Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cultural Symbols Mean Things

So there I am sitting in Saint Louis University hospital's third floor surgical waiting room with a parishioner's family. You know the score: big surgery, long wait, annoying TV.

Said TV is always hard to ignore. Others round about are laughing at it, which causes one to look up from one's reading to see what was so funny. It was some sitcom from the Disney Network. A basic teen sitcom. Here is what I learned.

* Teenagers should have boyfriends and girlfriends.
* These boyfriends and girlfriends make out a lot.
* Women and girls of all ages wear very tight shirts. Some have long sleeves, some short, some plunging necklines, some plunging backlines. Such things are accidents, but the substance of the proper shirt according to this show is: tight.
* Men and boys, on the other hand, are fully and comfortably clothed.

The show was obviously meant to be disarming and cute. It was what our culture thinks of as safe and nice. It was supposed to put parents' minds at ease. Clean cut. Disney channel.

So that's our culture's version of tame and nice and disarming and cute. Women are to dress so that men can stare at their breasts with a minimum of fabric interference. A 13 year-old should have exclusive relationships with a member of the opposite sex and they should express affection for each other by kissing. Indeed, a kiss is met by that disembodied applause that some genius in mind-control invented back in the 1940's.

The symbol of the torso hugging shirt that leaves nothing to the imagination is ubiquitous in our culture. If a woman doesn't wear one, she's a prude or just down right odd (not unpretty or unshapely: women of less than idealized form are still required to paint on their blouses so as to be more easily judged). To not wear one is to opt out of the culture. To wear one is to join up.

Contemporary Worship advocates tell us that we must communicate with the culture, be relevant, etc. They encourage us to use the culture's symbols so that we might spread the Word. But do the symbols mean nothing on their own? Do they not, at a minimum, at least call to mind the rest of the culture's norms and implicitly approve them? Can you display a bunch of your congregation's young women on a stage dressed like the gals in TV shows and magazine covers and then feign surprise when all of the culture's hang ups about sex and the sexes steamroll into the Church?

Super Rockin', Super Hot Bands!!

Some LCMS Comparisons

Homer nods.

Advertise your coffee shop!!

Or church!

And now for something completely different. . .

O Cecilia, they're breakin' your heart....



  1. Nice cheap shot at Higher Things. I've come to expect nothing than the lowest common denominator snark on these pages, and they never fail to deliver.

    WM Cwirla
    Higher Things

  2. I'm sorry you see it at a cheap shot. It wasn't meant to be, and I don't see how it is. For example, I tagged it with "Homer nods" alluding to the proverb "Even Homer nods" meaning, "Even a genius makes a mistake now and then."

    HT is the best thing out there for Lutheran youth groups, bar none. The official LCMS apparatus is not even worth critiquing. HT is the Homer of youth group content providers - but even Homer nods. After my wife wrote an article for HT about modest dress for young ladies, she got more than one email in her inbox saying, "Nice article, but, um...what's up with the photos in HT then?"

    It's a good question.


  3. Yeah, it's especially humorous seeing as how you wrote an article for that issue, Curtis. Glad to see you use the reputation of your friends to boost your little blog. Class act, dude.

  4. I agree with the Cwirly-lama. Bad form to include Higher Things in the pics above. Higher Things stands decidedly against the trend in the church to embrace the culture. Having been to a plethora of youth conferences in my day, Higher Things doesn't even fit into the same category. You are not possibly going to argue that Higher Things is somehow contributing to the demoralization of our culture, are you? You should remove the pic and apologize, because it is impossible to scroll down through the pics above and not conclude that you are taking a cheap shot. And, Higher Things doesn't deserve it.

  5. I hope Higher Things isn't becoming like the self-important synodical bureaucracy that takes itself so seriously that any and all criticism - however gentle - is off-limits.

    I don't get the magazine, so I don't know how much HT emphasizes or addresses the issue of modesty (but I assume that it does). However, all Heath did was run the picture of the cover - unaltered.

    It is what it is.

    I think Heath is entitled to his opinion that he doesn't approve of the message being sent by the attire of the girls. Aren't we all free to make up our minds on that?

    I mean, if Heath's comments are unreasonable, it won't hurt HT's reputation. It will only make Heath look silly, right?

    If Heath had leveled charges or modified the picture, I would agree that he owes someone an apology. But Heath didn't do any such thing.

    Why should he apologize for running a picture of an HT cover - which speaks for itself?

  6. Speaking of self-importance is a classic Tu Quoque considering the source.

  7. I agree whole heartedly with the gist of the post - that there is a strong move towards highly immodest dress, especially amongst young gals. Also, I cannot speak to the pictures normally contained within Higher Things Magazine -- even having written bible studies for it (including the study for the modest dress article, I might add).

    That being said. . . um. . . looking at the cover -- I actually think the two layered outfit the gal on the left is rather smart. As for the gal on the right - eh, probably the striped shirt is a little much -- but trying to put that on the level of cosmo or 17 is a little much, especially as the outfit doesn't appear to be overly seductive. Apologetic, yes - but, eh.

  8. Why should he apologize for running a picture of an HT cover - which speaks for itself?

    Are the girls on that HT magazine cover dressed provocatively? Really?

    As someone who has three teenage daughters (19, 17, 15), I am all for promoting moderate dress. My girls know better than to think they're going to walk out of the house dressed like call girls. But, neither do I think it necessary, nor possible, to make them go out of their way to make sure that nobody possibly notices that they're girls. Newsflash: Guys is gonna notice no matter what! You fellas, being guys and all, should know that.

    Within the context of the article Heath wrote, and the pics he included for illustration, I don't think Higher Things belongs. I just looked through four HT magazines and, yeah, there may be a couple of pics of young ladies who could have made better choices in clothing, but, all in all, it is not some sleeze-fest. It doesn't belong in the same category with the other mags included above. And, HT in the same message which includes references and pics to "happy-clappy, get-down-with-Jesus" worship is rather absurd.

    Whether Heath wants to take down the pic and apologize is up to him. I'll still love him either way.

    What really bothers me, personally, is that things like this just serve to further the divide, which shouldn't even exist, between TGC and the HTC (Higher Things Crowd). Just like when a couple of HTC-ers went a little nuts about pics of rose vestments a while back. I was against them doing that then, just as I am against including HT in the article above. The bickering between those of us who do share a common confession of the faith is unfortunate and things like this, no matter how gentle a rebuke it was meant to be, just stirs the pot.

    But, who am I? Y'all do as you please.

  9. Gentlemen,

    Let's be clear about what my sins are supposed to be here.

    I didn't use terms such as "provocative." What I said, pretty clearly I think, was that our society encourages young women to dress is torso hugging clothing. I said that the church (specifically praise bands) does itself no good in aping this cultural dress.

    I stand by that. It's my opinion. You might think me a prude or a blue-law Puritan; you might feel sorry for my daughters who will be forced into clothing unlike the other girls in youth group are wearing - but there it is.

    Now, that being the case - how could I critique "them" (the praise banders) without also critiquing "us" for such dress when the 10 copies of HT that I get for my youth group (and for which my wife and I have occasionally written) every quarter also feature the same sort of dress?

    You can think I'm nuts or a prude - but I'm certainly not being unfair or taking cheap shots. I wanted to write a post critiquing the dress of praise bands, and in the midst of writing it I realized that that wouldn't quite be cricket unless I admitted that the critique applied to "us" too.

    And please see my first comment - I'm not alone in the readership of HT when it comes to this point. My wife wrote and HT printed an article in the Summer '08 issue about modest dress - and she received a few comments in her inbox expressing thanks for her words, but also noting a discrepancy between her words and the photos in HT.

    You can take all that exactly as far as you want to take it and with as much salt as you like as well. For me and my house, we'll keep using HT while continuing to also not check out critical faculties at the door.

    I'm happy to apologize, and hereby do so, for any unnecessary offense caused by the manner in which I made my point. Perhaps I should have written a post much more like this comment and directed it specifically at HT in this manner rather than putting it in as an aside in a post directed at praise bands. For unnecessary offense caused by the means, I'll take my lumps. But I stand by the point and the substance. I don't think the church does well to uncritically adopt any aspect of the culture, the dress of young women included.


