The (Nearly) Naked Truth
“How can a young man keep his way pure?” the Psalmist asked. The answer: “By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9, ESV)
That, and locking himself in his house all summer.
Unfortunately, I’m not just talking about going to the beach or watching a PG-13 RomCom. I’m talking about sitting in church on a Sunday morning in May, attending a Fourth of July picnic, or meeting up with Christian friends for dinner. From shorts that wouldn’t fit a Barbie Doll to skirts and dresses designed to tease to shirts and tops that reveal more cleavage than an Antwerp diamond cutter, women wear clothes that—as my grandma would say—“leave nothing to the imagination.”
Now, before you call me a pig and tell me to get my mind out of the gutter or start looking for a fire hose, let me tell you something about men: They are attracted to the female of the species. Now, this isn’t exactly breaking news. Nor inherently sinful. After all, God created the attraction between men and women. The old joke is that Adam called Eve a woman because he looked at her and said “Whoa, man.” Now, I happen to believe that Eve was a ditzy, Valley Girl blonde. (“Like, Adam, totally have some of this ap-ple.”) But she was probably a ten. The problem is, once Adam and Eve listened to the talking snake (face palm), sin entered the world, and the attraction between men and women became subject to perversion. It also eventually led to more men and women, and Adam’s attraction wasn’t limited to Eve but to the more sensible brunette (as evidenced by her snakeskin boots) in the next garden over. (I realize they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden by now, but roll with me.)
Fast forward a few millennia, to godly, moral, happily married men sitting in church on a Sunday who suddenly can’t help but be drawn to the bare female shoulders in the row in front of them. Or to the woman on the worship team wearing a skirt a few inches shorter than perhaps it should be. Or, for that matter, to the woman in a sweater over a turtleneck, a scarf, loose pants, and likely long underwear. To some women, this isn’t exactly a revelation. But some of you are likely turning up your nose, frowning, and thinking men should grow up or quit being pervs.
And to some degree, you’re right. It is a man’s responsibility to keep his eyes and thoughts pure. I know of men who have wandered away from a sales clerk with a low-cut blouse and left their wife to handle the transaction. I know of men who have removed their glasses at the beach. I know of men who have avoided tempting situations altogether—like coming to church where they were seeing too much skin. Not joking.
Now, clearly, men can’t avoid any scenario where they might be sexually tempted by the way women dress, especially since men’s imagination can do just fine without any help. And, as I said before, it is the man’s responsibility to resist and flee temptation. But how much of the onus is also on the women and girls to dress appropriately? And what constitutes appropriate dress?
Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t give us specifics. The closest we get is I Timothy 2:9, which states “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety.” (NIV) Wouldn’t a passage somewhere in one of the letters to the Corinthians specifying skirt length, neckline style, and when to wear sleeves have been helpful? Something like, “I direct women everywhere, when gathering in the house of the Lord, to wear skirts that come to the knee, be wary of white or see-through material against sunlight, and, for the love of Mary Magdalene, please conceal your bra straps.” (For the record, in the next chapter, Paul could have written to the men about pulling up their pants and not showing their “draws.”)
Like so much of the Christian life, this is a tricky issue. It isn’t fair to women to make them wear clothes that couldn’t possibly stimulate a man. It’s been tried, and the Saudis are generally considered in bad taste. But it also isn’t fair for women to dress provocatively and then tell men to deal with it, you sicko.
So where’s the line? Literally. My college once sent a young lady back to her dorm to change before class because her skirt wasn’t long enough. Is that where we need to be, with ushers turning women away because they’re showing too much leg? Should Christian women all dress like the Duggars when they go to the beach? If so, I imagine male attendance at the beach will drop rather significantly. Is the line different for different men? Do some guys struggle at the beach, whereas others don’t? Are the outfits of Olympic figure skaters or gymnasts too provocative for some men but not others? And does the venue matter? Is more revealing clothing acceptable based upon location?
A couple of friends of mine were once discussing this, and I don’t remember the conversation verbatim, but one of them essentially compared the plight of men in Hawaii with that of men in Alaska. In Hawaii, nobody wears sleeves or full-length pants. Watch an episode of Magnum, P.I. (or three, because who wants to stop after one?) Bikinis and crop tops are everywhere. For crying out loud, two coconut halves constitute a shirt! A tank top is practically prudish. A Christian guy who wants to “keep his way pure” is going to have to deal with a lot of skin, and frankly, it wouldn’t be fair to ask all the women in Hawaii to dress in long sleeves. Conversely, when the temperature is -64 in Alaska, not a lot of women will be running around showing midriff and long legs. A purity-chaser in Nome might about lose it when he sees a woman sans parka, where the guy back in Hawaii has no qualms about seeing a woman in a cutoff top and hot pants. Is one right or wrong? Is one guy more pure than the other? Is the line subjective? (I volunteer to take trips to Hawaii and Alaska to try to figure it out.)
I don’t know. I can only speak for this man. And I’ll tell you I’m more enticed by a woman in a skimpy swimsuit than a woman in jeans and a sweatshirt. And it’s a sliding scale. T-shirt and shorts fit somewhere in the middle. I know, I sound like a pig. I feel like one sometimes. Once again, I don’t have the answers. But my goal is to stimulate (bad choice of words, perhaps) all of us to think.
To men, I would say this (I, not Paul or the Lord): It is your responsibility to be pure in thought and deed. Maybe that means not going to the beach, and maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it means not watching Olympic beach volleyball or the Miss America pageant (Steve Harvey can fill you in). But, at some point, you won’t be able to avoid being visually stimulated, say when the well-endowed woman in a flattering sundress sits beside you on a warm Sunday morning. Or when a co-worker wears a skirt that shows more legs than an all-you-can-eat special at Joe’s Crab Shack. Or a college student with a scoop-neck blouse bends over to pick up a backpack. In such a situation, guess what? Still your responsibility to be pure. My suggestion, ask the One who set the standard for help meeting it.
To the women, I would say this: We don’t want you all wearing burkas. (Besides, if you do, Donald Trump will kick you out of America.) Nor do I want to incite you to obsess constantly over whether your appearance is too sensual. But I do ask that you observe a little common sense. Stop, look in the mirror. Bend over in front of it. Do you want me to see what you’re seeing? I’m not going to tell you what to wear to the beach or a pool party or a baptism service with optional swimming after, because I have no idea. But for going out on a Friday night, at work if your employer doesn’t dictate a “standard,” in church on a Sunday morning, remember that guys are drawn to the female body. It’s who we are. We can’t stop it. Nor can you stop it by what you wear. But you can maybe mitigate it a little. You can take reasonable steps to limit the potential temptation.
As Red Green would say, “we’re all in this together” as Christians. We are the (well-clothed) body of Christ. We owe it to each other to conduct ourselves chastely, but we also owe it to each other to help each other live purely. Paul warned about being a stumbling block to other Christians. And when it comes to stumbling and women, guys are a drunk leaving the bar at closing time. So help us out.
- Nathan Birr is the author of The Douglas Files series and God, Girls, Golf & the Gridiron (Not Always in That Order) . . . A Love Story. (It’s as crazy as it sounds.) He tries very hard to keep his thoughts pure, so don’t think he’s looking lustily at you. But putting something over that camisole might not hurt.
(Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from New International Version, © 2011.)