Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Legalism: Do Not Expose Your Thighs!

And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
Matthew 15:9 

My family didn’t have too many problems with modesty.  Prior to coming to BGBC, we didn’t have any “formal” teaching on modesty.   It was a natural and seemingly obvious idea that one would dress in a way that would reflect an image that Christ would want us to have.  If God seemed concerned with the heart, so should we.  If certain clothing invited roaming eyes to zero in on specific body parts, then it made sense to avoid those styles of clothing.  This was a simple solution with no rigid rules, just basic common sense.

At BGBC, we were told how we should and should not dress - specific guidelines, such as do not expose skin above the knees - especially the thighs.  We found very quickly that there was a lot of attention focused on this issue - and in my opinion, a very unhealthy amount of attention.  In another post I will discuss how I believe the modesty rules backfired.

BGBC Non-Sanctioned Shorts, drawn by 9-yr old resident artist

My son is 6’8”.  Yes, he’s a very tall drink of water.  It is very hard to find pants to fit him because not only is he tall, but he is very thin.  While there are Big & Tall stores for tall men, I've yet to see a Skinny & Tall store.  I was thrilled one day to find some shorts that seemed quite long.  This kid has never been picky about clothes and has always been so appreciative of the clothes I get for him and he was happy to wear his new shorts - the longest ones he had ever had.  I remember my heart ached when I overheard a teen tell another friend that my son's shorts were still too short.  They were knee length, but I'm sure more skin was showing when he was sitting down.  Was I expected to sew my son shorts the BGBC-approved length since there were none to be found in local stores AND on the internet?  Ugh! 

Thankfully, at the time, I did not take it personally, but realized that this was one aspect of what happens in a church with legalism:  people act unloving and unkind because the rules are more important than the heart of the people.  Some got caught in this trap of judging whether each others' clothes would pass the modesty test and talked amongst each other when someone violated the rules.   

Legalism,  which is an aspect of many spiritually abusive churches, robs us of deep relationships.  It forces one to focus so much on the rules and externals, it's hard to look beyond them.  It pushes people away from you because they feel like they are being judged - and they very well could be.  I tell you, it's nice to be at a place finally where I can see people for who they are without distraction of their tattoos, short hemline, cleavage showing, bulging biceps, piercings, you name it.  When you start accepting and loving people for who they are, those externals really are only external. 

LEGALISM: Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9)

  • Adding basic rules to a faith which makes it more exclusive and isolated from "outsiders" who do not think, act, or believe as the "true" believers do is called LEGALISM.
  • Legalistic groups have their own authority figures who provide the rules "their" people are to live by. These leaders have answers for everything and their rules are considered nearly equal to the authority of the Bible.
  • Legalistic leaders see themselves as more than just leaders. They feel better, more spiritual and have fewer failings and temptations than "their" people. They become spiritual detectives looking for raised hem lines or hair over the collar as if these things prove what "their" people are really like inside. Abuse of power follows.
  • Members are to look to their leaders for the "standard"; how they should think, what they should do, and how they should dress.
  • The system teaches that the leaders know best and to challenge them is to challenge God.
  • As one chooses to become part of a legalistic system his or her freedom to choose is quickly lost. Appearances and associations become most important. If a member is confused about something the fault is with the member and not with the group.
  • Legalism emphasizes externals more than internals and people learn that appearance is more important than what they are on the inside and one's life becomes a performance benefit for those who may be watching. (http://www.thelyingtruth.info/vot/legalism.php)


  1. You are right on at the beginning of this blog -Modesty is about more than clothes and skin coverage. It's an attitude of the heart.

    Again, as it relates to BGBC it is my opinion that the extreme focus on modesty and sexual sin was an unhealthy projection of a personal struggle.

    1. well - the whole thing you are right on. I meant especially at the beginning!

  2. I completely agree and never thought of this before as spiritual abuse but it really is. I was brought up in a Baptist school from Kindergarten through high school and I remember a time I was growing pretty quickly and some of my skirts were becoming a bit short. When I had sat down in class one time the teacher saw my skirt was coming to just above the knee (like just a hair away from above) and according to her was "too short" so she publicly humiliated me in front of the class and made me go get my jacket and wear it over my legs for the entire class period. She treated me like a whore because my clothes were starting to outgrow me. My parent's weren't rich and we had a difficult time finding skirts that fit me properly at all - our area maybe had 1 or 2 stores that even had long skirts and even then the stock was very limited. This was before the internet so we couldn't even shop online! Baptist schools are abusive when they focus more on clothing and legalities like that and less on the person! I totally agree with that 100%.

  3. I'm sorry to hear about the current situation. The pastor sounds like he has major control and manipulation issues. If he has a family, I'd love to be a fly on the wall in his home. I'll bet his wife and children are living through hell.

  4. I can't wait to see your next post about this. I wrote a couple of blog posts in November dealing with the modesty issue (I call it "the modesty doctrine" because actual modesty is about humility, not sex). Those posts turned out to be extremely controversial; if there's one thing controlling churches love, it's finding new ways to see sex in everything. ;)


    I don't expect you to agree with everything I wrote, but just to let you know that other people and churches also have this problem and some of us see it for what it is.

    (I would have emailed this to you if I could find an address. If this seems self-promotional, please feel free to delete my comment. BTW, if you haven't yet, check out nolongerquivering.com. Your story was linked there today, which is how I found your blog.)

