Modesty and the Movie Soul Surfer

I have been greatly distressed at a discussion going on over on the Boundless blog. You see, just recently the Boundless Show had a section of their program where they discussed holy living. It is a very appropriate discussion considering the prevalence of antinomianism in the church today. However, someone pointed out a contradiction in the fact that they were showing, in one of their sidebars, an advertisement for a movie which featured a particular shot of a girl putting on a less than modest swimsuit, and talking about the importance of modesty in the podcast.

Lisa Anderson, the host of the Boundless Show, then commented:

Re: the Soul Surfer concerns: First of all, thanks for expressing them. You all make good points, and personally I am not a fan of the shot where AnnaSophia Robb (as Bethany) is attempting to tie her bikini top; I get kinda uncomfortable every time I see it.

You should know that we worked with our ad team to amend the ad so it’s now a still. Obviously we don’t want to unnecessarily offend folks.

That said, it was Focus on the Family’s decision to support the movie, and in light of the surf culture that Bethany inhabits, we understand that it only made sense to reflect cinematic integrity by representing that culture onscreen. I know the Hamiltons were very involved in the filming process, and gave a fair amount of input to ensure that the movie reinforced their values of modesty and purity as much as possible. I understand that some scene and wardrobe changes were made in response to their wishes.

Focus feels that the overarching message of the film is incredibly valuable, and our goal is to celebrate that where we can. Naturally, we still encourage parents to make judgment calls as to what’s appropriate for their families. We’re encouraging you as young adults to do the same.

Now, I don’t hold Lisa Anderson accountable; as she said, it was Focus on the Family’s decision to support the movie, not hers. Still, I could not help but think that this is very dangerous, as the real issue of a contradiction between the ultimate Christian message [the gospel] and the message that you send when you pictures of women with hardly anything on upon the screen. I simply could not believe my ears. Where in the world are our priorities! Do we care more about whether or not we are married by the age of 30 than whether our daughters leave the house dressed immodestly??????

I managed to get a couple of comments in, and I pointed out that there does need to be some consideration of a cultural problem. For example, there is a very beautiful young girl that goes to my church, and I was complementing her on how good she always looked, and yet, how she was always so modest. She told me that it wasn’t easy. In fact, she said that she herself wanted to learn to sew so she could make modest clothing. She mentioned modest swimwear as something that is specifically hard to find. She said that even the dress she had on that day had to be layered.

However, that is the Christian life. Hence, my first concern is that we cannot be promoting the gospel, and promoting a movie that shoots images on a screen that are contrary to the very Christian life to which the gospel calls us. It is utterly and completely self-contradictory. We are to call girls to do what this young lady at my church does, and that is to continue to fight to do what is right in the eyes of God, even if that means you do not get new clothes that often, and even if that means you have to learn to sew yourself.

There is a bigger concern here, though. After this conversation on the Boundless blog, people started arguing that modesty is culturally relative. Hence, it might be okay for women to wear skimpy swimwear in the context of surfing cultures, but not in the context of a blog like Boundless. Of course, the problem with this is what is to stop a culture [namely ours] from adopting full fledged nudity as “modest?” If the culture says it, it must be right, apparently. That is the problem with relativism. The culture becomes the absolute, whether you like it or not.

I am not arguing that we go back to the days where a woman couldn’t make it out of the house unless she had a huge bell-like dress on. I am simply talking about the fact that we need to check our reasons and motivations for wearing what we are wearing. William Shishko has an excellent sermon series wherein he discusses this whole issue of how what we wear on the outside displays what is on the inside. The problem is when you promote a video that parades women around like cattle in skimpy outfits like that, you are contradicting the very message of the gospel itself, that we are to turn from our sin and turn to Christ.

I understand how our culture impacts our thinking, and I understand that culture is not all bad. However, where the culture contradicts the Bible, the culture must go. There is real shame in nakedness because of the fall, and if we do not take that seriously, we may find out that the sexual debauchery of our society will continue to grow worse and worse. That is why we should never support movies where the women have immodest dress no matter how good the “overarching theme” is.

Am I the only one who is disturbed by these problems?


4 Responses to “Modesty and the Movie Soul Surfer”

  1. becky Says:

    Culture does dictate modesty to an extent…because at some point even very conservative Christians decided long dresses with high necklines (think 1800s) were no longer necessary attire for a woman to be considered “modest,” though the first women to break out of that mold by raising their hemlines up to mid-calf were surely considered scandalous. Culture leads the parade and Christians follow, some close (like Hawaiian surfer girls) and some farther behind.

    I think it’s a bit simplistic to think that we can judge someone’s heart based on what they’re wearing. People have many reasons for wearing what they do. Sure, some women are trying to attract sexual attention but that’s often not the case. I think which country or area of the country someone is from has alot to do with what they consider “proper.” Here in the rural midwest, a gal leading worship while wearing a spagetti strap tank top would raise eyebrows and someone would speak to her about putting more clothes on. But in Los Angeles? Nobody would think twice about it. So rural, midwestern people might be judging that worship leader, thinking she’s dressing to attract attention. But in her mind, being used to how people dress in CA, she’s not even thinking twice about it and certainly didn’t put it on to attract any special attention. It’s normal to her.

