Saturday, June 17, 2006

Modesty, Humility, and Ann Coulter--by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

In reading the comments vigorously defending Coulter’s self-satisfied and self-promoting pose on her book cover, I was startled to detect more than a whiff of righteous indignation. I daresay the “right” of women to display their body parts—or, perhaps, the “right” of men to engage in frequent optical sampling of said body parts—appears to be as much of a sacred cow in the Christian community as it is in the American culture at large.

There seems to be a strange oblivion at work here. At least one fellow even suggests that Coulter’s get-up would be appropriate attire for a church service. (And to think the apostle Paul was concerned about women displaying their hair!) But how can one reasonably claim that Coulter’s pose is not immodest, I wonder? There is certainly no sense of humility in her stance. And anyone who honestly believes that the focal point of this photo is anything other than an impressive set of bosoms (even the dainty cross around her neck points like an arrow to her cleavage) simply needs to go back to their own planet.

And in what sense is Coulter’s appearance and demeanor even remotely consistent with the spirit of the exhortations given in 1 Peter 3:3-7 and 1 Timothy 2:9-10? To be sure, the cultural context of ancient Greco-Roman society is quite different from our own setting, and what appeared to be immodest and self-promoting in the New Testament churches (braided hair, gold jewelry) is not necessarily seen in the same way today. But, as with any culturally conditioned biblical text, there is nonetheless an underlying transcultural principle that the biblical writer intends to communicate to his readers. The apostle Peter speaks of women who possess an inner beauty, a gentle and quiet spirit that holds courageously to their faith and the knowledge of who they are in Christ. Such women do not feel the need to be sexually provocative in their public attire; instead, they are clothed in humility and grace—a beauty that blesses and edifies. Similarly, the apostle Paul exhorts women to dress modestly and decently and with propriety, as is appropriate for “women who profess to worship God” (just like Ann Coulter, right?). This, in Paul’s mind, stands opposed to a woman adorning and arranging herself in such a way as to attract attention to her physical assets.

Why, then, do so many women who profess to worship God dismiss the apostles’ exhortations and proceed to adorn and arrange themselves so as to tempt and attract? I believe a big part of it is simply a failure of the church as a whole to understand that to have faith in Christ and to walk in his ways is, at the very least, to be counter-cultural. Instead, the church has simply capitulated, assigning to the larger culture a moral neutrality that is entirely unwarranted and unbiblical. American culture revels in the sensual, and images of hypertrophied female sexuality are everywhere. This must be the explanation for why Coulter can rig herself up as she does and still receive the commendation of conservative Christians. In view of the nature of the multitude of images set before us every day, Coulter might even be regarded (by contrast) as refined and discreet. We have simply lost our perspective.

But I am inclined to believe there is another reason women dress provocatively—namely, the elementary law of cause and effect. B. F. Skinner set forth this basic principle some time ago. People tend to do whatever produces the desired consequences. Surely, women dress as they do for the effects it elicits: primarily, the attention and the admiration of men. I suspect that the less a woman feels sure of herself, the more she may feel inclined to clothe (or fail adequately to clothe) herself in this way. I further suspect that the more the womenfolk in conservative churches are disempowered and shunted to the sidelines of the Kingdom mission, the more they are likely to resort to the power of their female sexuality. Nonetheless, a woman who does not enjoy the lustful attention of men can easily seek to remedy this state of affairs simply by reordering her wardrobe. (I, for one, figured this out quite a few years ago.)

Speaking of lust, it strikes me as ironic that culture tends to flip-flop from one extreme to the other on this subject. In the Middle Ages (and today in the Islamic world, which is essentially medieval in perspective), any occurrence of lust was (is) routinely regarded as entirely the woman’s fault. By contrast, in American culture today, no man dares to speak of the need for women to be a bit less heedless in what they reveal of themselves publicly, lest he be branded as having a “problem” with “lust.” Well, duh. Lust is what this firestorm is all about, is it not? If there were no male lust, would women create the effect they create when they display and arrange their body parts thusly? And if they did not create this effect, would they so arrange themselves? No, and no.

A woman can set forth her feminine beauty for the world to see, without also setting off certain predictable responses. It simply goes back to the discretion and modesty enjoined of women by the New Testament writers.


Bryan L said...

You said
"I daresay the “right” of women to display their body parts—or, perhaps, the “right” of men to engage in frequent optical sampling of said body parts"

I'd be interested to know what comments you are referring to that were arguing for the right of women to display their body parts?
I'd be even more interested to know what comments argued for the right for men to engage "in frequent optical sampling of said body parts"

It doesn't appear that you were even reading the comments if you came away with that impression, because I don't think anyone was arguing for that right (I certainly wasn't).

