I'M EMBARRASSED. I really am. At the moment I am so emotionally involved with this subject, I just hope the message comes through clearly. I have reason to be concerned--there are four girls ranging from age 11 through 18 in our home, three daughters and my younger sister whom we are educating. The matter of dress had never caused any more than a ripple in our lives until the older girls reached their teens. If I had known what I know now, it would have received more attention.
I spent a good many years in what I like to think of as teaching my girls the "inward adorning" that Christ so beautifully portrays. The effort was not wasted, and it warms my heart to see their deep Christian philosophy shine through, not always, but time after time as they face decisions or meet with a severe test. But the fact is, we happen to live in a harsh, practical world that sometimes shows no mercy, and regardless of what we like to think is inside us, we are judged by the way we look outside.
This has been brought home to me repeatedly in the past few years as I, some what appalled, watched the hemlines of girls' dresses go up up up! I kept thinking, naively, that it would stop. My philosophy had always been a pleasant middle-of-the-road stand a "not the first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside" type of attitude. After all, we have to live in this world, and we want to attract the world to Christ. Other than that, I really did not give it much thought.
When the dresses became shorter, and shorter, and SHORTER, I was shaken out of my complacency. Suddenly one night I was faced by a teacher who asked me pointedly in the presence of my minister husband, "Why should the school have a rule for the rule's sake? If it is wrong for your daughter to wear a dress to school, it should be wrong to wear it to church or anywhere. What is your stand? I think your daughter is confused."
"You cannot force this issue," I countered. "Christ's religion is one of love, and we are 'won' to Him, not forced," I said. But I didn't sleep too well after she left. It's true, I thought, that it is a religious issue, and the girls will have to see it for themselves and want to do it, but what am I doing as a mother to help them see the beauty of it, and want to do it?
And I had to admit, Nothing, really. In my own lackadaisical, presumptuous way I was saying, "It's all right, girls. Everything will be all right. You'll come out on top. Just sit tight until the storm is over." But it wasn't all right, and it was with a chill in my heart that I watched one beautiful young girl after another get "in trouble," my friends' children and members of our churches. Frantically, I took out hems, sewed on bands, and lectured by the hour. Yes, I was even very careful to be exemplary in my own dress, too. Never let it be said that "Mamma did not believe in dress standards." And what did they get from all this? Just a lot of tears and rebellion. "My mother is the fat grandmotherly type," one of my teenagers was reported as having said to one of her girl friends.
"Preaching" Can Do Only So Much
Let's face it. There is a limit to what "preaching" can do. When some of the ministers began preaching about it I was amused at first. I thought, as most other people do, that they must have been doing a lot of "looking" to be able to preach about it so much. But now I pity the ministers. I really do. They are on the spot--- a painful and embarrassing one. I mean, after all, they are men.
A Personal Subject
I believe, as most women do, that what we wear is a delicate subject and very personal. But we can't expect the ministers to sit idly by when there is a fire! Of course some damage will be done maybe some needless damage but the needless and sickening thing about this situation is that there should not be a fire. As Christian women, why have we let ourselves become the target of so much controversy?
Women have been used of God through all ages. Their work and place has been clearly outlined and exemplified in the lives of women since Bible times. Why has woman's place in this modern day become so cobwebbed and hazy, her chair pushed in the corner, broken and dusty? Over and over again we are instructed that women are needed to help women. What a tidal wave of heartbreak and misunderstanding could be averted if this were followed. If we had more Ruths and Esthers, Lydias and Tabithas, Marys and Marthas, Florence Nightingales and Ellen Whites, maybe we would not have found ourselves in such a dilemma as we face today. The present image the world presents of the female sex has forced some of us to go back to the primeval definition of what, after all, modesty and decency mean. Where is the sacredness and beauty of womanhood? And where are the women?
I have faith to believe they are here, somewhere widely separated and disorganized perhaps, but here in the world. And the beauty of womanhood? It must be defined somewhere too scattered and some what hidden through the pages of the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and in count less other books and hearts. But it's there. It needs to be searched out, dusted, polished, and put out for everyone to see.
A Right to Legislate?
I don't know the complete answer, but in our church we have begun to talk about it. I do not feel that legislation is a mistake as I did at first, but I do think there is a limit to what it can do. The real impact and victory will have to come both from the heart and in preventative measures.
