When the church hates “Immodest Women”

I’ve been thinking for a little while about this modesty thing, and this week in particular I’ve finally been able to pin-point the reasons why discussing it in church can be so tiresome and hurtful. In my eyes, the church has become a place in which anyone who dresses immodestly is separated as an evil entity worthy of scorn, shame and disrespect. Last week, I saw a presentation about modesty, during which several photos  of Meagan Good were shown for the church to gasp at and gossip about her marriage and character. I looked around the room and felt embarrassed for everyone. Since when was sharing photos of another woman a Christ-like way to discuss modesty, when the woman in question isn’t even there to defend herself? Back in school, misogynist boys used to do similar: they liked sharing photos and videos of women to each other via their phones, all the while crying “slut! Hoe!”. How was everyone’s behaviour that night much different?

I’m genuinely perplexed. If someone had an alcohol problem, the response would be different. When people speak about their lust/pornography/masturbation issues, there’s much sympathy and support (maybe because it’s normally men who speak out about these? People expect men to have such problems, after all…). I would never expect photos of drug addicts or porn addicts shared around the church for everyone’s enjoyment. It would be wrong. So why do we not give women (I’ll say women cause we’re always called out on this), who are struggling with dress reform the same the same care? It’s almost as if, by their attire, everyone else thinks they have a right to talk about them, to slander them and make judgments about their spiritual life….

The typical phrase that I always hear about the judgement thing is “well, by their fruits ye shall know them”, which is true. But people are still far too quick to come to a conclusion about someone’s character. If you are using something as superficial as an outfit to make conclusions about how someone must be, then by principal the only fruit you can confidently assess is their dress reform fruit. You can’t say anything about their personal prayer life; or how much they’re studying the Word; you can’t say what’s in their heart or if they’ve witnessed that week; you can’t see if they’re a nice person, or even their motives for dressing how they do. All you can say is that when it comes to dress reform, they’re ignorant.

Now, in regards to someone who has no second thoughts about publicly shaming a woman who has come to church dressed immodestly; who gets angry at the thought of having to be “politically correct” when approaching someone about their outfit; who doesn’t know or understand how to talk to someone about this issue with respect and understanding; who has forgotten where God has brought them from; who sees women who dress immodestly as “trying to tempt men”, or “trying to take men” (errm, maybe cut down on the Tyler Perry films?), and who gets annoyed when said person reacts emotively to their treatment—I’d say their actions speak volumes about their spiritual life. If behaviour like that is second-nature, then it says more about what’s in their heart, than the person dressing immodestly. I would even say that these are the fruits we should be focusing on more, since they verbally show what’s going through a person’s head. If a Christian habitually behaves in this way, they deserve prayers. Because in essence, they’re wasting time coming to church: they are a Christian who’s mean. What’s more, being told that the modesty issue requires “politically correct” speech annoys them. You’re going to be talking to someone about their appearance! Why would you not want to be kind to them? Have you ever heard of a Christian who gets offended at the thought of showing kindness? How bizarre.

It’s worrying because we have two classes of church-goers that emerge from this scenario. People who display fruit that don’t really look all that good. Like a persimmon, or a pineapple. Maybe their fruit is covered in dirt? But inside it’s all sweet and rich and all it will take is some gentle encouragement, study and aid to guide them to understand more what Christ wants for them. Just because they may not dress the part, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re rebellious, or that they have no care for God’s sanctuary; they want to take everyone’s husband, or they have a vendetta against all men and want them to sin. It means that God is bringing them on a journey. We all have to start from somewhere; everyone’s had their own struggles and problems throughout their Christian walk, through which we’ve all been met with discouragement and scorn and unfair judgement. Why should be pass on that same attitude to someone else who’s trying just as we are? Why not break the cycle and do the Christ-like thing for once?

The second person displays the fruit that looks amazing: a big Julie mango, ripe and fresh. But unbeknownst to everyone else (probably not even themselves, which is the scary part), the flesh is sour and rotten with mould. It’s no good, but because they wear a nice hat, and high-necked tops and long skirts, everyone assumes them to be virtuous, modest, vegan, natural; the perfect wife and all those idealised stereotypes of women we have in church. We tend to make archetypes out of women based on appearance—in the world as well as the church—and these affect the level of respect a woman is given; the confidence that church members put into her; and how she gets treated from day to day. Massive conclusions of character are made about a woman by how she looks. The person with the deceitful fruit also needs lots of prayer, that they may be kinder to those around them and not internalise the horrible way in which they were probably treated in the past about their dress.

