"Why does she have on those hooker shoes?" That's how one of my godmothers began our phone conversation Monday morning. She was disheartened by a woman's church attire, and that was just one of her examples. I shared my observations concerning the responsibility of modesty and its challenges for both men and women.
My cultural background advises me to put on my "Sunday Best" when I enter God's sanctuary, where my physical presentation to God speaks volumes about how I reverence him. If I don't say anything about my spiritual condition, few people can confidently speak about what's going on in my heart. Yet they can observe my emotional and physical condition, either through my smile, physique, or radiant skin (which can reveal proper hydration, rest, and minimal stress).
Whether I like it or not, people draw assumptions about me based on my physical presentation. As a Christian woman, I do not want people drawing the wrong conclusions about my focus. I believe that modesty is a major issue in our churches. While I cannot take ownership of someone else's sin, I do accept the responsibility for being my brother's keeper.
Do Christian women know when they are not being modest?
Some suggest that most Christian women know that modesty is a problem in the church, that we need to be more conscientious of our clothing choices, and that our physical presentation has the ability to negatively influence men. Yet if we are aware of these issues, why don't we do something about it?
When discussing modesty, the major concern is the sin of lust in its various forms that has infiltrated our churches. Lust is often a sin that is poorly addressed among Christian men and women, and rarely is modesty addressed as a gateway to our declining moral standards concerning lust. To be clear, I am not letting men off the hook. Pornography is an ongoing problem with many Christian men (and a rising problem among women as well). If that is an unconfessed sin of a brother or sister, anything can "trigger" them spiraling down the wrong road.
On the other hand, spiritual maturity requires that I evaluate my heart. A godly heart is revealed through self-sacrificing actions that esteem others above myself. A sin-sick heart is centered on what is important to me—where my rights will always determine my actions. Let's face it: We all want to look attractive. If the motivation is to look attractive at any cost with no consideration for others, however, there is a heart issue to confront.
Here is how I personally practice modesty in church. During the fall and winter months, I frequently wear pants, and made a conscience decision to take a shawl or cardigan whenever I wear a shorter dress or skirt during the warmer months. While sitting in a circle during Sunday school class, I drape the shawl across my knees so that I am not exposed when I sit down. I don't have to cover my knees, but I do it because I don't want to be a stumbling block for a brother or sister.
Be mindful that I am not calling for a dogmatic expression of judgment toward each other concerning what is or is not modest. I am stating that outward behaviors are expressions of the spiritual war that rages in our own hearts. A changed heart leads to a changed life—and maybe even a changed wardrobe.
I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that some women are oblivious as to when their attire is a distraction. I do not believe that most Christian single women chose their attire for the sole purpose of landing a man, or that most married women aim to grab the attention of men who are not their husbands.
With that understanding, I believe that the modesty issue is partially due to a lack of training concerning their physical appearance. Whatever happened to etiquette classes? And why are we not speaking against the deception that modesty is unattractive?
My mom educated me concerning appropriate church attire. In her words, "You don't go to church dressed any kinda way." During high school, I trained as a debutante, and the older women constantly reminded us, "Not all women are ladies, and ladies present themselves in a particular fashion." I learned about modesty first in my home, then through mentoring relationships and professional development courses, and finally from the fabulous fashionistas who are my friends. While I certainly have not upheld all the instructions given me, thankfully I had a foundation on which to build as I matured into womanhood.
I realize that everybody does not receive those wonderful opportunities, and I believe that we have an obligation to create them. Is modesty now a responsibility that women's ministries need to take on?
How can we reconsider our church attire and a new approach to the Sunday morning routine, the office, or wherever our mission field may be?
Natasha Robinson is co-director of the Women's Mentoring Ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC, and founder, writer, and speaker for His Glory On Earth Ministries. She is a full-time student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and a wife and mother. She blogs at A Sista's Journey, where she wrote a post titled "Lust of the Eyes," and tweets at @asistasjourney. She has written for Her.meneutics about Beyonce's message of female empowerment.