  5. Well, it its any consolation the "Yelp" reviews seem to be unaffected and 5:1 against

  6. Dearest Julie and others who are being shunned and sued,
    This kind of treatment has been going on for years in the Watchtower organization. There are hundreds of thousands of ex-Jehovah's Witnesses out there who are shunned by everyone in the organization, including their families. We understand the emotional pain connected with this. We lost our son and his family for over 25 years, but our granddaughters are finally coming back to us. Here is our website: wwwdotimdoingeverythingdotcomslashmaes. Praying for you. With Christian love, Velta

  7. Many churches have guidelines about what women wear because they do not want women to be a distraction. The focus has to be on Jesus, not that skimpy dress that girl is wearing. Some people dress to distract and this is a problem in church. If you don't like it, then go to a different church. There are tons of churches and all of them are different. no two churches are the same. Ive never been to Beaverton Grace Bible Church, but I have been to others with similar guidelines. If a girl wore something too revealing to church, another lady in the church would pull them aside and ask them to sit in the breast feeding lounge at a church I used to attend.

    I don't agree with the pastor suing you. Two wrongs do not make a right. I do think you are going out of your way to bash this church, but that's your right to do so. It's called freedom of speech.

    1. I have to agree with you on some points. I think the point that a person could miss by reading about the church and not attending it is that it was beat upon so severely. He would have, if he could have, had us dressing like conservative Muslims. He was of the opinion that ALL men everywhere just wandered around lusting after every woman they ever saw. It was weird.

      The church I am in now has very conservative clothing guidelines, and we are free to approach one another if we feel an issue arises. As I know how to sew, I have done quite a bit of altering of clothes that are quite nice but just a tad revealing. This is voluntary. People come to me asking me to do this. It is reflective of their hearts. Whereas at BGBC I do not believe modesty was reflective of hearts so much as it was reflective of a desire to mask over what was in the heart.

      I do think the author of this blog could exercise some discernment and heed the Biblical warning that a wise person seems foolish if he/talks to much - but you are right on in your assessment of free speech.

  8. This modesty doctrine is absurd. It applies to boys and men??? Scripture talks of the need to 'gird up your loins' in preparation for battle or hard work. Men would commonly wear a cloth wrapped around their waist that they would pull up between their legs and tuck into their waistband, leaving their thighs exposed.
    How about teaching about the command to 'take every thought captive?' This speaks directly to lust and distraction. Does the modesty doctrine specify the kind of bras worn so as to prevent excessive 'shapeliness'? How about eye make-up or furtive glances?
    btw, Did Chuck and his wife conceive before they married? The eldest is 22 and they have been married 22 years.
    Lusting after or coveting somebody's car is just as sinful. Was there a parking lot police? How about the quality of leather binding on a bible?
    Material issues are equally sinful.
    And what about the over-weight persons? Does their gluttony get them dis-fellowshipped?

    1. Yes they did! Very perceptive.

  9. Jesus came to destroy religion and bring us back into relationship with Father, The pharisies wanted Jesus dead because He exposed their controlling and manipulative ways, destroying their prestige and power. Jesus is our Shepard not some guy who believes he has the corner on the God market, and that women are servents to their husbands. The bible is a story of a relationship with God not dogma and doctines. The body of Christ place is to tell others who Jesus really is (The Savior of the World) When that person believes in the love of Father God and the power of the cross then Jesus will take care of our twisted lives by His Love and Grace. Religion in Latin Literally means to bind. Jesus came to set us free. For who the Son sets free is free indeed and no one can take that away!Being a follower of Jesus is simple but hard because the religious will always bash the free because they can't control you.

  10. Personally it saddens me when a church care more about my Sunday morning outfit than my salvation. Everyone is held accountable for their actions. I will not allow you to blame my dress for your problems with lust. I have my own life to be accountable for as do you. Church is where your walk with God should be encouraged & enriched. If I wanted to change my life & all I have are club outfits am I suppose to be banned until I can afford a more "befitting" attire? God is looking at what's in your heart. Your salvation has nothing at all to do with your Sunday morning outfit. I also believe modesty is a personal discretion. Pastors lead your flocks to Gods salvation & help them lead Godly lives of love.

  11. Hello Julie Ann, my name is June....I emailed you earlier today...Like I previously mentioned, this morning I was woke up to hearing your story on the news...I was totally blown away..I have been on my own little campaign to bring awareness to religious abuse, while still believing in and living for a God of Love, Mercy and Grace...I am not "loose" with my holiness (I think that term is probably used mostly in religious circles)..I am not a woman who lives one way all week then another on Sunday...I live everyday, with my God, praying for His will, listening for His voice...A couple of us from our old church have decided to get together for worship service...All of us are musicians, so we can get together, Praise and Worship and have prayer..then some food...I will email you again with the particulars..I imagine you all are being so very careful right now, please just pray about it....Anyway I wanted you to know we are going through some of the same things..except the law suit, we aren't being sued..and for the people who filed suit against you, I am disgusted...I just want you to know you don't have to go through it alone, we are here for you...We love the Lord and believe that His true message is Love and Mercy and Grace, and thru those things we are compelled to Love and with learning to love we ultimately change...YOU can't do it in reverse, you can't go to church and "clean up, and change"..that never works, it never has staying power..It's white knuckling your walk with God and that NEVER works...We are praying for you and know that the Lord God has something wonderful for you and your family..Out of this God will bring forth blessings and everything that was stolen from you..And Yes, be weary of false profits, wolves in sheep's clothing....the tares...they look just like the wheat, but they bend in the wind.....One of my closest friends, she is like a spiritual mom always tells me...When life bumps a man, what comes out of him is what is in his heart...so, when life bumps me, what comes out?? Well, we know what comes out of those that abused and manipulated you and others...We know them by their fruit...We are praying and believing for you all..God Bless, Love June

  12. Hello I'm from Ecuador, came to this blog by a CNN news, I am a Christian and I've noticed your posts as it is a very legalistic church, if all you say is true of course I do not know you wanted to talk to you a interview

    1. Welcome! Thank you for stopping by. I never would have imagined someone would be reading my blog from Ecuador. That makes me smile.


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