Let’s try to remember that every speck or blemish in our characters is a sign of some sort of struggle with sin. It’s up to us to help each other not only take responsibility for our actions, but to empathise and encourage. The modesty issue is never really seen as someone “struggling” with a particular way of life: it’s much easier to paint the woman in question as some sort of Babylonian/Golden Calf-worshipping heathen, for which she should be as publicly and unsympathetically dealt with as possible. Not cool, guys.

Think before you speak, and ask God to make your thoughts as close to His as possible, so that your own faults have a higher priority in your mind than everyone else’s.

Eve and Gender Equality

It has been a few weeks since I updated this blog, mainly because of exams and coursework. It was really stressful; I’ve never felt so unprepared for an exam. No matter how much I revised, the information just wasn’t staying in my head, but I prayed and I would like to think I did well. God’s got it all under control.

In between exam papers, I’ve been reading Daughters of God by Ellen G White. She was one of the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist church and is also our prophet. She was alive in the 1800s so I was rather skeptical about what she had to say about women. I always assumed that her views on gender roles would be old fashioned and anti-womanist, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what she has written. So far, my favourite quote has been her opening assessment of Eve:

God Himself gave Adam a companion. He provided “an help meet for him”—a helper corresponding to him—one who was fitted to be his companion, and who could be one with him in love and sympathy. Eve was created from a rib taken from the side of Adam, signifying that she was not to control him as the head, not to be trampled under his feet as inferior, but to stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and protected by him. A part of man, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh she was his second self, showing the close union and the affectionate attachment that should exist in this relation.

I’ve heard similar sayings before, but I think it’s a positive sign that Sister White made this point. A lot of people in our church disagree with such things, believing that women should be beneath men, despite our own prophet saying differently. I have another quote from her that I would like to share with  you, probably tomorrow, regarding the Independent Woman.

xXx

Patriarchy, the Church and My Hatred of Men.

I was just on Tumblr when I came across this quote:

“The thing about patriarchy is that individual men, gay and straight, are often really wonderful people who you love deeply, but they have internalized some really poisonous sh*t. So every once in a while they say or do something that really shakes you because you’re no longer totally certain they see you as a human being, and you feel totally disempowered to explain that to them.”

Source

I reblogged it because it completely explains the feelings I’ve been harbouring about men for a long time. I’ve gone through many phases, thinking at one point that I actually hated men. When I think about what women are going through at this moment in time, what’s happened to women in my own family, what’s happened to me on occasion, I feel sick and angry. This anger begins to form against men in general. I’ve been praying about it, but I think this is something that will take some time.

It’s within the confines of a church setting that I see male ignorance and privilege at an astounding level. I was dubbed the “feminist ranter” so often that I couldn’t be bothered to get annoyed anymore. Thinking logically about it, if the men in church really understood what it’s like to be a woman, then they would be ranting too, because Satan’s influence over certain men has made them all look bad. I feel sad that the only men in my life [excluding my Dada] who really and truly get angry over misogyny, male dominance and patriarchy are not in the church. I speak of my friend Tim in particular, smartest person I know, who is just so clued up about these things and the compassion he feels towards women puts a lot of church guys to shame.

I wonder, do church men feel threatened when a woman talks about independence? Or when she expresses anti-misogynist sentiment? Do they think she’s trying to usurp his divine appointment of head of the family?

Then I think about all the times I’ve heard the “male-edited” edition of Ephesians 5. Yeah, let’s skip 5:21:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

And let’s erase 5: 25-28:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

And let’s concentrate on this little gem, right in the middle:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Because that’s all that matters, I’m sure.

Church men have the luxury to be ignorant about the abuse women have suffered under the system of patriarchy, because they are of a privileged position. I’ve used this analogy before, but I’ll use it again: their ignorance is similar to the ignorance of the Royal Family. Why would the Royals care about what a single mother living hand-to-mouth on a Peckham estate is going through? How could they possibly know what it feels like to worry about bills or debt? They’re too busy cutting ribbons and posing with Usain Bolt. Likewise, I can’t expect these men to really be clued up about misogyny and the disastrous effects male dominance has had over the world. They’re men; they’re not going through it. No where in the world are men dominated, oppressed, sexualised or subjugated by women. It’s always the other way around.

Yes, I know I’m being general. I’ve made a lot of generalisations, but this is what resonated with me when I read the above quote: the individual men in my life are wonderful people, but as a collective there’s an attitude that emerges that makes me really fearful about my relationships with men—romantic or platonic.  My parents’ divorce isn’t the only thing that puts me off marriage; it’s my misgivings about religion and female oppression. My closest female friend believes that I will never marry a church man because he would make me feel imprisoned.

I would like to think the men in church care about us women, but I fear their concern is only surface-level, and that that’s all it will ever be.

(And honestly, I love you guys—almost all of my closest church friends are men—but these things have been burdening my heart for a long time.)

xXx