Sharon Hodde Miller wrote a piece for ChristianityToday.com back in 2011 about how the ‘Modest is Hottest’ movement was hurting young women. I was not blogging back then, and in fact had not heard of this movement until recently. I have a 12 year old daughter and we have been exploring what our family believes Biblical modesty to be.
From other posts I have read of Mrs. Miller, she could rightly be understood as a Christian feminist, I do not say that to discredit her work, but only to offer a little background on where she is coming from in her thought processes.
The main site for “Modest is Hottest” can be found at http://www.modestishottest.com/
Sharon Hodde Miller’s response to this movement can be found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2011/december/how-modest-is-hottest-is-hurting-christian-women.html?start=1
In this post I will primarily be examining Mrs. Miller’s response, and showing where I agree and disagree with her critique.
Mrs. Miller writes:
“The Christian rhetoric of modesty, rather than offering believers an alternative to the sexual objectification of women, often continues the objectification, just in a different form.
As the Christian stance typically goes, women are to cover their bodies as a mark of spiritual integrity. Too much skin is seen as a distraction that garners inappropriate attention, causes our brothers to stumble, and overshadows our character. Consequently, the female body is perceived as both a temptation and a distraction to the Christian community. The female body is beautiful, but in a dangerous way.”
This is the typical teaching of feminists that the problem is not with women, but with men. We need to teach men to stop seeing women as sexual objects, but as people, or so we are told.
In the Feminist, and Christian feminist mindset, it is practically impossible for a man to see women as both people and objects sexual beauty and desire, it is either one, or the other in their view.
If anything, most feminists actually think men can have their minds reprogrammed, to sort of have a “sexual on and off switch”. So that only when it is appropriate, for instance in the context of a committed relationship, or in marriage would a man ever be sexually attracted to a woman. But the idea of men being attracted to women, minus any relationship context, is pure evil to the Feminist and her cousin the Christian Feminist.
I actually have had discussions with some Christians (some who are feminists and some who are not) who believe that a man being sexually attracted to women before marriage, or being attracted to other women other than his wife after marriage, is part of the corruption of sin from the fall in the Garden of Eden. They believe that God’s original plan was that man would only desire a woman sexually after marriage, and then only that woman, and no other woman.
The problem is, this kind of thinking is never supported from the Scriptures. God made men polygamous in nature, and his Word even regulates how polygamy may occur. Many of the great Patriarchs of the Bible, including Jacob the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, were polygamists. God pictures himself as a polygamist with two wives (Judah and Israel) in prophecy.
You can read in more detail about what the Bible says about Polygamy from my series:
Why polygamy is not unbiblical
The reason I have said all this is – goes back to Mrs. Miller’s assertion about men seeing women as sexual objects and that is the problem we should focus on – in her view. I would not disagree with the fact that there are men who purely see women as sex objects, completely divorced from their person-hood, and that is Biblically wrong behavior. God wants men to respect and honor women as human beings, and he wants them treated with human dignity.
But that does not change the fact that men seeing women as objects of sexual beauty and desire is NOT the problem here, it is not a defect, it is by the design of God. A man desiring women’s beauty, is symbolic of God desiring the beauty of his church. That is why God has designed women to want to be beautiful, and why he has designed men to be attracted to the beauty of women.
Psalm 45 which is a messianic prophecy of Christ and the Church says this:
“So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him…The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework…”
Just as God desire’s the beauty of his church, so too as symbol of that spiritual relationship, he designed man to naturally desire the beauty of women. That is why men are much more visually oriented then women most of the time. This is not some mistake of the fall – it is by design.
The Early Church fathers and their anti-woman teachings
Now where I have some agreement with Mrs. Miller is when she writes about Christians teaching that women needed to cover themselves as to not cause their brothers in Christ to “stumble”, and the fact that a woman’s body is said to be “beautiful, but in a dangerous way.”
She alludes to the harsh teachings of some of the early church fathers against women.
“Of course, this language isn’t new. Consider how profoundly the female identity has been negatively linked to her body throughout church history. For several decades now, feminist theologians have critiqued the mind-body dualism by which Christians have equated men with the mind and women with the carnal body. Citing Eve as the original “gateway for the Devil,” thinkers such as Tertullian have peppered Christian tradition with hostility toward the wiles of femininity. Origen likened women to animals in their sexual lust. According to author Jane Billinghurst, “Early Christian men who had to greet women during church services by shaking their hands were advised to first wrap their hands in robes so as to shield their flesh against their seductive touch.””
First let’s understand something, only the Apostles were inerrant in their writings and teachings on Christian doctrine, because they were directly and perfectly guided by the Holy Spirit of God. Their followers who came later, and other church teachers who lived years after them were not perfect or inspired in their teachings. They wrote some good commentary on the Scriptures at times, but they also fell into heresy.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 2 fighting against this errors that were creeping into the church, the errors of Gnosticism and Asceticism. Unfortunately, not long after the Apostles deaths, and for centuries to come, church fathers like Origen, Jerome, Ignatius, John Chrysostom, and Augustine all came to embrace and teach the false doctrines of Christian Asceticism.
Christian Asceticism taught that all forms of physical pleasure were wrong, and that the body was completely evil in every way. They actually looked at sex as a necessary evil for reproduction, as opposed to a gift from God and part of his grand design. It was common for church leaders to have Christian married couples who already had children to take vows of celibacy and never have sex anymore. Because of this false belief about sexuality and physical pleasure, they came to see women as the enemy because of how men could desire them, and this desire was seen as sinful.