I think all people were saying was that they didn't think Coulter looked like she was trying to make men lust after her sexually and use sex to sell her book. Just because some can find fault with her doesn't mean everyone else can. Some people can find fault with anyone, and they like looking for any little thing to complain about.

Again, instead of making all these accusations against Coulter and saying what she was trying to do (even though you don't know), why don't you try to ask her yourself what she was trying to look like or bring your concern to her (since she considers her self a sister in Christ) instead of airing your opinions out on the internet in the blog world, trying to slander her name.

It's nice how Doug can sit back and ignore the comments, not really responding to any of them, not putting forth any real argument, but instead talking past everyone, and then continue putting up posts that act like there's no one trying to discuss the matters. If Doug doesn't want to actually respond to those who disagree with him then this discussion is useless.

BTW I don't think anyone is arguing against modesty. People are just trying to discuss whose definition of modesty we should go by. Does your definition just happen to be the most balanced (in your opinion)? Should it be more conservative, or a little more relaxed? How do we decide? This had a chance to be a very fruitful discussion if there would have actually been some discussion and response going on.

Bryan L said...

BTW Rebecca, I think it's funny how you site 1 Tim 9-10 so authoritatively? Are you willing to go further and fully apply the next few verses considering you're an Egalitarian?
"11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
15 But women will be saved through childbearing-- if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."

And since you site 1 Peter 3:3-7 are you willing to follow the example of Sara in v. 5 as the example of the wife in submission to her husband?

This is the problem with your proof texting. It's too selective. In another situation you'd be arguing that those same verses don't mean what people think they do and they should be applied differently or they're culture bound or any other number of excuses to get around the implications.

And since you say
"what appeared to be immodest and self-promoting in the New Testament churches (braided hair, gold jewelry) is not necessarily seen in the same way today."
So how exactly was braided hair, gold jewelry seen in the New Testament times?
Gordon Fee (your fellow editor in Discovering Biblical Equality) in his 1 Tim commentary says on this says
"There is a large body of evidence, both Hellenistic and Jewish, which equated "dressing up" on the part of women with both sexual wantonness and wifely insubordination. Indeed, for a married woman so to dress in public was tantamount to marital unfaithfulness… it is most likely that Paul is viewing the actions of some of the women from within this same general cultural framework."

Since as you say these texts were culturally conditioned then what is the "underlying transcultural principle"? In trying to find out the "underlying transcultural principle" we have to look at what the actions were viewed at in the culture of that time to see what actions in our culture are similar so that we can transfer the principal. If we are taking into account the culture, then the culture seemed to view dressing up in a somewhat different way than you do. (And there's still debate as to whether Coulter is even dressed the way you say she is.)
Is Coulter being insubordinate? Is she trying to get men to have sex with her? Is this an issue of marital unfaithfulness?

"In view of the nature of the multitude of images set before us every day, Coulter might even be regarded (by contrast) as refined and discreet. We have simply lost our perspective."

All you’re saying is that our culture doesn't find her dress offensive. That being the case why are you making a big deal out of it? Do some cultures find her dress offensive? Yes. And they'd find whatever you wear to be offensive too. How would you respond to someone who found what you were wearing to be offensive and seductive even though you and your husband didn’t?

Douglas Groothuis said...

Dear Pastor Bryan:

Rebecca has written two books on the biblical view of gender regarding the home and the church: "Women Caught in the Conflict" and "Good News for Women." She has co-edited another one called "Discovering Biblical Equality." She knows how to find timeless principles in time-bound texts.

If you want to investigate her reasoning on these matters, I suggest you read her article, "Leading Him Up the Garden Path" on her web page: Or you may want to look at "Good News for Women," which addresses all the pertinent texts about men and women.

Douglas Groothuis

Bryan L said...

Doug where's your persuasive arguments that you criticized Coulter for not having? I could send you to books and articles too, but why bother if you're not even willing to address the arguments in the comments section of your blog.

Are you even reading any of this stuff. I type up these big long comments and all you do is ignore them. Why? Do you just expect everyone to take what you're saying as the ultimate truth and not question you or disagree? Do you think no one else has any basis to disagree with you? Do you think you're above responding to arguments and disagreement? What is it? Do you not even want to discuss the issues? If not then just turn your comments off on your blog, unless you're just looking for people to pat you on the back and say "Good job Doug. You're so right!".

Doug I'm not saying I'm absolutely right and or that it's impossible that I'm wrong (even though I believe I am right). I admit that I could be in error but unless you answer my comments and questions, which are legitimate questions, then I have no way to find out.

Susan said...

