My Mormon granddaughters wear T-shirts under their sleeveless dresses. Five-year-old Goody criticized my backless swim suit at the pool—not being aware that her own swim suit—like most swimwear—revealed a bare back. Recently, we watched George’s favorite movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, together. Goody squealed, “They’re immodest!” when the loin-cloth wearing Kalahari Desert natives appeared on screen.
I don’t know why the Church has gotten onto the current modesty kick of insisting that everyone at all times should be wearing clothing that covers shoulders, backs, bellies and thighs. But I would like to present what I think is a better option .
Last Sunday, I attended Mars Hill Church in Seattle with our son Wort and his family. Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermon was based on 1 Cor. 12—Paul’s extended analogy of spiritual gifts with body parts. When Driscoll, a gifted storyteller, got to verse 23 about the less honorable, uncomely members of the body, he related the experience of seeing a young man in Starbucks take off his shoes and clean between his toes. Driscoll made the point that while toes provide a useful function for the body, it is uncomely to clean them in public.
It struck me that the more rational approach to modesty is not that some body parts are bad or “sexy” and should always be covered, but that attire should be appropriate to the occasion. Uncovered butts and breasts are appropriate to tribal peoples of the Kalahari, but not in many places in modern America. Devout, endowed Mormons should wear garments which cover their shoulders, but children and young people should not be expected to dress the same way. And non-members should certainly not be labeled “immodest” for not wearing clothing that would conceal garments.