The Swimsuit Question

By Ron Halbrook

Blatant immodesty was once limited to such haunts of unrespectable sin as houses of prostitution, bars, and night clubs. The circus has often displayed women in costumes which “hesitated to begin and ended almost immediately,” as one Kentucky preacher complained a hundred years ago (Apostolic Times, 6 May 1875, p. 186). Nowadays, it seems that all sins haveobecome “respectable,” no sin more so than the sin of exposing the body in lascivious attire. Extremely low-cut fronts and backs on dresses have appeared in a variety of styles, the latest being the “disco” look. The “mini” skirt, after being the rage for several years, has become one among many in the smorgasbord of lascivious styles in our do-your-own-thing society. Shorts, halters, tubes, and swimsuits have become a way of life for many people, no more to be questioned than apple pie, mother, and the American flag. Immodest dress is treated as a human right, involving the right of men to look with pleasurable lust upon the woman’s figure and the right of the women to entice his pleasurable lust by displaying her figure.

Proper Attitudes and Proper Clothing

When sin broke into the world through Adam and Eve, over the protest of God, the power of sinful lusts was unleased, cursing mankind to this day. Before sin entered, Adam and Eve had lived in fellowship with God, in marital companionship with each other, and in the same innocent nakedness which is still seen among small children. Immediately upon sinning, Adam and Eve experienced shame in nakedness and made apron-like girdles to wear. God replaced these with long coat-like garments (cf. Gen. 3:7, 21). Wherever mankind has gone, the bodies of men and women have been covered because of the influence of God’s Word, the shame of sin, and the reality of temptation. Lack of clothing has characterized cultures darkened by rejecting God, embracing sin, and delighting in pleasurable lusts.

Clothing reflects attitudes. Enticed by “the attire of an harlot,” foolish men have destroyed their souls in lust and sin (Prov. 7). Once a man possessed by demons went about with “no clothes” but was healed by Jesus and was then seen “clothed, and in his right mind” (Lk. 8:26-36). Godly women are inwardly adorned with “a meek and quiet spirit,” with an awareness of the shame of sin, and with a sober attitude toward the dangers of temptation. This inner spirit of submission to God is reflected in all facets of a godly woman’s life, including the clothes she wears (1 Pet. 3:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:9-10). She blunts, by her careful dress, the destructive powers of temptation in those who look upon her. Her dress stirs up admiration and respect rather than lascivious thoughts. What does the practice of men and women appearing before each other in modern swimsuits reflect: the darkness of sin or the high standards of God’s Word?

Understand and Respecting the Sexual Nature

It is not wrong for the woman to be sexually attractive to the man. Indeed, God convinced Adam that no creature was suitable to his needs; then, He created woman as a companion suitable in every way. This one man was given one woman, and this one woman as presented to one man, that the two might “be one f lesh ” (Gen. 2:18-24). The sexual relationship was thus a gift from God for the good of man and woman, rather than something ugly, shameful, dark, and unclean.

Our sexual capacity is a gift to be enjoyed, not an evil to be endured. The joy, stedfastness, faithfulness, and passion of love between man and woman are celebrated poetically in the Song of Solomon. “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). The beauty and purity of the bed upon which sexual love is shared can be preserved only as each partner shares that love with the one mate alone.

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.

Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?

Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

A loving doe, a graceful deer —

may her breasts satisfy you always,

may you ever be captivated by her love.

Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?

Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?

(Prov. 5:15-20 NIV)

The very sight of the woman’s body – unclothed or nearly so – stimulates sexual pleasure in the man, thus making her delightful, tantalizing, and desirable to him. It is a great blessing to find one’s mate attractive and to share the sexual privileges of marital love. The sexual union, intercourse, or companionship of marriage is a part of the creation which God pronounced “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Both the personal needs and the pleasures of individuals are served, as is humanity’s need for reproduction (Gen. 1:28; 2:18; 1 Cor. 7:2-4).

Satan has perverted every gift of God, including the gift of sex. Fornication in its broadest meaning is any sexual intercourse which violates and abuses the law of God. Satan tempts unmarried people to experience sexual union, to commit the sin of fornication. He tempts married people to have sexual relations with someone to whom they are not married under God’s law, thus to commit a form of fornication called adultery. Our Adversary is smart enough to know that all sin begins in the heart (Matt. 15:16-20). Therefore, the first step to fornication is for a man to look on a woman, to whom he is not married, stirring up the desire, will, and intention for intercourse with her. Whether or not he gains the opportunity to unite his body with hers, he has “committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). Satan has many devices to encourage such lusts in the heart and these devices are called lasciviousness. The lascivious spirit weakens the sense of modesty and restraint by stirring up the fires of temptation and lust. This can be done through words, dances, pictures, and dress. Much of modern society accepts lasciviousness as a way of life, a legitimate means of pleasure, and even a business tool in advertising.

