First, Nathan- can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I would love to hear what your church background is, what you were taught as a kid about modesty, etc.......
Well, before we get into history and background, and I associate myself and family with some pretty crazy ideas I want to make your audience aware of something. Despite the issues I have with some of the Fundamentalist doctrines and dogmas I was taught, I have to clearly state that I hold no animosity toward my parents. Without their instruction I would have no basis for the reevaluation and evolution of my faith. My parents lived out an honest system and eminently equipped me with instruction including both a love for God and the Bible, and critical thinking and logic. These are the tools of strong faith that also enable me to defend and support that faith. In short, without my parents and their instruction I would be lost.
I was raised in various fundamentalist evangelical churches. My earliest memories of church involve me sitting (or standing) in a pew in the Fairview Primitive Baptist Church it was a very conservative and exclusionary doctrine, closed communion, a capella hymnal music, and hard core 5 point Calvinism.
Through growth and their own spiritual exploration (including a very real move to another state) my parents began attending a PCA church (Presbyterian Church of America, again a conservative, Calvinistic environment but more liberal than the Primitive Baptist Church). As my parents eyes were opened to the untruths and false dogmas they had been taught, our family became a part of a small church that corporately was exploring what it meant to walk in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to move out of some very rigid dogma. Looking back this church was in a state of flux from its inception There were at least four different families with a modicum of leadership and each family had its own direction to go. Each family had its own ideas about Christianity and modesty so I was exposed to everything from hijab-like modesty standards to shorts and a tank top.
My parents raised me with a respect for other people and were very open in discussion regarding attraction to/from the opposite sex and any details I needed regarding sex. I count myself very lucky because throughout their teaching (particularly early on) they were able to impart a respect of the body and not associate it with shame and sin.
As I approached puberty my family joined ATI/IBLP. With that curriculum and environment the standards of modesty required by our family were elevated in public for the sake of conformity to the standard set by the program. My parents never bought into the ATI/IBLP ideas completely. They would always warn us children about the danger of legalism and a works (conformity) based gospel. However as immature children we did not really understand and so we let the curriculum and peer pressure drive our standards. My parents, (I think they did not understand the damage it could cause) allowed false ideas of modesty to fester and grow.
Do you believe that modesty is a fixed standard or a relative one?
Easy answer, and short. Modesty is a relative standard.
I really don't know anyone that would seriously argue that it isn't (granted I don't know many people in the grand scheme of things.) The ones I know might argue that since we don't know if/what God's modesty standard is we should be as modest as possible. However that is an impossible argument based on arbitrary opinion.
What do you think about the concept of modesty as it relates to our responsibility for others? Do you think that christian women have a responsibility to dress modestly so as not to be a stumbling block to their brothers in Christ?
No. All individuals have a responsibility to dress in praise to the Creator. There are no special modesty requirements for women versus men, other than what may be legally dictated by society.
I put the responsibility for "stumbling" at the feet of the stumbler. If a man is going to sin by wallowing in a possessive lust because he saw a tank top and short shorts, he's gonna do it if he sees a navy jumper with a giant white collar. One of the great dangers of this overbearing focus on "not causing a brother to stumble" is that men are not taught self control. Men (especially young men and boys) begin to believe that they have no control over their primal desires. These ideas so focus men on the id that they forget about the ego and super ego, those tools the Creator gave us that allow men to be more than an animal. When I refer to "self control" I mean control over both emotions and rational thought. It is dangerous to teach young men that "self control" is to "flee youthful lusts" and to merely run from something they think is a sin. One day they won't be able to run and they will need to know how to control emotions with intellect rather than replacing one emotion (lust) with another (fear).
I can testify that both intellect and morals are active during libidinous excitement. I have personally had offers of an erotic nature made to me (it was before I was married and the individuals making the offers were endowed with bodies fit to tempt) and it was no great (or small) thing to turn it down. My mind was perfectly able to respond to that emotional stimuli with rational thought. Man's intellect and morals can only be over ridden by our primal mind if we choose to let them be. If we have been trained to think that men revert to the primal nature when exposed to sex. Then when we (men) are exposed to sex our minds WILL revert to that primal nature because we have a perfect excuse to satisfy it.
How would you define "biblical" modesty, or the modesty that is mentioned in the New Testament?
Is there such a thing? If we take the Bible literally and use the biblical culturally specific mandates of modesty in the Bible, then women cannot braid their hair, wear jewelry or makeup, or wear any clothes or uniform that is worn by men. The danger here is that if we are that literal with scripture in one place, to be consistent we must be just as literal EVERYWHERE ELSE in the Bible; including stoning disobedient children and innocent people whose only crime was being related to an oathbreaker (Joshua 7).
If however we take the view that those "modesty" references are culturally specific, then the Bible really has no "opinion" on modesty. Instead it deals with personal responsibility Philippians 2:1-9.
What are the responsibilities of men when it comes to modesty? What are the responsibilities of women? Do the two differ?
The responsibilities of men are exactly the same as the responsibilities of women in regard to modesty. There is no difference. Modesty is not about the clothes worn, but personal conduct. The idea of "modesty" is cheapened when it is only about the physical accoutrements.
How has working in a service field affected your view of modesty and temptation?
It hasn't affected my views of modesty at all. Modesty is a factor of personal and social responsibility and morality. Temptation also is a factor of personal morality and opinion. Having worked in the service field for several years I was regularly exposed to scenarios that could/would be considered to "immodest" or "tempting". However, due to the differences in personal opinion, temptation is impossible to define by any specific behavior or action. I could be tempted by something that another person would find innocuous and vice versa.
I do think my work in the service field gave me a great deal of practice in exercising modesty for myself and in self control. It was being exposed to things that tempted me which proved and crystallized the instruction I received as a child. It was in those times, when I had a responsibility to my employer to stay near a temptation, when I realized that control of my emotional responses was a necessity, not a luxury.
Do you believe that men and women have different sexual needs and struggle with different sorts of temptation? Err, No.
Why or why not? Because it is the acme of foolishness to define temptation or what constitutes a "sexual need" by gender. Two randomly selected men will have as divergent of views on what constitutes temptation, as a randomly selected woman and man. As far as "sexual needs" go they are such personal ideas that they cannot be quantified by gender.
How do you define lust? Is it possible to be attracted to or notice a physical form without lusting?
In the Bible the word "lust" is defined in a multitude of ways including everything from a flame or glow, to a covetous, possessive desire, synonymous with the word "covet" in the 10th commandment. The word translated "lust" in Matt 5:28 is not just sexual thoughts. It is a covetous response to temptation. It is a possessive thing that goes way beyond temptation or even thoughts of a sexual nature. To be sexually attracted to an individual is not the same as a desire to own or possess that person. To have thoughts of a sexual nature about a person is not possessive covetousness. But, if we dwell on those thoughts and allow them free reign in our mind it can quickly lead to a possessive, covetous lust. However, the initial sexual attraction and subsequent thought response is not automatically lust.
And that, folks, is Husband's take. :)