The News Story
Making the Internet rounds is the story of a 17-year old girl who was kicked out of a homeschool senior prom. She was wearing a dress that was deemed inappropriate in length for the dance by the chaperones. As someone who has seen some of the dresses and Halloween costumes that pass as clothing I want to firmly say, “YES, there are inappropriate clothing choices that people make and YES the school does have the right to kick out students who make poor choices.” After reading both the news story and Clare’s first hand account, it seems like it’s the school who has made the poor choice; her dress and conduct seemed to be appropriate for the prom.
What isn’t talked about is the theological precedent that undergirds the school’s decision to have a dress code. I am willing to bet that it’s based on Roman 14 and I Corinthians 8 & 10. These verses contain what is often called the “Stumbling Block” passages. Basically these passages provide a principle for Christians to follow. This principle teaches that whatever a Christian says and does should not be a “stumbling block” or hindrance to their fellow Christian in faith and life.
In the ancient Church it was a stumbling block for some Christians that other Christians would eat meat and drink wine that was sacrificed to other gods. Since those Christians saw them as fake idols, there were many who would eat the pagan meals with a clear conscious. At the same time, many objected and saw it as worship to those gods and an abandonment of the true faith and right worship of God.
Because of this whole situation, Paul writes, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (Romans 14:20-21, NRSV). From this situation in the early Church, the “Stumbling Block” principle was born.
I think that this is a valuable principle for the Christian. It is a submission to the community, a denial of self, and putting the spiritual well being of the other first; it smells a lot like Jesus to me. It is a principle that I try to live and encourage others to live as well. It’s a good principle.
The Abuse of Principle
There’s this tendency in the Christian world however to take this principle and exclusively apply it to men’s lust and the “cause” of that lust—women’s outfits. The stumbling block principle is then used against the girls, and it becomes their fault for the men’s lust; in theological terms this is referred to as B.S.
First, as a Christian man I am responsible for my lust and no one else. I’m pretty good at doing bad all by myself, or as Paul puts it, “One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14, MRSV). So then, when it comes to the cause of stumbling, I am the one to blame.
Second, lust is more than just a sexual thought—God help us if that were true. Rather, lust is the strong desire to do or secure something; it is purposeful dwelling on the object of lust. I was taught the difference between a sexual thought and lust is the same difference as a bird flying over your head or making a nest on your head.
While I think it is completely appropriate for a school to have a dress code, I think what this school is trying to do is mitigate the sexual thoughts of teenagers and mistaking that for lust.
If we want to teach young men not to lust, we should not be going to the “object” of that lust but on helping young men deal with the direction of their thoughts and actions. We should equip young men to uphold women to be the children of God they are. We should teach them how to live out their lives in a world that often throws modesty out the window.
The Good News of Jesus Christ and the freedom he brings is more than legalism and a dress code. As men of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, we do not have to be slaves to our thoughts, passions, and desires. We can look at a girl and thank God for beautiful creatures. We can appreciate and not objectify. We can look and not lust.