A More Intelligent Modesty

Modesty can be a pretty divisive issue in the Church, and a lot of that has to do with the quality of the conversation. I see a lot of people using statistics and correlation arguments, as if we can prove that modesty is better. Those who are immodest are more likely to be attacked and bear children out of wedlock. Those who dress immodestly are more likely to break the law of chastity or other commandments. 

These arguments are not only bogus, they have no power to convert others to Christ because they have no connection to Him or His doctrine whatsoever.

At the same time, there are two arguments I have seen to defend greater lenience on immodesty: that standards of modesty are modern teachings set forth by current prophets, but are not to be found in the scriptures. I've even seen it said that standards of modesty were never taught by Jesus himself. These are only two of some ridiculous claims I've heard, and these are the types of false doctrine that inspired me to write this post.

I'm going to write the talk on modesty that I wish someone would have given me when I was in Young Women--a more intelligent discourse on modesty. If we're going to help teenagers resist against all that is immodest around them today, the true doctrine of modesty is something they're going to need to understand.

What is modesty?

The best guide on modesty is the For Strength of Youth pamphlet--which now has a website. If you have any doubt of what God expects of you on any issue, more likely than not the answer is here.


Modesty is a very important, personal decision to dress according to the high moral standards of the Savior. It is one of the important decisions of discipleship that applies to all of us--old and young, male and female.

Much of what we understand of modesty only encompasses a few scriptures, usually in relation to the modesty of women. But throughout the scriptures, the standards for dignified clothing and appearance applied to men and women alike. While Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 2: 9-10 are indispensable to the conversation on modest dress and demeanor, the doctrine of modesty is all encompassing throughout the scriptures.

Modesty, however, can be a very loose term. It applies as much to clothing and appearance as it does to a simple and refined character. I want to talk intelligently about the dress standards of the Church, and I've chose to define these modesty standards in two ways: the Lord’s teachings on clothing, and His teachings on nakedness.

Clothing and nakedness have both a literal and symbolic place in scripture. Before we can understand the doctrine of modesty, we need to be familiar with the teachings of ancient prophets, as well as Christ himself, on the significance of clothing and nakedness.

What can we learn from ancient scripture on God’s standards for clothing? How does this relate to our standards of modesty today?

Clothing has always been a literal representation of piety. To receive clothing, or standards for clothing from God is a symbol of our covenant with him. To be covered by this clothing means to be covered and protected by him and His law. And on one of the most fundamental Christian levels, to give clothing to the naked consistently represents the highest form of charity.





Beginning with the coats of skin that God made with Adam and Eve, there is a robust history on God's dealings with the clothing of his people. The Hebrew word used for Atonement is כפרת, or Kaparah, which also means "to cover." While the language suggests a loving God covering us with his protection against all sin and destruction, it also suggests the coverings He has provided for His children since the beginning of their mortal probation.




The high priest's attire set Aaron and the Levites apart as the priestly classes. Under the Law of Moses, strict laws relating to clothing were put into place which set the entire Jewish population apart. One perfect example of these many customs, traditions, and laws is the robe without seam: a long white robe which would be woven without seam, and was not to be made of mixed fibers (see Leviticus 19: 19.) We can safely assume that Lehi and his family carried these same Jewish traditions with them over to the new world, because we see them talking about cleansing their garments of blood/sin, and rending their garments to show humility and repentance.

We must also keep in mind that their standards of clothing were stricter than ours. To keep the private, sacred parts of their bodies covered simply went without saying to the culture of Ancient Israel. The fact that weaves, fabrics, ornaments, and other aspects of fashion dominate the Old Testament conversation on clothing doesn't mean that God didn't care about hemlines and cleavage back then. It simply reflects that it was a matter that didn't need to be explained to them in obvious detail.

Christ abides by these very same teachings and standards, showing their validity as sacred law. His seamless robe demonstrates that these were not just traditions invented by priests out of chauvinism; the symbolic nature of clothing was so important to the Lord that prophecies of Christ’s death include his seamless robe being torn (John 19:23.) 




And who could forget the beautiful story of Christ healing the woman who reached out to touch his garment? (Matt5: 28-30) While our Catholic and Orthodox neighbors attribute the power of this miracle to the garment itself, we know to attribute the power of Christ to Christ himself--not to his possessions.

It was because of his virtue, his modesty, his total moral perfection before God that even touching the raiment of Christ allowed someone to be healed. Christ may never have addressed modesty by name in his teachings. But in this account we see the power of modesty, chastity, and virtue modeled perfectly by the master teacher. 

