Friday, March 29, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, March 29, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The "leggings" controversy — Mom of four boys calls for modesty on campus: Why this biblical concept is now a controversial topic
It all started with a mother and a father and their four boys going to a service in the basilica at the University of Notre Dame, but very shortly, it turned into a headline story that was ricocheting across the nation. The issue at stake, it actually had very little to do with the service in the basilica at the University of Notre Dame. Instead, it had to do with what the student newspaper at Notre Dame University called The Legging Problem.
It comes down to a viewpoint article written by the mother in this story written to the student newspaper at Notre Dame. The mother wrote, "I've been thinking about writing this letter for a long time. I waited hoping that fashions would change and such a letter would be unnecessary, but that doesn't seem to be happening." She says, "I'm not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone's rights." She says and said she's writing as the mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve leggings. The mother continues in her article, "The emergence of leggings as pants some years ago baffled me."
She says, "They're such an unforgiving garment." She says that during her visit with her sons and her husband, “they obtruded painfully on my landscape.” She describes being at the service at Notre Dame and then says, "In front of us was a group of young women, all wearing very snug fitting leggings and all wearing short waisted tops, so that the lower body was uncovered except for the leggings. Some of them,” she wrote, “truly looked as though the leggings have been painted on them."
She continued writing, "A world in which women continue to be depicted as babes by movies, video games, music videos, et cetera makes it hard on mothers to teach their sons that women are someone's daughters and sisters, that women should be viewed first as people and all people should be considered with respect." She pressed her case by asking why no one thinks it's strange that the fashion industry has caused women to voluntarily expose their nether regions in this way. Speaking of the experience with her boys, she said, "My sons know better than to ogle a woman's body certainly when I'm around, and hopefully also when I'm not. They didn't stare and they didn't comment afterwards, but you couldn't help but see those blackly naked rear ends."
"I didn't want to see them, but they were unavoidable. How much more difficult for young guys to ignore them?" This mom went on to make several other points, but the major national controversy was not so much over her article as the issue and perhaps more particularly the response to her article that came from students at the University of Notre Dame and by Americans elsewhere. Antonia Noori Farzan in writing for the Washington Post said that this mother's article probably had the opposite effect than was intended.
Rather than persuading young women not to wear leggings, the effect was that many young women on the campus and beyond wore them simply to express their outrage that anyone had argued against wearing them, anyone had argued that young women should be dressed modestly and that leggings are not modest. Farzan writes, "Her plea appears to have had the opposite effect. By way of responding to her complaints, more than 1000 students at the private Catholic University in South Bend, Indiana indicated that they plan to wear leggings to class this week."
She then summarized, and I quote, "Debates about whether it's appropriate to wear casual form fitting yoga pants outside of the gym had been raging for years. Numerous high schools have courted controversy by banning leggings in recent years, claiming that they are distracting for male students and teachers, but college campuses for the most part have remained a haven for those who choose to wear comfortable Lycra or spandex bottoms to class, meals, and campus activities." In her article, the mom had written, "We don't go naked because we respect the other people who must see us. I'm fretting,” she said, “both because of unsavory guys who are looking at you creepily and nice guys who are doing everything to avoid looking at you."
As the Washington Post said, this line of argument didn't go over too well on campus. One student wrote on Facebook, "Join us in our legging wearing hedonism,” informing the "legging lovers of the Notre Dame community that this past Tuesday would be love your leggings day at the university . . . or not because what you wear is completely your own choice." One group responding to the mother's article is identified as Irish 4 Reproductive Health. It declared Tuesday to be Leggings Pride Day on Facebook.
That group explain that the mother's letter, the well intentioned "perpetuates a narrative central to rape culture by implying that women's clothing choices are to blame for men's inappropriate behavior. People of all genders were invited by this group to "make a conscious choice to wear leggings and thus affirm your right and ability to do so." Then they post photos of themselves on social media. By the way, effectively making the point made by this concerned mother, a good many of the responses to her article came in ways that can only be described as pornographic and obscene. The outrage was tangible.
One young man, a senior at the university speaking up for women wearing leggings wrote, "How you dress for mass is not a reflection of your character nor does it disqualify you from dignified and respectful treatment from the rest of us." We need to do some pretty deep analysis of what's going on here. What you have on the one hand is the argument made by a concerned mom that modesty really does matter, that when women are wearing these tight fitting garments, garments so tight in some cases that they do look as if they have effectively been painted on, they are doing so knowing that they are going to be visible and in this case extremely visible to those who see them, and this would include boys and men, some of them probably well intentioned. Some of them regrettably ill intentioned.
