Entries for July 2014

A friend in Zambia wants to know why Christians in his country haven't led the way in caring for people with disabilities. He related abuses by religious and political forces. As recently as the 1990s, the disabled were considered tormented and demon possessed. The ruling political party herded the blind and handicapped off the streets and into remote rural areas where they had to compete with monkeys for food.

Nsomekela Daniel, of Disability Integration Initiatives for Africa, says, "We believe and acknowledge the impact the clergy has on our communities and if they deliberately turn a blind eye to issues of disability then how will the disabled be integrated in the mainstream society? Today, there are many churches that have AIDS/HIV programs and some have even prison ministries but none has ministries for the disabled. Why? . . . How are they going to live?"

Sadly, this isn't just a Zambian or African problem. In Attitudes Toward People with Disabilities, I trace historical perspectives from northern European folk legends to social Darwinism, eugenics, and Nazi Germany. It's not a pretty picture. 

The account of the man born blind in John 9 is indicative of attitudes toward people with disabilities in Jesus’ day. The disciples supposed that blindness was a punishment for sin, either the man’s or his parents’. This idea flowed from an Old Testament explanation of blessing for obedience and curses for unconfessed sin, as found in Deuteronomy 28. 

As the book of Job makes clear, however, there’s not always a one-for-one relationship between sin and its consequences. Jesus corrected the disciples by saying that sometimes a person has a disability in order to show the glory of God. This is exactly what happened when Jesus healed the paralytic (Luke 5:25-26).

Jesus encountered many people with disabilities during his sojourn on earth. One notable instance was when he healed Bartimaeus, a blind man (Mark 10:46-52). Points to ponder:

  • Society hadn't figured out how to help a blind man, other than letting him beg by the side of the road.
  • This blind man was capable of greater insight than most sighted people. He knew who Jesus was!
  • Jesus called Bartimaeus to Himself. He truly does fill His banquet hall with "the crippled and blind and lame" (Luke 14:21).

The early church adopted a gracious and sacrificial response toward people with disabilities, literally rescuing them from the trash heaps of the Roman Empire. How do you think we're doing today?

Which of the following are being immodest?

  1. Zach is loud and demanding. He acts up in class and loves being the center of attention. Every story he tells is about him, and he’ll interrupt your story to try to top it with one of his own.
  2. Samantha is always concerned about how she looks, and usually dresses better than everyone else. She spends a lot of time on her hair, and money on her clothes, and is always asking her friends, “Do you like my new outfit?” and “Does it look good on me?”
  3. Brett doesn’t care how he looks and expects others to “accept him as is.” He’s known for dressing like a slob no matter what the occasion is. It doesn’t look like he brushes his teeth very often, and sometimes his body odor is offensive.
  4. Aaliyah studies fashion magazines so she can copy the styles of her favorite celebrities and she likes dressing older than her age. Now that her body is starting to mature, she wears clothes that show it off – short skirts and tight-fitting, low-cut tops.

If you answered "all of the above," you'd be able to proceed to the next activity on our Powered by God website for children. It reflects the idea that modesty is about more than how you dress. It's a virtue for all Christians -- not just women and girls.

I bring it up because there's a controversy brewing in the world of modesty programs. A Facebook posting of a Dannah Gresh's Secret Keeper Girls blog post -- Does Teaching Modesty Harm My Daughter's Body Image? -- led me to other entries in the conversation. 

First, way back in December 2011, Sharon Hodde Miller raised the issue in How 'Modest is the Hottest' is Hurting Christian Women (Her.Meneutics blog, Christianity Today). Then came Jonathan Merritt's question, Is the Modesty Movement Harmful to Women? (3/11/13), with a response from Dannah Gresh in A Modest Proposal to My Critics. Emily Timbol's Modesty Culture's Hidden Victims appeared in the Huffington Post August 6, 2013. 

The main concern is that modesty programs not further objectify women and girls by making them ashamed of their bodies. Dannah Gresh, to her credit, yields to that criticism.

This controversy differs from another raging over whether Christian women should wear yoga pants. To get a sampling of that debate, go here and here. Some of the arguments sound like the ones Muslim men use for enwrapping their women head to toe. Frankly, I'm more concerned about Christians attending yoga classes than what they're wearing to class.

I'm glad Powered by God -- both website and curriculum -- has its focus on the attitude of modesty and not on feminine body parts. The Bible uses the word only once (in 1 Timothy 2:9-10) and, according to Strong's Concordance, the Greek term indicates "a sense of shame or honor, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect." The passage warns against drawing attention to oneself through displays of wealth -- not necessarily sexual provocation -- urges propriety and moderation, and advocates the adornments of godliness and good works instead.

While our clothing choices should not accentuate body parts, we'll be truly modest when we consider other questions as well: 

  • Does my clothes-sense overshadow the good works I'm doing? 
  • By copying the clothing, hair, and makeup styles of ungodly celebrities am I sending a mixed message? 
  • Is more time and money spent on how I look rather than on helping others? 
  • Do I assume that looking good is more important than being good? (Or that a person who looks good is good?) 
  • Do I care more about "expressing a personal style" than about the feelings of others?
  • Must I always be the center of attention?
  • How much gratification do I receive when someone says I look nice?
  • Do I have to make every occasion about me and what I'm wearing?
  • Do I show respect for the needs of others with my grooming habits and clothing selections?

Perhaps all modesty programs could benefit from that emphasis. 

Helpful addenda to the discussion:
Is Feminine Modesty about Sex? on Desiring God
The Gospel on our Sleeves: Where I went wrong teaching about modesty on The Gospel Coalition

  • Suicide or assisted suicide?

  • Experiments with animals or embryos?

  • Having sex outside the bonds of marriage or having a baby out of wedlock?

Since about 2001, the Gallup News Service has been tracking American beliefs about various moral issues. They ask people whether an issue is morally acceptable, morally wrong, or not a moral issue at all. Not only is it interesting to see how viewpoints have changed, but how responses can be ranked in relation to one another.

For instance, the latest results reveal that only 19% of Americans think suicide is acceptable, but 52% agree assisted suicide is okay. Essentially this says if a young, healthy person wants to kill himself we should try to prevent it, but if someone old or sick is suicidal we should help him die. Do you see what’s wrong with that picture? 

It's fairly obvious that Americans have become tolerant of what was formerly unthinkable. Would it surprise you to learn that people are more comfortable with medical research that destroys human embryos than they are with experiments on animals (65% to 57%)? 

According to recent results, having a baby outside marriage is less acceptable than the act between unmarried partners that leads to such a pregnancy (58% to 66%). The implication is that you can have sex outside marriage, just don't bring any resulting babies into the world. 

Something is out of whack. Our nation’s moral compass is clearly “off.” We do not value human life the way we once did.

Jesus looked at a crowd of people one day and likened them to “sheep without a shepherd.” Our society fits that description, doesn't it? And, while we might be tempted to shake our heads and mutter "tsk, tsk," we don't have that luxury. We must do as Jesus did -- feel compassion for the lost and carry on teaching them.  

Support for Life Matters Worldwide enables us to produce teaching materials addressing matters of life and purity. I invite you to browse store.lifemattersww.org for resources such as Powered by God curriculum for children and LIFT (Living in Faith Together) for end-of-life caregiving. And if we can help you another way, please let us know.


Source material -- Gallup Poll Social Series: Values and Beliefs, Gallup News Service, May 8-11, 2014, http://www.gallup.com/file/poll/170798/Moral_Acceptability_140530.pdf, http://www.gallup.com/poll/170789/new-record-highs-moral-acceptability.aspx; accessed 7/7/2014.
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