Being my Brother’s Keeper (Modesty, Agency and the Power of our Example)

As a follow up to my recent post in defense of Elder Callister’s talk. My article prompted a great deal of discussion both on facebook and elsewhere. Some of the comments were heated and involved heated discussions of rape culture. I will not dwell on those. 

Instead, I wanted to focus on a spiritual aspect that provoked some debate:

One of my friends on Facebook wrote

“The second article of faith states that men will be punished for their own sins PERIOD. Not that they will be punished for their own sins unless a girl was dressed immodestly. And granted that’s not what he is saying outright, but it promotes rape culture to preach modesty with the rationale that men can’t control themselves or their thoughts. I think it’s insulting to men, as well . . .Nobody has any responsibility to dress in any manner for anyone else. I am fine with promoting modesty in the sense that it is about how YOU feel, but it is not okay to tell women to dress modestly because men can’t control themselves. Elder Callister quotes a scripture that says it best, “the sin is in entertaining the thought once it comes.” Proverbs 23:7. The sin is NOT in wearing something immodest to provoke someone. The sin IS in looking upon a woman to lust after her. Men, rise up and take responsibility for your own thoughts and stop trying to blame it on women. That is not okay.”

Of course, there is a considerable amount of truth in this statement. Men will be held responsible for how they control themselves. It is never an excuse to suggest that someone else made you act in a certain way. Elder Callister’s talk very clearly stated that we are all accountable before God for our own choices. In particular, those that commit atrocities such as rape will be held accountable for their sins (and those sins are second in seriousness only to murder).

The idea that we have no responsibility for the conduct or actions of others is sound as a legal principle. As a gospel matter, however, I have to reject the notion that women bear no responsibility before God for choosing to wear revealing or provocative clothing. Indeed, the notion that we are “not our brother’s keeper” and not responsible for the conduct of others is one of the lies that Satan has told from the beginning of time. Indeed, on a spiritual level each of us is responsible for positively influencing others. Each is responsible  and commanded to let his or her light shine unto the world. 

One of my favorite principles in the New Testament is Paul’s response to the debate that arose among the early disciples regarding whether it was acceptable to purchase and eat meat that had come from the temple worship ceremonies of pagan cultures ( the parts of the animals unused for rituals were resold on the market).

Paul response in 1 Corinthians 8, that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating such meat, but warns that believers should be sure to not eat such meat if it causes those with weaker faith to stumble or to think that idol worship is acceptable

 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”

Paul also speaks on this theme in Romans 8

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

I think this principle is applicable to many of the commandments in the Church and especially to things like modesty. For the women wearing a certain outfit, it may not feel inappropriate and it may not lower her self-esteem. However, as a disciple of Christ, one should also consider the impact of one’s choices on others. 

The Word of Wisdom likewise is addressed to the weakest among us. While not every person who drinks a glass of wine will become addicted, the commandment to abstain from consuming alcohol is at least in part directed at not creating needless temptation for those who are weaker than we are.

In the Church and as those dedicated to following Christ we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. If we knowing cause someone else to fall into temptation and stumble, we are personally held accountable for those choices. I see that as the principle underlying what Elder Callister says.

Simply put…If something I do causes another to stumble, I will chose to abstain from that thing.

Of course, this principle has its limits. Indeed, everything we do could have a multitude of effects. For instance, my posting in defense of Church teaching can have the simultaneous impact of strengthening the testimony of some, and causing others to move further away from the church and its teachings. We can not live our lives in constant fear of how our choices will impact others. Luckily, as members of the church we are entitled to the companionship of the Holy Ghost. If we prayerfully consider our choices, he will help us know what we can do to have the greatest positive impact on those around us. 

There have been many occasions over the past year and a half where I have simply wanted to stay silent during some controversy because I know that speaking out might cost friends and perhaps negatively impact their salvation. Nevertheless, I have written when moved upon by the spirit reassured that in the long run my decision to write and speak will do the greatest good. Every single time I speak out on a topic that I know will provoke, I ask myself if it truly is worth it. I think that question is one that we should regularly pose to ourselves.

The point I hope to make with this post, is that as disciples of Christ we are expressly called to consider how our actions impact those around us. We can never act in isolation and we should never act without considering how our choices will impact the faith, testimony ,decisions and eternal salvation of others. Modesty and choices of clothing fit into the category of decisions for which we should consider others feelings and weaknesses. Of course, the choice is a personal one and it should not be the place of others to stand in judgement. Yet, in my mind what Elder Callister is doing is calling women and men alike to consider if they are truly being a beacon on a shinning hill for those around them. For that reminder I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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