A look at men and modesty.


Hermeneutics’ series on modesty continues. On Thursday they featured this piece.

Go and read it. This post isn’t going anywhere. 😉

Last week’s essay focused heavily on the way women dress. Meanwhile, men were portrayed as helpless creatures who are constantly at risk of being overcome by a woman’s wiles. However, this week, the author spent time discussing the history of lust. His concluding statement left me with the idea that lust made men guilty. Guilty as sin.

The church can still bear witness to God’s design for human relationships. For men, this means forsaking the way of the First Adam for that of the Second. Rather than blame our sisters, we must crucify the flesh. This is our responsibility in the work of redemption. (Emphasis added.)

Can I be honest with you?

I wish that Evangelical Christians would pause and conduct a serious assessment of their approach to modesty and lust. I don’t believe that arguments in favor of modesty are productive when they center on blaming women. However, they don’t get any better when they rely on blaming men.

I know that the arguments related to modesty originate from a very earnest place.

In Matthew 5, verses 27 and 28, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Emphasis added.)

The importance of the heart shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s the seat of human passions and emotions. And of course, adultery is mentioned in the ten commandments. But consider how the passage I quoted tends to be interpreted, versus how others might see it.

Jesus says that if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has “already committed adultery with her in his heart”. Here, I’m going to focus on the words, “in his heart”. (Or, if you prefer, in his mind or in his imagination.) Let’s step away from those verses for a moment and think about what’s really been said. If a man lusts after a woman, has he actually had an affair with her? No. Hence, I do not believe that men who have had a lustful thought towards a woman should be treated as though an act of sexual impropriety has taken place. Quite frankly, it hasn’t. Even if no one else knows about his illicit thoughts, I’m not at all sure that such a man ought to feel guilty.

Don’t get me wrong. If someone is going to objectify another individual, then yes. I think that he deserves to feel miserable.

But otherwise, I question the need to be concerned. In Christendom, I think there should be room for a healthy take on human sexuality. And right now as far as I can tell, there isn’t any.

Over the years, from what I’ve seen, Christian dialogue on sexuality hasn’t been designed with normal people men in mind. (You know. Men who are not on the verge of assaulting women.) Instead, the options that I’ve noticed tend to talk to men as though they all possess depraved minds. Most of the literature that I’ve read regarding modesty and lust has focused on stereotypes surrounding masculinity. It’s as though those doing the talking believe that all men are at risk of being sex offenders.

As an aside, consider the standard that single Christian adults are supposed to revere: 1) Remain celibate outside of marriage and 2) Whatever they do, they must not masturbate. If those two options are all there is, what’s left, if not a perpetual state of sexual frustration?

Granted, this frustration is supposed to be relieved through marriage. However I wrestle with the way that this option has been presented.  It’s not that I don’t believe in marriage. I do. (No pun intended.) However in my mind, promoting marriage as the solution to the “problem” of sexual desire isn’t always wise. Some (religious) people approach marriage from an immature standpoint. They dwell on the idea that matrimony grants them the opportunity to have FREE sex. Meanwhile, they have little if any understanding of the genuine work that a successful marriage requires.

Overall, certain aspects of the Evangelical view of modesty and lust human sexuality perpetuates an unhealthy perspective. I can understand the need to hold people responsible for inappropriate behavior. Nevertheless, in the future, I hope the discussion can rise above the level of presuming that one is guilty of indiscretions that have not actually been committed.

2 thoughts on “A look at men and modesty.

  1. I agree that Christian approaches to sexuality are largely unhealthy. The obsession with sexual purity only leads to young people feeling guilty and confused about their normal, healthy, biological changes and reactions during puberty.

    Particularly in regards to modesty culture, I recently wrote about the problem of conflating sexual attraction with lust. My Bikini Answer: Sexual Attraction is Not Lust

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