  10. Dear Tom:

    I still don't see the problem. If the pictures are out of place and don't belong, then HT comes out smelling like a rose, doesn't it?

    Heath thinks the clothing worn by young girls (even among confessional Lutherans) is too immodest. Heath is entitled to his opinion. Since when does a man have to apologize for having an opinion that you or I might disagree with? Since when can't we disagree about stuff? Since when does someone have to apologize for holding a contrary opinion?

    Are we all just to tell Health he can have whatever opinions he wants, but is not allowed to express them if they are different than our own? That kinda defeats the purpose of blogging, and it's also the definition of political correctness.

  11. PS: Also, Tom, I would not worry about "crowd warfare." At least two of the Gottesdienst editors also write regularly for HT. It's not exactly the Hatfields and the McCoys.

  12. Heath,

    As a question, what is your line of demarcation between proper dress and improper dress. Is it that the shirts are shaped? Are clinging? Are sheer or thin? Draw attention? What makes something appropriate and something else not appropriate? And of the two gals on the HT cover, is one outfit appropriate and one not, or are both, in your opinion, too much.

    (As a note: I don't necessarily think you are prude -- I certainly hope any daughters I might have are blessed with my wife's utter dislike of clothes shopping and fashion - I am just interested in what you find the line of demarcation to be -- especially as in some of the praise band shots the gals clothing seems to be rather formless)

  13. Perhaps I should have written a post much more like this comment and directed it specifically at HT in this manner rather than putting it in as an aside in a post directed at praise bands.


    Yes, I think that would have been more appropriate. As an "aside," in the midst of the other mags and "praise bands," with no further commentary on why it was included, it rubbed me the wrong way. That's MY opinion. Feel free to differ till the cows come home.

    Since when does a man have to apologize for having an opinion that you or I might disagree with? Since when can't we disagree about stuff? Since when does someone have to apologize for holding a contrary opinion?


    Who said anyone HAD to apologize? I said I think Heath should apologize. That's my opinion. Am I not entitled to it?

    Look, I'm not trying to keep Heath or anyone else from expressing their opinions. I'm all for an open forum where people are free to express their opinions and hash them out with others who disagree. I wouldn't blog myself, or participate in the blogs of others, including yours, if I thought differently. I just happen to think that the HT cover, included in the context of Heath's article, was out of place. And, if it offended the president of HT (and others, like me), removal of the pic and an apology would be a good way to remove the offense. You are more than welcome to disagree.

    It's not exactly the Hatfields and the McCoys.

    Good. Maybe we should try to keep it that way. :)

  14. Tom,

    Thanks for your comments - while we don't quite agree on this one, you're respectful and forthright as always.

    I think your uneasiness about the posting of the HT cover alongside the other pictures is a bit of an admission that my point isn't too far off. Imagine this post without the HT cover. Do you then nod your head in agreement with the overall point of the post? Then is the objection and uneasiness not caused by the congruity of that cover to the other pictures rather than any comments I made about HT?

    Indeed, the original post and my first comments compare HT to the Blind Bard! Hardly a put down.


  15. Okay, so I'm not quite on board with folks dressing up like the Amish and you will think I'm terribly dense.

    When I read the "Homer nods" comment and didn't even notice that the pic was from HT, I thought: "Yeah, that's not a good example of an immodest pic at all." I thought HRC's point was that not every modern magazine DOES feature immodestly dressed young women.

    One person's immodest is not another's; and there is a certain something in the wearer's own attitude (which can be communicated perfectly well in pictures) that can make the exact same outfit immodest on one person and perfectly modest on the other.

  16. Fr. Weedon,

    No one will accuse you of being dense - although a certain deaconess I know wishes you'd get on board with school uniforms :)

    And "immodest" wasn't even necessarily my point - nor was dressing like the Amish - but simply that the culture proposes a certain uniform for young women, one designed to overly display the contours from shoulders to waiste. My contention is that the church ought not adopt that uniform; that it is sexist (the cultural dress for men and boys does not require them to display every flaw in their physique for the world to see); that we should consider the pressures our young people feel to fit in to the world and support an ideal of not fitting in.

    And that's a contention that can be viewed quite apart from personal taste.


  17. Dear Pr. Cwirla and Pr. Messer,

    For my part, I saw the post and noticed the HT cover immediately but I also noticed the context and the caption "Homer nods." As such, I felt it was a compliment to HT not an insult. The phrase Homer nods refers to the fact that Homer made a few mistakes in his epic poems. Those who use the phrase, "Homer nods" or sometimes "even Homer nods" are not disrespectful of Homer. But it turns out that for all his genius he was actually a fallible human being and he made mistakes. The number of mistakes, however, actually make him seem super human, because they are so few and he did so amazingly well, better than anyone else. Certainly HT things is not greater than Homer and is capable of mistakes and not only mistakes of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Whether or not this cover was a mistake is a matter of opinion, but I think it is unfair to read its inclusion as an insult. I felt that its inclusion was simply meant to call us, the confessional crowd, to examine our consciences and our practice. Is it possible that we, yes, even we, have become corrupted by our culture and are almost as blind as the Disney channel when it comes to women's clothing? Without the HT cover, this post would have been little more than a post about other people. With it, it seems to me, it was a pointed and correct call for us to examine ourselves.

    In any case, anytime someone wants to consider me or that which I am involved with as "Homer-like," I am glad to take the compliment.

  18. This post is really more of a case of "Homer nods off" if you ask me.

  19. From the Seventeen cover:
    "Pretty Looks For You"; "Perfect Pretty Hair for Your Face Shape": "Free Undies For You"; "Get Your Best Body by New Year's."

    From the Cosmo Girl cover:
    "How I got a boob job"; "How I came out to my parents"; "The Miniskirt Workout - Plus: Beauty Advice from Victoria's Secret Models"; "585 Ideas for a Hot New You this Spring"; "4 Dates Guys Love"; "Quiz: Are You Karma Crazy?"

    Inserted between these two rags is the HT cover, which includes: "Dare to be Lutheran"; "Sola"; "No More Stressing."

    Now, I'm not overly dense - certainly more dense than Fr. Weedon, but not exactly a moron (at least, not most of the time). I understand the point Heath is trying to make. I get the reference to Homer. Even so, the inclusion of the HT cover here is most definitely out of place, imho.

    I don't say that because I think HT is infallible and beyond reproach. Nor do I say that because I'm some sensitive sap whose feelings are easily hurt. I say that because I don't see a flippin' thing wrong with that cover. In order for "Homer Nods" to work here, the cover would have to reveal that HT, genius that it is (and it is!), erred here. I don't see it. If some of you guys do, fine. I don't.

    The fact that HT includes articles about dressing modestly is a pretty good indicator that the organization is not following the trend of our culture. That should count for something.

    But, I know, I am missing the point. The inclusion of the HT cover here was meant to be a compliment, not an insult. Nevertheless, some of us took it as an insult. Maybe that's because we're not as intellectually endowed as others. Or, maybe that's because, no matter the intent, that particular HT cover, and certainly the organization as a whole, does not belong in the same vicinity as those soft-porn mags and me-centered "praise bands," even with Homer nodding.

  20. The reality is that Christian young women - whether involved with Higher Things or not - often leave little to the imagination - covered by material or not. Or as one of my Cajun parishioners put it: "If summa dese girls comin' to communion had a penny in da back pocket, I could see Abe Lincoln!"

    The times have changed - and Christian girls (and yes, even Lutheran girls, and double-yes, even *confessional* Lutheran girls are falling into the world's trap of decreasing standards of modesty.

    As another parishioner put it: "If you're not in business, don't advertise."

    This cultural shift (fashion?) is not something Christians are immune from - and it does cause traditional-minded Christians difficulty - whether buying school clothes or prom dresses - or being mocked as "terrorists" if a lady wishes to cover her head in church.

    The word "Amish" gets thrown about quite a bit as well whenever the topic of feminine modesty comes up - which is a wonderful way to encourage Christian young ladies to dress as Christian young ladies, don;t you think?

    Even our church's publishing house has a promo for a certain new study Bible featuring the shapely thighs and derriere of a woman dressed in skin-tight jeans.

