Yesterday, a couple of my acquaintances discussed this article, about Christian modesty and yoga pants, on Facebook. The article puts forth the same message I’ve seen or heard from countless Christian authors over the years. The argument goes something like this:
Women should be modest because that is a huge part of their self-worth and identity.
Guys are constantly “undressing women with their eyes”
Yoga pants (tank tops, jeans with holes, bikinis, etc, etc, etc) inspire lust
If women dress in a way that may be construed as “sexy,” they are inspiring men to sin by thinking sexual thoughts, and are “attention whores.”
Sexual thoughts and ‘purity’ are some of the most important spiritual concerns.
First, let me say I have nothing against modesty. I’m all for men and women looking classy instead of trashy. What bothers me about this argument (and its many variations) is that it’s a symptom of “1st World Christianity.” Our faith often reflects our culture, and it is never more apparent than in articles like the one above.
Not everything is about us.
1st World Christianity neurotically focuses on the individual. The question, “Am I spiritually okay?” becomes a repetitive and tyrannical mantra. On virtually every Sunday, in virtually every church, one will hear this same question rephrased and repeated. While there’s nothing wrong with being deeply reflective, taken to the extreme, this obsession with ourselves (and eventually the “spiritual health” of our neighbors) makes us fundamentally narcissistic. If I am so focused on myself — anxious and fearful about my own spiritual health — then of course I will get upset when others become a “stumbling block” and shake my delicate equilibrium.
We need to get out of our own heads, for a spirituality built entirely in our own minds, and centered around ourselves, is a weak spirituality indeed.
That’s what I find so upsetting about arguments like the article above. The focus is on us and how people perceive us. We are essentially concerned with our image. This attention is not God-focused, it is self-focused. Arguments about yoga pants and Christian modesty encourages us to be just as infatuated with our own self-image as any other member of society. Our standards may be different, but our obsession is the same.
Not everything is about sex.
I swear that one can hear more about sex in many churches in America than on the raunchiest MTV reality shows. Like the rest of our culture, we’re consumed with it. Purity, lust, “courtship”, “taking thoughts captive”: there is an entire vocabulary (and industry) around the idea that our sexual purity is somehow on the very top of God’s priorities.
I’m sorry, but when I read the Bible, I don’t see Jesus criticizing others for wearing headscarves that are too sexy. I don’t remember him accusing people of having sandals that showed too much skin. Instead, I remember him asking for water from a woman at a well who had been labelled a “whore” by her town. I remember him hanging out with Mary Magdalene and saving the adulteress from getting stoned to death. I remember expensive perfume being poured on his feet as an act of love.
At the end of the day, our obsession with our sexuality (and our sexual thoughts) is not biblical. We live in a culture obsessed with sex, and we’ve simply moved that obsession to the pews.
Maybe we should worry more about the person making the yoga pants.
There is a woman in Bangladesh who made those yoga pants. She lives on 2 dollars a day. She cannot feed her family and lives in the slums. While she struggles in poverty, American Christians worry about whether their voluminous closets are too lust-inspiring.
I’m not necessarily trying to appeal to our sense of guilt, but I happen to believe that the real sin of yoga pants has nothing to do with the girls that wear them. The real sin is the economic, social, and political systems that allow us 1st World Christians to live in affluence because of the exploitation of others. While I don’t remember Jesus worried about the sexiness of head scarves, I do remember him concerned with the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised. I remember him flipping the tables of money lenders at the temple, blessing the poor, and encouraging economic justice through a tax-collector named Zacchaeus. In fact, Jesus talks far more about economic issues than sexual ones.
1st World Christians have a lot to worry about spiritually, but yoga pants are not one of those things. In a culture where Mammon is the undisputed god, and both our advertisements and our churches fixate on self-image, being Christ in the world means stepping out of that system entirely. It means getting out of our own heads. It means confronting social, economic, and political Goliaths that are far bigger than ourselves. It means living and speaking in such a way that shouts a giant “F— you” to the destructive and despairing forces of our society and our church. That is hard, dirty work; it will probably ruin your clothes anyway.
Wear what you want.
Ladies, wear what you want. Or wear nothing at all. I’ll be out in my garden, taking care of a small piece of earth God has given me to tend. I’ll be teaching my kids how to live simply and how to find fulfillment in good work. I’ll be performing small acts of rebellion and resistance to our destructive culture. I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I’m too busy to notice what you’re wearing.