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It’s Not a Long Leap

In my last post I touched just briefly on the evangelical “modesty culture”, wherein the church burdens women by telling them that they are responsible, based on how they dress, for causing their Christian brothers to lust. Today I’d like to look at it in a little more detail and the short leap from there to a culture that minimizes and encourages covering-up of abuse, as allegedly existed in Sovereign Grace Ministries churches for many years.

Here’s the tweet and link that kicked off my thought process.

The post links in an audio excerpt from a sermon, which the blog author says is a “powerful wake up call for women. If we care about our brothers in Christ”, she says, “we will… think about what we are wearing.”

Here’s a transcript of the key portions of the audio:

Listen carefully, ladies. This is not an aberration. This is not an unusual testimony. This
is the norm.

“Each and every day on campus is a battle, a battle against my sin, a battle against temptation, a battle against my depraved mind. Every morning I have to cry out for mercy, strength and a renewed conviction to flee youthful lusts. The Spirit is faithful to bring me the renewal I need to prepare me to do war against my sin. Yet the temptation still exists. I am thankful God has created me to be attracted to women. However, campus is a loaded minefield. There are girls everywhere and it is guaranteed that I will pass some attractive girls as I walk in between classes. I either have to be actively engaging my mind and my spirit to praying, quoting Scripture, listening to worship musicor simply looking at the sidewalk to make it through unscathed. Many days it takes all four to be safe.

“The thing that women do not seem to fully grasp is that the temptation towards lust does not stop for us as men. It is continual. It is aggressive. It does all it can to lead men down to death.

“They have a choice to help or deter its goal.”

Heavy stuff. The guy who gave this testimony apparently can’t walk past an attractive woman without lusting after her unless he is “actively” works to ignore or avoid her. And because of that, this pastor tells the women of his congregation that their choice of immodest clothing will help “lead men down to death”. (A booklet with practical modesty tips was reportedly handed out to all the women after the sermon.)

Some of the comments on the post are tragic. One wife reported that “we actually changed churches because my husband didn’t feel like he could open his eyes in the church building without seeing cleavage and lot of legs.”

Really?

Now, I’m a 30-something man who has to deal with all the common temptations. I’m also the father of three young daughters. So I’m about as invested in this particular topic as I possibly could be. And you know what? My first reaction isn’t “yeah, let’s make sure these girls get covered up”. My first reaction is that these men need to grow up and learn some self-control.

You know what, bro? If you can’t walk down the street, through the mall, or across campus without lusting over every cute girl you walk past, you need to get some help. Talk to a godly older man who can disciple you. The apostle Paul didn’t tell Timothy to avoid ministering to all the young women in order to protect himself from lust – instead he says to treat them as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Tim 5:2) Heck, I’ve got a cute younger sister, and I don’t walk past her on the other side of the street with my head down. If you want to be a mature man and to be a useful servant in the church, you need to learn to deal with women as mothers and sisters. Avoidance is not the answer.

Now, back to the video. About the time I was getting saddened by the blog comments, I took a look at where this sermon audio came from, and it turns out that it’s from a sermon preached by none other than C. J. Mahaney, one of the founders of Sovereign Grace Ministries and the senior pastor of the lead SGM church. C. J. has been accused of conspiring to cover up multiple claims of sexual abuse occurring within the church.

So here’s what strikes me: it’s not a long leap to go from “women carry great responsibility for causing men to lust” to “let’s not ruin some men’s lives by going to the police with abuse allegations”. Because, after all, if the women are at least somewhat at fault for the lust, then aren’t they somewhat at fault for the men choosing to abuse?

Now, I don’t think for an instant that Mahaney or any of the other leaders in his church would say, if asked, that abuse is the victim’s fault. But the culture that encourages placing responsibility on the women for the men’s lust will also subtly place responsibility on the women for the abuse. And that has to stop.

Brothers: if you need help, get help. The answer is not to avoid every woman other than your wife for the rest of your life. Take responsibility for your heart, mind, and actions. Love and cherish the women in the church as mothers and sisters [update: and as friends and equals (thanks @Knepherbird for the suggestion)], with all purity.

3 Comments

  1. Matthew Loftus Matthew Loftus

    It may not be a long leap from “be modest so that men around you won’t sin!” to “that hussy caused a Christian leader to abuse her!”

    …it is a long leap, however, from “[women] have a choice to help or deter…” to “it’s the girl’s fault!” the video linked to repeatedly acknowledges the responsibility of the man to work on his own heart and actions.

    There’s a lot to criticize CJ Mahaney for and there are a lot of jacked up things about “purity culture,” but I feel like this post is trying to tear down brothers in Christ (or strawmen thereof) trying to sensitively address an area where there is a lot of cultural confusion. It seems that you’ve assumed the worst about the motives and underlying philosophies expressed by people calling for modesty. There may be men calling for the absolute avoidance that you’ve caricatured, but I think most would just like a little more sensitivity and thought from their sisters. I don’t think slamming them will get us anywhere quickly in helping gender relations in the church improve.

    • Matthew, my goal was definitively not to attack straw men. I have experienced many of these sort of teachings directly over the past 25 years in the evangelical church, and I was responding in my post to specific quotes from real people, not to things made up for the sake of argument.

      I agree that there are many brothers who are just hoping for a little help from their sisters. But given the wretched weight the legalism of the modesty culture too often tries to place on women, I think it’s well past time that the men just keep quiet about it. This would be a great place for older women to come in and teach the younger.

      My intent with this post is not to ‘slam’ the hapless brother who is really trying. Rather, I want the brothers who are teaching sisters that the men’s lust is their fault to knock it off.

      • Matthew Loftus Matthew Loftus

        I hear you. But I think you picked a poor example to demonstrate what
        you’re trying to say. Despite some very good intentions, I think that
        you totally went in the wrong direction with this post. It’s so strongly worded (and, as I mentioned above, dabbles in assuming the worst) that I doubt it would be persuasive to anyone that ought to be persuaded.

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