    It is so ubiquitous as to not even draw a second thought these days - although if someone does, the claws come out.

    To be sure, there is a wide swath of opinions on how much of this display of flesh is appropriate - especially among the younger girls who idolize the pole-dancing role model Mylie Cyrus.

    But if Mrs. Curtis did indeed get e-mails showing a clash between her article and the way the girls in the magazine are attired, why shoot her husband for being the messenger?

  21. Tom,

    The point of comparison isn't the articles in the magazines but the similarity of dress on the covers. Heath's opinion is that the girls dress on the HT cover is not that different from the other magazines. I think he is right. Look at the three of them together. If you took off the titles and words it would almost be hard to tell which was which (but not that hard.)

    Heath thinks the HT cover fails to confess the HT ideal for modesty and was thus a slip-up by HT. I don't happen to agree with him. I don't think any of those three pictures are problematic. I think the HT photo is fine, but I admit that I am not really disturbed by the others either. The clothing is tight. OK. But it doesn't look revealing and the girls aren't spotting "come hither" looks, etc. As I think you said earlier these are girls, and there is nothing wrong with looking like a girl.

    So I don't think the HT photo crosses the line. I agree with you that HT is not following that trend in our culture. You're also right that the article about modesty helps demonstrate that. But it is possible that HT someday make a tactical or a spiritual mistake with a cover. Again: I don't think that is the case here, but I don't think raising the issue is an insult, or HT covers are out of bounds. My expectation is that Heath runs in the bun and jumper circle and this concern comes somewhat from that. While I don't know what the current strategy is, at one time we actually tried to make HT look like a teen magazine and not Gottesdienst. My opinion is that is good. Leave the icons for Gottesdienst and the pictures of kids to HT. But for all that, and even with my disagreement, I felt that Heath's point was a legitimate and timely warning. I don't think it was a cheap shot or an insult.

    And if my explanation of Homer nods came off condescending, I am sorry.

    - Dave

  22. Tight ≠ revealing?

    I only ask because I thought I looked great in a bun and a jumper.

  23. >>It is so ubiquitous as to not even draw a second thought these days . . .

    Indeed. And this is a problem. The tighty-T is the by and large the only option available for purchase, period, for our daughters, regardless of their sizes, their ages, their confession. A tighty-T sans plunging neckline, or a tighty-T made more innocuous by a thoughtfully placed cami, is still a tighty-T; which is to say, it still makes every bit of our daughters' torso flesh available for scrutiny by a vast Other who is very not nice.

    If you think people aren't looking at your daughter, you're kidding yourself. That's what the tighty-T is FOR, to make looking EASIER.

    I'm all for HT (believe me, I have very good reasons to love HT), and those girls on the HT cover ARE modestly dressed IN COMPARISON. The tighty-T isn't a HT problem, it's an America problem. But, listen: It's not only cleavage we need to consider when we wish to protect our daughters from those who want them with a side dish of fries, or those who want to grill them over the fires of vicious Mean Girlisms, a.k.a. everyone. We need to protect our daughters from everyone, most of all from themselves. Following the cultural norm of "Hey! Everyone lookit!" is leaving our beloveds too open to risk.

    What the heck happened to a decent, relaxed-fit crew cut? And for what it's worth, I don't wear jumpers. I just so dearly heart my maternity clothes.

  24. "If you think people aren't looking at your daughter, you're kidding yourself. That's what the tighty-T is FOR, to make looking EASIER."

    Dear Gauntlets:

    This calls to mind one of my pet peeves: little girls (or not-so-little girls) with shorts with writing on the bum (Mrs. Hollywood's Canadian "we don't say 'butt' sensibilities showing through here...).

    There is only one reason to put written words on the behind - so that people will look at the behind. And it is especially reprehensible when it is a little girl (even little first graders, for crying out loud) that is drawing attention to her bum thanks to parents who think words in that setting are "cute." They're not.

  25. "And if my explanation of Homer nods came off condescending, I am sorry."


    I don't think your explanation of "Homer nods" was nearly as condescending as your feeling the need to explain to me what the point of comparison is here. The latter is far more condescending than the former. Do you really think I don't get the point of comparison?

    But, I forgive you for both, since I know that you had no intention of being condescending and are sincerely trying to be helpful, and I have way too much respect for you to feel like you've been condescending to me anyway. Plus, I brought it upon myself, not being clear enough as to why I included the topics from the covers in my last post.

    I fully understand the point Heath is trying to make. I am well aware of the fact that he included the HT cover simply to compare its images with the images on the other mags. I even believe him when he says that he meant no ill will toward HT.

    Still, including the HT cover doesn't work for me. Not in this context. It's not a matter of being politically correct, trying to keep people from expressing their opinions, not understanding the point of comparison, missing the "Homer nods" reference, or thinking so highly of HT that it should never be questioned or rebuked. I just happen to think that it is absurd, and insulting (even though it wasn't meant to be so), to include the HT cover among the other trash here, which I tried to highlight by including the topics from the covers in my last post. I know the point of comparison is what's on the cover and not in between the pages, but it is simply impossible for me to disassociate the contents from the covers in this case. Call me weak, dense, whatever. Can't do it. It remains absurd to me to put HT in this mix.

    And, I know I'm not alone. I received 6 emails today from those who feel the same way I do here (4 from people I have never met). I normally wouldn't include this info, since I can't stand it when others do this, but I hope that by sharing this with those of you who do not see the inclusion of the HT cover as insulting, you will at least acknowledge the possibility of it being so, since, well, people (not just Cwirla and me) took it as such. It doesn't mean it was meant to be insulting, or even that it was, in fact, insulting, just that there are those who took it as such. We could very well be wrong, but is keeping the pic in place and arguing over the validity of its inclusion worth upsetting those who find it insulting, even if they're wrong? That was what I was trying to get it at when I said that Heath should take the pic down and apologize. He disagreed. That's fine. I said I'd still love him and I do. I just don't think it was/is worth it to take a stand on this.


  26. I just think it's humorous that I happened to find these two HT gals on the Walmart site.


  27. I'll play dim echo to some of the finer thoughts already expressed here.

    The problem isn't that we (we = most Christians, including many confessional Lutherans) have struggled mightily with a magic line of modesty and have occasionally, despite our best efforts, crossed it. The problem is that we've failed to struggle...and have failed to realize that the line isn't as fine as we think.

    Father Hollywood's Cajun parishioner said it so well: "If summa dese girls comin' to communion had a penny in da back pocket, I could see Abe Lincoln!" And if those girls were wearing skirts and stooped to pick up a dropped penny, everyone would get way more than a penny's worth of show.

    There are a couple of really nice confessional teen girls at our church, who dress like (almost) every other teen girl, churched or no. Their temperaments and general demeanor are almost impossibly sweet, as far from provcative as one could imagine, but I'm pretty sure that the guys who are looking aren't thinking about how sweet and confessional they are. As Gauntlets said, the tighty-T is designed to make looking easier. The lookers are looking, no matter who's doing the wearing.

  28. Fr. Messer,

    I've taken down the photos of the Seventeen and Cosmo Girl covers out of deference to your sensibilities and because they seem to have dragged the conversation in a direction I didn't intend and actually obscures the point I was trying to make. I've left up the photo of the HT cover in conjunction with the pictures of the church praise brands and the St. Louis LCMS church's advertisement shirt. And I'll add these few notes.

    * I'm sorry I clouded the issue and offended your sensibilities by posting the covers I took down alonside the HT cover and ask your forgiveness (and I ask the same from any others so offended). I meant it to be pointed, but I should have realized that it could be needlessly offensive.

    * I think Fr. Petersen's two lengthy comments best captured what I was getting at - even though he disagreed with my interpretation of these cultural symbols.

    * To wit: The praise bands, the HT cover, and the St. Louis church's advertising outfit have all adopted the cultural norm of dress for women. I think that's a bad idea. See the comments from Gauntlets and Reb. Mary for pondering that.

    I hope that now that the HT cover is seen alongside only other ecclesiastical photos you can usefully ponder my contention (and especially those comments by Gauntlets and Reb. Mary) about how the culture encourages young ladies to dress and how the Church should respond.

