July 27, 2017 by Stacy McDonald

What I Learned During the Modesty Wars: A Response to “Modest is Hottest”

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Woman walking on a field collecting herbs to the basket.

You know, I’ve actually grown to avoid the topic of modesty. I don’t care to write or talk about it anymore. At. All. Seriously. Mostly because it seems to have become a “thing” over the years, and it often sparks a lot of energy-draining debate, contention, and misunderstanding. It’s certainly not a fun or popular topic – and I’m tired.

I’ve wanted not to care. But I have seven daughters – three still at home. And when the article, “Modest is Hottest” by worship leader/blogger, Joel Michael Herbert, showed up on my Facebook feed, I felt compelled to contribute a few thoughts, mostly for the sake of my children, but maybe for yours too. So, here goes.

Apparently, Mr. Herbert and I have different reasons for disliking the oxymoron, “Modest is Hottest.” As the author of Raising Maidens of Virtue (a mother/daughter Bible study I wrote in 2002 that focused partially on chastity) and, as a pastor’s wife who spoke on this topic many times over the years, I admit, I read this article through a few tears. I labored many years – pouring my heart (and sometimes my health) out to young women, and to my own daughters in particular. It’s easy to wonder if it was all worth it.

The Pendulum Swing

I came to Christ in 1988, straight out of the world and the sexually exploitive “Madonna culture.” So it very well could be that, early in my Christian walk, I approached the topic of purity and modesty riding on a bit of a pendulum. It could be. And I get that.

My husband and I saw the ugliness of sexual sin up close and personal and we wanted our children to learn from our pasts – pasts we couldn’t change or erase, but pasts that Christ redeemed and could still be used for His glory. We never wanted our children to go through what we did. Much of our ministry was birthed out of a love for them and a desire to see them thrive.

One thing Joel Herbert doesn’t seem to see, and that youth in general often don’t get, is that age and experience, and even trauma, allows us to see further and broader than those who have been protected and sheltered. It’s an advantage AND a disadvantage our children have.

Because it’s truly difficult to fathom the depravity of man unless you want to risk rolling in the muck, which, trust me, you don’t. So, rather than throwing caution to the wind or sowing wild oats, it’s better to trust the warnings from those who’ve lived to tell about it (Proverbs 1-7)! And our battle scars do tell a story. It takes time, but there is fruit from it. I suspect Mr. Herbert may rethink things a little further down the road, as we all do.

We Didn’t do it all Right

Yes, we were damaged. Redeemed, but damaged. And we desperately wanted to protect our children and spare them the guilt and shame and perversion that we witnessed or experienced. Yes, it could be that we over compensated in certain areas, and even walked in some fear.

We certainly didn’t handle every conversation or situation well. There are many things I wish I had said or responded to differently. But we loved our children. Deeply. And actively. And we shouldn’t be shamed for wanting to protect them.

The Wrecking Ball

But, here’s the warning. Remember, many of you are following a tide that came after the moral failure of a few notorious homeschool rock stars. Some of you may be running from the demise of an ambiguous family ideal, rather than any true conviction you ever personally owned or embraced. Maybe it’s left you jaded, and has flavored your whole outlook with bitterness.

I kind of wonder if that may have happened to the author of the article referenced above who alleged to have grown up in a “cult” in the 90’s. If that’s true, no wonder his views on modesty are skewed. But either way, he seems a little bitter. And now he even views “mainstream Christianity” as wrong for even suggesting that anyone (particularly women) should cover their “sexy parts.”

Mr. Herbert thinks we should give up on modesty because nobody can agree on what it means anyway. He says, “Just listen to a couple hip-hop songs, and you’ll quickly discover that some dudes are really into butts, while others are boob guys.” So he decides that there’s no use because it’s a “self-defeating exercise.”

So maybe we could take our cues from the hip-hoppers and at least cover those two parts? How about that?

Be careful – you could easily be drawn into an even more dangerous form of reactionism. Pretending that Scripture doesn’t address the topic, or that God doesn’t want us to even talk or teach about it, could easily turn your own pendulum into a family wrecking ball. And, make no mistake, your children are at stake.

So, while I agree with some of what this young man said (men certainly own their own sin etc.), and he was certainly a persuasive and engaging writer, I also think he was basing his position on his own limited youthful experience, and not necessarily on broader fact or even on biblical truth. Since he insists that modesty (in the sense that it is an outworking of chastity) isn’t in the Bible, he needs to study it beyond “word search mode” and learn to search for the principles it teaches. Consider the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 138. What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?

