Issue #564 -------
February 8, 2013
The expression a woman wears on
her face is far more important than
the clothes she wears on her back.
Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)
Okay. I know what some of you are thinking: "Al has completely lost his mind on this one!" Women wearing pants?! Really?!! Are there actually people out there who honestly believe that a woman wearing pants is jeopardizing her eternal salvation? Well ... yes, there are! They believe, and teach, that not only is a woman sinning if she wears pants "to church," but she is also sinning if she wears pants anywhere. Pants are for men only, they declare, and a woman has "left her God-established place" by brazenly wearing men's garments. Thus, she is in rebellion against the Lord God Himself ("who established this eternal law") and, as a result, in danger of "going to hell," unless she repents and gets back into a dress (preferably one that drags the floor so no man will sin by getting a peek at her ankles).
Although this is admittedly an extreme religious position, and one not commonly encountered by most Christians, nevertheless it does exist in a number of fundamentalist sects. Every so often this view will also surface within a more mainstream group, and when it does there will inevitably be a fair amount of controversy and confusion. This past week I received an email from a reader who wrote, "Brother Al, I attended a Bible study last Sunday at our congregation and was surprised at what one of the elders of the church was teaching on dressing. I have been in this congregation for over ten years, but this really confused me! According to him, and I quote: 'All women who put on trousers, whether at church or home, are sinners.' I then felt badly when several women confessed to the church that they had sinned by putting on and wearing trousers! Your thoughts on this matter will be greatly appreciated."
Some religious radicals take this view even further, stating that not only is the woman sinning, but her choice of clothing actually reflects the nature of her character. The reason she wears pants or trousers is because she is essentially a "loose woman." David Stewart, in an article dealing with this (Click Here), made a rather shocking connection: "A woman's clothing says much about her character. I guarantee you that women who approve of abortion also see no problem with women wearing pants. It's more than coincidence in a nation where most women scoff and laugh at the notion of women dressing modestly, that 53 million of those same women have murdered their own children through abortion." I suppose if they had been in dresses this number would be smaller?! Crazy! This writer continues: "Only a rebellious woman, who deliberately disobeys the Word of God, would wear pants. Pants on women are adulterous in nature, and cause men to lust and sin. Women who wear pants deliberately cause men to lust, and it is this spirit of fornication which has caused tens of millions of unwanted pregnancies in the United States." So, again, get those loose women back in dresses and unwanted pregnancies go down and abortions decrease?! Stewart closed his article with this remark: "It's hard enough for men to have clean minds without careless women who dress like whores and hussies." Another writer, Robert J. Stewart (no relation), wrote an article titled When A Woman Wears Pants in which he listed several things that occur when women wear pants or trousers: (1) "She identifies herself with a Rock 'n Roll culture of sex perversion and idolatry," (2) "she commits idolatry, and causes men to commit idolatry," (3) "she commits adultery, and causes men to commit adultery," etc. These are just small samplings of the lunacy that abounds in connection with this issue.
First, let me point out that few of us would disagree with the principle of "modest apparel" for both men and women when appearing in public. Paul wrote to Timothy to instruct the women "to dress modestly, with decency and propriety" (1 Tim. 2:9). His point was, and this was echoed by Peter, that the "adornment" that should be most desired, and which best pleases and honors our God, is that which clothes our hearts and minds, reflecting an inner beauty (1 Peter 3:3-5). Although both passages are addressed to women, the principle certainly applies to both male and female. Modesty, decency and propriety are certainly not exclusive to one gender. Some, however, have tried to make the "women in pants" issue a modesty issue, suggesting that if a woman wears pants or trousers she is dressing "immodestly," and the result is she is causing men to lust after her. Yes, I think most of us would agree that there are some pants whose cut and design, and the way in which they are worn, would qualify as "immodest." But, that can also be said of dresses and skirts and other uniquely female garb. On the other hand, there are pants and pantsuits designed specifically for women, and which are very feminine, that are very modest, while there are dresses that reveal more than they cover. Modesty is not really about trousers versus dresses (the covering of the outer man), but about the heart of the person (the nature of the inner man). One can be modest or immodest in either.
