The dress question has probably been the most sensitive area in which to draw lines based upon biblical principle. Disagreement over definition of terms has frightened many ministers away from the subject. What is modesty and immodesty? Other concerned church spokesmen have been troubled by the angry charge of liberals that dress critics themselves are obsessed with evil minds.
Some have even made a gross misapplication of righteousness by faith and have taken the position that any discussion of external conduct constitutes a legalistic denial of Christ's imputed righteousness.
Does this subject merit a few specific observations? Has it been overemphasized? How many books have rolled from our church presses on the subject? No one can say that it has suffered from overexposure. Hardly a tract or leaflet has expounded on the matter, and few of our books give it any appreciable recognition as a spiritual problem.
But is it spiritual problem? Listen to this statement from Testimonies, Vol. 4, p. 647: "Fashion is deteriorating the intellect and eating out the spirituality of our people. Obedience to fashion is pervading our Seventh-day Adventist churches, and is doing more than any other power to separate our people from God." If this could be said of the dress problem over a hundred years ago, what could be said about it in these days of unisex, the bikini, and toplessness?
Although the miniskirt comes and goes on the fashion scene, there will always be an element of nudity in prevailing styles that needs to be recognized as immodest and unchristian. Lest some should quibble over that word "modesty" let us not try to define it precisely here. But there can be no debate over the fact that anything which hurts a fellow Christian is wrong. And certainly any kind of dress which causes our fellowman to commit sin must be classified as wrong.
Then let us be honest enough to admit that the exposed human body is quite capable of stirring up sin in both thought and action. Too many have acted very naïvely toward this mushrooming problem of nudity. It is time to speak very plainly so that both men and women understand the true nature of this evil.
Ann Landers printed this letter in her column at the height of the miniskirt craze several years ago:
"Dear Ann Landers:
"Here's a message from a dirty old man--age 22. I'm a college senior and the point of view I express here reflects the thinking of a lot of guys. There is nothing so ludicrous as a chick in a thigh-high mini, sitting on a chair or sofa, tugging at her skirt, trying to pull it down to cover her status of respectability. She blushes ten shades of red and asks with eyes big as saucers, 'Am I sitting all right?' Or, 'Is anything showing?'
"If they don't want anything to show, why don't they buy a skirt with some material in it? More than once I've gotten a dirty look because I was caught popping an eyeball.
"Please tell the Great Pretenders who feign insult to come off it. The reason why they go half naked is because they want to create a little unrest. Tell them that act should have been cancelled when they accepted the hike of the hem and said 'to Blank' with decency."
Many women have brushed aside criticism of their short dresses by blaming everything on the dirty old men with their evil thoughts. But is that the basic fault? Some months ago I received a telephone call while holding an evangelistic series in the state of Texas. A barber who listened to my daily radio program wanted a personal interview in my motel room. Being a Catholic he did not feel free to attend the public service, but he indicated on the phone that he desperately needed some spiritual counsel.
This man turned out to be a wonderful Christian gentleman. He spoke of his great desire to be saved and to live a godly life. Then he confided the problem. Mini-skirted women came into his barber shop day by day. He prayed and struggled to keep his thoughts pure. With tears in his eyes he asked me, "Is God going to destroy me because I cannot always keep my thoughts clean and holy? Please tell me what to do. I want to be saved and I want to keep my mind upon God, but how can I do it with these half-dressed women before my eyes?"
I felt sorry for that barber. He was wrestling with the same problem that every Christian man and boy has to face. It is not confined to "dirty old men." Every man, woman, and child in the world has a carnal nature by birth. But the male struggle to keep the thoughts straight is based upon more than the fleshly nature. It is rooted in the fact that God created men with a completely different sexual makeup than women.
God made man in the beginning with a very sensitive sexual nature that could be quickly aroused by the sight of female nudity. Woman, on the other hand, was created with a sexual nature which would not be so easily stirred, especially by sight. She was made to be more responsive to touch and tenderness. Her more subtle sexuality could be drawn out by the physical attentions involved in the conjugal relationship.
God gave man his emotional sex nature for the purpose of making marriage more pleasurable and happy. The husband was to be the aggressive one in the relationship. Under this beautiful plan of God, the sex instinct of both husband and wife could be lawfully stirred. But mark this: God never intended for man's sex emotions to be stimulated outside the marriage chamber. And in order to protect him God placed within the woman a delicate sense of modest reserve, so that she would not expose her body except to her own husband.