This is a well-crafted post however the readers are still left with the question, "How do we know what is modest and what is not? Where do we find the true and reliable dress code so that we may live by it?" Since opening up the topic of Coulter's book cover, not a single helpful answer has been given those readers who are honestly seeking truth about how to know what modest dress is in our culture and from whom do we obtain this information? Some here are looking for answers and reasonable defense of those answers. There is a serious need here. Writing as though "Everyone ought to know" that Coulter is dressing immodestly is not entirely helpful toward the questions being posed by some of the commenters here. I have not seen anyone defending their right to oogle at Coulter, they are simply asking why it is that some seem sexually bothered by her and some are not affected at all and whether this discrepancy means she is not necessarily dressing immodestly. Do we determine modesty by a poll as to how many men sin in their hearts when looking at her? How do we know they are? Or is modesty determined some other way?

The people at Sovereign Grace Ministries have come up with this:
Modesty Heart Check What say ye Doug and Becca to that? How do we determine the truth here?

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tim said...


Judging from the comments up, it seems that you managed to be simultaneously thoughtful and provocative. Remind us: just how did you manage that without posing in a halter top ...?

Doug's observations about Coulter's attire have been attacked on two principal grounds: that he is merely projecting his subjective responses, and that he is failing to take account of the fact that cultural norms change.

The first criticism seems to me to be at least a borderline ad hominem, a suggestion that if Doug has a problem with the way certain women dress, he should keep it to himself. This is unworthy of response.

Beyond that, however, the accusation has about it a whiff of the subjectivism that C. S. Lewis deplores in The Abolition of Man. Lewis excoriates Gaius and Titius, the authors of The Green Book [in real life, King and Ketley -- the book is The Control of Language (Longmans, Green & Co., 1939)] for saying that the exclamation "That is sublime," said of a spectacular natural phenomenon such as a waterfall, is actually not about the waterfall but about the feelings of the speaker. It is not hard to infer what Lewis would have said about those who claim that "That is immodest" means something about the speaker rather than about the attire of the person to whom he is referring.

And in point of fact, Doug has understood exactly what Coulter is trying to do by dressing this way, as tom g pointed out in a previous thread:

On Leno (wearing the dress she wore for the book cover photo) she said, "I am not trying to attract attention to myself. If I were trying to attract attention I would grow my hair long and wear a sexy dress."

'Nuff said.

As far as the second criticism is concerned, I just don't see that either Doug or Rebecca is failing to take this into account. Rebecca states explicitly that

the cultural context of ancient Greco-Roman society is quite different from our own setting, and what appeared to be immodest and self-promoting in the New Testament churches (braided hair, gold jewelry) is not necessarily seen in the same way today.

But she moves on correctly to say that

there is nonetheless an underlying transcultural principle that the biblical writer intends to communicate to his readers.

For those Christians who are set on defending Coulter's choice of attire, let me ask a question that might widen the discussion. Do you agree that there is a transcultural principle of modesty inherent in Peter's comments in I Pet 3:3-7 or Paul's in I Tim 2:9-10? If not, how do you read those passages? If so, what is that principle, and what is its significance for the way that Christian women should dress in contemporary American society?

Tom Wanchick said...

Mrs. Groothuis admits that when St. Paul was discussing the matters of female modesty, he probably was using a different conception, since that was a different culture and a different.

Today, she says, most would probably accept Coulter's attire as adequately modest, since it is not what our culture considers provocative. However, says Mrs. Groothuis, this just means the Church is wrong here. We should see Coulter's outfit as inappropriate.

But this seems to concede my point. Coulter can only be rightly accused of being immodest if HER intention was to attract lust or generate sexual temptation in men. But since her attire is (as Mrs. Groothuis seems to admit) largely not seen as provocative by the culture, then that seems to imply that Coulter was NOT trying to be provocative.

She was actually dressing modestly in accord with contemporary culture. But if Ms. Coulter was not intending to be immodest, how can we plausibly conclude that she WAS being immodest.

That becomes a false, unfair allegation against a fellow Christian (who, by the way, has written an important book that will aid the Church).

Susan said...

Since C.S. Lewis has been mentioned, we could refer to Chapter 5 of Book III in Mere Christianity where he writes "...while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally "modest," proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies...I think that old, or old-fashioned, people should be very careful not to assume that young or "emancipated" people are corrupt whenever they are (by the old standard) improper; and, in return, that young people should not call their elders prudes or puritans because they do not easily adopt the new standard. A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems."

Tom Wanchick said...

I just want to point out again, that other scholars with just as much theological expertise as the Groothuises actually applaud Ms. Coulter's book and efforts.

William Dembski has a Phd. in theology and he is a Coulter supporter. Apparently, he doesn't find her offensive in these ways.

Again, Dr. and Mrs. Groothuis's critique in this regard appears rather controversial.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Where is Bill Dembski applauding Coulter? He does not have a Ph.D. in theology, but Ph.D.s in math and philosophy. He has an M.Div. however. I'm sure he is simply basking in the fact that a celebrity and best-selling book uses some of the ID arguments against Darwinism.

