common among friends and brothers, but what about this scene?

When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.

Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:21-23)

Obviously Jesus wasn’t doing anything wrong — He never sinned! Yet if our young men in the church lean against each other at a supper table, we lecture them on the evils of “bromance.” We make a digression every time we teach on 1 Samuel 20 to explain that David and Jonathan weren’t gay and that there’s nothing wrong with close friendships between guys, but then we lecture young men who have close friends? Talk about mixed signals!

Now, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to interact with other people, but we can’t just make the blanket statement that the Bible forbids physical expressions of affection between two men (or two women, but we have fewer examples to draw from and “besties” aren’t my topic right now). I think we do our young people a grave disservice when we imply that there’s something unnatural about their friendships and make no effort to teach them how to express affection as men and as women. Just saying, “That’s bad, so don’t do it” isn’t going to work – touch is too important as a bonding mechanism among humans and there simply isn’t a Biblical basis for putting distance like that between friends.

Men and Women

All that being said about affection in friendships, there are stricter rules governing the interactions between men and women. I do think it is possible for men and women to be “just friends,” but the closer male and female friends get (physically or emotionally), the harder it is to keep the friendship casual. God created men and women to be attracted to each other — the very first human relationship was a romantic one (Gen. 2:18-24).

I find it interesting that in Genesis 20, when Abimelech takes Sarah away from Abraham thinking she is his sister, that God tells Abimelech in a dream, “I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her” (Gen 20:6). While this Hebrew word can euphemistically mean “to lie with a woman,” it’s not the typical word used for sex in the bible. Rather, it’s the word used to command Adam and Eve not to touch the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:3). For Abimelech, just touching another man’s wife would have been sin even though he did it in ignorance.

Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)marissabaker.wordpress.com

Though I appreciate the fact that we now live in a culture where I can give my guy friends a quick hug when I see them or put a hand on their shoulders in comfort, I think perhaps we have reacted so strongly against the whole courtship idea of “never touch someone of the opposite sex” that boundary lines are becoming blurred.

More and more often at church events, I’m seeing guys and girls hanging on each other, sitting in each other’s laps and cuddling. Some of this is more than is even culturally acceptable among people who are “just friends,” and it confuses people when you try to explain you’re not in a romantic relationship (sometimes, it even confuses one of the two people involved in the friendship). I see no evidence that the Bible encourages or permits unrelated men and women to be as affectionate toward one another as they would be with their male or female friends.

Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity. (1 Tim. 5:1-2)

Notice that not only should we treat our brethren as family, but that we should do so “with all purity.” The woman in Song of Solomon wishes her beloved were seen by others as her brother so she could show him affection in public (Song. 8:1-2) — implying we can show our relatives a level of affection that would be inappropriate among friends and brethren (just as there are things you don’t do with your friends or siblings because they progress to a deeper level of intimacy only allowed in marriage).

Physical touch implies a certain level of intimacy, and different touches belong to different levels of closeness. I use this in my fiction writing all the time — a touch on the arm signals two people are comfortable with each other, an arm around the shoulder is a more intimate boundaries-invading touch that you don’t let just anyone do, hands on someone’s waist or lower back is even closer, and touching someone’s face is extraordinarily intimate (in writing romantic scenes, this often accompanies a kiss). We need to be aware of what our touch is communicating to people — both those we’re interacting with, and those observing us.

Judging What’s Right

In addition to the explicit and implied Biblical guidelines for interacting with same-sex and opposite-sex friends, there are a few other principles we need to consider.

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thes. 5:21-22, KJV)

We’re not supposed to do things that appear evil or may be perceived as sin, even if we think it’s right and acceptable —  “do not let your good be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16). Let’s say you’re a young person and you know in your heart that hugging and cuddling with your best friend is part of a pure, godly relationship. But what do you do if several people confront you about it, saying that it appears wrong and it’s causing other young people to stumble?

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Rom. 14:13)

The freedom we feel knowing we did nothing immoral isn’t always enough. If it’s a question of whether or not to follow a clear command, then we always “ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). But if it’s a case of something being permitted rather than commanded, we have to think about how it impacts others.

There’s nothing “wrong” with a group of close male friends sharing hugs and acting closer than brothers. There’s nothing “wrong” with two female friends sharing a close, affectionate relationship. There’s nothing “wrong” with a woman greeting her brother in Christ with a chaste hug. But all these things can have a hurtful affect if we’re not careful. Just as a couple examples, how do our relaxed boundaries in female friendships affect women struggling with homosexual desires? how does a girl’s feeling that it’s okay to give her guy friends long hugs play with their emotions (or vice versa)? how do “bromances” affect the members of Christ’s body who are offended by the casual play on words?

It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Rom. 14:21-23)

God is watching to see why we do what we do. He’s looking for faith, purity of heart, and a concern for how our actions affect other people. This might be as simple as young men avoiding the word “bromance,” two girls putting an arm around each other’s shoulders instead of sitting in each others laps, or guys and girls giving each other quick hugs instead of an embrace. Or it might require more thoughtfulness and self-examination about how your boundaries and behaviors are affecting other people, and yourself.

What do you think are appropriate expressions of affection between Christians?

marissabaker.wordpress.comCredits: Background picture for the images used in this post by Hernán Piñera, CC BY-SA via Flickr.