    In Christ,

  29. Fr. Rinas,


    If Fr.Rinas' link doesn't work for you, click on the "click here" on the right of the screen to see what he's talking about.


  30. So, is the HT cover a "stock photo," or did WalMart hire two confessional Lutheran girls to promote their photo dept?

  31. I think part of the misunderstanding is that Heath's article is an "attack" on HT. But it would be a self-inflicted wound, as Heath and his wife are HT writers (though maybe they're going to be fired now). David Petersen is also an HT writer. I've had articles published by HT online. This is not an "us" vs. "them" situation, but a common problem.

    You could have substituted a picture of ladies in my own congregation on a Sunday morning.

    Our views of modesty have become so muddled that what was once scandalous is now common. This is a difficult problem. A pastor doesn't want to hurt feelings of innocent parishioners who are not trying to offend, but neither does he want the ladies wearing tight pants, belly shirts, and cleavage-showing blouses to church.

    When I'm distributing communion, sometimes I'm tempted to sing the Christmas carol "Do You See What I See."

    Neither HT nor our parishes are immune from the cultural incursion on Christian modesty. And throwing out accusations of Pietism, works righteousness, or Amish doesn;t really help the problem that *we* share.

  32. Alright, are you ready for irony. . .

    There is "If you think people aren't looking at your daughter, you're kidding yourself. That's what the tighty-T is FOR, to make looking EASIER."

    There was also mention of a move towards School Uniforms.

    I have known guys who in their youth argued that it would be better to have uniforms for then who the best looking gal could be judged more easily.

    If our concern is that guys are going ogle our daughters - ain't nothing going to stop that. If our concern is that we are teaching our daughters via fashion that their body is nothing but a thing to be ogled, and the amount of ogling is what determines their worth and value - well, that is a problem.

    I think this is salient because the often reported comment is that women are not dressing that way to "attract" a guy, but for themselves, that it makes them feel better. Or as Pink would sing in her girls' night out anthem, "We didn't get all dress up for you to see."

    Hence, I would suggest that this isn't just an issue of modesty, but of self-worth - or that the tight cloths may not be primarily an issue of a lack of modest, but also lots of self-valuation type of issues.

  33. Also, for the sake of fairness - let's not let the men off the hook on clothing. We ought not think that only women like to preen (although, admittedly, there seem to be a higher percentage of unpreening nerds amongst pastors - I mean, just look at our photos!). Indeed, one thought that struck me as odd was the sentiment that women wore revealing clothing whilest men wore that which was comfortable.

    You get plenty of tight, revealing clothing on men as well - and in fact, men are socially allow to flat out reveal much more -- or in other words, we don't hear cries of immodesty when the buff guy walks along the beach with no shirt on -- although you do get quite a few female heads turning as well.

    If this is a social issue, it is one that impacts both guys and gals -- although as it touches upon topics of sex, I think we tend to be much more sensitive towards how it impacts upon gals.

  34. The argument that lust happens even when women are clad in burqas is true enough when it comes to the theology of sin. But let's not use it as a premise to excuse immodesty.

    St. Paul never makes the "lust even with burqas" argument. Rather he exhorts women in particular to pay attention to their attire and adornment, and offers them specific guidelines about what is proper - especially in worship. I suspect if Paul were to offer the same advice today, someone would accuse the human author of Romans and Galatians of "not knowing the gospel."

    Modest attire won't stop lust - but it is an act of love that women can do for the sake of their weaker brethren. It is a help. Is it really too much to ask?

    Otherwise, why should any of us complain about Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton completely exposing themselves to photographers in public? After all, a clothed woman can incite as much lust as a naked one, right? If our daughters can be objects of lust in a parka, well, why don't we just buy the gals in the youth group matching lingerie with our church's name on it?

    I think this kind of logic is what leads us down the path to antinomianism. The implication is that modesty doesn't matter since men will still lust even if a women is completely covered up. So we wave the white flag of surrender, Christian girls are indistinguishable from the unbelievers, and we pat ourselves on the back that we're not Pietists.

  35. >>If our concern is that we are teaching our daughters via fashion that their body is nothing but a thing to be ogled, and the amount of ogling is what determines their worth and value - well, that is a problem.

    This is precisely our concern. Schmucks are unstoppable, even in youth group. So girls had best protect themselves from those schmucks' inexcusable schmucking. They can do this by dressing to communicate: "I am not yours. You do not have my permission to think of me as you are thinking of me. I am not complicit in your sin."

    Truly modest dress isn't only about lewd boys or those dirty old dudes who camp out at malls for the free shows. I don't know anything about their problem, having never been on their end of it. I've only been on my end of it. Certainly, girls should consider their brothers when they choose their outfits in the morning, but they should also consider their enemies.

  36. Fr. Curtis,

    Thank you for pandering to my "felt needs" (er, "sensibilities"). Not exactly what I was going for, but it is an improvement. :)

    That I disagreed with your inclusion of the HT cover does not mean that I fail to recognize that even we confessional Lutherans have fallen prey to "the decreasing standards of modesty," as Hollywood put it.

    Eight years ago, as part of my Field Work duties for a congregation in Ft. Wayne, I was teaching a confirmation class, and two of the 8th-grade girls showed up wearing skimpy, tight, tank-tops and short-shorts, much to the delight of all the boys in the class (these girls were rather mature for their age and wanted to proudly display what the good Lord gave them). I asked them if they had something in their lockers to wear. They said no. So, I took them down to the vestry, grabbed a couple of surplices, made them put them on, and we returned to class. I told them not to show up for class dressed like that again. They were none too happy about this, as you might guess. But, we went on with class. Later, I shared what happened with one of the associate pastors and he complimented me for the way I handled it.

    The next week, one of the girls showed up dressed appropriately. The other girl showed up in an almost identical outfit as she had worn the week before. And, mom was with her. As soon as I saw mom walking with her, it made sense, since mom was wearing a skimpy halter top and very mini-skirt. Mom brought the girl in and asked to speak with me in the hall.

    She pointed her finger at me and told me that I had no right to tell her daughter what to wear and that she would not be putting on a robe that night. She was pretty angry with me. I told her that either her daughter would don a robe or she would not remain in class. She yelled in to her daughter, saying, "C'mon! We're leaving!" Then, she looked at me and said, "I'll be taking this up with the pastor!"

    She did. And, much to my surprise, the way it was resolved was that I was relieved of my duties to teach confirmation class, which I didn't much mind, since there were three PASTORS there to do the teaching, and I shouldn't have been doing it anyway. When I asked the senior pastor about this, he said, "Ah, it's just not worth the hassle. You'll learn that sometimes you just have to let some people have their way in the church." This same pastor once told me that he believed Joyce Meyer had a powerful anointing, so I didn't put much stock in his words, but I remember thinking how utterly ridiculous it is, and how bad things have become, that a pastor would even consider allowing little girls to dress like these girls were dressed, just to "keep the peace."

    We're not going to change the culture. But, we can, and must, confront this issue head on in the church. That is a difficult task, to be sure, but we shouldn't throw in the towel in an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" kinda way. I doubt that we'll have much success confronting this issue by advocating a "bun and jumper" mentality (not that there's a thing wrong with that), but neither do we have to settle for an "along as you ain't nekkid" mentality. In other words, I think we need to approach this topic in a realistic way. For my part, when compared to how many young ladies (and their moms) are dressing today, the two girls on the HT cover are dressed modestly, and I think we'll be seen as crazy people if we suggest otherwise.

  37. I'm sorry I clouded the issue and offended your sensibilities by posting the covers I took down alonside the HT cover and ask your forgiveness (and I ask the same from any others so offended). I meant it to be pointed, but I should have realized that it could be needlessly offensive.

    Thank you for acknowledging this, Heath, and please know that I forgive you, even as I hope you will forgive me my faults.


  38. Tom,

    I've never going to be able to look at a surplice the same again :)


  39. Rev. Beane,

    I was not arguing against modesty (far from it!)- but rather that a desire for modesty simply as a curb to lust doesn't hit the whole issue at hand. The answer to the question of, "Why would you want to wear a fool thing like that" isn't always, "Cause I want the boys looking at me." Many times the issues of my actions impacting others (you mean how I dress might attract the attention of Gauntlet's dirty old men?) doesn't cross people's minds.

