Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sin and Temptation: Whose Responsibility Is It?

This is a follow-up from my post in response to "The Bikini Question."

There's been a lot of talk lately about men's temptations for lust and questions about whose responsibility it is in those situations. This is a humble attempt to discuss my views about this topic.

Before I became a proponent for Christian Feminist ideologies*, I was a supporter of Modesty Culture. (...That makes it sound like it's been a long time since I switched sides of the debate, but that's not true. Just six months ago my mom gave me a shirt for Christmas that was designed to be worn over leggings and I flipped out because it wasn't "modest enough.") Because I was part of the Modesty Culture for so long, I feel like I have a grasp on why they believe that women should have part of the responsibility for men's propensity for lust. On some level, I understand.

In Modesty Culture, it is believed that while men should control their temptations, women are responsible (in varying degrees) for helping them along. Much of this belief is taken from Romans 14, which is where Paul discusses the idea of not causing one another to stumble. He says in verse 13, "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." In the case of modesty, a stumbling block would be anything that may cause a brother in Christ to be distracted or fall into the sin of lust. Because of this belief, many Christian schools have strict dress codes that highlight what is appropriate and not appropriate for young women to wear.

In my experience, I have seen dress codes used for two purposes: modesty and professionalism. Unfortunately however, most often the rules regarding women are centered around modesty and the rules for men around professionalism (ex: at my college men had to wear collared shirts to class while women could wear nice, non-printed t-shirts as long as they were modest). But I digress. Even though I could talk for a while about dress codes and how I believe there are double-standards, that's not the purpose for this post.

I think Modesty Culture has misinterpreted Paul's purpose in Romans 14. While I can see why they may interpret a stumbling block to be certain articles of clothing that women in general "shouldn't" wear, I don't think we (most of us, anyway) would apply these same standards to other areas of life. For example, there's the issue of alcohol. While we know that some people in the faith have trouble with alcoholism and I know most of us would want to respect those people by not drinking in front of them, I would venture to say that for the most part we would not say that Christians shouldn't drink at all at the risk of offending someone who we may not know has an issue. This may be a broken metaphor, but most Christians I talk to have specific people in mind when they talk about abstaining from alcohol. This doesn't mean that they never drink or believe drinking is wrong, but they know that a specific person has a weakness for alcohol - therefore they adjust their behavior in order to better serve that specific person.

I believe the same should be true of "modesty." It is impossible to please everyone, especially since it's so ambiguous. I fully agree that if a woman is approached specifically by the man who is struggling, then she should do what she can to help him. However, if it is not specifically mentioned (not by a third-party and definitely not by another woman trying to tell her what to wear), then I don't believe that responsibility should be placed on the woman.

Men are fully capable of controlling their temptation for lust. Hear me out as well: there is a HUGE difference between healthy and biological physical attraction and lust. It is absolutely not wrong for a man to be attracted to a woman's form. This is healthy and even good. The only time that this turns into lust is when the woman is turned into the object of a man's sexual fantasies. A man simply enjoying the way a woman looks is not wrong. God created Eve to be beautiful and for Adam to be physically attracted to her. There's this underlying idea in Christian culture today that men can only be physically attracted to their wives - but this implies that there's some sort of switch that turns on as soon as a couple gets married and turns off to every other female. The man isn't attracted to his wife (or abstains from being attracted to her... however that works) before they're married, and then all of a sudden once they're husband and wife he's allowed to feel that attraction. I don't believe it works that way.

Physical attraction is God-given. It is good, but because we live in a fallen world it can be turned into sin. This is not the fault of the woman who is made to be the object. The kind of thinking that makes it the woman's responsibility for men's lust easily translates into the issue of rape. Rape Culture is a very real thing, friends. I am ashamed to say that in the past upon hearing of a rape I used to have fleeting thoughts wondering what the girl had been wearing at the time or how she had been acting (Which I believe is not a totally rare thought for people in Modesty Culture to have). This is so wrong. This is not the way things should be. As my friend Hollie put it, "[Women] should be allowed to walk down the street naked and not get raped!" It is never, ever the woman's fault for being raped. Eric said it well when we discussed this in the car the other day: "The woman didn't get raped. The man raped her."

So much blame-shifting happens in our Christian culture. We try to pass off the responsibility for our own sin onto other people, just as Adam blamed Eve for "making" him eat the fruit. She didn't make him do anything - he took the fruit and ate it of his own volition. The same is so very true of Modesty Culture. Women do not make men lust after them, nor is it their responsibility to make it "easier" on men, especially if they have no idea what they do or don't struggle with. Men need to step up and take responsibility for their own sin, and women need to step up and refuse to accept the blame-shifting and start dressing the way they want to, not out of trying to appease these external morals being pushed on them, but because it's what they want to wear (Women need to take responsibility for their own sins as well, but that's not what I'm talking about right now). 

As believers, we all have a personal responsibility for our sin. If we focus on other people's "responsibilities" or "faults" in our own personal walks with Christ, then we cannot grow in the way we should. It's time for us to stop trying to fix everyone else to be more palpable to us and start focusing on our own relationships with Christ. Once we do that, I think we will find more contentment, peace, unity, and equality within the body of believers.

*I hesitate to call myself a Christian Feminist because I don't really like the idea of labels. I have feminist sympathies, but there are things within the feminist movement that I disagree with. I personally would rather be known for what I believe than for the labels I place on myself. To be clear though, I have no issues with people placing the label of "feminist" on themselves. This is just not something I feel comfortable doing at the moment.

***This post is part of a Synchro-blog/Link-Up on From Two to One. Make sure you check out the other amazing posts on there!***

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. I have been reading so many 'modesty' and 'anit-modesty' (for lack of a better term) posts the past few days trying to sort out all of what I've been taught growing up and what I believe to be true for myself now that I'm an adult and married with a daughter of my own. The biggest thing that it has come down to so far, is that I was taught that for a man to even look at a pretty woman and appreciate her beauty was wrong. That is what has been such a struggle with me, especially since getting married. I felt like I was in a constant battle to always make sure I looked better than the women around me (at least in my husband's eyes) to protect him from being 'tempted'. I must say it was exhausting!! I really liked the paragraph where you said 'this implies that there's some sort of switch that turns on as soon as a couple gets married and turns off to every other female.' whew, my mind is still racing and I need to think for a while! Thanks again for writing this!!


Thanks for visiting my blog, friends! Let me know you were here by writing a note, if you'd like! Love you all! :)