A question of Modesty

I saw a video on YouTube in response to the reaction to a song by Matthew West called Modest is hottest. The response the video was addressing had come from a “progressive Christian” source. The response had criticised the song as being too restrictive. There was more to it than that. The makers of the video believe very strongly in scriptural authority. I’m with them on that. But I felt that they were rejecting the criticism because of where it was coming from. This post comes from my response to that video. It was 6 months in the making. I have expanded on my response a little, but it is basically what I posted. I am including the lyrics to the song to give a little context to my post.

“Modest Is Hottest” by Matthew West

Dear daughter, it’s me your father
I think it’s time we had a talk
The boys are coming round ’cause you’re beautiful
And it’s all your mother’s fault
And I’ve been trying hard to raise you up right
No drinking, no smoking, no swearing
But your old man’s got a little more advice
When it comes to the clothes that you’re wearing, listen

Modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend
Is a little more Amish, a little less Kardashian
What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad

If I catching you doing dances on the TikTok
In a crop top, so help me God
You’ll be grounded till the world stops
I’m just kidding, no I’m not

‘Cause modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend
Is a little more Amish, a little less Kardashian
What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad

All the parents be saying their prayers
That all their girls, they’ll be wearing more layers
Moms and dads round the world, yeah, they’re on their knees
Lord make them more like Jesus and less like Cardi B

No offense to Cardi B
I’m sure she’s a really nice girl and Jesus loves her but I just think…

Modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend
Is a little more Amish and a little less Kardashian
What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad
What the boys really love is a one piece with a raincoat over that
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad
Trust me, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad

I agree that the song is meant to be humorous. But the conversation surrounding it is not. I’ve been involved with parts of the Australian purity movement for a number of years. I’ve participated in and facilitated groups trying to help men with porn addictions. I’ve found these programs have been helpful, for a time. Then when temptation returned, I fought it until I reached some tipping point of weakness then I was back to square one. You may ask what this has to do with “Modest is Hottest”. I shared that to create context for my observations. A comment was made regarding Progressive Christians saying that modern society had a sexualised view of the human body. The response in the re-written lyrics seemed to be saying, that’s the way it is, just go with it. Unlike Progressive Christianity, I do believe in the authority of scripture. The Bible says what it says. We have to deal with it. What makes me uncomfortable is the modern use of the word “modest”. The words translated as modest in the Bible aren’t speaking about clothing and as far back as the 1828 Websters dictionary, the definition of modesty didn’t mention clothing, but behaviour. 1 Timothy 2:9 is the verse which commands women to dress modestly and is often used to command covering up. But in context it is talking about not making life a fashion competition. Verse 10 commands them to dress in good works. Modesty is not about clothes. I have heard from multiple sources that if anyone owns more than 1 change of clothes, they are in the top 10% of wealthy people globally. We live in a world of mass production. Before that every part of clothing manufacture was by hand and time consuming. From ploughing to planting to harvesting to processing the fibres to spinning to weaving to dying to making clothes. Clothes were really expensive. Only the really wealthy could afford multiple clothes and the extremely poor would likely have none. No running water meant that bathing and washing was done outside for the vast majority of people. Unless of course you were wealthy enough to afford people to carry the water to your house. Though you were dressed for most things, nakedness wasn’t unseen and didn’t hold the moral shame that it seems to hold these days. It was the use of nakedness which made it shameful, not the nakedness itself.

It was not uncommon in biblical times for those who did smelly dirty work to remove their clothes when working. There are ancient artworks of fishermen and agricultural workers working naked, presumably because they can clean their body more easily than their one change of clothes. That would keep their clothes clean and stain free for all the times when they need to be clothed, which was most of the time. But back to the song and its aftermath. I don’t have an issue with clothing in the sense of how much skin is covered or uncovered. But when it is designed to stimulate my imagination in a sexual sense, then it is a problem. I read recently of a teacher telling a class of boys that a woman in a skimpy bikini can catch your eye more than the same woman with nothing on, because the imagination often paints a more powerful picture than the real thing. And well, Cardi B’s dance moves sometimes look like one half of a sex act. When body language, including the way they are dressed, is trying to communicate sexual availability, then that is really immodest. The same kinds of behaviour in a turtle neck and jeans is still immodest. When God created us in his image, he did it gendered. That means that our bodies are as much a part of the Image of God as anything else. The “one flesh” of marriage reflects the unity in the Trinity in a physical way. Modern immodesty defaces that physical image. It’s as though I walked into the Louvre with a marker pen and drew glasses and a moustache on The Mona Lisa.

Modesty was always an attitude and a behaviour rather than a code of dress. The song actually doesn’t disagree with that. But our naturist friends can be perfectly modest according to 1 Timothy 2:9-10, while wearing nothing but the suit they were born in. And someone in a turtleneck and slacks could be immodest by the same definition. We need to be modest no matter what we are wearing. Or not wearing.

Hitting the beaches.

In the lead up to this time of year, we go into the shops and all the music is Christmas carols. What is a white Christmas, anyway? It’s summer in Australia. Decorations are out. Advertisers do their best to make us spend money. We are led to believe that how much we spend is directly proportional to how much we love people. We see Santa’s everywhere. Sometimes we see nativity scenes. Nice clean displays of Mary and Joseph, a baby in a manger, wise men, shepherds and sundry farm animals. People put Christmas lights on their houses. Churches put on special services where we tell people that God loves them and Baby Jesus was born. It’s all very nice.

But how many of you are like me and spend Christmas feeling like you are missing something. There is so much happening that you don’t have time to stop and think about it. At this time of year, I feel like “stop the world, I want to get off.” So much of how we do Christmas, is so nice. But was it? A baby was born. But what’s the point? I want to go back to the start.

In Genesis 3 we read about the first humans having a conversation with a serpent. During that conversation, the serpent convinces the woman that the knowledge of good and evil would be good and make them like God. We could ask the question, why is that a problem? Knowing something back then implied experiencing, not just the head knowledge we have today. But the con was that they could decide for themselves what was good and what was evil. God had created them to trust him for that knowledge. The man and woman, who had been created happily naked, suddenly felt exposed.

God confronts them then announces the consequences. The consequence which points to Christmas pertains to the serpent.

Genesis 3:15  And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

The woman’s offspring would be Jesus. We look at the nice nativity scene and we have all good feelings. But from heaven’s point of view it was D-Day. In the battle to restore the damage of that first rebellion, boots were now on the beach. The beach head was established. It may have looked nice, but the conflict was real, and deadly. The Roman ruler Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys under the age of 18 months in the town of Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the baby. He and his parents were refugees in Egypt until Herod died. Three decades later, he was nailed, humiliated and naked to a Roman cross in an attempt to silence the message he had been preaching. But unlike so everyone else who the Romans killed something happened. He didn’t stay dead. The soldiers who’s been ordered to guard his tomb were bribed to lie about what they saw. The first named witnesses were a couple of women. Which is interesting because women weren’t considered good witnesses back then. But we know who they are. The first readers of the accounts could have tracked them down.

But what does so this have to do with Christmas. At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus birth. When God became one of us. We think about God’s love and the baby saviour. But from heavens perspective it was the start of the ground invasion. This baby was the offspring spoken of in Genesis 3, and in dying and coming back to life, defeated the serpent.

Now that’s good news. The guilt of human rebellion can be forgiven. The exposure they felt can be undone. The broken relationship with God can be restored.

It makes you think. But more importantly what are you going to do about it?