    I think the best course of action when someone wants to "express themselves" or other such claptrap isn't to set up a code to be tested or tried (or adhered to unto the letter), but to ask, "how do your actions show love to your neighbor" - and if they can't answer, guess what - you don't get to do it.

  40. Dear Eric:

    "The answer to the question of, "Why would you want to wear a fool thing like that" isn't always, "Cause I want the boys looking at me."

    Which is why I wrote:

    "This is a difficult problem. A pastor doesn't want to hurt feelings of innocent parishioners who are not trying to offend..."

    This isn't about beating people up and making them feel bad. The challenge is how to get women and girls to see the *value* of modesty - something our culture considers backward and prudish - as evidenced by the mockery of bringing up the Amish or the offensive "bun and jumper" comments (Gads! What a way to drive young women away from modesty!). One Lutheran blogger even compared the wearing of a traditional mantilla to radical Islam. Way to go!

    St. Paul's pastoral approach was really quite practical, specific, and direct (1 Tim 2:9-10).

    In Tom's case, there was also the issue of the mother who refused to submit to God's Word and to her daughter's teacher - not to mention the spineless senior pastor who stabbed him in the back.

    Meanwhile, the slippery slope of cleavage and breast implants, tramp-stamps, tight clothing, shirt skirts, and lots of exposed skin marches onward. We have also lost sight of what "holiness" is. We confess the church to be "holy" all the while, our young people are often indistinguishable from young unbelievers. That is the very opposite of what "holy" means.

    Provocative attire is the fulfillment of a "perfect storm" of our culture's hypersexuality, of children being pushed into adult situations at an ever-decreasing age, of a disconnect from God's Word, of this age's compartmentalization, of disrespect for the pastoral office, of the notion of personal freedom as opposed to Christian discipline, all piled on top of the American Lutheran tendency toward antinomianism.

    I found our Greek brethren's approach refreshing at this past summer's Greek Fest. Ladies who were showing too much skin for the church tour were simply handed a shawl. There was no argument and no wailing and gnashing of teeth. It sent a strong message that the sanctuary is a holy place, and it is to be respected and treated differently than a beach party.

  41. Father Beane,

    The Amish comment was meant for humor, not for insult. I confess that I am a believer in modesty, but I know that what is fine by me would not pass muster with Heath (or I suspect with you). Like Fr. Petersen, I didn't find anything offensive in the way the young people were dressed in the HT ad. There needs to be the humility that recognizes that what one person finds violating the norms of modesty, another person simply may not. Subjective assessment ends up playing a rather large role in this. How to teach modesty without imposing one's own criterion upon others who are also committed to the same ideal but disagree on a particular instance?

  42. Hmm. A thought just occurred: David and I are both parents of older children. Is there a parent of an older child who found the picture offensive or was it only the parents of younger children? I'd be curious. It is entirely possible, of course, that my own children have de-sensitized me. I know that they have at times dressed in ways that I disapproved of; and many times have had to change clothes before Church. But I know that Deaconess Bowers still disapproves of some of the clothes they come up with, but she is again a mother of a younger child. Anything to that or just a coincidence?

  43. Dear Fr. William:

    I was not offended by the stock photo of teenagers or actual Lutheran girls (whichever it was) on the HT cover. I interpreted Heath's point to be that there is a "youth uniform" that is simply expected - in the church or out of the church. Christian or non-Christian, feminine attire is identical. I did not see the inside of the magazine, but apparently Mrs. Curtis received mail saying the pictures weren't so modest.

    Shouldn't that at least give us pause?

    While it isn't sinful for a girl to wear jeans, I have to admit it saddens me to see feminine dresses and skirts basically relegated to museums (with the exception of the miniskirt) as girls have adopted the casual uniform of boys (jeans, t-shirt, tennis shoes). And furthermore, when it comes to girls' jeans, the tighter the better. I can't believe Christian parents let their daughters out of the house dressed the way some of them do. And they seem utterly clueless. I recall one case in which a teenager came to church literally dressed like a streetwalker - miniskirt to the top of the thighs, high heels, exposed belly, etc. It was as though mom and dad were literally blind. It was just their "little girl" being "cute."

    I just don't get it.

    But the "youth uniform" (even without the really skanky stuff) is the same for praise band "worship leaders" as well as any secular or Christian girls.

    Sadly, most of the Christians addressing modesty are trad Catholics or conservative Protestants. Lutherans (as usual) generally either shrug it off as an "un-Lutheran" topic (you know, like sanctification...) or simply approach it "by way of the Gospel Reductionism."

    And again, if Christians would like their daughters wearing skirts and dresses, not showing Abe Lincoln on their back pockets, or not giving the pastor a lingerie show at the communion rail, maybe it would be helpful for Lutherans to not be so dismissive any time someone discusses modesty.

    It used to be girls didn't want to look like whores. Now they don't want to look frumpy (Amish? Bun and Jumper? Burqa?).

    When Ruth Gaba was installed as a librarian at the CTS chapel, she wore a simple headscarf as is her custom in the house of the Lord. Do you know there were rumors on campus floating around that a Muslim had been installed?

    Isn't it sad that modesty is now equated with the non-Christian religions, while it is common, no it is ubiquitous, to see even prepubescent Christian girls wearing little shorts that say things like "juicy" on the rear ends? I mean, are we all nuts or what? On the one hand, we have sex offender registries, and on the other hand, we let little girls dress like miniature versions of Amsterdam hookers. "This is madness. No this is Sparta." Gads!

    And those who say that this kind of attire is out of bounds, or call for a restoration of something a bit more feminine and modest apparently either don't know the Gospel or are pushing some kind of cult or sect or terrorist cell.

    I have yet to run into anyone who says: "I'm against modesty," but somehow I keep seeing immodesty all over the place.

    Maybe we're culturally to the point where, as Isaiah says, we have forgotten how to blush.

  44. Larry,

    This gets to the the question - what is "modest" in dress? To decry the typical youthful teen uniform as immodest in one thing, you have several rather conservative pastors (using the HT example) who say, "What's the problem"?

    Are there two issues here - a general lack of modesty on the one hand, and then a questioning of if teen uniformage is immodest? I mean, even with your examples right above - who is dressing like an Amsterdam hooker in the photos (the closest is probably the middle aged coffee gal) - or wearing the "juicy" shorts. . . or flashing underwear or exposing midriff? On all those examples being a matter of general bad taste and folly, I will agree with you -- but much of this deals with the images - or even Curtis' simple statement about tight shirts. There's a jump somewhere in there in what crosses the bounds of modesty.


    Again, I would say that we are in quite a bit of agreement. I think we should be (especially parents in that we) getting people to think about why why wear what they wear, and if there's a good reason to be wearing it. I'm guessing we can agree to this.

    However, if you apply a high standard of modesty, not to yourself, but to others and say, "You should be modest and dress like this" - the reason why that level is the right level needs to be explained - especially when the level you espouse goes beyond what they are expecting.

    People very rarely may say that they are trying to be immodest (I have only heard that done by those who try to shock), but just because they aren't trying to be immodest means they really have given modesty any thought.

  45. Just for the record--my article appeared in a different issue than the one pictured above, and the comments I received via email and in person referenced photos from the issue in which my article appeared.

  46. "This gets to the the question - what is "modest" in dress? To decry the typical youthful teen uniform as immodest in one thing, you have several rather conservative pastors (using the HT example) who say, "What's the problem"?:

    Dear Eric:

    I think our inability to reach a consensus stems from the embedded postmodernism of our age combined with our being bombarded by ubiquitous sexual imagery to the point where we don't even notice it.

    To be honest, quite often I miss it (which speaks volumes about my own brainwashing). My wife sometimes points it out to me, and I have to say: "Yeah, you're right. That's over the top."

    But then again, the decline in the importance of modesty is just more evidence of entropy: the second law of thermodynamics meets Hannah Montana. Jesus did not promise us that "lawlessness will decrease," but rather the opposite. So maybe I should look at the general decay with a certain joy that we're another day closer to the parousia.