A. The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.

Too Much of a Focus

Again, I do think it’s likely that many of us focused too much on modesty – to the point of making it a “thing.” For instance, why do we even use the term “modesty” when what we’re really talking about is chastity, decency, respect (self and others), and the overall extension of love and dignity?

We’re talking about the protection of women, the honor of marriage, the promotion of discretion, and the continuance of godly seed – themes repeated throughout Scripture, regardless of what word is used.

But, because we inadvertently made modesty its own “thing,” it seems to have stirred some to focus on who to blame, who is lusting, and how to scrutinize, instead of helping people to focus on honoring God and loving their neighbor, which is the whole point of it all.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34)

We women should be able to talk about (and embrace) chastity without worrying about whose fault it’s going to be when (not if) men lust. There are plenty of creeps out there, so no matter what you wear, there will be someone who will lust. That isn’t the point. It never was. If someone tries to blame a woman for a man’s sin, that person is wrong. We each fully own our own sin. Period.

Titus 2 talks about chastity in the Bible – No really!

But there’s nothing wrong (and Titus 2 says there is everything right) with women being frank and honest with other women about the struggles and fears we all experience (pride, pornography, marriage issues, insecurities, vanity, and yes, even lust). And mothers should be able to talk freely with their daughters and train them in these areas without fear of being shamed or labeled as legalistic or judgmental by others, or without proverbial wrecking balls trying to tear down or undermine what we’ve taught our children about chastity.

And pastors’ wives and other “older women” in ministry should be free to obey Scripture (Titus 2:1-5) and teach the younger women without being slammed or shamed or attacked…at least not by other Christians.

And, like a few have pointed out, we should remember to be merciful toward the woman who has been hurt by pornography or adultery. The fact that we won’t all agree on how covered we should be is not a license to throw it all out and pretend like Scripture doesn’t address this, or to have no regard for those around us who are weak, hurting, or broken hearted.

But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

The Weak and the Hurting

We can’t take responsibility for anyone else’s sin, but we also can’t deny the fact that Scripture does indeed talk about the “weaker brother.” It actually is a thing. There are weaker men and women among us that we’re actually supposed to love. And sexual purity, discretion, and covering one’s nakedness certainly are biblical principles. It’s not a Puritan thing, a 50’s thing, or a 90’s thing. It’s actually a Christian thing. And by the way, the Puritans were a sexy bunch, so don’t let the pejorative in the article fool you!

Teaching our children to cover their intimate parts in public, or to be respectful of someone else’s uncovered body by looking away, does not teach them that the human body is “bad”, “dirty,” or “shameful;” it teaches them that it’s special—that our bodies are precious and to be protected and saved—and that the marriage bed is going to be a-MAZING!

In a way, I’m thankful that Joel Herbert shared his thoughts. And I pray that God heals him of his past hurts. Although I do not agree with all of what he had to say, he has reignited a conversation that was probably past due. I’m praying that God will use it to spark fruitful conversations between those who are serious about learning how to be tender and gracious—to love and respect one another—in spite of our differences.

I’m hopeful it will lead people to open God’s Word themselves, rather than hang on the words of homeschool rock stars or even relevant bloggers. Pray and see what the Lord has given us in His Word.

In closing, chastity has nothing to do with prudishness; it’s ALL about protecting and celebrating the amazing mystery of an awesome and passionate marriage. The Devil wants our marriages destroyed and our children to be left spiritually crippled. Unfortunately, some won’t get that, and they will contribute to the problem. But I am praying that won’t be true for all. And that God will help us all to love one another in the midst of sorting it all out…for our good and His glory!

A few Scriptures to think about…

Chastity lovingly puts others first…

Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. (1 Corinthians 10:24)

Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own… (1 Corinthians 13:4–5)

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (Romans 12:10)

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. (Philippians 2:3)

Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17)

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

Chastity walks by faith and with confidence, but tenderly considers those who are weak or hurting…

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:13)

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Romans 14:13)

We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. (Romans 15:1–2)

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

Note: This does not have anything to do with blaming a woman for a man’s sin. Each man and each woman will stand before God alone and fully own their own sin. Though I have seen individual men attempt to excuse their own personal sin this way, I have never heard anyone actually teach this. Quite the contrary.