    Could you explain where Scripture gives an absolute on modesty? I’m truly interested (not being argumentative 🙂 because it’s something I’ve been pondering lately. During my years on the fringes of patriocentricity I ate up all their teachings on modesty…now that I’ve been freed from that false teaching and legalism I’m rethinking what I was taught about modesty too.

    “Modest” is not a word that is used much in scripture (tho’ considering how much the patrio’s harp on it you’d think it was the 11th commandment!) and when I looked up the greek, it seemed to imply more of a “properness” or “propriety.” I didn’t see a sexual connotation to it at all, tho’ dressing like a prostitute could not be considered “proper.” In fact, when Paul urges women to dress modestly in Timothy he specifically mentions avoiding expensive, showy attire. He doesn’t give a sexual connotation to it at all, but more of a “don’t show off your wealth” admonition. But even tho’ this aspect of modesty (not flaunting one’s wealth) is what Scripture stresses, conservative Christians are much more likely to notice (and judge) the woman in the strapless, short dress at church than the gal dressed to the hilt (but covered from neck to knee) and decked out with jewelry.

  2. otrmin Says:


    I agree that the Christian Patriarchalists are over the top when it comes to modesty. I also agree that culture can affect people’s views on what is modest and what is not.

    However, as I said in my post, the difficulty with making modesty dependent on social norms is stopping a society from saying that full fledged nakedness is modest. By what standard does anyone then say that it is immodest for someone to walk around without any clothes on, if the culture says that it is modest?

    As far as the Bible goes, I would point to Genesis 2-3. Very clearly, the Bible defines nakedness [which, in Biblical times, was not simply full fledged nudity] as something shameful because of the fall.

    I would say that there needs to be balance. I agree that some of the Christian Patriarchalists demand things that have nothing to do with scripture. However, if I were a father, I would not want an image of my daughter in nothing but what amounts to tiny underwear being blasted on a big screen for multitudes of people to see. I would think that anyone who has daughters could understand that. That is all I am saying.

    Also, I think it is a heart issue. What would cause a girl to wear something that exposes her body to the whole world, when scripture says that such is shameful? When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, their eyes were opened, and they knew immediately that they were naked. Even after they sewed fig leaves together which only insufficiently covered them, they were still ashamed, and ran and hid.

    What I would ask is what makes people take something that made our first parents run in shame, and flaunt it for the whole world to see? How can that not be an issue of the heart?

    God Bless,

  3. becky Says:

    Oh I’m completely with you on the bikini issue. I do have daughters and I would not be pleased to see them in a bikini in my own backyard, let alone on the movie screen!

    I guess my approach would be different when dealing with a Christian girl wearing next to nothing. Instead of instantly assuming she is trying to attract sexual attention, I would first consider that she simply may not know any better. And there are a variety of reasons why this could be the case, one being the culture she was raised in.

    There is nothing to stop a culture from saying nakedness is modest…and there are cultures, past and present, that consider toplessness to be modest. But think of the Auca indians, for example, that the Jim & Elisabeth Elliot ministered to. Were those Auca women running around topless in order to attract sexual attention? Or were they doing it because their culture considered it normal and modest? I would say the latter was true. So then a girl growing up in a bikini culture may not be donning a bikini in order to attract sexual attention. To her it would be a normal, modest thing to wear. Doesn’t necessarily make it good and right, just like topless Aucas may not be good and right. But it makes it understandable.

    One end of this spectrum is complete nakedness, the other is being covered head to toe like the Muslims require of their women. So *according to scripture*, where should we draw the line between these two extremes?

    Christians should definitely draw the line where the Bible does–at nakedness. But beyond this do we have a biblical leg to stand on? I’m asking this to myself as well because it’s something I’m seeking and studying.

  4. otrmin Says:


    I don’t think the answer is to be found in how much is covered, but the nature of why you wear what you wear, and your concern for causing your brother or sister to stumble. I would encourage you to listen to those sermons by Bill Shishko. He does a good job at laying out Biblical foundations, and I do believe that they are heart foundations.

    The reason I say this is simple. Yes, I am aware of the fact that some people may have never thought of it, or do not know any better. The problem is that the Bible presents how we interact with other people, and whether or not we cause our brothers to stumble as something we *must* contentiously think about. It is like being careless with how we handle a gun, and causing an accident that ends up killing someone. We may not have intended to kill anyone, but our negligence caused their death.

    In the same way, we are to care and be concerned with how our brothers and sisters view us, in that we do not want to put a stumbling block in their way. I know a lot of girls who wear immodest outfits simply to be popular with their friends. Again, the issue is whether you are going to be willing to be popular, and yet put your brothers and sisters in harms way.

    The whole issue is, I believe, “Why am I wearing what I wear?” This is something I think we need to teach girls from a very young age. The girl I mentioned in the article’s father told me that modesty is what his household is all about. It is something he constantly talked to his girls about from the time they were young. I think that is the way to go; we need to train girls that what they show will affect their brothers and sisters in Christ, and hence, we need to teach them to check their motivations for wearing what they wear.

    God Bless,

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