I am happy for that fact as well, but that is no reason to justify the self-satisfied posing of an immodest and caustic woman.

Yes, many in our culture may think she is not immodest. That is because the culture is so debased, so sexualized, so insensitive to the things of God that they have lost the ability to blush, as Jeremiah warned long ago.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Jeremiah 3:3 TNIV:
Therefore the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen. Yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute; you refuse to blush with shame.

Jeremiah 6:15 TNIV:
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD.

Jeremiah 8:12 TNIV:
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD.

Tom Wanchick said...

Even if Dembski doesn't have a theology Phd., he's still an accomplished scholar with an advanced degree in that area. In that sense, he has more authority on these issues than anyone in our discussions here.

Dembski is a supporter of Coulter in general, not just because she mentions ID in her book. He made that comment on his blog, so I'm not just making it up. (See his post called "Ann Coulter: Wedge for the Masses" -- see the comments on that post.)

Also, it's not just that "the culture" would not find Ms. Coulter immodest. CHRISTIAN culture also typically would not.

Of course, most Christians would agree that if a woman reveals herself too much with an outfit, etc., then she's immodest. But I seriously doubt most Christians would think that photo is provocative in that sense.

Mrs. Groothuis was right: Paul was making a transgenerational point when he said women should be modest in appearance. But in Paul's day that meant different things with regard to style. Would he look at Ms. Coulter within our culture today and say she was being immodest? I can't see a definitive answer there. The issue just boils down to a judgement call.

For that matter, many people in church history thought ANY makeup, jewels, or special hairstyles were inappropriate for Christian women. I doubt either Dr. or Mrs. Groothuis would agree with that. Again, this issue is hard to determine since it is so person or generation-relative.

There's just no clearcut evidence or argument that Coulter has done anything wrong in this way.

Besides, even if she had, that doesn't mean her book or her arguments should be shunned. She should be congratulated for doing something 90% of Christians don't do today: actually attempting to stand and make a difference for Christ in the wretched culture around us.

Tim said...


What do you think Ann meant by her comment on Leno's show? This one:

I am not trying to attract attention to myself. If I were trying to attract attention I would grow my hair long and wear a sexy dress."

Does this tell us anything about what she thinks of her own attire or of the reaction it is supposed to produce in men? Does it suggest that she is making any effort to be modest?

Don't misunderstand: I read Ann's columns fairly regularly and I often think she makes shrewd and telling points. My comments here are simply about her choice of apparel -- and I speak from having seen her at first hand when she came to my school -- and the way that, in my opinion, it distracts attention from issues and arguments.

Douglas Groothuis said...

From Rebecca

To Bryan:

If, as I claim in my post, the focal point of Coulter’s photo is obviously and intentionally her bosom, then her intentions do not include modesty and humility. Of course, it is logically possible that Coulter was an unwitting pawn in the hands of her opportunistic PR people. But Coulter is no naïve teenager, and she knows right well the effect her pose will have: namely, “frequent optical sampling,” etc., etc. She wants to bring in the male readership, and that she has done. Even more, as Tim and others have noted, Coulter readily admits that her intention is to draw attention to herself and her sex appeal. Any claim that Coulter is not aiming to tempt and attract men is simply ludicrous. To defend Coulter’s behavior is, therefore, to defend the right of women to flaunt it, and the right of men to gawk at it. Coulter certainly has the personal freedom to clothe herself as she pleases; but she has no warrant to thereby present herself as a bulwark of godliness against the “godless” of our society. Such behavior and intentions do not point back to truth, goodness, and holiness, but rather to worldliness and idolatry.

I clearly state that the modesty texts are culture bound. I interpret both the modesty texts and the submission texts in these passages with the same hermeneutic. I do not believe 1 Peter 3 requires that women today abstain from wearing gold jewelry (which would be the literal, decontextualized reading), nor do I believe 1 Peter 3 requires that we live in accordance with ancient patriarchal social structures. We are obligated to obey the timeless principles that gave rise to these specific commands: namely, to have a pure heart, a modest demeanor, and a gentle spirit, and to obey the civil authority structures of our day. Actually, the hermeneutical inconsistency is with those who are literal when it comes to enforcing women’s subjection, and dismissive when it comes to enforcing modest dress. Gordon Fee’s quotation supports my interpretation. The transcultural principle of the text is just what I stated in my post: women should display their inner beauty, a gentle and quiet spirit, rather than focusing on displaying their physical (sexual) assets. Are you honestly claiming Coulter is in obedience to this transcultural biblical principle?

