The M word.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word modesty? Does it make you want to roll your eyes and tug your shorts down a little? Maybe this word creates contentious feelings toward those around you that struggle to apply it? Modesty, or perhaps the lack of modesty, is a big issue in our society and in the church. It’s a standard that needs to be taught and maintained, but what is modesty? Is turning anyone away because of their dress an effective way to teach this important principle?
Modesty is defined on lds.org as “an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior.” Modesty should not only be reflected in our dress, it should be evident in the words we use and in our behavior as well. If we are true Disciples of Christ our goal should be to make modesty a part of who we are in all things. I admit I am not perfect at this principle, I haven't met anyone who is, but I am trying.
Do we as leaders miss the mark when we teach modesty though? For example, I believe that too often the worry is on the exact length of a girl’s shorts rather than how she is developing spiritually. Three summers ago was the beginning of my part time job. . . or what is commonly known in the church as Young Women’s Camp. I was to lead the thirteen year old girls, the youth leaders assigned to them, and their cabin mom’s throughout the week. I didn’t expect to have the first issue come up the second I arrived at camp and walked up to inspect the cabins. One of the other leaders was apparently watching for me and conspiratorially pulled me aside. Let the drama begin. She informed me that one of the youth leaders in my group had come to camp with immodest shorts, and her mother was being contacted to bring her some longer ones or take her home. In the distance I saw two teenage girls huddled together. One of the girls was crying and both stared me down with standard teenage glares as I cautiously approached them. I smiled my biggest toothy grin and enthusiastically introduced myself. Both girls were offended, hurt, and now dead set on going home before camp had even started. I couldn’t help but think about how regrettable it would be for these young women to miss out on this awesome week of laughing all night with new friends, cooling off in the pool during free time, enjoying nature, singing goofy songs and, most importantly, deepening their testimonies of Jesus Christ because of shorts that hit a few inches above the knees. In my opinion the situation was mishandled, and instead of teaching the principle of modesty in a loving way, this girl felt like she was being turned away.
What should have been done? This problem is not uncommon, and many parents and leaders are at a loss as to what they should do to teach the Primary children, youth, and sometimes adults, effectively. We already have the guidance that we need to teach and understand modesty. We are guided by living prophets. They lead our church today, and they see the problems we face with spiritual eyes. For the Strength of Youth is a resource written by the First Presidency for the youth, and it is available to us all. This pamphlet can be studied and applied to everyone. The section written on dress and grooming says, “Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. . . Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing any other manner. . . Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior.” We need to put the rulers away and ask ourselves if the shorts are so short that they are distracting and inappropriate and not be concerned if they don’t perfectly touch the top of the knee cap.
The statements on dress and appearance in this book are straight forward and simple. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” Shouldn’t we teach Modesty in the same way? Teach that the body is a temple and one of the greatest gifts we have been given. Read from the scriptures and words of the prophets and bare pure and simple testimony. Teach that we are all children of God and that he loves us unconditionally. Doctrine and Covenants 18:10 says, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” Teach true self-worth. So, what should we do when someone is not following this standard in a way we think is appropriate?
Love One Another
First, we need to love them. Every year the church issues a theme for the youth to learn about and base their activities on. The theme this year is Moroni 10:32 “Come unto Christ and be perfected in him, and deny yourself of all ungodliness.” I love this scripture. It doesn’t say come unto to Christ if you are perfect; it says come unto to Christ and be perfected in him. If we lovingly teach correct principles to our children, our youth, and to each other, we can help all to come unto Christ and be perfected in him. This is as true with modesty as with any other principle. We are all imperfect people on our pathway home. When we criticize, belittle, or turn others away we are putting a stipulation on that invitation to “come unto Christ” or worse, we could take part in pushing others away completely.
When I saw the tears of those teenage girls at Young Women’s camp I just put my arm around them and invited both girls to please stay at camp with us. I told them I needed their help and, happily, I succeeded in convincing them. Teaching modesty should not include singling people out and making them feel unworthy to be with us. We don’t need to point fingers and push people away for any reason. I believe that we need to invite those around us to come unto Christ through our words and our actions. Modesty is a standard that we uphold as members of the church and a major dilemma in our society, but the feelings and emotional needs of those around us are imperative. President Monson said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” We need to invite, teach, lead, and serve our children, our youth, and each other with love.