Clothing is also consistently associated with the language of salvation. (see Isaiah 61: 10, Revelations 3: 5) If our clothing is truly unimportant to God, why is it inseparable to His covenants throughout history, and finally inseparable from exaltation itself? Why does Christ himself abide by those principles if they are simply false traditions taught by men?

Here I address the accusation that Jesus never cared about modesty because He never addressed it by name. We have no proof that he never addressed it, we only assume this to be the case because such an account is not included in our scriptures. But why should we expect Christ to command us in all things before we are willing to follow His example? It should simply be enough to live as he lived without the expectation for compulsion.

As we can see, the Lord has always used clothing to express His love to His children, to signify His covenant with them, to set them apart from all that was immoral and iniquitous in the world. As we follow that same example, we receive His divine protection.

Today, our standards of modesty are different. In fact, we enjoy some of the greatest freedoms in terms of what to wear that the world has ever known. It is true that knee length skirts, one piece bathing suits, covered backs and chests, and sleeves on everything from t-shirts to wedding dresses can present challenges to us. But we enjoy freedoms for styles, fabrics, weaves, colors, and designs that reflect our cultures from all over the world. For that we must be truly grateful, and rejoice in our diversity.

Modesty has been a part of man’s relationship with God since the beginning. And just as Christ said that Solomon in all his wealth was never arrayed so finely as simple lily, we must be willing to receive reality checks on our clothing choices when they come. Otherwise, we miss the lessons of loveliness from the Creator of all that is truly and timelessly beautiful.

What can we learn from ancient scripture about nakedness? What are the teachings of Christ on it specifically? How does this knowledge relate to standards of modesty in our day?

Nakedness has three connotations in the scriptures: poverty, sin and rebellion. In the teachings of Christ, we see references to all three. In the same way that clothing had both temporal and spiritual significance, so too does nakedness.




In Matthew 25: 35-40, we see Jesus speaking in relation to the nakedness of poverty. The Lord and His prophets alike hardly refer to the poor without expressing it in such plain terms of “clothing the naked.” His mandate is to clothe nakedness wherever we find it, for to do so is to love Him. To fail in this duty is no different to God than if we were to leave Him naked and destitute. He leaves no room for argument or interpretation. (See also James 2: 16; Jacob 2: 19; Mosiah 18: 28.)



But in Matthew 22: 11-12, we see Christ speaking against a spiritual nakedness, a rebellion which in this parable hearkens back to Satan himself. To be without the wedding garment means to be a stranger to the Bridegroom, in this case to God himself. As God has offered his covering, His Atonement, freely to all--some will yet return to His presence in their mortal nakedness. They have stubbornly remained attached the world in all its trends and sensual pleasures. They are the natural men, enemies to God. In verse 13, we read about what He intends to do in this situation.

In the language of the scriptures, Satan is naked (Job 26: 6.) He has been since the beginning of the world because he did not receive a body, nor the coats of skin Adam and Eve received to clothe their bodies. This clothing demonstrates how Satan was cast out, and is not covered by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. 

That image of being naked and separated from God repeats throughout the Book of Mormon. After the Lamanites separate from the Nephites, Nephi records that they began wearing very little clothing, hunting wild beasts in the forest, and living in ever growing depravity (Alma 3: 5; 43: 20; 44: 18.) The Book of Mormon testifies repeatedly that nakedness is a representation of apostasy.

Much of the feeling the Lord communicates in regards to immodesty is written in very symbolic language. Isaiah by far provides the most vivid descriptions—but any member who habitually skips over the Isaiah in their scripture reading will be unfamiliar with it.

Isaiah 3 details the depraved state of Zion during his day—the poverty and social breakdown which surround them on all sides. All that is praiseworthy in their society, including the worship of God Himself, has been abandoned and consumed in sin. Isaiah records that, “the shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not.”

But when you read the chapter in full, much of the description of their sin is expressed in the imagery of clothing. In fact, he spends nearly half of the chapter comparing Zion to a harlot, dressed in the clothing which has become typical to their time period (see verses 16-24.) Their immodesty has become synonymous with their immorality and their rejection of the Lord.




Isaiah states that “Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.”

Immodesty is a provocation to the Lord. It is offensive to Him. And when we interpret Isaiah to be speaking of his own time and experience, that interpretation is not accurate. In addition to speaking prophetically of/to his contemporaries, he is also speaking of/to us about the days in which we live.

Nephi had the same opportunity to see our day, and he remarked in 1 Nephi 13: 7, “I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots.”