I follow the same hermeneutical process of discerning the timeless moral principles from the culturally-specific commands in the 1 Timothy 2 text. I set forth my understanding of 1 Tim 2:11-15 in “Leading Him Up the Garden Path,” available on

To Tom:

I do not concede that Coulter is not intending to be provocative. I say precisely the opposite—that Coulter obviously, and by her own admission, intends to draw attention to herself as being “sexy.” Moreover, just because some men claim to have no problem with gazing upon women’s partially exposed bosoms, do you honestly think such “optical sampling” has a totally neutral moral effect, simply because the likes of Coulter’s attire is “mild” compared to the “standards” of the culture at large? Lust is lust, regardless of degree of severity, and regardless of whether a man likes doing it or loathes doing it. In any case, there is no justification for any follower of Christ to condone or excuse it. See Jesus’ remarks on the subject in Matthew 5:27-30.

To Susan:

I read the Modesty Heart Check you referred to. I don’t think I’d want to be quite so legalistic about all the check-points listed. (A brief glimpse of midriff skin is no big deal…) However, I’d want to emphasize the tightness issue, since that seems to be the biggest problem these days. It is fashionable to wear clothes a couple sizes too small, and so, because it is fashionable, and culture is ostensibly morally neutral, women—including Christian women—climb on board the fashion bandwagon, apparently unaware of how aesthetically appalling the effect actually is. Women, especially young women, need specific guidelines on how tight is too tight. Cluelessness abounds on this issue.

It seems to me the Heart Check is the key concern here. A woman whose heart is humble and whose ear is open to the “nudging” of the Holy Spirit should be able to consider the questions listed here and readily discern how to clothe herself (and how not to clothe herself).

Another “check” I would suggest is that of being sensitive and discerning when one is interacting with people in various contexts. Be aware of how people, especially men, respond to you. Where do they look when they are talking to you? Do they seem at ease or distracted? Etc., etc. Such intuitive observations can lead to better understanding of the effect a woman’s sartorial behavior has on others.

However, I am IN NO WAY placing upon women the responsibility for men having a godly thought life. It is, rather, a matter of charity toward others. It is also a matter of simply comporting oneself in a manner that will yield the most beneficial responses from others—for one’s own sake as well as theirs’.

Modesty includes presenting oneself to the public in such a way that one’s sexual features are not the first thing to attract other people’s attention. Rather, the attention of others is drawn first to those features that are most relevant to the occasion, whether it be one’s professionalism, one’s ideas, one’s personality, charm, competence, intelligence, friendliness, or whatever. This requires, minimally, an appearance characterized by good taste, an appropriate restraint, and an absence of pretension.

Bryan L said...

Tim, have you seen the interview? She was joking and being sarcastic.
She says "I suppose I'm not really trying to attract people. If I were trying to attract people you know... I'd wear sexy dresses...grow, grow my hair long...oh wait, no (chuckles).Um, no I think that is not true actually. I mean other people have written observic (i think that was the word) little remarks about Democrats sending out victims..."
It sounds and looks a bit different in context.

What do you consider modest? What do you think Ann should wear? Do you think Ann Coulter should wear big t-shirts everywhere she goes? Jeans? Would her dress be as offensive to you if she were heavier, or older? If she didn't have (as Rebecca would say)"an impressive set of bosoms" would this still be an issue? Should all women with bigger breasts go around and wear bigger shirts and clothing than everyone else? What if she was considered ugly? Would this be an issue?
Should we tell women cyclers not to wear cycling clothing because it's too tight or immodest? What about swimmers or ballerina’s or Olympic athlete's and track runners. No. All of those are appropriate dress for their particular field and no one’s getting upset about them. Ann's dress is appropriate for her field, especially considered she in the media and the public eye so much. Truthfully do you think if she didn't look normal by society’s standards (and even much of the church's as people on here have shown) that she would get her voice heard as much? No. If she went around everywhere with no makeup, baggy clothes, hair up in a ponytail then people would just think she's a fundamentalist, a religious nut, and a crazy and her message and ideas wouldn't get heard at all. But instead I think she's just doing as Paul said; being like the people she's reaching out to so that the message will get across (Paul even had Timothy circumcised to make sure he would be able to reach the Jews). And the way she's doing it is not considered immodest by today's standards (including most of the church).

Rebecca said
"Surely, women dress as they do for the effects it elicits: primarily, the attention and the admiration of men. I suspect that the less a woman feels sure of herself, the more she may feel inclined to clothe (or fail adequately to clothe) herself in this way."

Do you think Ann feels unsure of herself? Do you really think she’s trying to gain the admiration of men? Have you seen her credentials? She's not really a slouch and from what she's writing and saying she doesn't look like someone who cares a lot about what other people say. She's putting herself out there to be attacked.
Do you think she's depending on her clothing to speak for her, or instead her ideas and arguments?