The argument made by the mother is that individuals, in particular women have some responsibility, moral responsibility for how they dress, how they intend to be seen by others. The pushback makes the argument that that is sexist, is discriminatory and furthermore, you saw the explicit reference in this article that it adds to rape culture, the insinuation that women, at least some women are responsible for the sexual assault that they experience because of the way that they have dressed. In worldview analysis, we should note that there is, on the one hand, a fairly predictable left right dichotomy here.
You see that in the leftest identification of some of the groups on Facebook and elsewhere that have responded in such an angry way to the mother's article, but on the other hand, it's not a simple left-right dichotomy because as you were looking at the larger situation, someone observed that the bigger distinction, the bigger differentiation might be generational rather than the traditional left-right division. I want to give credit to this mother for a rather courageous article in which he took the risk to make this argument. In reality, there will be many people who are angry that anyone would consider this argument seriously.
That would include even the fact that we are discussing it today on The Briefing. There are people who would say that it is an insinuation that should be resisted, that women are in any way responsible for the reactions to themselves regardless of how they dress, but here's where from a Christian worldview perspective, we need to take the issue apart. As we do so, we need to ask the question, "Does it matter at all that we wear clothes, and why do we wear clothes?" Before we talk about what kind of clothing is right or wrong, modest or immodest, let's just remind ourselves that human beings were clothing for a reason.
That is made very clear in the storyline of scripture. We have to go back to Genesis three, the reason why we wear clothing is because there is shame in being naked shame being naked before people who do not deserve that nakedness. Naked before the world is an issue of tremendous exposure and risk. The Bible makes that very clear. Adam and Eve, out of the shame of their sin fashioned aprons for themselves. That's the best translation of the Hebrew word out of leaves. They did not do so because they were told to do so.
God raises that very issue with them when he confronts them in their sin and asked them, "Who told you you were naked?" But the moment sin enters into human consciousness, human nakedness is no longer what it was before the fall. Before the fall, we are told that the man and the woman were naked in the garden and we're unashamed, but that's before sin. After sin, it is no longer that way, but at this point, we're just talking about the fact that we wear clothes for a reason, and by the way, God himself verified that reason because he took animal skins and made coverings for Adam and Eve. He didn't say, "That's nonsense. Uncover yourselves." Instead, he made for them more permanent coverings that were necessary for their own modesty in a fallen world.
We'll, note that was both for Adam and for Eve, and it's not just something that is found in the Old Testament. It is found in the New Testament as well. Paul writes to the Corinthians in First Corinthians 12:23 about the body's unpresentable parts which are to be treated with greater modesty. Again, that's in the New Testament, not just in the Old Testament. It tells us that one of the key biblical insights is that as you are looking at the human body, there are presentable parts and there are unpresentable parts.
There are public parts and there are, we have heard this language since we were very young, private parts. Paul says that is for a reason. He says that those parts of the body that should be private, those unpresentable parts should be treated with greater modesty, but modesty is a very controversial word these days. It's newly controversial in the wake of the Me Too movement, but even more than that, it's very controversial in the wake of a great deal of modern feminism and modern consumerism. Those massive movements have changed the moral landscape and have made modesty an almost forbidden topic in polite conversation.
Right minded people no longer worry about modesty. Modesty is an outdated antiquarian term. That's the way the society thinks, but you will notice that Paul roots this in a biblical argument. He actually argues that there are parts of the body that should be covered and that is an appropriate act of modesty to cover those parts. Now, at this point, we're simply pointing out that human beings after the fall, human beings in a sinful world are appropriately wearing coverings. We appropriately wear clothing.
The question then comes, "What kind of clothing is allowable? What kind of clothing is not allowable?" Well, if you're following the logic that we see here in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, the clothing we should wear should not be clothing that would bring inappropriate, immodest attention to what are those unpresentable parts, those private parts. That would seem to be a fairly noncontroversial reading of the biblical text. Now, as we have to speak at least responsibly and candidly here, it is fairly easy to understand what are those unpresentable parts, those private parts when it comes to both men and women, males and females, boys and girls.
There is a reason why if you look across cultures, culture by culture, there is a fairly common understanding of which parts are to be especially covered, are to remain covered. Not because there is a denial of the female as female nor a denial of the male as male, but because there is an understanding that in a fallen world, there are certain parts of the body that are rightly covered. It is not denial. It is modesty. That's a very different concept, but also essential to this argument is the reality that men and women respond differently to visual cues. That, again, has been something that has been fairly uncontroversial throughout human history.
Those who are arguing for the fact that modesty no longer matters argue that, well again, that was a part of the past. That just represents patriarchy. It represents an unfair discrimination against women. It reflects a prejudice. It should not be that way that men and women are, to put it this way, wired differently, men more readily, speedily and sometimes unavoidably, visually stimulated, and women less so. Many women in contemporary society, and that includes many young women as you see on high school and college campuses, are arguing that that should not be so.