Since one can't really make a strong case against women wearing pants based on such a practice being "immodest," the argument shifts to a different principle: women should not wear men's clothes, and men should not wear women's clothes. The text that is used to support this view is Deuteronomy 22:5 -- "A woman shall not wear a man's clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God" (NASB). Although this teaching seems rather clear and to-the-point, there is nevertheless a complicating factor: by what standard does one determine which garments pertain to men and which pertain to women? It won't take one long to realize that this is largely a cultural matter, and that no one standard will apply to all peoples in all locations in all periods of time. The people of Israel during the time of the OT writings, even up to the time of Jesus, wore clothing that is vastly different than what we in America wear today. The men, for example, typically wore loose fitting robes. If a man were to wear such a garment to a "church service" today, he might be accused of wearing a woman's garment. In Scotland, men will at times wear a kilt. This is a man's garment, and recognized as such in that culture, but it might not be well-received here in New Mexico at a Sunday morning assembly. In Samoa, the men wear a garment known as a "lava-lava," which looks like a wrap-around skirt. It is the traditional garb of these men, however, and often worn at formal events. When I was preaching in Hawaii (1992-1998), one of the members, who was Samoan, would wear this garment when he officiated at the Lord's Table (which usually drew some gasps from a few of our visitors from the mainland USA -- they thought he was "in a dress"). In none of these instances, however, were the men violating the command in Deut. 22:5. What they wore was, in their culture, the distinctive garb of their own gender.
This can also be said of pants or trousers. In our present culture, this garment is NOT gender exclusive. Pants are designed to be worn by both men and women, and the wearing of pants in no way diminishes or blurs the distinction between the two sexes. Women still look like women; men still look like men. Women aren't trying to become men, or to look like them, just because they wear pants, slacks or trousers. Indeed, many such garments have been designed in such a way that they are very feminine in appearance. Thus, to declare that pants are ONLY a man's garment is to state a fallacy. It also states far more than the command in Deut. 22:5 does, which says nothing whatsoever about pants or trousers (which not even men wore at that time). Again, culture is the primary judge of what constitutes a woman's clothing and a man's clothing. The intent of the command, then, is to preserve the distinction of the genders in one's dress based on the dictates of the culture within which one lives, as such distinctives will vary greatly throughout the world down through the ages. God is not speaking of pants in Deut. 22:5 -- indeed, no specific type of clothing is even mentioned. He is giving a universal principle that will be applicable in any time or place, and among any people or culture. He created us male and female, and He expects this distinction to be honored and reflected in our appearance and behavior. When we seek to blur this distinction, or when one gender seeks to become like the other in appearance and/or behavior, THEN the command is violated. Yes, there are men who dress and act like women, and there are women who dress and act like men -- sometimes it is even hard to determine the true gender of such a person based on their appearance and actions -- and the scripture quoted informs us that God regards such behavior as abominable and abhorrent.
Underlying this desire on the part of women to dress like men, and men to dress like women, may well be something far more morally repugnant. We must ask: Why would one seek to become like the other in appearance? What would be the motivation? What would be the benefit? Frankly, it would be hard not to see such actions as being, at least to some degree, sexually perverse. "Most probably illicit sexual practices -- including homosexuality -- are included in this prohibition" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 135]. "This rule was probably intended to prohibit such perversions as transvestism and homosexuality" [The Archaeological Study Bible, p. 282]. "Whatever tends to obliterate the distinction between the sexes tends to licentiousness; and that the one sex should assume the dress of the other has always been regarded as unnatural and indecent" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 3, p. 355]. "Whatever tends to render the male sex effeminate and the female sex masculine, is an injury to both" [ibid, p. 361]. Drs. Keil and Delitzsch, in their classic commentary on the OT writings, stated that it was critical "to maintain the sanctity of that divine distinction of the sexes which was established by the creation of man and woman," and that "every violation or wiping out of this distinction was unnatural, and therefore an abomination in the sight of God" [vol. 3, p. 409]. One of the ways in which this divine distinction "was kept sacred in civil life" was "by the clothing peculiar to each sex" [ibid].