Doug and Rebecca, do you think you have just as valid arguments as Coulter? Do you think your message is similar? You probably agree with her on most of what she’s saying. If so, then why is it that she’s getting her message heard and you’re not? Why is it that her books are the top sellers and yours aren’t? Why is it that her books have a wide spectrum of readers including people not on her side while yours are basically preaching to the choir and the Christian ghettos that you run in? Do you really think it’s all about her dress? Is it maybe because she’s not afraid to interact with the world/culture up close and personal and go where the message needs to get heard (kind of like Jesus did)? Hey even Jesus did stuff that was considered immodest or inappropriate by the religious people’s standards (who were basing their opinion on the Word and the culture). Even Jesus’ actions were considered by some to be gluttonous and drunkenness. The religious elite had a problem with Jesus’ actions but the sinners he hung around with were pretty comfortable being around him even though they were really jacked up. I don’t think God is as worried about this as you are. I think he’s happy the message is getting out there. At least somebody in his church is willing and able to. The only people judging her about her dress are her fellow believers (although some would probably try to draw her outside the circle).

BTW Susan, thanks for your wisdom. I appreciate your voice of sanity and your appeal to find common ground.

Tim said...


Of course she was joking and being sarcastic. But how does she describe her own attire?

What do I consider modest? Clothing that does not attract attention to the wearer. The dress Ann wore when she came to speak at my University, which terminated at least a foot above her knees, does not qualify. Michelle Malkin also came and spoke here this past year. She wore jeans -- and was infinitely more modest.

And yes, such clothing would be inappropriate even if Ann were heavier or older. Of course, it's less likely that Ann would view herself as a piece of eye candy if she conformed less closely to certain contemporary ideals of feminine attractiveness. But that is really beside the point. My principal objection is that she makes no effort to be modest and, indeed, every effort to be slinky. This is a pity, and it distracts attention from the issues that she discusses.

The suggestion that Ann could not be heard if she dressed more modestly is, not to put to fine a point on it, absurd. Ann's flame-throwing writing style alone will ensure that she always has a very wide audience.

By Ann's own admission, she chooses her wardrobe by the criterion of what is "sexy." This renders irrelevant your rhetorical questions about cycling gear and ballerinas. Let's not be silly.

If the women in your church are self-consciously dressing in "sexy" dresses, you have an opportunity as well as a pastoral responsibility to give your congregation some direction on the subject of modesty. I cannot tell, from what you're writing here, whether this is something that has occurred to you. It might require both courage and tact. It is difficult to balance the responsibility to be salt and light with the injunction, "come out from among them and be ye separate."

The word you're having trouble understanding seems to be "acerbic."

Douglas Groothuis said...

From Rebecca

To Bryan

No, of course I do not think Coulter is unsure of herself. I thought it would be obvious to readers that this remark was a generalization, not a specific description of Coulter. As for your insulting insinuations as to why our books are not bestsellers like Coulter's, there are many complex reasons for that, about which you appear to have no understanding whatsoever.

Bryan L said...

You said
"If, as I claim in my post, the focal point of Coulter’s photo is obviously and intentionally her bosom, then her intentions do not include modesty and humility".

It's not as obvious to everyone. Maybe it's obvious to you because you're a woman. I don't know, maybe not. The first thing I notice is her face. Nothing in particular about it, but that seems to be where the attention is, especially since she has another book that shows only her face. Either was her dress isn't what draws my attention, especially because it's black, there are no shadows or lines in the dress and all it really looks like is a silhouette. It's her face that seems to stand out in the picture to me. But maybe that's because I wasn't looking for something to be bothered by and maybe because I wasn't trying to oggle this 44 year old woman when I saw the book.
We all bring different perspective when we come to this and I think we need to listen to each others perspective without assuming ours is the only valid one (very post-modern sounding isn't it Doug). I guess you probably were offended, Doug and Rebecca, but I wasn't. So where do we go from here?

"She wants to bring in the male readership, and that she has done."

So you think that guys are buying her book because of her picture and they're sexually attracted to her? Are they putting the picture above their beds. Are they going to stare at it constantly? Are they going to buy it just for the picture and not read it? It seems like the kind of guys who would do that would probably travel down an easier road than spending the $27.00 for a tame picture and instead get a playboy or some free internet porn. But if you think that's what guys will do then whatever.

"Even more, as Tim and others have noted, Coulter readily admits that her intention is to draw attention to herself and her sex appeal."

See my previous comment on her Leno remarks.

"Coulter certainly has the personal freedom to clothe herself as she pleases; but she has no warrant to thereby present herself as a bulwark of godliness against the “godless” of our society."

Where do you get the idea that Coulter is trying to present herself as "a bulwark of godliness." The title Godless is related to the subtitle "The Church of Liberalism" and how liberalism is a religion as well but just without God.

Does the bible admonish women to dress modestly? Yes. That's not the issue. The issue is who's definition of modesty do we go by. Is it possible that in certain contexts Coulter may have to be a bit more conservative in her dress while at other times she a bit more free to dress like she does on the cover of her book (which I still think is fine and not immodest at all)?