    I think I'm about ready to wave the white flag here. I really think modesty may well be a lost cause - especially in general among American Lutherans. The world sure doesn't want it, the church can't even figure out what it is, parents can't be bothered to take charge, and the kids themselves are embarrassed by it.

    I don't have a daughter, so what the heck? I can only pray that my son finds a decent Christian girl to marry.

    Veni Domine Iesu!

  47. And there you touch on a most important point: we should (from early on) be praying for the spouses our children will marry. Long before we ever meet them, they should have been in our thoughts and prayers daily.

  48. Hmm. A thought just occurred: David and I are both parents of older children. Is there a parent of an older child who found the picture offensive or was it only the parents of younger children? I'd be curious. It is entirely possible, of course, that my own children have de-sensitized me . . .

    Fr. Weedon,

    I think you may be on to something here. It is far easier to be a little more idealistic about this topic when your girls are, well, little. I had very high ideals way back when. Who knows, if I had looked at that HT cover back then, I may have thought, "No way my girls will dress like that when they grow up." But now, after nearly 20 years of battle and worry, I look at it and think, "If only I can keep my girls to that standard." Surely, we do become a little de-sensitized by our children over time. Our ideals and expectations become gradually lowered by experience.

    That is not to say that this is meet, right, and salutary. It's just a fact for most of us. Raising girls and keeping those high ideals we once had is easier said than done. I'm not saying it's impossible, nor would I want to discourage parents of younger girls from trying to keep their high ideals in tact, just that it's easier said than done.

    At this point, I'm just happy that my girls and I are on the same page regarding what is/is not acceptable. It took a lot of battles ("Um, no, try again, 'cause you ain't leaving this house in that outfit") to get here, but I'm content. I'm sure what's acceptable in our house would not meet the standards of some, but I'm positive that our standard is higher than what passes for acceptable in our culture. Seeing what some of my girls' friends parade around in, yeah, we're doing okay, even though I readily admit that doing okay is not the ideal for which we should be aiming.

    In any event, I'm pleased as punch that all of my girls (and my boy) have learned that the Lord's House is a Holy Place, in which they wouldn't dream of dressing immodestly.

  49. Larry,

    Yes, in a Postmodern world, there are tons of defintions are ideas floating around - language is imprecise and words have no universal meaning (and so on and so form) - so no one knows what "Modesty is and everyone has a different definition.

    So. . . define it.

    It would do me no good to lament how Americans have no sense of "Mono no aware" as most people know neither Japanese nor are that familiar with Japanese culture. I would have to explain and define the term before I could teach it. ("Mono no Aware" is the "impermanence of things" - the idea that a cherry blossom is all the more beautiful because it only lasts but a short time and fades away - that there is an extra wistful appreciation placed upon such things -- no, it's not that important - but it was an example of needing to define a word that I figured you might not know).

    Or if I wish to lament that Christians have lost their Chutzpah, as I'm in the middle of Oklahoma, I need to define Chutzpah. Otherwise people are left asking the Lutheran Question but with no answer - what does this mean?

    So, put forth a definition of modesty - a way or a method for one to determine whether or not they are being modest. I like simply asking how the outfit shows love to the neighbor(that is, does not distract, unnerve, or tempt the neighbor)? If it does not, it is immodest - for modesty and all good behavior is for the sake of the neighbor.

    This probably is too. . . antinomian-leaning, liberal-sounding, open-to-abuse poppycock for you - so don't wave a white flag and simply lament society.

    Speak. Speak creatively - create a definition that you can defend and explain - and then go from there. And most certainly do not let my qualms and desire to have something precise drive you into silence.

  50. Dear Eric:

    There is a great worldwide conversation about modesty going on, and I intend to be a part of it. There are very few Lutherans involved, however. It's generally not on our radar screen, and for some reason, these kinds of conversations make a lot of Lutherans terribly uncomfortable.

    Sometimes we just have to confess, discuss, debate, and at some point, "call the question" and decide that the conversation is played out. I think discussions of modesty are a dead end among confessional Lutherans in America. This is one of those topics where I will likely have more public dialogue among non-Lutherans than Lutherans.

    We Lutherans are at our very best in arguing against Pietism and legalism, but our Achilles heel is making a case against libertinism and antinomianism. I think we often change the conjunction in "Law and Gospel" to an "or." And, to paraphrase The Incredibles: "When everything is Gospel, nothing is Gospel."

    On the one hand, this discourages me, because I see the confession to which I'm committed and love falling deeper into the mire of postmodernism and secularism. The ELCA is on the cutting edge. But it's especially frustrating in the LCMS, because we've capitulated to feminism, but don't see it because we pat ourselves on the back because we don't ordain women. We've also become rather worldly, but hide behind the veneer of social and political conservatism. We wave the banner of sola scriptura, but when Scripture asserts things we don't like, then we switch gears to Gospel Reductionism. As our beloved Dr. Scaer points out, we also tend toward theology by slogans - which inhibits getting beyond the surface of many issues.

    But on the other hand, the Church is bigger than the LCMS. There is much consolation among the brethren and "sharpening of iron" in conversation with non-Lutherans whose shibboleths don't inhibit them from tackling issues like these. Though we do not commune together, we can struggle against the world, Satan, and our own flesh together. There is great joy in the word "one" in the 3rd article of the Apostles' Creed.

    I believe modesty is a casualty of secularism and feminism, and two well-written books that are not openly about modesty, but nevertheless give great food for thought about it, are: 1) The novel "Father Elijah" by Roman Catholic Michael O'Brien (recommended to me by our own Dr. John Stephenson, a man whose Lutheran credentials need no defense), and 2) the analysis of Christian womanhood entitled "Passionate Housewives" by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald (Reformed).

    I commend both works to Lutherans who are looking for something to get the gears turning.

  51. For those interested in continuing a conversation on modesty, see these good thoughts from Gauntlets:


  52. I think it's a bit disturbing that it took reading 3/4 of the way down the comments before anyone mentioned the guys. True, no lady gets dressed in a vacuum, but WHAT she chooses to wear is utterly beside the point, HOW she chooses to wear it is what matters if we are discussing sin. It falls to me (you, my sons, the boys at church) to keep from lusting.

    We've all surely seen National Geographic specials on indigenous Amazonian or African tribes where the women walk around topless. Is this immodest? Not to the particular lady in question. If we find her mode of dress tempting let us advert our eyes. While I admire Rev. Messer's decisiveness, and might even have had a similar reaction, I would hope he spoke to the boys in the class in an equally harsh and publicly humiliating manner. Because, let's be honest, when those boys go to school the next day, Rev. Messer will not be there to protect their innocent eyes from high hemlines.

    Pastor Weedon, I am the father of five kids under five and was confused by the inclusion of the girls on the cover of HT as well. But I was also confused the other pictures. I would say that when I am in a church with an praise band front and center I am more likely to notice the guy from the first picture's out of style, untucked black shirt than how either of the women are dressed. But I am the husband of a cute, 26 year-old coed who has to be dropped off at the local university three times a week, so maybe I am desensitized by what I see on those trips.

    Come to think of it, I think that is the point. I am desensitized. As are most men my age who have been around these styles their whole lives. The Apostles probably were, too. If I recall my ancient history right most Roman slaves walked around practically naked. None of this "clinging to the nubile torso" bit for them, we're talking actual nudity. And none of the Apostles admonished the newly converted slaves to ask their masters for some clothes or tell them to walk less seductively (thou shalt not swing thy hips more than is necessary for locomotion). They did, however, discuss lust.

  53. For anyone interested in an informative, enjoyable, book-length treatment of modesty, I highly recommend Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty.

    The thing about modesty is that while the virtue of modesty is universal, the expression of modesty is culturally relative. A woman from some society where people traditionally wear very few clothes is not immodestly dressed if she wears very few clothes. But she would be immodest if she dressed that way in the middle of New York City. Meanwhile, even the most modest New Yorker would be considered outrageously immodest in the middle of Saudi Arabia. I think everyone can agree with this.

