“Why should a woman be responsible for the actions and or thoughts of men? Why can't we as women be able to go on living our lives without being pegged as moral brigades for our "brothers"? Galatians 6:5 for each will have to bear his own load."
This is a common objection I’ve heard given in response to those who champion modesty, but is this a legitimate concern? Are women really supposed to be responsible for the thoughts of men?
Short answer: No, of course not. We are responsible for what we allow our minds to dwell on. While I believe modesty greatly benefits those who practice it, and the others around them, in ways that go beyond merely protecting men from temptation, it is still the case that we are each responsible for our own actions. If a man sins due to immodest dress, that is his problem. However, that does not mean the immodestly dressed woman is free from responsibility.
Ideally, when a man encounters a woman dressed immodestly, his spiritual development will be to the point where giving into sin in that situation holds no allure. Rather than feeling temptation, perhaps instead the man will feel compassion toward the woman who has chosen to represent herself in a way that communicates disrespect to herself and others. A woman dressing immodestly is never an excuse for sin on the part of a man.
Long answer: First of all, the verse this particular commenter cited to defend her argument is taken out of context. If you read back just three verses prior, Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:2.
What? Paul is contradicting himself in the same paragraph? No, not at all. This is why context is key. I would encourage this commenter to go back and read Galatians chapter 5 (or just re-read the whole letter). In the larger context, Paul is telling us to “love” and “serve one another,” Galatians 5:13.
Leading into chapter 6, Paul is telling us to put the good of others above our own needs and wants. This is why it makes sense when Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens,” and a few verses later when Paul says, “For each one will bear his own load,” he is saying that—while we are to help one another—ultimately we are all accountable before God for our own actions. Bear the burdens of others, but don’t be a burden.
So while this commenter meant this verse as an argument against having to be concerned about others, this passage actually supports the concept of modesty and the idea that we should care about the good of others more than what we want. So in that respect, women do share some of the responsibility if others stumble as a result of their clothing (or lack thereof).Everyone has their own burden; don’t make carrying it harder on people.
Christianity is a corporate faith. We are THE body of Christ, and THE church. We are not the bodies of Christ or the churches of Christ. Modern Evangelicalism has certainly watered down this concept, and our Western culture of individualism and “following your heart” also have infiltrated Christianity to a large extent, creating the idea that we are free from other people.
Many like to say, “this is just between me and God.” Or, “How I dress is just between me and God.” This is code for: “I’m going to do whatever I feel like.” But we don’t live in a bubble. Nothing is just between us and God. Everything we do impacts those around us, and you’re not going to find any verses in the Bible saying you should just do whatever you feel like. Instead, as in Galatians and every page of the New Testament, we are called to love and serve one another. This is Christianity at its foundation. Love God and your neighbor as yourself. It seems many Christians have come to understand their freedom in Christ to mean “I can do whatever I want.” This is not Biblical at all. We are free to do whatever we want, yes, but only as long as what we want is what is good for others.
This misunderstanding of Christian liberty is definitely not a new problem. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:9-12, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”
As always, context is essential. To put things mildly, the 1 Corinthian church was not doing so well at the time of Paul’s writing. One of the problems they were having was that some in the church—realizing that they have freedom in Christ and that idols aren’t real gods—found it okay to eat meat, while others thought that eating the meat sacrificed to idols was giving these false gods credence and legitimacy. Paul is saying that—even though it’s true there is nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols—not everyone has this knowledge. So rather than causing those who believe eating the meat is wrong to now think it’s okay to participate in idol worship, Paul will give up his right to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
We can apply this same concept to modesty. Even if there is nothing inherently wrong with dressing immodestly, if there are those who could see you dressing immodestly and be harmed, then you no longer have that right. You should give up that freedom. If you don’t, and those who are weak are “ruined” (fall into sin) as a result of your dress, then you are sinning against your brother, and you are sinning against Christ!
In Christ, we are free to do whatever we want, so long as what we want is what is good for others. Or, as St. Augustine said: “Love, and do what you will.” We are not free to harm others.
However, the case of the meat sacrificed to idols and dressing immodestly are not quite the same. In the case Paul talks about, there is nothing wrong with eating meat. Dressing immodestly, on the other hand, we have clear direction from the Bible that this IS wrong. (1 Timothy 2:9)
So if we are told to avoid doing neutral activities such as eating meat so as not to potentially harm others, how much more should we avoid doing negative things to avoid potentially harming others? Not only could your brothers in Christ be tempted to sin by your immodest dress, but perhaps your sisters in Christ could be tempted to start dressing more immodestly by your example.
Click here to read Part 2 - the conclusion of the whole matter!