Anyways that all I have for now.
BTW I'm sorry if any of my post sound angry. I don't mean them to sound that way if they do. I'm not angry (although I was getting frustrated by the lack of engagement). I'm just interested in discussing the issues and moving forward. And If I've offended anyone please accept my apologies.

Douglas Groothuis said...


How do you know we "run in the church ghetto" and don't reach others? That is untrue. Today's post is by Rebecca's is from an editorial in The Denver Post, one of the two major papers in Denver, Colorado. It wasn't in a church bulletin. She takes whatever opporunity she can to bring her ideas to the broader public. One cannot control the outcome, however.

Moreover, I'll stack my resume up against just about any evangelical philosopher in terms of reaching unbelievers. Just read the post from about two months ago of how I interacted with a room full of atheists after the showing of "The God Who Wasn't There." Or consider my dozens of lectures at secular universities, my debates (live on radio and on TV), or my editorials in The Denver Post or The Rocky Mountain News over the past twelve years. Moreover. I published two books with Wadsworth, a major secular textbook publisher (On Jesus and On Pascal) and have published in secular philosophy journals and magazine. In the last two weeks I had two-hour discussions with thoughful unbelievers about the truth and rationality of Christianity and I should have more.

Please do not descend to ignorant ad hominem attacks.

Tim said...


I'm still waiting for you or Tom to go beyond asking other people what they consider to be modest attire for women in America at the dawn of the 21st century -- and I've answered you on that in my last post -- and make some positive comment about what you think it means.

So far, all I can see is eye-of-the-beholder rhetoric. Is that what you teach teens at your church? If not, what do you teach them about modesty?

Or does the subject never come up?

Salmonella5000 said...

Ad hominem or whatever she is, all's I know is Abn Coulterer has an eating disorder and I can smell her Triangle Of Death all the way over here....

Bryan L said...

Tim I posted my last comment before realizing you had written a response to me? I wasn't avoiding the issue I just took a while writing my comment and wasn't aware that you had posted in the time that I was writing. Are you sitting at the computer waiting for my response? Sorry I'm taking to long. I will respond to your questions in a little while, but right now I'm going to go eat. It's Fathers Day for me so we're celebrating with some Chinese food. I'll be back a little later.

Tim said...


No problem -- I'm not just sitting here waiting. Go, eat! Happy Father's Day.

Douglas Groothuis said...

From Rebecca

To Tim

I appreciate your voice of sanity, good sense, clear thinking and courage. Thank you!

Tom Wanchick said...

For the record, I never said there's no such thing as objective immodesty.

My point was merely that someone in our culture would normally wear what Coulter wore on her bookcover and almost no one (including Coulter herself) would say that was immodest or provocative.

Are they wrong in thinking so? Maybe. But that's actually irrelevant when accusing Coulter of doing something intentionally unethical here. In my estimation, she surely didn't think she was dressing provocatively.

But then the accusation by the Groothuises that she is trying to gain readers with her lustful dress is simply a mistake.

Even if she is immodest (something no one has given any good argument for, anyway), it's not intentional. And thus, it's wrongheaded to say she some sort of "painted lady" trying to sell books with her looks.

Bryan L said...

Before I start I’d like to say, I’m not willing to fight for and defend Ann Coulter as far as y’all might think I am. I don’t know her, haven’t read her material and before Doug’s post I didn’t even know who she was. My only point was that I didn’t view the picture on the cover of her book as Ann trying to be sexually seductive or having a “come hither” look. I really don’t know if she was trying to or not. All I noticed first was her face. That being said I think it merits consideration because many of you came to that picture on Coulter’s book with preconceived notion and opinions about Coulter that you’d formed before that. You’d seen her in different setting and in different outfits. I on the other hand came to that book neutral. And from my neutral perspective I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I bring this up because that may be the way another person uninitiated in Coulter’s work would respond when first seeing the picture on the cover of the book which is why I don’t really believe she’s trying to look sexy on her books to sell them. Ok?
Is it possible that some of you already had opinions of Coulter before seeing the book? Is it possible that when you first saw it, it just affirmed your opinion? We see these things different and it’s not just because some of you are more righteous than others or less hardened by society. Please consider that.
Is it possible that Ann dresses inappropriate outside or would be considered immodest in certain setting? Sure but I’m not willing to argue about that and defend her about that. My only point was in defending my view about the picture on the book. Along the way I got sucked into arguing for stuff that I didn’t feel as strongly about. I’m sure some of you know what this is like.

Tim you said,
“The suggestion that Ann could not be heard if she dressed more modestly is, not to put to fine a point on it, absurd. Ann's flame-throwing writing style alone will ensure that she always has a very wide audience.”