When I read again the statement in which Ellen White relates her vision on dress reform concerning the "second class" that passed before her, in describing their dress she said, "It did not reach the knee. I need not say it was shown me that this was too short," the words seemed to stand out in fire. This was not her idea at all, but obviously God's, since it was "shown" her. To me that was enough. But other forceful statements like the one below left no room for doubt.
Christians should not take pains to make themselves a gazingstock by dressing differently from the world. But if, when following out their convictions of duty in respect to dressing modestly and healthfully, they find themselves out of fashion, they should not change their dress in order to be like the world; but they should manifest a noble independence and moral courage to be right, if all the world differ from them. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 458. (Italics supplied.)
Over and over as my husband and I worked with our girls, we were impressed that their reaction to this situation was a little more intense than normal. After struggling with the problem for months and using every means of approach we could think of to reach them we began to realize it was more than just a girlish whim behind it all. It had to be, otherwise it couldn't possibly mean so much to them. One night we did a little window-shopping alone. We wanted to see for ourselves just what was on the market. As a girl I remembered seeing and wanting the lovely dresses in the fashion shops, and was sympathetic with the girls in not wanting to be different, et cetera. But we were shocked at what we found in one of the most fashionable stores on the main square in town. A special shop had been designed on a wing in the basement for the girls, highly decorated with op art, sales girls in miniskirts and completely geared for the "new look." It was the music that almost staggered me. I'll have to confess that some of the modern guitar music is quite appealing and I rather like some of it, but this was different brazen, loud with a beat, and to me, devilish. My husband sensed it too and said, "Let's get out of here!"
Then I began to see what was behind all this. It certainly was more than girlish whims. It was Satan himself with a sly trap to catch our girls. This has been a lesson to me. How easily we can be fooled by Satan or kept in a lukewarm condition so that we cannot see the issue clearly. Dress reform is the last thing in the world I would ever choose to do, but I realized that I had never really seen it in its real beauty and significance. Somewhere along the line I had got ten the idea that dress reformers were trying to protect men from their passions, and I resented that. But, as I told the girls, while there are some men in that class from whom we need to protect ourselves, a true Christian gentleman, rather than be "allured" at the sight of a short dress, would rather pity the girl who would choose to display her body like that.
And why does Satan work so hard? Because a woman's body is an instrument with God in creation the power Satan does not have. I told the girls not to think for a minute that Satan was trying to give them beauty or charm or even love. He hates their bodies, and hates them as partners with God in creating life. This hatred reaches back to the beginning of sin, when he was cast out of heaven because he could not share in the creative work planned in the councils of Heaven. He hates this creative power and he is out to destroy it in any way he can. As we come close to the end of time the battle wages harder, and it is true that in our youth we were never put to such a test as our girls are facing today.
The holiness of God has always been veiled. God commanded that the "holy" and "Most Holy" places in the earthly sanctuary be veiled, as it is in heaven, as a sign of His majesty and omnipotence. He has said, too, that our body is a sanctuary and the dwelling place of God, so is it not logical and beautiful that He would desire to have it also veiled from the common and casual gaze of the world? How it must hurt the Lord to see this temple symbol and co-worker with Him in creation being gaudily displayed, hung on billboards, cheaply printed in every conceivable advertisement and magazine, trampled in the dust, and disrespected of men. No wonder (and I'm certainly not defending them!) some wicked men in their confusion turn from women and get themselves all tangled up in unnatural relationships. Women were made for a higher calling than that for which the world depicts them today.
It was a woman who ate the forbidden fruit, and it is sometimes said that Christ would have died if only one person had sinned. In that case, that one person would have been a woman. He saved us, and now He needs us. It is His unfathomable love, surpassing the love or admiration of any human, that reaches through to the some times lonely and sometimes confused modern woman today with comfort and assurance that "no good thing" will He with hold from us when we walk uprightly. And it is our love relationship to Him, not be cause of any earthly reason, that should prompt us to follow the instruction He has given in the way we should dress, as well as in every other phase of our lives. The rewards for obedience will make any little sacrifice we make seem so small it will not even be remembered. What a message we have to give! And it will take a woman to give it best!