Jesus Loves You… in that outfit.
Disclaimer: Please, before you read this article I want you to understand that these are just some beginning, feeling out observations of some people in some situations. It is not meant to be a rash generalization of everyone, so please do not read it that way.
I came across a funny word play the other day. Some of the critics of the Emergent Church have used the words “sola cultura” as a critique against current emergent theology/philosophy. If this does not strike you as humorous let me explain: the fathers of the Reformation identified “sola fida” (faith alone), “sola gratia,” (grace alone), and “sola scriptura” (scripture alone) as central to their protest. Insisting that a movement has abandoned these three and turned to culture as the organizing principle is a serious charge, but the charge is made in a cleverly subtle way that makes me giggle.
As I thought about how culture affects our interactions and what its role in the church may be some other thoughts came into my head unbidden, and I began to ruminate on how some people dress when they go to church, and I thought I would share some thoughts with you. I promise to be as open as possible on this subject, try and not get dogmatic, but I believe there is a problem.
It seems to me that in current secular culture “good looking” means sexually desirable, and little else. Good looking simply means sexually desirable. While this may not be sustainable across all of culture it is nevertheless deeply, deeply rooted. Watch some commercials, movies, and read some magazines. Our standard is sexualized, and often people are encouraged to mimic that standard. The way we mimic that standard is by eliciting a sexual response from the opposite sex. Here is a very important point that I don’t want you to miss: this response does not need to be overtly sexual or flirtatious. He knows that she knows that he knows (or vice versa) is enough. Now here’s my question: what happens when we bring that societal standard with us into the church?
This is a complicated issue; particularly, because there are so many Christians going to church today that are completely unaware of their worldview (heck some are so naïve they think they don’t even have a worldview), do not know their Bible, and have a difficult time determining between the standards of Christianity and culture—with apologies to all the prosperity seekers, relevant churches, etc., believe it or not, the world and the Bible actually do set up different standards sometimes. Who woulda thunk it? But because there can be ignorance someone getting dressed for church on Sunday morning unaware of where their value set is coming from can dress like a dirty pirate hooker and honestly believe they are simply looking “good.” We need to be understanding towards these people and help them along.
Of course, the argument from some people is “I look good and you need to deal with the lust in your heart.” This can be true for some, and further complicates the discussion because there are some people that have severe lust issues and it does not matter how someone presents themselves they are eye raping them anyways. But what about when you don’t have to undress someone with your eyes because they showed up that way in the first place? What about the person that is wearing pants so tight if you put a quarter in their back pocket you could read the year at 20 feet? What bothers me is the question of whether this is a biblical ideal or a cultural norm. I have a hard time believing that someone could biblically support the ideal of eliciting a sexual response from all Christian brothers or sisters.
There is an interesting word in the Greek skandalon. This word is often translated as “stumbling block,” or “offense.” However, it does have another meaning that is sometimes more appropriate (I won’t bore you with the corresponding classical Greek and Hebrew). This other meaning is the stick in a bait trap on which the bait is fixed. On these occasions we are not to be the bait in a trap and tempt our brother and sister to sin. In this sense the onus for behavior is on the dresser not the looker with lust in his/her heart.
I have wondered that if someone was crazy enough to let me on their platform again at a church if I should go out and start speaking with my zipper part ways down and no underwear on. Not all the way mind you… just enough to show some neck. When the appropriate uproar was over I suppose that if I responded, “What? I look good. You need to deal with the sin in your heart if this bothers you,” it would not sway the majority of the imaginary people to my side.
If this is making you angry I apologize, but I would suggest that you consider what I have to say and whether your judgments are coming from the Bible or society, and whether being thought of as “good looking” is very important to you and why. The first person I discussed this with got very angry with me, and wondered if he should sell all the clothes he had and buy some Grandfather clothes from Goodwill. That wasn’t my question or solution, I just wondered if he was presenting himself in a way that was attempting to elicit a sexual response, and if he wanted women to find him sexually desirable. He was very irate with these questions. Funny thing is I found out a few months later that at the time he was in one affair and beginning another. I think I got my answer.
I feel like an old man, “You kids and your new fandangled fashions!” What’s next a post on turning down music? Probably not, but I think we have let a deeply sexual society determine some of our norms and we need to be aware of that, specifically, in the way that it affects our own hearts and motivations. Some students from my school went to a Sikh Gudwara. One of the “Christian” young ladies wore a shirt that was very revealing, and by revealing I mean I could have lobbed a cantaloupe from the other side of the room and it would have found safe haven in her cleavage. It was a shocking contrast to the way the Sikh women were conservatively attired. I am aware that I am using some extreme examples, but for those that are unaware of their social integration, or struggle with this, I think a very important question to answer is: are you hoping to elicit a sexual response from the most of the opposite sex you meet (or just the “hot” ones)?
I imagine there will be some interesting comments on this one. Be nice.