The plan was perfect, but it has broken down in one area. Satan has managed to destroy to a very great extent that inherent modesty with which the Creator endowed womanhood. Under the growing curse of transgression, women have thrown off the moral restraints. Uninhibited nudity or provocative half-dress has become the accepted norm of modern fashion. On every side, the Christian, as well as the non-Christian, is forced to look upon scenes of nakedness which are utterly foreign to the original plan of the Creator.
What has been the effect of this perverted order of things? It has produced a sex-saturated society whose moral qualities just about match those of the antediluvians. Jesus said, "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Matthew 24:37. And what were the conditions of Noah's day which would be duplicated in the end of time? Genesis 6:5 says that "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
We have only to look at the sorry state of today's entertainment and communication media to know how fully this prophecy has been fulfilled. Pornography has been legitimatized. The TV channels are crowded with lewd sex, either implicit or explicit. The world of advertising, and even the daily news commentaries, are sprinkled with profanity and suggestive double-talk. The imagination of modern man seems obsessed with the subject of sex, often deviant and perverted. Homosexuality has not only received the tolerant coexistence which it sought after, but has been given recognition by the majority of psychiatrists as normal sex behavior.
And what about the Christians who are surrounded by this glorification of the flesh? Unfortunately, it has not been left outside the church doors. Slowly the world edged into the remnant church. By degrees the sight of knees and thighs even in the sanctuary began to be tolerated. The sense of outrage disappeared as we got used to the weekly display.
What about the Christian men whose inherent sex nature is so easily influenced by this nudity? Do they respond to the external stimuli by thinking evil thoughts and committing mental adultery? By the grace of God true Christians can lay hold of victory, even over the imaginations of the heart. Through submission and prayer any man can claim the power of a pure mind, but the styles of dress make it a more difficult struggle.
Jesus made it clear that men are easily led into wrong thinking. He said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." Matthew 5:27, 28.
And what can be said for the women who dress in such a way that they stimulate this kind of thinking? They are equally guilty before God. For this reason no true Christian woman, who understands the effect of such a course, will wear the revealing clothes which create such illicit desires. As the dress inches above the knee, the climate of sin is created. For the carnal man, who has not the power of the gospel in his life, there is no chance whatever to resist the temptation. Every miniskirt is fuel which triggers the mind to think the most debased thoughts of which the carnal nature is capable. Christian women should have no share in this kind of enticement.
Indeed, the second greatest commandment of Jesus would be violated by such a course. Christ said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' How could a woman wear clothing that was designed to cause her neighbour's husband to commit mental adultery and not be guilty of breaking that law of love? Would she love her neighbour as herself if she wilfully did something to cause her neighbour's husband to sin against his wife and against God?
We are dealing here with actions which cause others to sin. Moral issues are directly involved. We are counseled to close every door of temptation.
"Our example and influence must be a power on the side of reform. We must abstain from any practice which will blunt the conscience or encourage temptation. We must open no door that will give Satan access to the mind of one human being formed in the image of God." Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 360.
Because the female reaction to nudity is so different from that of the male, women often minimize the spiritual problem we are talking about here. Too often their attitude is that men just ought to use more power of self-control and stifle their mental images. They fail completely to grasp the significant difference which God Himself put into the male nature. That nature cannot be reversed by any human effort or determination. It can be controlled by complete Christian commitment, but Christian women must co-operate in closing the avenues of the soul to temptation.
"Our only safety is to be shielded by the grace of God every moment, and not put out our own spiritual eyesight so that we will call evil good, and good, evil. Without hesitation or argument, we must close and guard the avenues of the soul against evil. It will cost us an effort to secure eternal life. It is only by long and persevering effort, sore discipline, and stem conflict, that we shall be over-comers." Testimonies, Vol. 3, p. 324.
Perhaps we can better understand Satan's way of operating today if we remember some of his classic maneuvers in the past. In 1 Corinthians 10 we read that the experiences of ancient Israel were written for our admonition and example. Reference is made to their leaving Egypt, journeying through the wilderness, and entering the promised land. There is a direct parallel between God's people then and God's people today.
We cannot ignore the fact that Satan's final, win-or-lose-all attack against Israel to keep them from entering the promised land involved the illicit interlude at Baalpeor. The amoral pagan women of Moab swarmed into the camp of Israel with breezy abandon and caused thousands of the men of Israel to fall into sin. God described the scene thus: "For they vex you with their wiles wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor." Numbers 25:18.
Is there not a striking parallel with the way Satan is seeking to keep modern Israel from entering the heavenly Canaan? Through the wiles of sexual license stirred up by brazen nudity, a last-ditch effort has already been launched to subvert the moral integrity of the remnant church. In the judgment plague which swept the camp of the Israelites, 24,000 died-24,000 men who were overwhelmed by the exotic beauty of the seductive women, and lost the privilege of entering the promised land.
