Fresh on the heels of the Modest is Hottest Music Video controversy, another Christian ministry figure is making waves this summer with his comments on appropriate attire.
Only this time, Youth Pastor Bryce Brewer is taking a very different approach than what many of us are used to seeing from “the Church.”
On his Facebook page, he offers an apology to his female students over the years for making them wear one-piece swimsuits at summer camp.
After leading with a general apology, he goes on to lay out several specific issues he regrets.
Regardless of what you believe constitutes appropriate swimming attire, the pastor makes some pretty compelling points. First, he says,
“I am sorry that I didn’t teach boys to control themselves.”
Taking it a step further, he continues,
“I am sorry I laid the weight of purity on a girl’s swimsuit while she was swimming, and not on the boy’s responsibility to not be gross.”
Aaaaaaamen to all of that!
Here’s the thing: I’m not someone who gets overly worked up about what people are or aren’t allowed to wear. I’m certainly not going to do so here.
You can ask 100 people what “appropriate swimming attire” entails and you could probably get 100 different responses.
If my friend lets her daughter wear a two-piece, good for her. If another friend doesn’t, good for her.
I don’t really care. That’s a household conversation.
What I DO care about is the seemingly never-ending drumbeat from those who place all attention and responsibility on women and girls for the choices and behaviors of men (or in the case of youth summer camp, boys).
If a boy is having sexual thoughts about another camper, that’s on him. He needs to learn to deal with those thoughts in a healthy and appropriate way.
Consider it a lesson that will serve him well for… well, basically the rest of his life.
Gee, one would almost think a church summer camp might be an ideal place to teach just such a lesson.
But there I go, naively thinking we need to teach our boys to steward their thoughts and behaviors the same way we drill it relentlessly into our girls.
In that same vein, Paster Brewer continues,
“I am sorry that we have deemed a young women’s body as something that ‘needs to be covered’ and let young men’s bodies be ok to be seen.”
See, it’s not just about church summer camp. In fact, it’s hardly about church summer camp at all.
It’s about the fact that women’s bodies have been policed for centuries and, though we like to congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come as a society, we’ve still got lightyears to go.
(One glance at the sexual assault statistics in this country—or, God forbid, any of the comments on female-centered articles–makes that ridiculously clear).
We’re not even talking about breasts here.
(Everybody panic, she just wrote “breasts”!)
After all, those can be just as visible in a one-piece swimsuit as in a two-piece.
The real difference between a one-piece and a two-piece is the back and the stomach area. The implication of these one-piece rules is that it’s perfectly fine for a boy to expose his back and belly, but for a girl to do so is “immodest” or “inviting impure thoughts”.
Along those same lines, this very one-sided interpretation of sexuality is pretty damaging too. A well-built man in a swimsuit is just as attractive as a well-built woman.
Men AND women experience lust.
(Plus, as a helpful reminder, this is about a YOUTH church camp so we’re talking about boys and girls; they may be teens, but they’re technically still children.)
Restrictive swimwear rules would be fine if we applied the same standards to males—but we don’t.
I have no problem with a school or camp saying, “All participants must wear swim shirts.”
I’m a mom of four boys and they all wear swim shirts because they’re still young and they’re pasty-white (shout out to my beloved, pale, freckly husband!). Skin cancer is real, folks!
The problem is swimsuit rules that cut both ways are so rare, they’re practically unicorns.
Instead, these one-sided rules hammer home the idea that females illicit impure thoughts and males can’t help themselves. Girls and women are responsible for the purity of male thoughts and behaviors.
It’s archaic and it’s gross.
Now before you go clutching your pearls, hang on a minute. This pastor isn’t arguing for an anything-goes approach.
It won’t be “Girls Gone Wild” at his church camp.
He states clearly,
“I am still a fan of the ‘No Produce Rule’ – No buns, bananas, or breasts need to be seen. But why are stomachs overtly sexual? Why is a little cleavage sinful? Why are women meant to feel they are responsible for men’s actual sin of lust?”
And that’s the heart of it.
We can encourage respectful attire without singling out a style of bathing suits that are a major (if not predominant) choice for women and girls.
We can encourage sexual ethics and moral choices without tying those values to whether or not a swimsuit comes in one or two pieces.
We can encourage both sexes to cover their stomachs and backs or we can finally acknowledge there’s more at play with dress code requirements than we’ve been willing to acknowledge.
We can –and this is the most important –acknowledge that both genders can experience desire and NO ONE is responsible for the thoughts or actions of another person.
Pastor Brewer’s post has garnered more than 50,000 shares, so it’s safe to say his apology is resonating with many and it’s definitely spurring important conversations.
And to that I say, “Hallelujah!”
You can read his entire post here: