By Loren Seibold  |  24 May 2019  |  

Recently I was reading an Adventist-run Facebook group about modesty in dress. The striking thing about this group is that it is organized and written mostly by men, yet is almost entirely about women. It is not unusual in this group to read a man saying, “Women in short dresses and pants cause us men to sin.” One—alarmingly—went so far as to say, “There is no way that men can resist women who are not modest.” 

Some of the women in this group buy into this, too. They not only scold about other women, but are obsessed with crafting outfits that will minimize any natural body shape they may possess.

Rare in this group is any mention of men’s responsibility. The assumption seems to be that in regard to sex, we men are like the stupidest of Pavlov’s dogs. We see bosoms, or even the general outline of such, and we want to have sex with the one to whom they are attached. We see legs, and we can’t control our lust for the woman perched atop them. A repeated theme in this group is, “Men are just different from women”—that is, they have diminished self-control.

I find this insulting. I’m as attracted to women’s beauty as the next heterosexual guy, but it doesn’t seem to me that it is women’s fault that I feel that way. Yet this notion seems to be common among pious Christian men: if they feel tempted, they want the object of their lust to take the blame.

When I pointed this out on the group, some took great umbrage. One man wrote that his concern was the women: “The dress can certainly be a revealer of the heart”—and he could tell what was in their hearts. (Psychologically it’s called “projection,” sir. Think about it.) A woman responded that according to Ezekiel 3:18-21 men should warn her when they’re turned on by her—which means she takes her instruction from the erotic opinions of all the horny man who have any. (It’s also an invitation to inappropriate sex talk if I’ve ever heard one.)

Another man fell back on an economic argument: “This is not only about provoking men, but dressing without costly array and garments.” Thanks, guys, for being on the case lest these nutty gals go crazy with their credit cards! Of course, we men never, ever, waste money on inessentials—right, guys? Every power tool and sporting event ticket and motorcycle I buy is an absolute essential—unlike those lipsticks the women waste their money on!

Stumbling Blocks

But ultimately the conversations about women’s dress always seem to circle back to their appearance being a stumbling block. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” Matthew 18:7

Of course God doesn’t want me to be a stumbling block to others. But the stumbling block theology I see among Adventists is different than that given us by Scripture. It has evolved from inspiration saying “Don’t you be a stumbling block to others”—which is marvelous advice—to one person saying to another, “I hold you responsible if you are a stumbling block to me. I can only avoid sinning if you don’t tempt me. So stop being a temptation!”

What a great dodge! “I am not responsible for my sin. You are.” 

The stumbling block theology among Adventists has evolved from inspiration saying “Don’t be a stumbling block to others”—which is marvelous advice—to one person saying to another, “I hold you responsible if you are a stumbling block to me!”

This is hardly a new idea in the sexual temptation arena, having been tested for years in the law courts, and it is the reason why so many women refuse to report rapes. “Miss Smith, what were you wearing the night you claim Mr. Jones raped you?” Sadly, I fear a few of my readers didn’t figure out what was wrong with that question, so just to make sure, I’ll tell you. It implies that it was how Miss Smith was dressed that caused Mr. Jones to jump out of bushes and force his penis into her. And then there’s, “Miss Smith, are you a virgin? How many men have you had sex with?”—implying if she’s ever voluntarily had sex, she’s given permission for any man to have sex with her, even against her will.  

All of this in the service of the notion that a man’s sexual thoughts and actions aren’t his own fault, but the fault of women.

Don’t Tempt Me

This way of thinking, if taken to its obvious conclusion, could shift the blame for all sin on to others. Your BMW causes me to envy you, so you shouldn’t be allowed to have one. I am jealous that I can’t play the piano like you do, so you shouldn’t be allowed to play it. Why am I so fat? It’s because of all the food ads on TV tempted me. In fact, it may be my wife’s fault that I can’t control my appetite, because she’s such a good cook!

“So why not just walk around naked?” one man asked. Because it wouldn’t be legal. You’d get cold. You’d get slivers sitting on a park bench. It wouldn’t be safe. Mosquitos would bite you in more places. That is to say, people don’t wear clothes just to control your lust!

Besides, how should anyone know what causes you to lust? When you tell a woman how to dress so that she doesn’t tempt you, you make her responsibility contingent on your sensibilities. How are the people around you going to accomodate all of your possible stumbling blocks? If you’re turned on by hair, should every woman wear a diving helmet? Or feet: should all women go about in muck boots? And woe to the woman who is excessively shapely: is there anything she can wear that won’t cause you to lust? That poor woman is going to have to go into solitary confinement. In Kabul, women who wear burkas—the most dehumanizing article of clothing ever devised—get raped. Obviously, even total modesty isn’t enough to stop the sexual thoughts of men.

Any man who seriously believes that women’s appearance is responsible for his sins is in trouble should he ever go to the beach, or look at a billboard, or go on the internet.

Take Responsibility

So I suggest we flip this around. Men, we should have the spiritual strength so that even if every woman in the world were walking around naked, we could turn our eyes away and control our thoughts. When Adam said, “The woman tempted me, and I sinned,” God didn’t give him a pass. Nor did Jesus say that if you’re tempted, you should overdress the women around you. No, he said if you’re tempted, you should gouge out your own eyes!

Christians love to “regift” the Bible’s advice to others, when it is clear that its primary purpose is to follow it oneself. The Ten Commandments don’t say, “Your responsibility is to make sure that others behave according to these rules.” The seventh commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” In Jesus’ midrash on that commandment in the Sermon on the Mount, he said “If you fantasize about a woman, you’ve committed adultery.” He didn’t make it the fault of the looked-at, but of the looker!

As for the stumbling block argument, what does Paul say is the real stumbling block? The judgments you make on others! Romans 14:13 (NIV) “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” For decades we in the Seventh-day Adventist Church have majored in female appearance. We have judged women for jewelry and makeup and even hair coloring. Our judgments have been greater stumbling blocks than anything women wore.

The Weaker Brother

The Bible talks about the weaker brother who we take care not to make stumble. However, you’d be hard pressed to make the case that every lusty man gets to call himself a weaker brother for the rest of his life—especially if he has the spiritual wherewithal to tell women they shouldn’t be tempting him. Doesn’t God expect growth from you, men? Doesn’t He expect that you’ll learn to control your own thoughts, rather than making someone else responsible for them? For years, Seventh-day Adventists have let the weakest brother or sister in the church dictate the behavior of everyone else. That is not biblical, or neither Jesus nor Paul would have been so stern about judgmentalism.

It turns out, men, your eyes have an interesting feature that can save you a lot of trouble: you can swivel them to look in a different direction!

It turns out, men, your eyes have an interesting feature that can save you a lot of trouble: you can swivel them to look in a different direction! It is not up to the rest of the world to nurture you forever in whatever place of spiritual susceptibility you’re at now. In short, you don’t get to push the reason for your sin on to others. It’s you, and you alone, even if all the women on earth were walking about naked.

Correcting the Erring

While there are references in Scripture to correcting the erring, correcting others is a minor theme compared to the number of times the Bible tells you to correct yourself. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5). “But a man must examine himself,” (1 Corinthians 11:28). “Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the Lord, (Lamentations 3:40). “How many are my iniquities and sins? Make known to me my rebellion and my sin,” (Job 13:23). “Confess your sins” (1 John 1:9)—not correct someone else’s.

Should you decide that it is up to you to tell others how to behave, please understand the claim you make of yourself. “Let he that is without sin cast the first stone,” said Jesus. Are you pure enough to say that? I very much doubt it. 

I will here say that what is to me the most damning thing about those who love to criticize others: they are, in my experience, frequently those with the most problems of their own. This is particularly true of the woman-criticizers. The men most judgmental of a woman’s modesty are also the men mostly likely to grab a woman’s bottom, or worse. (See Pipim, Samuel Koranteng) Do they try to control women’s appearance because they don’t want to control their own behavior? It makes them feel less culpable somehow? I can’t say I completely understand the phenomenon, I only report it.

Clarifications

First, I’m talking about sin, not safety. The blame-women bunch constantly gets confused on this point. It would be stupid for me to walk through a dangerous neighborhood fanning wads of cash. Yet if someone robs me, while it may be a result of my stupidity, it is not my sin. Knowing that some men want to blame women when they feel tempted, it may be safer for women to reduce their risk around such men—but that doesn’t make the man’s inappropriate words or actions the woman’s fault. 

Second, common sense about what to wear is a separate issue. Had I a daughter, I’m certain my wife would talk to her about dressing for success—about choosing sensible clothing for the job she is assigned to do. She’d tell her that outfits she likes might make her look less professional and she might be taken less seriously—and that whether or not she can dress in a certain way, perhaps its best she doesn’t. Perhaps this falls into the category of, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Companies have dress codes, as do schools, and that’s fine as long as they apply to everyone. (Most Adventist dress codes have been entirely woman-centered, conveying with no uncertainty the moronic notion that we men can’t control ourselves except by controlling women.)

Finally, one commenter on the modesty website, attempting to deliver the coup de grâce, said, “Don’t you know that there are women who use their sexual attraction to tempt men?”

Of course there are. In the right setting it’s called “courtship.”

Now, if he’s saying there are evil women who want to seduce men for selfish purposes, then yes, that happens too. But of course evil men also entrap and seduce and force women. Temptresses don’t characterize all women any more than rapists characterize all men. In fact, a common scenario is that men attribute seductiveness to women because the men feel sexual feelings looking at them, and so take their desire for the woman as an invitation when there was no sexual interest on the woman’s part at all. (Perhaps you’ve even heard a man say, “She’s just asking for it.”)

We need to sort out the cause and effect in this and quit mucking about in slippery, nonsensical arguments. Men, we live in a world where some people dress revealingly in public. There will always be women or images of women that will tempt you. So you’re going to have to exercise due diligence on your own. Women are responsible for how they dress, but not for your thoughts, your temptations, or what sins you choose to do. You cannot expect women to accommodate your temptations, because first, it’s not going to happen, and second, that “the woman tempted me” didn’t work for Adam, and it won’t work for you in the final judgment.

No one can cause you to sin. That is up to you. So buck up, men, and take responsibility for your own temptations!

Dear Adventist Today readers: I’m inserting this note to tell you that we are right now conducting our spring fundraiser. Adventist Today is largely a volunteer organization, but if we’re going to continue to provide you with stimulating news—often news you get nowhere else—and fascinating commentary by some of the best thinkers in the denomination, we do need some financial support. If you want to see us continue to do the journalism that you’ve been accustomed to from Adventist Today, become an AT member now or or give us a one-time gift. Thank you! Loren Seibold, Executive Editor, Adventist Today website and magazine.


Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.

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