Friday, June 16, 2006

A Counter-Cultural (and Coulteral) Idea

1 Timothy 2:

9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

Proverbs 30:

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised


Tom Wanchick said...

I've beat this issue to death, but for the life of me I can't find anything unbiblical or inappropriate about Ann Coulter's attire either on her bookcover or anywhere else.

It's not like she's all painted up and adorned in jewelery. She has a black dress and a Cross necklace. What's the problem?

Doug, are you saying Christian women should never wear makeup, jewels, dresses, or modern hairstyles?

If so, I know of virtually no other pastor who would follow that interpretation of the text. From what I can tell, Scripture teaches against dressing up to be provocative or showy. It doesn't have a problem with feminine beauty or spirit.

If Coulter's dress is inappropriate so is the attire of about 90% of modern Christian women.

Jonathan Erdman said...

May I toss a thought out on this one?

"Modesty" is determined completely by culture. The Christian woman only has a responsibility to not dress "immodestly" based upon her culture.

An example of this would be that in some cultures the woman's breast is not as much of a sexual object as it is in other cultures - hence women will be topless w/o this being considered "immodest."

Do Christian women have any obligations of modesty outside of what their culture dictates as "modest" or "immodest"?

Douglas Groothuis said...

"If Coulter's dress is inappropriate so is the attire of about 90% of modern Christian women."

No, it's more like 50%.

Douglas Groothuis said...

One of my students came up with a good defintion of modesty. "A person is modest if the first thing you think about when you see them is not their sexuality" Apply that to Ms. Coulter. Is she trying to look intelligent, humble, happy, etc.?

The Pauline text forbits immodesty; we apply that to our standards, and so deem Coulter immodest. That she isn't smeared with makeup is irrelevant.

Bryan L said...

But Doug, whose standards of modesty are we going by. Any random guy? What about men who are generally more tempted sexually; who struggle with lust more than others, or have of sexual frustration because of a lack of sex? Are we supposed to go by whether they think about a woman’s sexuality first when they see her? Why are we putting all the responsibility on women? I mean it seems like some men can lust and be sexually attracted to a women no matter what she's wearing. Should we expect women to dress like a ghost with a sheet over their whole body and eyes cut out so they could see? Should we expect them to never go out in public?
Someone pointed out Islamic culture. They can't even show their arms! Why? Because someone thought it would cause men to sin or stumble. Should we go by their standard of modesty?
Jesus told men they were committing adultery if they were just lusting after other women. And I have to think; dang those women weren't wearing tight clothes or revealing clothes in that culture. In fact they may have had their heads covered or any number of things to hide themselves. Yet men still found a way to lust after them. But Jesus didn’t put the blame on the women he put the blame on the men.
Is it really women's fault that guys are as horny as they are? No. So why don't we stop putting all the responsibility on women for what men think and feel. If a man looks at a woman who by the culture’s standards isn't dressed immodestly and he is sexually attracted to her then he needs to look at his own heart before trying to put the blame on her. I think that’s what Jesus would have said. Just consider the woman who let her hair down to wipe his feet. Joel Green says in his commentary on Luke 7:38 “Within her cultural context… her actions on a whole would have been regarded (at least by men) as erotic. Letting her hair down in this setting would have been on par with appearing topless in public, for example. She would have appeared to be fondling Jesus’ feet like a prostitute or a slave girl accustomed to providing sexual favors.”
He didn’t condemn the woman for letting her hair down or her actions even though some considered it immodest.

nancy said...

It's time for another woman to weigh in here. I suspect that the reason that Tom and Jonathan take the view that Coulter's attire is not immodest is that they are both young. They went through puberty after the advent of spandex and as such this type of dress has been standard since the hormones started firing. Dr G is just bit wee bit older and lived when fashionable clothing was not necessarily skin tight. Quite a bit was left to the imagination.

Jonathan you almost make a good point about the culture, but here is the hole in the argument. Today's woman cannot just look at contemporary styles and say this is okay so I'll do it. She needs to possess enough depth of Christian character to understand and respect all generations (and I'm sure there are some in your generation for whom this type of dress is a stumbling block). Moreover we should not just uncritically accept culture, but think about what forms in our culture violate Biblical principals. The fact remains that in American culture, a woman's breast is a sexual object and I doubt that will change. Have you seen a Victoria Secret commercial recently? Have you been to Mardi Gras? You would be amazed at how many suburban Christian moms are now augmenting this body part. (Since my husband bought the book and is reading it, I'm currently looking at the cover and noticing that the cross hangs about an inch from the airbrushed cleavage).

This is a problem, specifically the attire issue, in the Christian world and few are willing to publicly address this topic. But there is hope in future generations. I conversed on this topic with a female friend last week. When the suburban mommies are prancing around in the skin tight, spaghetti-strapped tops with the skin tight short-shorts (okay, a brief moment of partial exaggeration), their teenage daughters are noticing this and talking about it. The prancing mommie is not earning any respect in the eyes of her daughter's friends. Let's hope that these younger ladies lead the way in reversing the trend.

