Muslim-American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad made history last summer as the first U.S. Olympian to compete wearing a hijab, but Muslims aren’t the only ones worried about immodest attire in women’s sports.
Kara Barnett, pastor’s wife at Faith Baptist Church of Faith, N.C., addressed the dilemma in a recent blog observing that “a volleyball will travel at the same velocity and direction whether it’s served by a player dressed appropriately or by a player dressed inappropriately.”
“The law likewise holds true for golf, tennis and soccer balls, as well as for the dynamics of jogging, cheerleading and dance,” she said in a post titled “Modesty Matters” on the group blog SBC Today.
“Joking aside, if a team uniform doesn’t meet God’s standards and an alternative is not allowed, then God doesn’t want my daughter playing that sport or participating in that activity,” she said. “Her personal testimony is worth even more than an athletic scholarship to college.”
With summer clothes season approaching and increasingly shorter shorts, plunging necklines and tighter-fitting styles, Barnett said modesty issues aren’t just for the Amish and crotchety old people who complain about those “dang teenagers.”
“Sadly, today there is often little difference in the immodest clothing choices between girls who’ve never heard the name of Christ and those who come from Christian homes,” she said. “Satan is winning the war of indiscrete clothing, and these are the weapons he’s using on parents.”
Many Bible verses relate in some form to fashion, but Christians disagree about whether they are binding today or simply reflect cultural norms of the times they were written.
At face value, I 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,” and 1 Peter 3:3, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes,” would seem to prohibit jewelry and braided hair, but many Christians read it as a more general warning against vanity and obsession with outward appearance.
First Corinthians 11, which seems to suggest women in church ought to have a head covering, probably originally referred to the Middle Eastern practice of women wearing veils, but it lingers today in customs of women wearing hats to church and men removing their hats before entering a house of worship as a show of respect.
In certain Pentecostal and other holiness traditions, women don’t cut their hair because of verses in the chapter calling it “a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved” and affirming “if a woman has long hair, it is her glory.”
Some Christians believe Deuteronomy 22:5, “the woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man,” forbids women from wearing pants. Literally following verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy against wearing clothes woven from two kinds of fabric would have stopped cotton-polyester fabric blends before the ubiquitous leisure suit synonymous with the 1970s.
Barnett said female immodesty is different from sins like gluttony and thievery, which affect only the person committing them, because when a young woman dresses inappropriately her sin spreads to others.
“As she strolls down the beach in her immodest bathing suit or worships on a Sunday wearing a revealing dress, everyone who sees her is handed temptation,” she said. “The men and boys around her must battle the sin of lust, while the women and girls around her must battle the sins of bitterness and jealousy and the temptation to show-off their bodies, too. Everyone is distracted by the young lady’s clothing and everyone struggles to think pure thoughts.”
Brad Shockley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Pleasant View, Tenn., posted a comment saying he hesitated to bring it up, but raising three daughters has caused him to reconsider “a very one-sided and imbalanced message on female modesty” he preached and taught earlier in his ministry.
“Through listening to my daughters, I discovered the other side is that when we focus only on the women like this, we unwittingly project a sense of shame into them,” he said. “We blame them for ‘causing’ the men to sin.”
“If a woman walks down the street in an immodest outfit, it’s my job to worry about me and my heart, not what she’s wearing,” he said. “She doesn’t cause me to sin; I choose to lust after her or I don’t. That is on me.”
Muhammad, a 30-year-old New Jersey native, won the bronze medal in fencing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but she would not have been allowed to compete while wearing a Muslim head covering if her Olympic sport had been basketball.
The International Basketball Federation, which vets players for the Olympics, prohibits hijab-wearing players under a rule against equipment “that may cause injury to other players.”
Athletic companies are taking notice of the needs of Muslim athletes for modest sportswear. Nike recently introduced its Pro Hijab product, available in three colors, scheduled to go on sale next spring.