Chastity honestly represents the Bride of Christ…

For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”(2 Corinthians 11:2)

That He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)

Honors the marriage bed (our own, as well as others)…

Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)

They, without a word, may be won…when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. (1 Peter 3:2)

But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. (Malachi 2:15)

That each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, (1 Thessalonians 4:4)

I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the gazelles or by the does of the field, Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases. (Song of Solomon 2:7)

Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love. (Proverbs 5:18-19)

For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)

To be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. (Titus 2:5)

Chastity Points others to Jesus and glorifies God…

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

“And the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.” (Ezekiel 36:23)

In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. (1 Timothy 2:9–10)

When they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. (1 Peter 3:2)

For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:20)

That they admonish the young women to be…discreet, chaste…that the word of God may not be blasphemed. (Titus 2:4–5) [words omitted for emphasis]

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Chastity is a Protection (for men and women!)…

For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, (2 Timothy 3:6)

Discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you… (Proverbs 2:11)

That she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. (Genesis 39:12)

I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman? (Job 31:1)

Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids. (Proverbs 6:25)

With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks,” (Proverbs 7:21–22)

Chastity Promotes Humility and Discourages Pride, Vanity, and Self-Centeredness…

Moreover the Lord says: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet…” (Isaiah 3:16)

Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. (1 Peter 3:3–4)

As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. (Proverbs 11:22)

But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. (Ezekiel 16:15)

Public nakedness is described as shameful (Note: The human body itself is not shameful, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made!)…

So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as prisoners and the Ethiopians as captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. (Isaiah 20:4)

Take the millstones and grind meal. Remove your veil, take off the skirt, uncover the thigh, pass through the rivers. Your nakedness shall be uncovered, yes, your shame will be seen; I will take vengeance, and I will not arbitrate with a man. (Isaiah 47:2–3)

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Revelation 3:18)

Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame. (Revelation 16:15)

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4 Responses to “What I Learned During the Modesty Wars: A Response to “Modest is Hottest””

  1. Charity says:

    Dear Mrs. McDonald,
    You have no idea what your article has cleared up for me this morning. Last night my husband and I informed or five daughter’s that we had got everything wrong, that us being modest chaste and wearing dresses was too conservative and outdated, we went over board and we were going to try out wearing pants and anything else that appealed to our sensibilities. We have your book “maidens of virtue” and we have been studying it for about three years now. My two oldest daughters are currently teaching the Littles and making scrap books. I knew we might be making a mistake when my oldest daughter began to tear up and then she said, so we have everything wrong? In complete sadness, she just got real quiet and about an hour later while the other daughters were super excited about all the cool stuff they could now be able to dress in, my oldest daughter was quietly smoothing her skirt and just simply told me she was happy with her dresses, she didn’t want to get anything different. My heart wrenched, but I stubbornly just turned my mind away. Later, when my husband and I were talking in the bedroom about our recent decision to leave behind our outdated and constricting ideals, we both were feeling heart sick and not as excited as we thought we would be. I couldn’t forget my precious daughters face or her quiet stand, it smote me to my core. I knew my new ideas were selfish and self serving. I was the critical judgmental snooty Christian, driven by fear of my children making decisions that would hurt them. But instead of being moderate and balanced I made it a Law and God help you if you didn’t agree with me. No wonder I was sick of it all! My daughter made her choice to be chaste because after reading the Bible and your book she felt called to please God. After praying with my husband asking God to forgive me for my unbalanced self. I asked God to make the path clear to me. So time during the night, my phone buzzed with a new email. After not being able to sleep I grabbed my phone and opened an email sent from” your sacred calling”. How could you have known or family struggle (mommas struggle)?? How could you have known my prayer? God heard my prayer and he answered me with your gentle yet firm stand on chastity and decency. Thank you for writing, thank you for standing, teaching and showing me how God uses people to answer prayers. Don’t Stop writing. Very sincerely, Charity

  2. Nancy says:

    Well said! Definitely from the heart. And that is what modesty is about! Thank you for you honesty and scripture backups!

  3. April says:

    Such a vital and timely message! Thank you for courageously speaking up and tackling an area that has been avoided by far too many for far too long- sadly, to our detriment. We desperately need these truths spoken into our lives with examples of godliness and purity lived out before us.

    Giving thanks for you, and your willingness to bear fruit that lasts.

  4. Minnesota Mom says:

    Thanks again…..Also, Scripture speaks for itself. I like to be practical with young men….they are looking….at “what” and if they are polite that’s nice.
    Parents are in charge of their children and their clothes and what comes into the house and what goes out of the house. Young women should not only be taught modesty, but what you should practically wear outside of the house for what kind of activities and weather. It’s not smart to wear a tank and shorts and sandals while working in the field around cows and tractors. You will get scratched, sun-burned, dirty feet or worse…..Same as going to the state fair. Nurses wear uniforms to do the job and to keep tidy and to easily wash the uniforms when they go home. What are we going to do? Then I met a lady who was confused when she wore cute (low cut) clothes while on the job as a waitress at a small restaurant/bar. I was wondering why she was confused…..but was married and didn’t like being “hit-on”…..well….hmmm…I guess that we need to teach our daughters!

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