It should not be so that men and women are wired differently, are stimulated and interested differently, are likely to have different impressions of certain kinds of sexual signals. Indeed, they deny that the wearing of clothing or the choice of their clothing is sending a sexual signal, but here's where Christians need to be really, really honest. The Bible warns us about ignoring this reality. The Bible does urge upon Christians modesty. Yes, there is a pattern right in scripture of a greater urging towards physical, bodily modesty, external modesty in this sense to women, to females, and that's not by accident.
This doesn't mean that men are not called to be modest. It is to say that there's a different context for the modesty of men and for the modesty of women. You could generalize that to males and females, but now you have the additional argument commonly made in the larger culture that even raising the issue of modesty is just a disguised, perhaps barely disguised, pun intended version of shaming women. It is just another way to shame females. A few years ago, Wendy Shalit wrote about the fact that our contemporary society "routinely equates modesty with shame." That is a huge confusion.
I think we can understand the logic that gets people there. It is the logic of pressing back against established moral order in society, arguing that wherever you find that moral order, it is inherently discriminatory, patriarchal, tilted towards male privilege and against women. Shalit it by the way went on to argue that modesty is not rightly equated with shame, but is instead to be recognized "for what it really is, an impulse that protects what is precious and intimate," but wait just a minute. Those two words are routinely now dismissed as also a part of the shaming culture by our contemporary morally relativistic culture.
When you look at the words precious and intimate related to sexuality, you have to recognize there aren't that many people who even believe or say they believe, especially on America's college campuses, that anything really should be defined as intimate or for that matter, precious. Again, we are told that the purity culture, as well as the modesty culture is just another way of discriminating against women and shifting moral responsibility from men onto women, from males onto females.
Here's where Christians also have to think very carefully. Is that a legitimate complaint? Well, it could be. It could be that you would have people who would say, "I'm not responsible for my sexual misconduct." Men in this case saying that they're not responsible for, say, a sexual assault or for some other form of sexual harassment because I'm not responsible given the way she dressed. The Bible does not allow that. Christian morality does not allow that. A biblical worldview does not allow any man, any boy to say, "I'm not responsible for my actions because I was simply taken over by a sexual impulse driven by the way she dressed or the way she acted."
That is Christians must recognize completely illegitimate, but equally illegitimate is the argument that concern for modesty is simply part of that shame culture, that talk of modesty is just a way of shaming females. That is not a legitimate argument. The Bible makes clear it's not a legitimate argument. The Bible makes clear why we wear coverings for those private parts in the first place. Then the question is, "As we extend from that to appropriate clothing, what would that look like?" It is not clothing that confuses male and female. The Bible is also clear about that.
A woman is not to wear the clothing of a man nor the man the clothing of a woman. It is not to mean clothing that denies the essential physical form of a man and a woman, and by the virtue of the glory of our creator, the inherit, aesthetic value of the human form, both male and female. You should be able to recognize even at a distance. Is this a man or a woman, a boy or a girl? That again is part of the biblical worldview. In First Timothy 2:9-10, Paul writes that women are to adorn themselves in respectable apparel with modesty and self-control. Now, it is important for us to recognize the historic context here.
As we're looking at the historical context, when Paul talks about modesty here, he is not merely talking about sexual modesty. He's also talking about socioeconomic modesty. He's talking about not dressing ostentatiously, but it's also clear he is talking about dressing in a way that is respectful. I guess one way Christians could summarize this is an understanding that in a fallen world, Christians should attempt to wear clothing, public representations by our choice of clothing. That would be very clear that there's a difference between men and women, but would also make very clear there's a difference between public and private.
In such a summary, we would say that wearing clothing that directs attention to those private parts rather than a way from those private parts is inherently problematic. It is by biblical definition, whether male or female, immodest. One final thought about this for Christians, one of our responsibilities to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is to encourage one another to holiness. Everything we do, including our choice of clothing, but including everything else should at the very least be judged by that standard.
Truth is taking up sides? The Jussie Smollett saga continues to unfold, displaying the importance of truth and the progressive shortening of the cycle of scandal
But next, another issue of massive controversy in the culture of this week, I'm talking about the dropping of criminal felony charges against actor Jussie Smollett, who had been charged with misleading police actually setting up a fraudulent claim of a hate crime against himself and assault that had first gained him a great deal of national sympathy and then criminal charges that brought national outrage. The immediate controversy has to do with the fact that the police chief, legal authorities, and the mayor of Chicago have all indicated their outrage that the judge in this case dropped to those criminal charges. There was no exoneration of Smollett even though he has claimed that, and repeatedly it is claimed by his publicist.