Once again, this commandment, and the principle contained within it, is not about pants per se. It is about a wicked mindset that desires to present oneself to the public as something other than what God created one to be. It is a male presenting himself to the public as a female, and a female presenting herself to the public as a male. God declares such perversity not only to be contrary to His design for nature (and thus unnatural), but an abomination that disgusts Him. Such behavior opens the door to a flood of godless acts that only serve to diminish us personally (not to mention their impact upon those around us and the society in which we live). "The adoption of the habiliments of the one sex by the other is an outrage on decency, obliterates the distinctions of nature by fostering softness and effeminacy in the man, impudence and boldness in the woman, as well as levity and hypocrisy in both; and, in short, it opens the door to an influx of so many evils that all who wear the dress of another sex are pronounced 'an abomination unto the Lord'" [Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 157]. The surface garb is, quite often, merely an outward, visible reflection of what dwells within the heart and mind of the individual, a condition that much too frequently translates into all manner of ungodly behaviors.
Women wearing pants, in and of itself, especially in our present culture, is not a sin. Except in extreme cases, such fashion choices in 21st century America do not constitute a willful negating or blurring of the divine design for the two sexes. Women can still present themselves as women, and as feminine, while wearing pants. Such in no way is a violation of the intent of the command in Deut. 22:5. Christian theologians down through the ages have long been aware of this fact, although the extremists (then as well as now) generally fail to perceive this truth. For example, on Nov. 13, 866 A.D., Pope Nicholas I (c. 800 - 867 A.D.), also known as Saint Nicholas the Great, in a letter to King Boris I (d. 907 A.D.) of Bulgaria, wrote, "Whether you or your women wear or do not wear trousers neither impedes your salvation nor leads to any increase of your virtue." Trousers on women was recognized as having more to do with human culture than divine command. How one obeyed the principle of the latter would depend on the conditions of the former (thus allowing for significant variance among cultures, yet each, in their own way, honoring the divine distinctives of male and female). Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 - 1274), one of the great Italian philosophers and theologians of the church, wrote that one's "outward apparel should be consistent with the estate of the person, according to the general custom." In that last phrase, Aquinas has captured the intent of the Lord's command. God commands a distinction in dress between men and women, but that distinction will vary according to customs of the culture within which one dwells. In our present culture, pants do NOT defy that divine distinction! What God is concerned with in Deut. 22:5 is that men and women do not abandon these distinctions by seeking to portray themselves as being the other sex. I like the way the Contemporary English Version has rendered this passage: "Women must not pretend to be men, and men must not pretend to be women. The Lord your God is disgusted with people who do that" (Deut. 22:5). It is this, and the host of abhorrent behaviors that flow from such, that our Lord condemns in this passage. To turn it into a proof-text to force women to abandon wearing pants in our present culture, and to wear dresses only, is an abuse and misuse of the text, and those who attempt such eisegesis should be exposed for their error.
From a Reader in Australia:
It seems so long since I last wrote to you, but you and Shelly, and all the family, continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. Bro. Al, even after writing more than 560 articles, your Reflections remain as challenging as ever. They are so full of fresh insights and wisdom. Thank you, brother, for your faithfulness and friendship. May you and Shelly continue to be blessed.
