Indecent Exposure

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As you enter your fifth-grade classroom, you notice several kids
gathered around Kate, a popular student, in the back of the room.
As you approach the group, you hear the following conversation:

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“Oh yeah, I’m totally getting one when I turn 12. My mom already
said it’s okay.”

“That’s nothing. My older sister got a tongue ring. You should
see it!”

“Wow! I wish my dad would let me get one. Maybe when I’m older I
can talk him into it.”

Your curiosity is piqued. What is it the kids are so wowed
by?

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You work your way through the small crowd to find Kate proudly
displaying her new bellybutton ring, which is particularly
noticeable below her skin-hugging midriff T-shirt, which reads “Eye
Candy.”

Your mouth is agape when Kate says brightly, “Hi! Like my new
bellybutton ring?”

It’s no secret that today’s clothing trends leave little to the
imagination. In an attempt to tone down students’ wardrobe choices,
schools across the nation have instituted bans on buttocks-baring
low-rise jeans, exposed thong underwear, explicit T-shirt logos,
midriff T-shirts, and diving necklines. And these bans aren’t just
in high schools — many have been put into effect in junior high
schools and even elementary schools.

“Thongs, navels, and cleavage! I’m tired of immodest dress at
church!”

76% of children’s ministers say they’re fed up with immodesty at
church, while 24% call for more tolerance of today’s flesh-baring
trends — and the people who wear them.

We recently conducted a poll to find out how readers really feel
about immodest dress at church. The poll clearly touched a nerve
with over 1,200 readers — the comments we received were
compelling.

Clothes matter. According to one poll respondent, “No matter
what we wear, the world is looking. You can’t put on trendy,
revealing clothing and then tell people to get a life and look
somewhere else! Anyone who takes time to coordinate an outfit is
saying, ‘Good or bad, look at me.’ “

Shopping for clothing is an American pastime, and our passion
for clothing reflects our fascination with the image we project to
others. Children are no exception. Preteen shoppers spent $10.1
billion in 2002 on consumer goods, the majority of which consisted
of apparel, according to the University of Kentucky. As children
shape their sense of reality — which is very different from an
adult’s — they’re deeply influenced by television, media, friends,
and the Internet. And that sense of reality leads kids to choose
clothing that seems normal to them, but has others pulling out
their hair.

OVEREXPOSED

The majority of Children’s Ministry Magazine readers say they’ve
had it with kids and parents alike who condone immodest dress. The
majority of people surveyed believe it’s reasonable to expect
modest clothing on children — and adults — in church.

“If what you’re wearing is causing others to sin or getting
their attention off worshiping God and onto worshiping your body,
then you’ve let Satan win that battle,” writes one person.

Another comments: “Do I expect non-Christians to be aware of
God’s call for modesty? No. Do I expect Christians to be aware that
what they wear can ’cause a [brother]to stumble’? Definitely!” l
Pop Culture to Blame — Several poll participants say they believe
overexposed children are a result of parents’ ambivalence.

“We have role models like Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez who
think it’s okay to flaunt everything they have, and we have
‘Christian’ parents who allow their daughters to watch and emulate
these young women. It’s time for Christian parents to take a stand
for God and tell their children what’s godly and what’s not,” says
one reader.

University Wire reporter Patrice Whitefield says, “Stars such as
Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez rose to fame showing modern-day
America what once was only seen on men in the plumbing
profession.”

“It really burns me up when the pastor and his wife allow their
daughters to dress immodestly and use the excuse that there are
more serious battles to pick,” says one poll participant.

And another: “My blood boils when any child is allowed to dress
immodestly. Last year at Halloween a preschooler came as Christina
Aguilera, hip-huggers and all. I’m saddened when children are
oversexualized.”

Many children’s ministers indicate that outreach to unchurched
families is largely responsible for the less-than-desirable
clothing in pews and classrooms. Several say that while immodest
clothing can be expected from the unchurched during their first few
visits, a changing heart should be reflected in exterior changes,
as well.