I’m sorry but I don’t think that is absurd. I don’t think her flame-throwing writing style alone will ensure her a wide audience? The reason is because many fundamentalist and religious crazies write in flame throwing writing styles and don’t receive any audience. Not until they show up at dead Soldiers funerals with hateful signs.
Again though I’m really not willing to defend Ann Coulter and I don’t want to go far beyond my original intentions. I think this happened with Doug’s original post, which was more about her flame throwing style instead of her dress.

Tim said,
“If the women in your church are self-consciously dressing in "sexy" dresses, you have an opportunity as well as a pastoral responsibility to give your congregation some direction on the subject of modesty.”

If I were a Senior Pastor that would be the case but I’m just a Youth Pastor, which is where my responsibility lies as you have stated in another post.

On to the issue of modesty and what is appropriate since this is the issue that has been raised. Let me first say that I’m honestly not tied down to my opinions or unwilling to change them. If it seemed like I wasn’t it’s just because I was repeating my questions and points over and over and wasn’t getting any responses (as another commenter noticed), until now. My point was to discuss the issues not necessarily debate them. So now I’d like discuss them.
I do believe that the issue of modesty is contextually defined. I don’t think you can say one thing is always modest or another is always immodest. What some here may consider modest truthfully would be considered immodest in another context (Christian context, not just Islam or something else). And what sometimes would be considered immodest in certain context wouldn’t be in others. That has to be taken into account
What would I advise youth girls? It depends. I would always advise them to go more modest than they are. I think youth girls have a tendency to tip toe the line (which is defined by their context and their world, not mine) and I’d advise them to try more modesty than they are presently practicing and maybe stay further from their line. Let me give an example. I work in the inner city, in one of the worst neighborhoods in my city. The way females dress in that area is a lot more immodest than my standards. Yet I would not try to at first get them to change their whole wardrobe and dress as modest as I’d like them to. I would encourage them to dress more modest than they currently are and then as they become more comfortable with that I’d encourage more modesty later. I’m reminded of a story wear a female coming from an inner city context starts attending a youth group and then shows up to church one day. Some people are shocked by what she was wearing ( atight dress that’s a little short) even though she was honestly trying to dress up nice was trying to dress a lot more modest than what she normally wore. People told her stuff and made comments, which ended up doing more damage than good. There are also the stories about during the Jesus movement hippies coming in to church from the beach not dressed to the churches standards and then being unwelcome. I don’t want things like that that to happen with my Youth. I don’t want to close doors, even though I do want to help them move more towards Godliness. Maybe some here think a harsh stance is appropriate but I don’t. I’d rather make youth feel welcome and help them to make changes over time towards more modesty in their life. So that’s one of the guiding principals that I have when addressing the issue with youth. I don’t just have a one size fits all model. Also I like to be careful with youth not to enforce a rules and performance based Christianity. I don’t want them to get the impression that being a Christian is about trying harder to make yourself better. Instead I would rather leave room for the work of the Holy Spirit in their life to bring change about. Of course I’ll provide guidance and help but I don’t want them to slip into moralism, I want to see them transformed. Some will take longer than others but that’s just how it goes, especially with youth.

Also in terms of what I consider modest, to be truthful, because I’m younger than y’all it’s going to be different and even what some of you may consider less conservative. That’s the way it is. But at the same time your opinion of modesty is probably more relaxed than generations before you. I mean Rebecca thinks some midriff is ok to show sometimes. Some people here would disagree with her and if not here, definitely elsewhere (at least in the circles I run). Why does she think that? Why doesn’t she think women should always make sure they’re wearing shirts that will be long enough to cover up any possible shirt, raising belly showing?. Is her opinion tied to her fashion sense at all or her context? I don’t know. Being that I don’t know her, don’t know what she looks like, don’t know how she dresses, and don’t know the circle she runs in I’m not in any place to make that decision. These are questions I’m trying to ask.
BTW Rebecca I am a fan of your Egalitarian writings. Just thought I’d let you know that. I wasn’t trying to attack that position earlier.
Anyway I leave you with that for now to open up some of the discussion. I realize that I probably haven’t answered all of the questions but this comment is already long enough so if you’d like to discuss a particular point that I didn’t bring up then go ahead and bring it up. Although I think we have to realize that some of this stuff will just boil down to our opinion (although hopefully we can come to some agreement and learn from each other).

Douglas Groothuis said...

To all our detractors:

Numbers 6:

24 " ' "The LORD bless you
and keep you;

25 the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;

26 the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace." '

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Bryan I have to say that your comparing the quality of AC's writings to RMG's writings based on nothing but booksales in utterly laughable. I suppose the the Da Vinci Code has the same force of sophisticated truth telling that NT Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God has?

I read the first chapter of AC's book and I have to say if you take her seriously, your faith has more do with bashing liberals than following Christ. She isn't compelling in the least.