No, it is not the most urgent issue facing the Christian church, but yes, it is part of the larger discussion of Christian living because everything we do in the body matters. The only way we have to live out our faith is in the body; souls are unseen; they depend on the body to express what is inside.
The Internet has been electrified. Blog watchers are astounded, shocked, indignant. In the international realm of the blogosphere, where anyone can have almost any opinion and can write of virtually any personal experience they've had or conclusion they've drawn, one woman has had the audacity to post the unbelievable.
On January 6, 2015, this Christian woman, Veronica Partridge, blogged of her decision no longer to wear leggings (yoga pants) in public. The Internet has come alive with responses, both written and videoed, many of them disparaging. Her decision has been called "ridiculous" and "absurd." Some have even gone so far as to question her husband's marital faithfulness and insinuate that he "put her up to this" because of some deep issue of his own. And some think that she is doing this to make herself feel "more faithful."
Frankly, in regard to many of the responses, it is more than a little awkward to see men and women discussing this topic in their klieg-lit studios, the men attempting to appear "above it all" and the women with lazily-crossed bare legs and short-skirted outfits. They seem to totally miss the point - the female body has power. That's pretty much the basis for the discussion in the first place.
The other point that seems very obvious to me is that no one has denied that yoga pants do indeed invite men to entertain lustful thoughts. I think the word "cause" might be too strong; after all, no one can make another person sin. But we can certainly make it easier for someone to stumble by what we do.
Just listening to the young male journalists discuss this issue with silly grins on their faces is very telling. One young dude said that he liked yoga pants [for women] and that they "livened up his day." What is that supposed to mean? Have an idea? Another brave guy even admitted that yoga pants were "hot." Uh-huh. I think we understand that language.
A Christian man who wrote a very transparent response to this issue admitted that when the girls "sporting yoga pants or leggings . . . saunter through the door" of his local coffee shop, he will "catch myself peeking."
Guess it's pretty universal then. The appeal is there. No one has proven otherwise.
Here then are a few of the common reactions the public (and journalistic world) has had to Veronica's post and the VQ view of each of them.
- "Saying that women should guard what they wear is disseminating the idea that a woman's body is dirty or shameful."
VQ view - The idea that a woman should guard what she wears speaks to her power and value. A diamond is cared for differently than a river rock. The sexual force of a woman (expressed in the design of her body) is not evil, but it is very powerful. That power should be protected and used appropriately. What is actually dirty and shameful are the thoughts and leers of uncontrolled men; being viewed as "hot" isn't really a compliment, but today's woman thinks it is.
- "Men are not so simple-minded that they have to lust after a woman's body in tight or revealing clothing. They need to take cold showers and cool it."
VQ view - If that is so, then why is there even such a thing as pornography? Why do 68% of young adult men view porn at least once a week? And why are men 543% more likely to view porn than women? (see porn stats) Is it only "simple-minded" men who are attracted and even addicted to pictures of female nudity? Could it be that God put a radar in the male psyche that responds to the female body and that our culture is exploiting that in wrongful ways?
- "Men will look, regardless. Wear a garbage bag, and they will still lust."
VQ view - This statement, though it has been made in reference to the yoga pants debate, seems in direct opposition to the above point of view. But, taken at its own value, it implies that clothing is a superfluous entity, that it makes no difference what a woman wears anyway. I again point to the pornography empire which has made billions by using unclothed women. It does make a difference. Remember the pin-up gals of the World War 2 era? How come the popular ones weren't pics of girls in long skirts and full blouses? Yeah, I know the imagination can still be depraved whatever a woman is wearing. But come on. You can't expect reasonable people to believe that clothing makes no difference in this issue of lust. The whole of modern and past culture tells us differently. Only an ignorant person would claim otherwise.
- "A woman should have the freedom to dress any way she chooses. She is not responsible for the way a man thinks."
VQ view - Western culture rebels against restriction and does not want to be told what or what not to do (or wear, in this case). One female host said that after an issue with a former boyfriend, she would never let anyone tell her what to wear again, not even a boss. Okay; that's insightful. I'm sure she's a delight to get along with.
The prevailing attitude is "I can do what I want, and no one better challenge me." And the funny thing is that Veronica Partridge began her blog post with a disclaimer, saying that she was sharing a personal decision and was not telling others what they should do. Some responses referred to this and admitted she had the right to her own view and decision. But many still felt that they needed to defend their own "right" to wear whatever, whenever. Makes you wonder if they didn't sense the truth of what she was saying . . .
Women responding to her post have been enraged that someone should dare to suggest they should not wear something they like. And the men have said "hey, keep wearing the yoga pants if you want." Presumably, non-Christian men because they like the "perks," and Christian men because they feel it is their responsibility to take control of their thoughts and that their Christians sisters shouldn't feel burdened with their problem. That's admirable, and even true on one level. But the deeper issue is that we are our "brother's keeper." Not to the degree that we must take total responsibility for his soul, but that we are to, as Romans 14:15 says "live in love" towards others. The writer was speaking of eating meat sacrificed to idols and how it could cause a "brother" to stumble in his faith. If what one eats could be serious enough to be considered, I think an article of clothing could as well. The goal should be to help one another on toward godliness, not put obstacles in the way for him or her to climb over.
