By Mike T. Rogacs
Each year for about three to four months I find myself taking an unpopular stand on a certain issue, a practice which many of my brethren are content to continue to expound and to do. Each year I get so many funny looks and sly remarks that I am simply tired of my stand, and in this article I hearby call on somebody, anybody to show me the scriptural reasons why my convictions on this issue are wrong so that I can put aside this unpleasant task of objecting.
I am talking about someone who can justify to me the yearly warm-air practice of taking off nearly all of a person’s clothing, except for one or two small pieces of cloth which are designed to cover certain areas and to wear this attire in public swimming areas, thereby being thusly clothed in the presence of and with members of the opposite sex. In fact, I wish someone would justify this practice because I, too, greatly enjoy swimming in water and exposing my skin to healthy sunshine. Since I do not approve of God’s sanctified children disrobing to the bare minimum and swimming with those of the opposite sex (unless it is a wife or a husband in private), I have to find private ponds and streams to enjoy swimming and sun-bathing, and finding them is often difficult. I even learned to love the salty sea-water in Florida when a bunch of us boys at Florida College found an out-of-the-way area on the beaches where we could swim out of the view of other people. But not long ago a fellow preacher and another friend wanted to go to a public pool and I had to turn down the invitation to swim in public-after they had tactfully showed their annoyance at my suggestion that it might be wrong for them to also go.
But until someone is willing and able to justify this practice of pleasure to me, I will continue to bear up under the criticism that I am a “nut” or a party spoiler and will continue to strongly object to God’s Holy children swimming with nearly no clothing on, with members of the opposite sex. I had been taught by Christians even before I was baptized in obedience to God’s will that public swimming in modern beach attire was wrong and sinful because it was one form of what the Bible calls lasciviousness. In Galatians 5:19, lasciviousness is named as one of the works of the flesh; in Ephesians 4:19 it is one of the sins of those who are spiritually “past feeling,” those who have had their understanding darkened. It is clear that any form of lasciviousness should not be named among God’s enlightened children.
The definition of the Greek word for lasciviousness is as follows: “denotes excess, licentiousness, absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness” (W. E. Vine). Thayer adds “shamelessness.” Any act which is indecent, shameful, wanton or in excess is sinful. (Webster defines “wanton” as “unchaste; lewd;” “chaste” means “modest, not indecent; restrained and simple in style.”) With these thoughts in mind, can it be said that public swimming is “lasciviousness”? I believe so for the following reasons:
1. 1 Timothy 2:9–At least one half of God’s people are directly commanded to wear “modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety.” Oh, yes, in context the reference is to gaudy clothing (1 Peter 3:1-6 also), but the thought is that it is wrong to dress in excess. No First Century woman in her right mind would have dared run around in a swim-type attire, but she might overly dress. Both are excesses: excessively over-dressed and excessively underdressed; both are done to attract the opposite sex.
We do not find the same command given to men, but is it not simple that excess in dress is wrong for them likewise? One brother told me, “But it is different for men. Women do not lust after a man’s body as men lust after women.” Now, how gullible can we get! I have read of and even in my presence have had women and girls admit that when they see men in swim suits, there is a very real element of lust on their part. Perhaps a man can argue that the lust is not as great as a man’s lust, but it still exists! That brother used this thought to expound the opinion that Christian women should not swim in public, but Christian men could. He reasoned that he was not going to be there to lust, but to swim, and since women do not lust after men, he could be there. This reasoning (?) leads us to our next observation.
2. Matthew 5:27-28-Jesus said it is just as wrong to look on a woman and to lust after her as it is to actually commit adultery. It seems clear that a man should not go so far as to put himself in a situation where he will (or “might”) have an extremely easy and abundant view of nearly undressed women (Christian women or not, by the way). You have that easy view when women are in swimming or sun-bathing atire. If it was not so disheartening at the time, I would have split my side in laughter when that brother said that he “didn’t go there to lust” but to swim! Is he not human? Are we not all human? There are many things we may not intend to do, but when we find ourselves surrounded by temptation, it is far more difficult not to yield. Why place ourselves chin-deep in temptation, when it is not at all necessary to do so?
It was also said by this brother that it was wrong for a woman to go swimming in public (but not a man). Why? Are we to assume that all women go swimming to lust? Would that be just as right as his statement or not? But I guess that the brother really meant that someone might lust after her, so she should not even unwillingly tempt another. If that is what he meant, now he is getting on the right track! It is indecent, unchaste, lewd, immodest for a Christian woman (or any woman) to be in a situation where she will be nearly undressed and open to public view and thereby tempt others, even unawares, or be tempted herself. But let us not forget that it is likewise, indecent, unchaste, lewd, immodest for a Christian man (or any man) to be so undressed and to place himself in a situation where it will be quite easy to lust after the opposite sex or give place for them to lust after him.
Let us be honest in our thinking. Why is it that so many people like to “hit the beaches”? Is it only to swim and sun bathe, and no more? Let us not become so naive as to believe that. A great deal of motivation is to find a seemingly socially accepted way of showing off the human body to the world and/or to “enjoy the sights” one’s self. Someone always repeats, “But I don’t go for that reason!” If a person truly wishes only to enjoy the swim and the health benefits of the sun, then why can it not be done in a private area with the opposite sex not in presence? It can be done. I do it. In the past, all like minded Christians have done so to avoid placing themselves in a position to lust or to cause others to lust. When it comes to institutional issues in the church, everyone who is of sound thinking remembers Paul’s exhortation that when you cause a brother to violate his conscience; you sin (1 Cor. 8:12). But it seems that when it comes to personal pleasures, we forget that we sin when we cause another to commit sin, even when we give another the opportunity to lust after our bodies. Remembering that one of the terms in the definition of “lasciviousness” was “absence of restraint,” the unwillingness to restrain one’s self from public swimming, even for influence sake, seems to fit the definition of lasciviousness.
There are other reasons for my conviction on this matter such as 1 Thessalonians 5:22, to “abstain from all appearance of evil,” but I can almost hear the ringing in my ears: “But who says swimming is evil?” People will always close their eyes when a personal pleasure or view is involved. We must learn the lesson that the act of swimming is not wrong. It is the exposition of your body to the opposite sex that is wrong. When I look at today’s standards of morality in society, with sex splashed across the movie screen, in magazines and even in the streets, I almost feel that I am shouting in the dark.
As I mentioned, anymore this seems to be an unpopular conviction to hold among our brethren. The childish reasoning that “Everyone in the community does it. Why can’t God’s people” rules the day. I am weary of the verbal consequences of my holding this view. It would be nice if someone could show me that the scriptures show that God approves of such skimpy atire in public. But no matter how weary I might become, if no one can come up with such a justifying and truthful answer, I must continue to declare that the practice of publicly taking off nearly all of a person’s clothing for any cause is lasciviousness and is therefore sinful.
(Did somebody hear someone whispering something about dancing?)
Truth Magazine, XVIII:43, p. 11-12
September 5, 1974