BTW - in many cases, the motiviation behind the wardrobe choice of the "hottie mommie" is not to inflame the passions of other men, but to make sure her girlfriends know she's still a "hottie."

Dr. G, thanks for blogging on this. Tom and Jonathon, thanks for posting on this. It helped me understand the generational component. Let me know if you see any flaws in my thinking above. (Bryan,it is my responsibility to dress modestly and Dr. G is not calling for burkas.)

Bryan L said...

Nancy said
"(Bryan,it is my responsibility to dress modestly and Dr. G is not calling for burkas.)"
Of course he's not. But somebody would. Is Doug our ultimate authority on this issue? Is he the one who decides what is and isn't modest. What if he were advocating burkas? Would he be right just because that's what he considers modest and everything else is immodest to him?

"She needs to possess enough depth of Christian character to understand and respect all generations"

All generations? Even the generation of Jesus' time? If not why? Does the "all generations" just happen to stop with yours or does it go back further. Do you dress in accordance with the standards of modesty for generations previous to yours? If so how far back? In the future when your generation is gone do we get to throw out it's standards of modesty?

As far as the reference to Ms. Coulter's breasts; would you (or others who are complaining) still be offended if she was flat chested and wore the same outfit? Would she still be sexually attractive? What if she was overweight?

"(and I'm sure there are some in your generation for whom this type of dress is a stumbling block)."

The problem is that stumbling blocks are a personal issue and everyone has different ones (some people have stumbling blocks that are feet, or hair, or hands, or any other nummber of things). A person’s stumbling blocks tell us more about them than the things that cause them to stumble.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Nancy: Your wisdom absolved me of the need for any further response. Thank you.

gimmepascal said...

I definitely think that women, as well as men, should not try to flaunt their sexuality, or try to entice the opposite sex into lusting after them, etc. Modesty is something that needs to be exempliflied by all Christians.

In the case of Ann Coulter's new book cover, however, I do not think that her purpose for posing in that particular outfit was to tempt men to lust after her. Yes, perhaps she is close to showing a little too much cleavage; yes, she is definitely trying to appear "attractive". But I think the picture is meant to convey something along the lines of "I'm intelligent, serious, aggressive, and conservative, but I'm ALSO feminine, attractive, and intriguing."
The stereotype of many conservative, female thinkers and writers is that they are slightly stiff, near-masculine wannabes who have become so in order to fit into the male-dominated arena of political debate. It seems like Coulter is trying to disprove this stereotype.

I'm not saying that these stereotypes are justified, or that Ann Coulter should pose on the cover of her book to make a point against this. I'm only saying that I don't think she was trying to cause anyone to lust. I think she was just trying (albeit probably failing) to show that a woman like herself has another side to her personality that is softer, that is not tinged with cutting remarks or a rough argumentation.

The real issue here to me is that she puts her picture on the cover at all.

gimmepascal said...

I was rushed when I posted that last comment, so I wanted to clarify a couple of things and elaborate more.

First, the main point I was trying to make is this: whether or not the photo on the cover of her book entices some men or not, I don't think Coulter's intent was to give off a "come hither" look. I think her intent was to give the impression that women who think and argue, and are confident about their ability to do so, do not necessarily have to appear masculine, or at least "less feminine."

In no way am I saying that I think Coulter was being as modest as possible in the cover photo. She could definitely have worn something less revealing. Neither am I saying that I think Coulter is intelligent or prophetic or anything else along those lines. Personally, I don't find her or her views interesting at all.

As I said earlier, the problem to me is the shameless self-aggrandizement of placing a picture of yourself on the cover of your own book. Whatever Coulter's reasons behind this might be, it definitely doesn't display the humility that one expects of wise (or Christian) authors.

Rather than alluring, I find the picture of Coulter silly. Perhaps I have, like many, been desensitized by my culture to the point that her cover possessed no sexual appeal to me at all, but I think I am still able to spot a phony who is primarily out to gain notoriety and wealth.

Dr. Groothuis, however, does us a service by bringing up the issue of modesty of dress. This is a topic that is rarely addressed by Christians today, and something that affects us on a daily basis. And while Coulter's photo might might be considered borderline "immodest", I think we can all find plenty of examples in our own churches each Sunday that would put Coulter to shame.

I hope that as Christians we can continue to have dialogue over this topic until we have come to a proper understanding of what is and is not immodest dress, and how we might go about changing it.

Small Group Guy said...

I thought for a second that Dr. Doug had been roped into his local mall by his wife...then all this talk about Ann Coulter. I have not looked at it so I will not comment. I will say this though:

What is it that is most alluring about a woman? Physical beauty, the amount of flesh showing etc? No, it is that she is clothed in humility.

Think for a moment to what kept your interest in your wife when you met, what characteristic made you want to, and look forward to meeting her again?

Tom Wanchick said...

"A person is modest if the first thing you think about when you see them is not their sexuality"

But of course then the idea of modesty becomes totally relative to what specific individuals see or think when they see someone.

This can switch from person to person depending on their mood, temperment, taste, etc.

This definition then is clearly no good. A better suggestion is that one is modest when THEIR goal is not to make their sexuality the feature they want most noticed about them.

In that case, I believe Coulter would not be immodest.