From a Reader in Alaska:
Once again, brother, you have helped make clear a concept that has been often misconstrued: the matter of "qualities" a man should have in order to be considered for the eldership. While the word "qualifications" has some value, your suggested alternative term ("qualities") makes so much more sense to me. The term "qualifications" implies to me a black-or-white, yes-or-no, approach to elements of a person's character that make it sound more cut-and-dried than it really is when trying to make group judgments about those best suited to serve. The suggestion you made in your last Reflections should help many people better grapple with the concept of assessing those best suited to serve as shepherds. Blessings on you and your work!
From an Elder in Missouri:
Thank you for your thoughtful and studious approach to "Leaders and Libations." I agree with your conclusions and have taught it this way for quite some time.
From an Ed.D. in Florida:
Thank you for your honest research and truth on this subject of spiritual leaders and the drinking of wine. I love Solomon's perspective: "Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do" (Ecclesiastes 9:7, ESV).
From a Well-Known CofC Leader/Author:
Thanks for your balanced approach to the drinking of wine issue. It is amazing that some of my brethren, who so strongly oppose wine, will have a pocket-case of drugs for health conditions -- and these drugs will often have more serious side-effects than a drink of wine ever would. Consistency is an amazing challenge for some. Al, I appreciate so much your diligent study and scholarship. To you I say, in the words of Paul, "Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
From a Minister in California:
Right on target, Al ... as usual. I couldn't agree more! By the way, wouldn't it be refreshing if those who are hung up on the issue of "taking a drink of alcohol" would be as concerned about the destructive attitudes of anger, jealousy, bitterness, divisiveness and hatred, which rock and rip the church body?! I guess we can always hope!
From an Elder in Texas:
I think you are exactly right about what the NT says about alcohol. At our congregation all of our elders and ministers have agreed that we will not drink alcohol in public because of the possible harm that could be done, not because it is inherently wrong. Incidentally, I once visited a church (not in our brotherhood) where the congregation was offered not only a choice of either wine or grape juice in the Lord's Supper, but also a choice of "gluten free" in the bread.
Believe it or not, this also has led to controversy and division in the church. For more information on this issue, I would encourage the reader to study Reflections #142 -- "The Wheat Grain Patternists: If It Ain't Wheat, We Won't Eat." -- Al Maxey
From an Elder in New Mexico:
I'm still working my way through all 20 of your audio recordings of your Sunday morning adult Bible class on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. Another good job on your part. It is challenging. It is also amazing how, through this study, the Scriptures have actually come to make sense! Thanks!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Thank you, Al, for your article "Leaders and Libations." I agree with your scholarship about wine. I enjoy a glass of cabernet sauvignon in the evening before going to bed. No, I do not drink and drive, and I have never been drunk in my life.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
I could not agree more with your analysis in "Leaders and Libations." The congregation I attended as a boy in Texas was formed of Christians who held the view you do -- they were forced out of an older, established congregation as "unrepentant sinners." This has been an issue full of knee-jerk reaction, rather than careful Bible exegesis, at least during my lifetime in the southern United States. A well-researched book I have found most helpful on this matter is "God Gave Wine" by Kenneth Gentry. Thanks again, Al, for courageously standing up to yet another of our unbiblical traditions!
From a Reader in Texas:
I was reading through the readers' comments in your last Reflections and saw one phrase that really caught my attention. It was this statement from a "Minister in Virginia" -- "...you cannot accept the specificity stated within silence." This guy is missing something on a very serious level. In my humble opinion there is absolutely NO specificity in silence! Have a great day, brother, and please know that even though I don't comment often, there are many of us out here who benefit greatly from your work!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
"The specificity stated within silence"??? Silence specifically states things?? That's an interesting concept!!
From a New Reader in North Carolina:
I would love to be added to your mailing list for Reflections, and look forward to receiving them by email. Also, would it be permissible for me to print these articles out, as I really like to "digest" them and study the referenced Scriptures. By the way, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the articles you have been writing each month for New Wineskins.
My articles are designed to be used and shared, so feel free to print them out, share them with others, and make use of them in whatever way best suits your own study habits. -- Al Maxey
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