So we have on one side, Feminists and Christian feminists say it is wrong for men to see women as objects of sexual desire, and on the other side we have the Christian Ascetics and many of their teachings that still survive to this day saying almost the same thing.
The reality is – both sides are WRONG. Men are not wrong in seeing women as both people and objects of sexual beauty and desire, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive, but are in fact the only way to understand sexuality in a healthy manner as God designed it to be.
Sexual desire before marriage, and physical sexual consummation after marriage are by the design of God. There is nothing dirty, or shameful about this truth, and no man needs to apologize for his visual sexual nature, or the fact that he can be sexually attracted to a woman without knowing anything about her person. Where the right and wrong come in, is what he does with that natural sexual desire, does he channel it within the bounds of God’s law, does he treat these women with respect, and does he keep the physical consummation of sex for marriage?
Mrs. Miller writes near the end of her article:
“…we must affirm the value of the female body. The value or meaning of a woman’s body is not the reason for modesty. Women’s bodies are not inherently distracting or tempting. On the contrary, women’s bodies glorify God. Dare I say that a woman’s breasts, hips, bottom, and lips all proclaim the glory of the Lord! Each womanly part honors Him. He created the female body, and it is good.
Finally, language about modesty should focus not on hiding the female body but on understanding the body’s created role. Immodesty is not the improper exposure of the body per se, but the improper orientation of the body. Men and women are urged to pursue a modesty by which our glory is minimized and God’s is maximized. The body, the spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God, we display the height of immodesty.”
When I read this line from her the first time – “Women’s bodies are not inherently distracting or tempting” I almost fell out of my chair laughing! Only a Christian Feminist could write such non-sense! I am sorry, but common sense tells us women’s bodies are in fact “distracting and tempting” to men. Not only common sense proves this, but years of scientific research into the area of male sexuality proves how visually wired men are, and how they are distracted and tempted by the female body.
But we have to ask ourselves again, is this wrong? Or is it by the design of God? I know Christians are saying – “God would never want us to be tempted to do anything wrong” – and you are absolutely correct. But that is why I would take the word tempted, and replace it with “attracted”.
Men are distracted by the female form, because they are attracted to the female form. One reason that I alluded to earlier that man is attracted to the beauty of woman is, this is symbolic of God’s attraction to the spiritual beauty of his Church.
But this attraction to women’s bodies that God designed in men, has a second purpose. It also has the purpose of driving men to pursue women, to pursue marriage and having children. Neither feminists, nor church leaders should shame men for this very strong attraction to women, they ought to be praising God for it! The human race would not be here today, except for the strong attraction of men to beautiful women!
So I 100% agree with Mrs. Miller when she writes “Dare I say that a woman’s breasts, hips, bottom, and lips all proclaim the glory of the Lord!” That is an absolutely Biblical statement to make.
I also agree with Mrs. Miller that we need to have an “understanding” about the female “body’s created role”. While all human beings were ultimately created for the honor and glory of God, our bodies were also created for some very practical and physical purposes in this life and world.
God not only created woman for his own glory, but he also specifically created woman for man. Thus her body is also created for man – this is the female body’s “created role”.
“Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
I Corinthians 11:9(KJV)
Does this mean a woman was created only for man’s sexual pleasure? Of course not! She was created to be a helpmeet to him. She was created to “bear children” and “guide the house”, to be his companion and mother to his children.
But there is no escaping the fact that a large part of the “created role” of a woman’s body was for the visual and sexual pleasure of man. Her body is both visually attractive, and physically pleasurable to a man, and this is not by accident, but by design. A woman’s body is given to man as a blessing, to be enjoyed.
“Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:”
“Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.”
“I am a wall, and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.”
Song of Solomon 8:10(KJV)
Did you know human females are the only mammals on the planet that have constantly protruding breasts? Other mammal’s breasts only protrude when they are pregnant, or nursing and after nursing the protruding breasts go away. God design a human female’s breasts to constantly protrude, for the visual and physical pleasure it gives to men before and after they bare and wean their children.
So the next time a wife says to her husband when he looks at her breasts – “those are for babies, not for you”, that is actually a very unbiblical statement to make. If they were just for babies, they would disappear after nursing, like they do on all other mammals, but instead God design them for the pleasure of man.
I would encourage the reader to look at my posts Why God made woman and How God made woman for a lot more detail on this subject of how God designed a woman’s body and why he designed it the way he did.
I disagree with both the “Modest is hottest” crowd on one side, and the Christian feminist crowd on the other side (represented here by Mrs. Miller). The Biblical truth lies in the middle of these two extremes. A woman should dress modestly – meaning appropriate to the occasion. If she is at the beach, then a bikini might be appropriate to that occasion. If she is going to church, she needs to be fully clothed. A woman ought not to dress like a prostitute, but at the same time she does not have to hide her beauty.
A woman does not need to dress in a way that hides her body from men in order to not “cause them to stumble”. A woman does not need to be ashamed of the beautiful body God has given her, and a man does not need to be ashamed of being attracted to women’s beautiful bodies. God calls us to self-control, and to not have covetous thoughts. So if a man is appreciating a beautiful woman’s body, whether at the beach or elsewhere, no sin has occurred. But if he begins to sexually covet her (lust after), by thinking of ways he could get her to have sex with him outside of marriage, then he has stepped outside of God’s boundaries and his design.
See these related posts to this topic:
What is Biblical Lust?
What does Modesty mean in I Timothy 2:9?
7 Biblical principles for how to dress as a christian woman