How would Nephi know a harlot in our day if he saw one? The same way we recognize one. It’s not from the clothing they’re wearing, it’s from the clothing… well, that they aren’t wearing. To be immodest is to be wearing the trademark of a harlot. But what harm does that really do? Does a tank top and booty shorts really make that much of a difference in someone's salvation?

Verse 9 in the same chapter with Nephi is where we find our answer.

“And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.”

We bring too much of our own wisdom and rationalizing into the teaching and discussion of modesty. Immodesty is not wrong because it could cause others to view us sensually, although that does happen. It's not because it somehow diminishes our worth in the eyes of God. It isn't because immodesty leads us to break other commandments, or the law of chastity itself. It isn't because in one fell swooping neckline, all society is led to moral ruin.

The question of hemlines and necklines, the sleeves, skin-tight and see-through, backs, breasts and bathing suit--all stem from one reality; one issue that leaves all justification speechless before it.

Revealing ourselves and our nakedness is offensive to God.

To be most effective, the reasoning should end HERE. We need not make up secular or logical reasons to convince people of virtue's virtue. No one will be converted or persuaded by anything less than true principle, and the desire to do God's will anyway.

The question then, becomes one of desire. Those who disobey the standards of modesty seek to be sensual, which our culture can no longer distinguish from being desirable. But to be sensual is a sin well laid out in the scriptures. To be sensual is to be carnal--and to be carnal and sensual is to be devilish. It is to trade the Spirit of God, which attends us when we are meek and submissive, for the spirit of rebellion.

This is the sin of immodesty. It is not a sin of secular, statistical, or logical indiscretion. It is a sin of rebellion. And it is that spirit of rebellion, not the behavior of any sin in and of itself, which destroys individuals, families, and nations.

The Consequences of Immodesty

To add some additional observation from personal experience, I have known several women who refuse to enter the temple and make covenants with our Father in Heaven. Their reasoning? Because they know their manner of dress will not cover the garments they receive as part of those covenants.

Rather than repent, they seek to cover their sin by saying they aren't ready to lose their youth (one may only presume they mean their sexuality) to the garment. When I think of their husbands and children, whose prayers to be sealed together are thwarted because of a wife/mother’s vanity—I admit, it makes me angry. And I wouldn't be bringing this up if it wasn't something I have seen over and over again in various places I have lived.





In the choice between all God has to offer you—your family, your eternal progression, your divine inheritance, the ability to live in God’s presence, the fullest expression of Christ’s love for you—and a mini-skirt… there are women out there who would still choose the mini-skirt.

That may be the most expensive mini-skirt they ever own—because it could end up costing them everything that matters to them. All I can say is, I hope it was worth it.

Those who forfeit their relationship with God long enough because of immodesty soon find themselves in a spirit of mocking that which is sacred. They criticize others for living or promoting high standards of modesty. In their guilt, they resist against all correction. In their pride, they view themselves as being morally superior because anyone who attempts to correct them must be doing so sanctimoniously. It soon becomes impossible for God to reach them in their hardened state. They find fault in God’s laws, then in his people, in their leaders, and at last with the Church itself.



"...and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit." 1 Nephi 8: 27

But the most tragic part of that situation is, no matter how much they lash out against God or His people, they’ll never leave a mark. The only person they are truly hurting is themselves.

Modest clothing is not a burden. It is an expectation of the Lord, one that shows the Lord how much we respect ourselves and Him. It is a respect we cannot show in any other way. It is what the Lord has asked for and taught continually--the standard he has set throughout the history of the world. In short, modesty is a simple standard with eternal consequences.

When we seek after God with all of our hearts, one of the standards we will inevitably run into, regardless of our religion, is modesty. When we allow that standard to mold us and shape us into a fit reflection of God’s grace, we become holy as He is holy.

I know that God is our loving Father in Heaven. I know that Jesus is the Christ. Our Savior gave all He had in order to pay the price for our sins. In exchange for our salvation, He has asked for our obedience. I know that when we offer that which He has asked of us, nothing will ever be found wanting in our lives. No sin we leave behind will ever bring the sweetness of joy, which only following Christ can bring us. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints truly is Christ's church restored to the earth. The Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith was a prophet, and we have living prophets and apostles on the earth today.

I leave my witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Comments

  1. This is a wonderful talk and one that I will probably come back to and reference if I am ever asked about modesty. You are very wise and well spoken.

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    1. Thanks! Appreciated you taking the time to read :)

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