“I understand that as long as a church is doing its job of
embracing the unsaved, we’ll have people indecently dressed.
However, I have seen far too many churched people dressing
immodestly. This is completely unacceptable,” writes one
person.

Overwhelmed by Immodesty — Other poll participants seem to feel
overwhelmed by immodesty in their classrooms and congregations.

“I guarantee if that person knew Jesus himself was going to be
at church that morning in the flesh, he or she wouldn’t dress like
that. So what’s the difference? He’s in our midst when two or three
are gathered together,” writes one person.

“I’m tired of immodest dress everywhere, especially in my
third-grade classroom,” says another.

TOLERANCE

Although in the minority, the people who say it’s better to
demonstrate tolerance for today’s styles have a lot to say on the
topic.

Children’s minister, author, and Senior Aquisitions Editor at
Group Publishing, Inc., Mikal Keefer recalls a moment when he began
to question his modesty standards. “I vividly remember pointing out
to a female co-worker what I thought were inappropriately short
shorts on a girl at an event. I wanted my female friend to pull the
offending student aside and encourage her to at least be careful
where and how she sat — and to wear something a bit more
concealing the next time she came. My colleague looked at the
student, smiled at me, and said, ‘Have you been living in a cave?
That’s not immodest — that’s normal!’ “

A Call to Love — “We are called to love as Christians — in
spite of immodest clothing or judgmental hearts,” writes one
person. “Love compels us to gently guide our brothers and sisters
in Christ toward Jesus and away from sin. I believe that the proper
response to immodest dress is not to criticize the style but to
develop a relationship and mentor the individual to a point where
he or she doesn’t want to wear the same clothes any more.”

Others question whether adults have forgotten how important the
“right” clothing was to them as children. Still others question
whether the church is missing the point by being critical of
clothing choices. They question whether there are more important
things to worry about than what children are wearing, such as
whether they’re being abused, fed, loved, or introduced to
Jesus.

“The need to judge people is why I don’t like organized
religion,” writes one participant. “True Christianity comes from
within. If this were a guiding principle in churches, there would
be more people attending.”

“Let’s be accepting, inviting of all who attend the church. At
the same time, let the church — from the pulpit, in Bible classes,
and by example from the more mature Christians — teach and model
modesty, purity, and wholesomeness at all times. Christ invites
whomever to come, but he does not invite us to stay in the
condition in which we came.”

Generation Gaps

Some younger poll participants are offended by the poll. “Being
an older teen in church, the clothing I have seen is nothing that
compares to what’s in school,” writes one teen participant. “It’s
the style to show off your new bellybutton ring. And anyway, no
female wants to wear a dress to church every Sunday. I would rather
wear low-cut jeans and a nice shirt. Get over the fact that you can
see a little cleavage. Anyways, the guys at my church don’t even
look at the girls that way. If you asked your parents what they
thought of your clothing, I bet they [felt]offended also.”

“I didn’t think it mattered what we are on the outside,”
protests another. “It’s the inside that counts. If I show off a
little of my cleavage at church with a low-cut shirt, it doesn’t
matter. Look at most rock stars. The concern at church shouldn’t be
who’s wearing a thong but reaching out to others. We need to spread
God’s Word, not worry if some girl’s breasts are hanging out too
much.” cm

Jennifer Hooks is managing editor of Children’s Ministry
Magazine.


MODESTY

Fashion is ever-evolving, and it’s natural that people will
follow trends and make clothing choices according to what’s “hot.”
Still, the question remains, when is enough enough?

Take a good look at where you’re coming from before you decide
it’s necessary to address the way a child dresses. Ask yourself the
following questions if you’re considering confronting a child or
the child’s parents. Any discussion regarding modesty needs to take
place in private.

  • What specifically about the child’s clothing offends you?
  • Have other adults or children commented on the child’s
    clothing?
  • Is the child’s behavior altered by the clothing he or she
    wears?
  • Do you sense discomfort or inappropriate behavior from other
    children due to the child’s clothing?
  • Does the child have physical difficulty participating in
    classroom activities due to apparel?
  • Does the child seem to feel uncomfortable?
  • Are private areas exposed?

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prices are subject to change.

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