Got it? Good.
Let’s recap. This woman held a vehement position based on a desire to ensure her children (perhaps her daughter in particular) project modesty, a position she defended so aggressively she may have lost friends in the process. Then, after a pair of subtle but significant epiphanies, her view seemingly did enough of a 180 to make Owen Wilson say “wow”. To be fair, an Wilson Wow a low bar.
Her insight evolved further into recognizing her own patterns of body shame.
The idea that you cover your body more when you’re ashamed of it but show more when you’re not is a very unhealthy way of thinking.
So why do I bring this up? After all, I’ve made my opinions pretty clear in this area over the past couple years:
- “Modesty” as defined by Scripture has almost nothing to do with clothes;
- even when applied to how we dress, biblical modesty is about suitability, not skin;
- I don’t want my children to grow up with body image issues;
- and, of course, Christians can wear bikinis.
Is this a self-congratulatory moment for me? Do I feel vindicated, seeing some random mom come to some (though certainly not all) of the same conclusions as me? Well, sure. I am human, after all.
But I wanted to highlight this because of the parallels to my own experience.
As anyone who has read ten words of my writing on this site would know, I’m pretty liberal about sexuality, our bodies, and related arenas. Well, liberal by evangelical standards. There are plenty of non-Christians who could call me an uptight stick in the mud, but I’m sure many evangelicals would throw out a “heretic” label. But I haven’t always been this way.
Let’s rewind to ten years ago. Justin Timberlake was bringing SexyBack, 300 six-packs (1800 packs?) made it big in the box office, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold 8.3 million copies in one day (2.75% of Americans had that book on day one; just think about that for a second).
I recently wrote about how my early adulthood couldn’t really make sense out of my utter failure and my harsh recognition of sin. Ten years ago, I couldn’t reconcile the black-and-white world of my beliefs with all the shades of gray I saw in the world and in my life, so I just stopped trying.
We’re biased to think that our new ideas are results of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and any threat to those ideas are seen as threats to the reality of our new creation.
I’d tell Clara things like, “Someday, we’ll have a daughter. And someday, I’ll die. And then she can date.”
I planned to buy a gun just so I could be cleaning it when her boy friends come over. Boy_friends, not boyfriends. Because there wouldn’t be any of those.
And when she goes to school, she’ll wear muumuus. Going out with her friends? She’ll wear muumuus. Swimming? You guessed it: muumuus.
This was what I thought it meant to be a good dad. Fierce. Overbearing. Zealously jealous of my little girl, regardless of the fact that’s she’s 23. In the south, that’s the culture, particularly in Christian circles.
I believed women should show as little skin as possible, with as little shape as possible in what was covered. I struggled with objectifying women, and I knew that was sinful. And they weren’t helping, with their breasts and legs and butts. They were complicit in my lust issues, and they needed to stop. This was their responsibility.
My Own Transition
So what changed?
A great deal has changed since then, not the least of which is that I’m now conscious of so much more. Conscious of my responsibility to govern my own sins. Conscious of the misogyny built into cultural evangelicalism. Conscious of the struggles women face in a world that expects them to be sexual objects that aren’t just sexual objects.
Most of all, though, I’ve become more conscious of Scripture.
In particular, I’ve become conscious that my conservative roots are rooted more in conservatism than in biblical truth.
I spent a couple years digging deeply into what the Bible actually had to say (and what it didn’t say) about topics typically tied to sexuality.
I’d always believed the Bible drew very rigid lines:
- Vaginal sex is okay in marriage, but any other sex act is questionable or condemned outright.
- I became conscious that the marriage bed isn’t defiled by anything but sex with someone else.
- Women should never show their bodies, and men should ensure their women (wives, daughters, etc.) follow that rule. [Note the implied ownership of their.]
- I became conscious of the vanity of such modesty and of lust on a much bigger scale. Oh, and I don’t own my wife. Let’s not forget that.
- Being naked is sin.
- I became conscious that it’s not. In fact, the Bible seems to celebrate nakedness at times.
- And we should never, ever openly talk about sexual subjects, make euphemisms, or the like.
- I became conscious that the Bible is full of erotic language, from the sexual wisdom of Proverbs to the erotica in Song of Songs. And let’s not forget that peculiar reference to an aged Moses’ virility (Deuteronomy 34:7).
In my youth, it took great, stubborn pride for me to resist pop culture’s attempts to subvert my “biblical” ideas. As I matured, it took me letting go of all that great, stubborn pride for me to recognize those ideas weren’t biblical at all.
The humility I experienced was crushing at first, but it soon became exhilarating. I found that so many of my burdens weren’t my burdens at all. I’ve found it’s a lot of fun to throw away burdensom religious ideologies because they don’t align with Jesus.
It was this experience that led me to launch this website, actually. I wanted to share my experience, my findings, and my freedom as I encountered it.
Challenging Our Own Bias
So, I want to applaud this mom. Her journey is not my own, of course. She’d likely think I’ve gone off my rocker. I didn’t just stop with revisiting letting daughters wear bikinis, after all.
But I feel like I can relate to the repentance she’s experienced as she challenging her own perspectives. She placed her own biases on the altar and recognized the need to change.
When we seek to serve our Lord in one direction, it’s very difficult to accept that service to the Lord might require us to turn 180 degrees. We’re used to repenting from our past, before-Christ sins. Repenting from our present, in-Christ ideologies is much harder. We’re biased to think that our new ideas are results of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and any threat to those ideas are seen as threats to the reality of our new creation.
I believe that this mom’s experience is the sort of transformation that can occur when we don’t stubbornly cling to the paradigm we gain when we become Christians. After all, Paul wasn’t writing to the unbelievers in Romans 12:2. The renewing of our minds isn’t a one-time deal.
This sort of humble mind-renewal can keep us from following in the footsteps of the Pharisees.
And for our kids sakes, I pray we can at least do that.