Tom Wanchick said...

For the record, Dr. Groothuis previously said we shouldn't bother with Coulter's discussion. We should allegedly just stick with Meyer, Nelson, and Dembski on these issues.

It's interesting to note that Dembski himself couldn't disagree more. He says at his blog that Coulter's book will probably be one of the most important book the ID movement has seen (comparable to DARWIN ON TRIAL, according to Dembski!!).

See his comments at his post "Ann Coulter: The Wedge for the Masses" at

Dembski is clearly a fan of Coulter.

Bryan L said...

Doug, where'd your principled persuasion go? You haven't even been arguing the issues. Just throwing out a scripture proof text or two, responding to a couple of points that aren't central to the argument, and then acting like you're absolved of the need to respond anymore because of someone else’s comments is not persuasive at all. People are making some really good objections to your views that other silent people, who aren't commenting but are reading, are taking into consideration. If you don't speak up to the objections and points people are making (even though you think the issue is solved or on your side), then who will?
I'm sorry but I've seen you in the past engage in argument and when you have something to say you say it. You don't seem to have anything of substance to say in this argument because you haven't been responding to the arguments.

You said "The ends do not justify the means. A nasty comment for a good cause is still nasty and repugnant..."
It's funny you say this, because this whole time you've been exactly the same way toward Coulter. You haven't been kind to her at all. You haven't shown love to her (even though she calls herself a fellow believer). You attacked her book (which you haven't read) and her dress, making implication about her motives.

Susan said...

Popular American culture makes little distinction between attire that is meant to enhance "sex appeal" and that which is not, mostly because in our culture we allow that "sex appeal" is unquestionably desirable and integral to our self-esteem. Our sexuality therefore is powerful and many men and women in our culture have learned how to use this to their advantage. Attractive and/or visually intriguing people are successful wherever image can be leveraged, and today this is nearlyeverywhere.

Some people are less affected by certain aspects of the human body than others, even when these aspects are accentuated. Others are sorely distracted even when there is no intent whatsoever to draw attention to the body. Reactions are personal and often tied to complex factors in an individual’s life, upbringing and so on.
It is hard to know how everyone will react to body and dress and some things are out of the realm of one's control. Women have an extremely difficult time in our culture if they seek to dress and behave modestly because the lines are blurred, if non-existent. Some women are naturally quite “well endowed” as it were, and become objects of unwanted sexual attention through no fault of their own. Women often fall into the trap of entirely owning the responsibility for the lust of every onlooker. The church has classically encouraged this inappropriate kind of ownership as well.

All this is to say, Coulter certainly could have posed differently on the cover of her book. The choice of clothing, posture, and whether it is a head shot or a full body shot says something about what the publisher is trying to leverage in order to help the book sell. Some people will find her picture and pose offensive. Some will not even think about it. If her book is available all over the world no doubt there would be even wider disagreement regarding whether her photo is modest or not. Coulter’s own intentions can only be guessed. If the book-cover offends, perhaps “judging the book by its cover” is the logical outcome of that offense. Personally, I know of no reason a book must have a photo of the author on it at all. Time was when a small head-shot was included with a biography of the author inside the book jacket. Who needs any more than this to sell a book? Perhaps someone whose words will not stand so well on their own?

Douglas Groothuis said...


"Personally, I know of no reason a book must have a photo of the author on it at all. Time was when a small head-shot was included with a biography of the author inside the book jacket. Who needs any more than this to sell a book? Perhaps someone whose words will not stand so well on their own? "

This nails it. We have moved from a concentration on character and intelligence to image and personality.

One needs to distinguish:

1. Looking attractive or smart


2. Trying to look sensual.

and from

3. Bearing a burka.

Many of the responses to my article suffer from a paucity of categories.

Category #1 does not mean dressing asexually or denying one's aesthetic properties. It does mean not giving incentives to lust (loving your neighbor) and being tasteful.

Tom Wanchick said...

If anyone can provide any case where Coulter has tried to make anyone lust after her I'd like to see it.

All we've seen so far is just a bunch of accusations against her with no clearcut evidence. Again, nothing she wore on the cover was inappropriate or provocative. A woman could wear it to church. Just because some men would lust after her doesn't mean she is immodest. Some men (e.g., prison inmates) will lust after anything feminine. Does that mean everything feminine is immodest?

Again, it's telling that other Christian intellectuals and apologists (most notably, Bill Dembski) entirely support Ann Coulter's book and her cause.

Apparently, Dr. Groothuis's opinions on this matter would be met by opposition by at least some of his colleagues.

Tim said...


What do you make of Coulter's admission -- and though it was in the context of a jest, make no mistake, it was an admission -- that she tries to attract attention by, inter alia, wearing "sexy" dresses?

Ed Darrell said...

In the end, the greater problem with Coulter's book is the book itself, with its call to war with our neighbors, its call to pull back from (small-l) liberalism, with its appeal to our baser tendencies to make the world a meaner place.

Scripture teaches us to cherish wisdom, to love our neighbors, to do good, to feed and clothe and love those in need.

Don't be misled by the cover: The greater sins are contained in the text.