"So let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of one another’s character. Surely we shouldn't wish to undo God’s work for the sake of a plate of meat!" - Romans 14:20, Phillips
Yet, on the other side, to conclude that men cannot help themselves is to sell short the grace of God and the strength He has placed in them. Men are exhorted in 1 Timothy 5:2 to act toward the older women as "mothers" and the younger women as "sisters." If men were to put this into place, it would certainly add a great deal of restraint, both in regards to pornography and to thoughts about women in real life situations.
This brings us to a similar blog post, this time by a pastor, Jarrid Wilson, with the title "The Problem with Christian Cleavage" and then revised to "The Importance of Modesty and Self-Control." Unfortunately, the original post has been taken down, but I have read his revised version. He has been criticized by some for an extreme view, but I thought his article was well written and his point well taken.
It seems that he was primarily addressing those in the Christian community and calling on young women to guard their clothing and on young men to guard their minds. Where is the problem with that? For generations, the church has addressed issues which are pertinent to the day and which are causing many to stumble. It has never been popular, but it has been the right thing. Pastors are the "watchmen" over the souls of their congregations and the world. Like the prophets of old, it is their solemn duty to identify the dangers and warn us.
I applaud Pastor Wilson for taking his duty, his ministry and his family (he is a husband and soon-to-be father) seriously and putting out the word that we need to be careful. He's right. Christian women aren't always as careful as we should be. That's no more critical than saying that Christian men still struggle with the temptation to lust. The fact is, both men and women need reminders in this area of sexuality because it is so powerful and so intrinsically part of our beings.
I am a woman who was raised as a child in a tradition of simplicity and modesty of dress. As an adult, I chose to embrace that style as my own. I have always lived with a close eye on my outward appearance and a heightened awareness of modesty; it is my comfort zone. I make no excuses, and I gladly stand where I am, but I realize others may not have that background. Yet, as the mother of a teenage son and the wife of a man who is also a pastor, I see from another angle that there is validation for taking care in the way we dress. I have to admit a sense of frustration with Christian women whose short skirts or cleavage-baring tops have me telling my son "Try to focus on her face." I do feel a degree of incredulity at women who claim Christ as Lord and yet make clothing choices that hug the curves and cling to the form and show way too much skin. I really don't get that. It seems to be living in oblivion to reality.
And yet, as a woman who has lived her entire life in the church world, I also admit frustration with the overdone attempts to "protect our men." I have heard statements made (with good intention) that were too hard on women, that did seem to make the female body a thing of shame, something to be hidden from babyhood. I have heard talks which seem to emasculate men, making them out to be powerless against sexual lust unless women helped them out.
Perhaps the biggest pet peeve of mine, as a musician, was the "piano curtain" modesty shield. While I totally understand the whole "pianist on an elevated platform, legs in view, etc." to me it seemed that it was distrustful of women, that it doubted we could dress or sit decorously. I'm sure that was not the reason, and, perhaps, for me, that was my own bit of rebellion, my own statement of " it's your problem, not mine" my own version of pretending that a woman's body has no affect. In the end, I need to take my own advice; if a piano curtain helps others to godliness, then it is all right. Since I don't fully understand the temptations of men, I cannot expect to understand what they find helpful. A point of clarification though. . . some religions (Islam, for instance) would take this to the extreme, claiming that a woman's very body is inherently sinful and a tool to make men sin. There is a need for balance and good biblical sense and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
So, to some degree, I know a little of both sides of this fence, and at this point in my journey, here are some other things I think I know:
1. A woman's body has power.
2. After the Fall in the Garden, sexuality was skewed and clothing was designed by God to cover nakedness. ( As I read it, that's pretty much the way it is).
3. Clothing design today trends toward revealing the feminine form by tight-fit or by exposure, not covering it.
4. Men have an internal radar that cannot ignore the female body. They are powerfully affected by sight. Exposed skin, clinging clothing invites their eyes.
5. We are responsible to help others on toward godliness, not hinder them.
6. Men are commanded to control their passions and thoughts by God's grace.
7. Women are instructed to dress in "respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control." (1 Tim. 2:9, ESV)
8. Yoga pants/leggings have sex appeal; they draw men's eyes. I haven't heard anyone deny it.
9. Veronica's decision not to wear leggings or yoga pants in public was made out of a desire to honor God and her husband and other men. She was courageous and she was right.
10. Ultimately, in the way we dress, think, act and "whatever we do, " we are to do it all "to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31, ESV) That's the filter that brings it all into focus.