Two reporters writing for the Washington Post summarized the story this way, "While Jussie Smollett no longer faces criminal charges, the empire star is not freed from the court of public opinion. The next sentence, and that's where his fate as a professional entertainer will be determined." It is really interesting to think about this for a moment. There is a court of public opinion. It's not the same court as the court of law, but the court of public opinion sometimes really does have the final say.
The fact that these criminal charges were dropped against Jussie Smollett does not mean that the American people believe he is innocent. Indeed, it's unlikely that anything close to that is the case. The big question is whether or not his entertainment career will be irreparably harmed by these charges and by the controversy attendant to the controversy, but as you're looking at this story, what's really most interesting from a Christian worldview perspective is not so much the story itself as some statements embedded within this article that actually do reveal an amazing insight into the culture around us.
We are a society that now takes the court of public opinion as so decisive that there's an entire industry of those who are damaged control experts. One of them has cited in this Washington Post article, he is Chris Lehane, the coauthor of the book, Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control. He stated, "At the end of the day, there are millions of people who tune in and enjoy the show, meaning the show that features Jussie Smollett, and watching him play this character."
Lehane then continued, "Truth has become such a subjective issue these days. The past playbook would be apologize, take full responsibility, move on. In the world where we live now, he said, the news moves really fast and people choose sides. That playbook becomes a little more complicated." That's very, very important for us to know. We are told that we are now living in a time in which truth has become a subjective issue. Maybe even more tellingly, this damage control expert tells us that when a story like this breaks, the world is not now so concerned with what happens, but even before it happens, people line up to take sides. They then look for the evidence they want. They dismiss the evidence they don't want. It is all a battle of public relations. That's a disaster for society.
Christians need to understand a society that believes that the truth is no longer essential is a society that destroys all trust, eventually destroys all credibility, eventually destroys the basic glue that makes society possible. If truth is indeed subjective, then everything will be eventually lost. Another key insight from this analysis is the fact that social media, digital media has speeded up the entire process so that people who may be found guilty or suspected as being guilty of really horrifying things, they can get over it because the new cycle is so fast that new atrocities, new headlines, new charges, new controversies, new scandals come up so quickly that old news becomes old news with lightning speed.
By the time you get to the end of the article, it becomes clear that no one is willing yet to predict whether or not this scandal will do irreparable harm to the career of Jussie Smollett as an entertainer. The bigger issue for us is not making that prediction at all. It's recognizing how the society has changed, how the cycle of scandal has also changed, how the definition of truth has changed, and how many people are now even as this damage control expert says they're choosing sides before they ever, if ever, confront the evidence.
Rafi Eitan dies at 92: A look at the Israeli Spymaster who caught Adolf Eichmann and the inescapability of justice
Finally, another very significant historical obituary in the New York Times, this one has to do with Rafi Eitan, the spy master of Israel, the man who was most central in the story of how Adolf Eichmann was captured. He died in recent days at age 92. Adolf Eichmann had apparently escaped human justice at the end of World War II when he disappeared. He was helped out of Germany, an allied controlled territory by a network of former Nazis and their sympathizers, but he was eventually discovered. A young woman reported that she had dated a young man whose father had acted very suspiciously.
Eventually, officials in Germany and in Israel were able to connect the dots and figure out that this man must be none other than Adolf Eichmann. In 1960, a daring Israeli spy and commando raid captured Eichmann, brought him back to Israel where he was tried for mass murder for genocide as a matter of fact and eventually executed by the Israeli government, the only individual yet in history executed by the Israeli government through its criminal justice system. The death of Rafi Eitan at aged 92 points back especially to the 20th century, reminding us of what a fallen world we inhabit, a world that is marked by espionage and spy craft.
It reminds us of the fact that even as Adolf Eichmann and others appear to have escaped human justice and its reach, sometimes that reach eventually finds them, but it also reminds Christians that even those who think they have successfully evaded justice, they will not evade the justice of God. The biography of Rafi Eitan is one of the most epic lives of the 20th century, and his biography also traces the history of Israel as a nation. He was a young man of 22 when Israel declared its statehood.
As a teenage boy, he had joined the Haganah. That was what became the Israeli army, and he also rose to the top to attention for his courage and daring. He also earned a name, a nickname to differentiate himself from yet another Rafi Eitan who is also very well known in Israeli defense circles. The other Rafi Eitan was a general who became the chief of staff of Israel's armed forces. To differentiate that Rafi Eitan from this Rafi Eitan, they looked back to the spy master Rafi Eitan's early life and to one very famous incident.
During the time that Israel was fighting its war for independence, Rafi Eitan, then an extremely young man undertook a commando raid to bomb a particular installation, and to do so, he had to navigate with his explosives through the city's sewers. From then on, this Rafi Eitan was known as Rafi the Smelly, simply because of his courage in that very memorable incident. Rafi Eitan, this Rafi Eitan, dead at age 92, an obituary worthy of our notice.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.