How many thousands of God's people today will be enamored and destroyed by a duplication of such fleshly lusts? Paul, after reviewing the tragic scene at Baalpeor made this appeal: "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." 1 Corinthians 10:11, 12.
Not one man or woman can boast of any great strength against the pervasive glamour of this worldly age. Just as the senses were captivated by the invading beauties of Moab in the camp of Israel, so the homes of modem Israel are being invaded by the dazzling allure of full-color televised nudity and carnality. Many who think they are standing are sadly compromised already and do not even recognize it.
The undress parade of the latest styles and fashions have also breached the spiritual defenses of many in the church. Only time and eternity will reveal how many minds have surrendered to the sensual appeal of immodest clothing. We wonder if Baalpeor could have been any more bold in its deliberate assault on the morals of Israel. Note the public boast of Mary Quant, the inventor of the miniskirt. This fashion designer declared that her creation was for the purpose of making sex (illicit) more available in the afternoon. In an interview she was asked what kind of person today's woman wants to be, and she answered, "A sexual creature. She displays her sexuality instead of this coy business of hiding it. Today she dresses to say, 'I am sexy. I like men. I enjoy life.'" Then she made this bold statement: "Miniclothes are symbolic of those girls who want seduce a man."
We think the Israelites were naive and stupid to fall for Balaam's clever sexual intrigue in days of old, but what can we say for the thousands of Seventh-day Adventist women who blithely donned their miniskirts in the face of Mary Quant's confession?
One of the first evidences of Satan-control is the taking off of the clothes. We have proof of that in Luke 8 where the poor demon-filled man was chained in the Gadarene graveyard. The Bible describes him as "a certain man, which had devils long time and ware no clothes." Luke 8:27. Later, when he had been delivered of the legion of evil spirits, he is described as "sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind." Verse 35. Evidently his first act upon being set free from Satan's power was to clothe himself again. And the clear implication is that only people not in their fight minds would go around without clothes.
Can we conclude that the mass craze for nudity may be based upon modern devil possession? Do the statistics of mental and emotional sickness not support the conclusion also that great numbers of people are not really in their right minds? And these people are being exploited today by Hollywood promoters, smut writers, lewd cultists, and weird designers. They threaten to strip away all modesty and decency from humanity. Their devilish productions constitute a burning insult to the modesty of the human race.
Paul Harvey, noted newspaper columnist, cited the alarming coincidence of crime statistics and short skirts. FBI crime files reveal that forcible rape shot upward almost in proportion to the rise of the hemline. The consensus of law enforcement officers in 50 states agreed that there is a correlation between the miniskirt and sex crimes. Of the law enforcement officers who responded to the question, "Does the short skirt invite sex crimes?" 91 percent answered in the affirmative. The view was summed up by the juvenile division commander of one large city when he said, "Some sex crimes are committed by individuals aroused by their sensory perception, and short dresses of some girls could provoke such an attack."
A newspaper article from Toronto, Canada, confirms that Canadian police agree with the U.S. report: "'91 percent of Toronto policemen think a woman in a revealing miniskirt is more likely to be a rape victim than is her more modest sister,' a spokesman from the Toronto force said Tuesday. Since 1964, the year the mini was introduced to the female fashion market, rapes have increased by 68 percent in the U.S. and by 90 percent in England," said The Law Officers, a police publication. "Abbreviated costumes are no doubt a factor in offences against women," said Sgt. George Gough of Toronto's Morality Squad. " When a girl in a short skirt is followed by a man after she gets off a street car at night, there isn't much doubt as to what attracted her assailant."
Dr. Luchenstein, physician at Tombs Prison in New York City, worked with 170,000 prisoners over a twelve-year period. He said, "The so-called crimes of passion are increasing alarmingly, and will continue to do so... until the principal cause is eliminated. This, it seems to me, is the present style of dress, which, to say the least, is immodest. Immodest dress has a direct bearing on crime incitation, no matter how innocent the wearer may be."
Lest any should conclude from this data that the male of the human species is the pawn of uncontrollable urges, let me hasten to say that every individual remains accountable to God on the basis of personal decision. Each man carries the responsibility of sovereign judgment and wilful choice, providing no excuse for transgression of God's law.
Finally, we stand or fall not because of the force of temptation, but by the deliberate action of the mind to obey the truth or reject it. The influence of provocative dress habitually prevails over the mind which is not fortified with the Holy Spirit.