    When Jane Austen was writing, at the turn of the 18th Century, dresses were long and empire-waisted (read: shapeless). But they featured very low-cut necklines that showed a lot of cleavage. Then, in the 1800s, necklines rose and the cleavage disappeared, but the shape of dresses became very form-fitting. The female form was not only emphasized but also enhanced with hour-glass-making corsets and bustles. Nowadays most girls and women I know wear jeans or mid-length skirts with relatively form-fitting tops that may show a slight amount of cleavage or maybe none.

    All of these looks, from the empire-waisted gowns to the corsets to the form-fitting sweaters of today are perfectly modest in context. That’s not to say immodesty doesn’t exist. Immodesty happens when the clothes are mismatched to the context. That is, the clothes are too revealing by the prevailing cultural standards or if they are out of place in some other way, i.e., a bathing suit on the subway, a tennis skirt in church, etc.

    But beyond the obvious infractions, immodesty is pretty hard to define, because it is the attitude behind the outfit that really counts. Certainly, you can’t make up a list of acceptable and unacceptable attire for every occasion without shading into legalism.

    Finally, the claim that any feminine attire that is form-fitting is immodest per se is a claim that tends towards misogyny. Form-fitting clothes by definition fit the female form… and the female form is the most beautiful thing in creation. If you are afraid of it, or ashamed of it, or caused to sin by it, then there is something wrong with you (not that you are alone -we’re all sinful). But again, there is nothing wrong with the female form, and nothing wrong with form-fitting clothing (as opposed to form-baring clothing). After all, no one demands that men wear clothes that are so shapeless that no one can discern the male form (broad shoulders, etc.) underneath. Suits, in fact, are usually designed to emphasize the male form, just as many women’s sweaters and dresses are designed to emphasize the female form.

  54. Also, I think it is interesting that a lot of the judgement that goes on in this realm is really fueled by women about other women. There is an unhealthy air of cattiness about the whole thing. After all, fellow wives, if you're sitting in church and there's a girl in the next pew who's dressed totally immodestly, isn't NOT drawing attention to that fact the honorable thing to do? I mean, what is the point of discussing her with your husband later?

  55. Thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Jones, especially for saying it with more tact than I'm about to.

    Frankly, I don't get any of this. I too see nothing wrong with the clothes themselves in the examples given. I also thought they were much too casual for "church" but immodest?? No. As for the woman with the "Crave" shirt on, I'd say it looks ridiculous on her given her apparent age, but again, I don't think it is immodest.

    I whole heartedly agree with Mrs. Jones that a lot of this appears to be fueled by cattiness on the part of other women. If these particular women want to dress one way, go ahead. I wish I could understand all the name-calling and finger pointing though. I know I'm far to busy with my own children in church to be analyzing the hemlines and necklines of my fellow sisters in Christ.

    How lucky we are that Mrs. Curtis took time out of her busy schedule to delineate just what is and what is not appropriate for American women to wear. So glad you cleared that up for us. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ok with looking like a prostitute. That being said, I'll let you in on a little secret: I have breasts, and whether I wear a "tighty-T" or an HT conference t-shirt, it's pretty damn obvious they're there.

    I also can't help but wonder if a few of the pastors here have anything better to do, like maybe real MINISTRY to actual living, breathing people, than blog the world free of the last hint of "immodesty."

    Pr Weedon, I am a young mother of two young children and I dress like many of the women in the pictures (though not in church, as I said. Too casual.) I don't think I'm desensitized either. I think most of this discussion is a bunch of legalistic BS.

  56. And one more thing to illustrate why I think this whole thing is ridiculous...

    I do not think we should set out to cause the brethren to stumble. Clearly, that's wrong. However, you can only lay the responsibility of another's sin on a person to a certain point.

    I was thinking maybe the guy in our congregation who rolls into church in a kick-ass Lexus every Sunday ought to find another car. I'm pretty sure he must be causing some guys (and girls) to covet. Maybe he should get a beat-up, rusty, sky blue, 1978 Chevy pickup truck like that other guy in our congregation. Pretty sure no one's coveting that.

    You know, if we're going to blame people for causing other people to lust, why stop there???

  57. Just,

    First, while I echo many of your sentiments - a little decorum is probably in order. If you respond with vim and vitriol, people can focus on that, write you off, and ignore your good points.

    This does raise one thing - we cannot control other people's reactions - and quite often the reactions of others are going to be wrong and wicked no matter what we do. But what of this - we are called to love the neighbor, not manipulate them.

    Using your Lexus example, if the fellow bought the car not because it was a nice vehicle he could afford with nice features but rather, in order to rub other peoples' nose in his wealth, or to make them jealous, or to prove to Chuck and Church that he was better than him - then his actions would be wrong.

    Now, it might not be wise, either way. If 3/4ths of the congregation were laid off because they all worked at Chevy plants, but you still had a good job, driving up in an expensive foreign vehicle would be. . . quite tacky to say the least. We ought consider the impact of our actions upon our neighbor - for we do not live to ourselves.

    But even saying that, we cannot control the actions of our neighbors, nor their response. We are given only to live our own lives -- self-control is the fruit of the Spirit, not neighbor-control.

    Also, as regards that - I think you were a bit unjust towards Mrs. Curtis in your complaints about her - for you implied that she ought to be more busy with her children, rather than dealing with this issue. That attacks the person, not the position, which is lousy. Also, as for her article, as I recall, I really enjoyed it, not because it tried to set some arbitrary standard of her own devising, but rather asked people to consider how their clothing choices might impact others - which is a fine appeal towards self-control and love of the neighbor.

  58. Pr. Brown, I was not implying what Mrs. Curtis should or should not do. Apparently that is her job. Furthermore, I was not speaking of one individual's attentiveness toward her children. Rather, I was merely marveling that so many are able to keep tabs on everyone else while attending worship with one's own brood. I have small children and most Sundays I could not tell you WHO was at church, much less WHAT they were wearing.

    I'm sorry I was not clear as to which of Mrs. Curtis' works I was referring. I was thinking of her blog post found here: I have also read her HT article and heard her IE interview. I would love to take issue with those, but the time is long past.

    The bottom line is that blogs like these tend to have an over emphasis on morals and behavior. When you have that over-emphasis, you burden consciences. I wish those who post would think long and hard about that before doing so. In my non-seminary-educated opinion, I think it's better to let the Law be the Law and the Gospel be the Gospel and let us all get on with living life, living in the Christian freedom Christ won for us. And before anyone is tempted to rend his robes and cry, "Antinomian!" I will say I am not advocating lawlessness, just freedom from burdens as Christ would have us unburdened. The irony is, and I would be willing to bet, that most people who read this blog are not the offenders of immodesty nor are they the ones whoring themselves to the culture.

    I am afraid that for my own spiritual health I will have to remove myself from the readership of these two blogs. :(

  59. While I admire Rev. Messer's decisiveness, and might even have had a similar reaction, I would hope he spoke to the boys in the class in an equally harsh and publicly humiliating manner. Because, let's be honest, when those boys go to school the next day, Rev. Messer will not be there to protect their innocent eyes from high hemlines.

    Mr. Jones,

    I'm not sure I'm following you here. Why, exactly, would I speak to the boys in the class in an equally harsh and publicly humiliating manner? They didn't show up for class dressed inappropriately. Also, I don't think I was overly harsh with the girls. I took them aside, explained to them that they were not dressed appropriately, asked them if they had something else to wear, and, since they didn't, came up with the solution of making them don suprlices, so that we could go on with class that evening. I'm sure they were publicly humiliated, but they brought that upon themselves, showing up dressed as they were.

    I don't know if the way I handled the situation was the best way, but it was the only way I could think of at the time. In any event, I don't understand what cause I would have had to chastise the boys in the room. I don't see how the fact that I would not be with these boys the next day at school to protect their innocent eyes (how "innocent" are the eyes of teenage boys?) would give me cause to speak in a harsh and publicly humiliating manner to them. Maybe you could elucidate your point further.


  60. It's too bad that Mrs. Just (I'm assuming this isn't a real name) has left the blog and the conversation. But that's exactly what anyone should do if it is spiritually harmful.

    Her comments were illustrative of the difficulties we have when raising any controversial issue, and I appreciate her candor and her clear expression of her viewpoint.

