Thoughts on Modesty

I recently had a guy college student in my home, a man seeking to follow Christ and walk in purity. He was lamenting over how a woman he knows — herself also a Christ-follower — was, in his opinion, acting immodestly in her interactions with the men she knew. He talked about the actions he saw her engaging in and how it was affecting his heart. As he spoke my heart went out to him because I’ve been there. It seems to hurt the most when it’s someone you have feelings for or perhaps once had feelings for, but it’s still sad when it’s someone who’s just a friend. You can’t really expect much different from someone who doesn’t know Christ, but from someone who has begun that relationship, someone who has henceforth been commanded to walk in a manner worthy of the calling they’ve received, it is particularly frustrating and heart-breaking. I speak this criticism over not just this one individual, and certainly not just over women, but over all who claim the name of Christ and yet take lightly the need for modesty in various aspects of relating to the opposite sex.

My college student friend expressed how he wished he could speak into her life on the subject but he knew that, circumstances being what they are, it would be inappropriate for him to do so. What he really wished was that a mature, Christ-following woman would challenge her on the subject. Or, if not that, for there to be some way for healthy, grace-filled dialogue on the subject to take place.

That desire sparked my memory. Back in the spring semester of 2006, when I was a senior at FSU, there was an FSU Navigators women’s small group called Yajua, which means “before the sun” in Swahili. They met once each week at the crack of dawn. Not being a member of the group, plus the fact that it took place five years ago, I don’t remember all that the group covered. But one significant thing that came out of the group, at least significant to me, was an initiative to start a dialogue on the subject of modesty between the men and women of the FSU Navigators ministry. They asked the student and alumni men who’d been part of the ministry for a while to give their input on three questions:

  • What things do women wear/say/do to make it hard for men to live in purity?
  • What things do girls wear/not wear/say/do that are encouraging for men in this area?
  • Are there any other thoughts you want to share on the topic?

The women in Yajua answered the same questions, explaining how men encourage and discourage their pursuit of personal purity. The answers were compiled into two documents and distributed to anyone interested in the answers. The authors of the specific answers were kept strictly anonymus. It made the subject approachable and less taboo to talk about. I jokingly called this whole process The First Council of Tallahassee (after all, I was a Religion major at the time).

After all these years I still have these documents on my hard drive. I’ve decided now to post them on my blog. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone who was originally involved in their creation. (I suppose if someone really takes issue with my decision they can tell me and I’ll pull them down.) A few things to keep in mind as you read them:

  • All the respondents were unmarried men and women in their late teens and twenties. All the respondents were professing Christians. All had been involved in one capacity or another with The Navigators at FSU. Some were in college still while others were alumni.
  • Understand that these reflections are a five-year-old snapshot in time. Each person making the observations has no doubt changed since then. For those of you who know the FSU Nav alumni from the past decade or so, don’t assume all their opinions on the subject have stayed the same.
  • The results of this exercise were never meant to become a “new law.” Legalism is just as dangerous as turning a blind eye to an issue. I think once you read the documents you’ll see that the tone of the content does not communicate legalism as the answer to the problem.
  • While much of what’s been said in the answers is based in Scripture, there’s also plenty of opinion expressed.
  • These aren’t meant to be exhaustive treatises, but rather a starting point.
  • The two files are organized differently. The thoughts from the men for the women were kept divided by respondent, whereas the thoughts from the women for the men were compiled from the answers of all the women participating and divided by question. But something you’ll notice in both is a lot of repetition since the answers from multiple people are being stated.
  • Before posting the files on the web I edited them for spelling, grammar and punctuation (and, in one case, to remove names of specific people). I did not edit for content.

My hope is that these answers would once again bless and serve young men and women striving in their singleness to live in purity with their brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly those students now involved in the FSU Navigators campus ministry. I’ve embedded the documents below along with links to download them. Your reactions are welcome; you can leave them in the comments.

Download: Thoughts from the Guys | Thoughts from the Women

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  • @kayla_mahnk

    Wow! This was so helpful! Thanks for sharing, Andrew!

  • Aaron Gavila

    my analysis of these responses is that the men were answering in a way they thought the women wanted them to answer, and that the women were answering in a way that they thought the men would want to answer (tongue twister…).

    It is either an attempt to appear more saintly and above lust or just too cowardly to admit to enjoying the silly indulgences of being a horny teenager. And this goes for women as well as men. The failure to be honest and putting on a pious facade about sexual impulse, is exactly what drives these desires into the dark and fails to confront the issue.

    As someone married to a former nav woman (my wife checked me out first…shame on her…), odds are, I have come to find that all of them have a crush on just about every guy at one point or another and has thought atleast in passing about marrying them…this is not weird, and niether is finding someone attractive, even sexually…This part is harmless…Obviously there are dangers to taking anything to excess, and we all know what those are…

    • Andrew Ledwith

      You talk about a failure to be honest. What does honest modesty look like?

  • Adiaha

    This is particularly interesting. Also, it is more than the just the clothes, but also the way the woman carries herself (or the man…as men have modesty issues too!!). We need to be particularly careful as individuals and understand our motives behind the way we dress.

  • Aaron Gavila

    I would argue true modesty is better defined in the way men/women carry themselves more than anything. Obviously somebody will respond by saying that you can be immodest by donning an article of “provacative clothing”, and I would agree that this is true, However, throw out the extremes and you will find that most of what people wear is irrelevant. How we engage the opposite sex in conversation, how we talk about the opposite sex when the opposite sex is not present (e.g. locker room talk), how you build relationships with the opposite sex, the support you have from friends, and being honest about whatever struggles we have will go alot farther in being constructive in this arena, far more constructive anyway than discussing the spectrum of clothing between thongs and burquas.