    I have already raised the white flag when it comes to addressing the issue of what modesty is in this context - especially among my fellow Lutherans. I like what Mrs. Curtis wrote, but as we can all see, any practical definition whatsoever is going to be met with a great deal of anger. I think we're so fractured that any consensus is impossible, and even the discussions only lead to hurt feelings, frustration, and even some remarks that are terribly uncharitable to Mrs. Curtis. And if no-one else will offer her an apology, I'll at least weigh in with my sincere sorrow that her reputation has been scandalized on a blog of which I have some editorial responsibility. I can only offer consolation from our Lord in Matt 5:11-12.

    I don't think we're really capable of civil discussion on some topics.

    And to tell the truth, I wish Mrs. Just could convince me to adopt her view. I really do. It would free me up from unpleasant confrontations and having to address issues that might make me unpopular.

    And the Christian liberty approach is compelling and attractive to me as a Lutheran pastor. But then I'm confronted with 1 Tim 2:9. Paul writes to Timothy as a pastor in a pastoral epistle and puts upon Timothy the burden of overseeing modest dress among the women of the congregation. Yes, the men and boys should not lust. Yes women should not be catty. Yes the pastor should not be looking at the cleavage at the communion rail. But Paul does not take the tack of scolding everyone else and letting the immodestly-dressed woman innocently off the hook. Her immodesty is what is fueling others to sin. The idea that her garb should be respectable and not ostentatious flies in the face of our American individuality and sense that "it's nobody's business but my own." According to St. Paul, others do have a say in the matter. If they are distracted, the attire is by definition immodest, and the woman in question in need of pastoral counsel.

    I wish Paul would not have written this instruction to Timothy. I wish I could discard it as culturally conditioned or chalk it up to Paul's misogyny. It would have made my life as a parish pastor a lot easier. Paul implores pastors to address the issue of immodestly-dressed women, and doesn't give us the option of getting out of it with appeals to sociological context or playing the "what's in the heart is what matters" card (that which is in the heart is something that we conveniently can never know).

    And believe me, Mrs. Just and I are in complete agreement that we pastors ought to be doing "real ministry." And if Scripture had not bound my conscience in this matter, believe me, I'd avoid this whole topic like the plague. Unfortunately, for parish pastors, addressing the issue of immodestly-dressed women is "real ministry" - unless someone can help me weasel out of 1 Tim 2:9.

    In the real world, lines simply have to be drawn. People have to be confronted and called to repentance. I can't get out of it with sociological mumbo-jumbo. And boy do people hate being called to repentance! Whew! That's the one thing in the ministry I would love to get out of having to do. But sadly, that's a major part of "real ministry."

  61. Dear Rev. Messer,

    You wrote, “two of the 8th-grade girls showed up wearing skimpy, tight, tank-tops and short-shorts, much to the delight of all the boys in the class (these girls were rather mature for their age and wanted to proudly display what the good Lord gave them).”

    From the above I understood that the boys of the class brought your attention to the way these girls were dressed. These boys ought to be rebuked for leering, giggling, oogling or whatever. And they ought to be taught it is unmanly, unchivalrous, and sinful to gaze at a woman with impure thoughts. In this way, you would be teaching these boys how to handle themselves in the wider world – i.e., school the next day. “Innocent” was a sarcastic adjective, the fact that the boys were not innocent was my point.

    As to how you handled it, like I said, I may have done the same thing if taken off guard. But with the benefit of hindsight I am thinking that it may have been more effective and gentlemanly to publicly chastise the boys thereby indirectly and discreetly heaping shame on the girls as well. Boys tend to take that sort of thing better anyhow. And while it is just speculation, it might not have caused the showdown with the girl’s mother.


  62. Father Hollywood, thank you for your kind words. We've all spoken in anger before, and I bear no hard feelings. Anyone interested in a civil discussion can find my email address easily enough.

  63. I find this all highly ironic. . . as apparently I am both at one and the same time part and parcel of the legalistic cabal that drives people into exile (as Just-a-girl did bail in response to my post), and yet also the crazy anti-nomian who plays fast and loose with the Law.

    Of course, I'd argue that if the legalists think I'm an anti-nomian and the Anti-nomians think I'm a legalist, it means I'm right where I want to be, right along with St. Paul =o)

    I will admit, I am also confused as to why women on a blog that seems aimed towards women and things that impact them would be unable to devote time to discussing what may or may not be proper wear (having read it, it's not that bad. . . It is what I would like, so I would say it is safely conservative of what may be not quite over the - excellent job Mrs. Curtis, by in large). Disagreeing with the standards there in, in part or in whole, but the concept of people having time for this - yeah, if you don't have time for this type of stuff, something else needs to change.

  64. While I don’t agree with everything Just said, I do definitely agree that when a man lusts people tend to blame the woman he lusts after MORE THAN they would blame the owner of a Lexus for a man coveting that Lexus. This, again, reasonably strikes me as misogyny. Sometimes the cause of a man’s lust is a woman who is dressing immodestly. But sometimes it is a man who doesn’t have the self-control to be around any women dressed normally. (And, frankly, normal = tight t-shirts, just as normal a hundred years ago meant tight bodices.) And sometimes charges of immodesty are actually leveled by women about other women … and I just don’t understand why any woman would do that.

    Someone above (I forget who, now) said that lots of times HE didn’t notice a woman’s immodest attire until his WIFE pointed it out to him. Really? That means that the immodesty wasn’t causing the man to sin. It was causing the wife to be… judgmental, catty, jealous, whatever adjective you want to use. Unfortunately, I think the adjective has to be an unpleasant one, because, again, I can’t think of any loving reason for her to be habitually pointing out the supposed immodesty of other women to her husband (the “immodesty,” moreover, that he wouldn’t even have noticed on his own!)

    There is very little difference, in my opinion, between whispering to your husband, “Look at that neckline!” as whispering to your girlfriend, “Can you believe her purse matches her lipstick? How tacky!” Or whispering to the person next to you, “Can you believe how loud her children are?” Same impulse, in my opinion. (Not that I don’t have that impulse, too. I think I might have said all three of the sentences above, at one time or another. But let’s not sanctify it.)

  65. I don't think anyone is excusing lustful thoughts, behaviors, dreams, twitches, etc. in men, or writing off a man's responsibility to keep his mind out of a lady's blouse. Everything a woman wears or does, as Mrs. Jones said, is capable of inciting lust in men, simply because she is a woman. In my past personal experience, the most modest dress in my closet (it was a big SACK that covered me from neck to toe) drew more unfavorable attention from my supposed brothers than anything else I owned. We can't predict or control the effect of a garment on a passerby, a coworker, or the grocery check out guy. I don't see much use in gnawing our fingernails over what the menfolk are doing in the recesses of their hearts. We ought to dress considerately, but ultimately those recesses are their problem.

    However! I think we can all agree that what a woman wears communicates her CONFESSION to those who observe her. Should I choose to wear my jeans and t-shirts as tight as bark on a tree, even then I do not deserve or "ask for" contemptuous treatment, from either men or women. That isn't the point. In wearing such clothes, I'm aligning myself with this bit of the world that says, "Look 15, if you can. If you don't, we won't like you." What is more, if I wear something that makes looking EASY, then I am, essentially, offering my permission to those who want to make me an adulteress.

    So, which garments make looking "easy?" I think that's what Rebekah was trying to help women determine in her post over at our place. And really, what's so threatening about the suggestion that women think through their wardrobes? No one is saying women should cover their faces in burlap and their bodies in cement. No one is asking women to be ashamed of their figures. There isn't anything wrong with dressing according to the beauty you've been given. But dressing to purposefully (even if you aren't deliberately a vamp; not all clothes are cut equally) encourage eyes toward your more private endowments is . . . let's say it's dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense of Damnation! or She deserves it! but dangerous in that wearing such things boasts in all the wrong ways to all the wrong people. Why on earth does any Christian woman want to be a part of the fashion circus? That is what I don't get.

    Forget the world (and the burqa is of the world, people). Dress beautifully, but dress carefully. Think through that shirt or skirt or killer pair of heels before you put it on, even if you look great wearing it. Know what you're doing. That's all I'm saying.


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