Men can be tantalized by women in clothing which is arranged so as to reveal rather than to cover the woman’s body, or which is so brief as to present the body nearly unclothed. For a woman to appear this way before her husband alone, and thus to make herself attractive to him, is a privilege given to them in marriage by God. For a woman to appear this way before other men is lascivious. As pleasures and desires are stimulated in the hearts of these men, she becomes guilty of the terrible sin of causing others to sin. In this lascivious age, many men think they have the right to these sinful pleasures and desires, and many women think they have the right to “catch man’s eye” by dressing so as to stir his lusts. So terrible is this sin in God’s sight that Jesus said it were better for her that a millstone were hanged about her neck, and that she were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matt. 18:1-14). Jesus also said it were better for these men if they had no eyes (5:29).

Modern Swimsuits: Reflection of a Lascivious Society

Exact styles of dress are not specified in God’s Word; differences from nation to nation, age to age, and person to person are allowed. Still, the Christian is regulated by divine principle in dress as in all facets of life. We may enjoy different styles and modes of dress, except when they violate the principles of God’s Word. If unlimited change is permitted and God has no concern for dress at all, then nudity itself can be justified. Does the modern swimsuit (worn by a female who is sexually mature in the presence of a male to whom she is not married) fall within the limitations of God’s word, or outside those principles in the lascivious spirit of an ungodly age?

Those who think that Christian women can appear before men in the abbreviated cloth wrapping which covers what little it covers in the formfitting style of a sausage casing, would be hard pressed to prove absolute nudity wrong. Yet, ocassionally some Christian conforms his or her ways so much to the ways of this age that it becomes necessary to rationalize certain practices. For instance, the danger of appearing in mixed company in swimsuits must be explained away by arguing something like this: “We can be like the world in innocent matters. Perhaps at one time people of the world were provoked to ungodly thoughts by the sight of a woman in her swimsuit, but the practice is now so widely accepted that no normal person notices such a thing any more. The practice no longer attracts attention and so has become innocent.” To be around our friends of the world and to hear them speak with lascivious delight about this or that woman in a swimsuit is to know how hollow the above rationalization is. Conscientious Christian men try to avoid the situation or look away when the sight of a woman in a swimsuit presents itself, in the effort to guard the thoughts of their hearts.

On other occasions, Christians who are determined to defend such practices will concede the lascivious thought are a problem for the sinner but not for the Christian: “It is alright for a group of Christians to go mixed swimming in modern swimsuits because our minds are pure and none of us would be tempted by ungodly thoughts.” While it is true that Christians strive to discipline their thoughts, it is untrue that a Christian male cannot experience lascivious lusts at the sight of the tightly-outlined or nearly-nude form of a female body. Baptism does not make eunuchs of men, does not change the chemistry of male-female biology. Men do not enter the baptismal water in bodies of flesh and emerge in bodies of stone or steel. Christians discipline their thoughts but also admit the ever-present reality of temptation and danger of sin so long as we are in the body. Remembering what happened to King David (“a man after God’s own heart,” Acts 13:22) when he chanced to look upon a woman’s exposed body, Satan knows that he may well take advantage of the modern Christian who is so arrogant as to assert, “Now, that I’m a Christian, lascivious thoughts cannot be stirred in my mind and fornication can never seriously tempt me again.” If the above rationalization has any merit, it could as well prove that a nudist colony populated by Christians alone would be all right!

The testimony of the world itself about whether swimsuits tend to stir up lascivious desires would be the most conclusive evidence possible. When the world speaks of its own things, the testimony is decisive. The funny papers, comic strips, and comedians reflect a common sense kind of psychology; they make us laugh at ourselves, at the real world. Among situations often made the brunt of a joke is the man who walks into a wall or drives his car into a telephone pole while craning his neck to see a woman exposed in shorts, a tight dress, or a swimsuit. The man’s accident under such circumstances may be funny, but the reality of his lascivious thoughts and of her exposure which stirred them are no laughing matters. Eloquent testimony also comes from the advertising industry, which has made untold millions of dollars by knowing what attracts the attention of people. In ads for everything from cokes to cars, advertisers utilize the lascivious effects of women in swimsuits to gain audience attention on billboards, in magazines, newspapers, and on television. Is this industry convinced that normal men today do or do not take special notice of a woman whose body is exposed in a swimsuit? The Bible teaches a woman to cover her body so that it will not be an object of lust, temptation, and lasciviousness.

Time Magazine (11 December 1978), in the “American Scene” column, points out that what keeps many football fans from running for hot-dogs at halftime is the sight of females in their twirling costumes. What better way is there “to catch a man’s eye” than in these costumes which are “tight,” “stretchy,” and “skimpy”? The article adds that the performances reflect “dance lessons” and include attractive “struts and tosses” of the female body. In other words, people of the world freely admit that such costumes and performances are enjoyed in pleasurable lusts by men who live in an age which accepts such lasciviousness as commonplace and justifiable. Twirling costumes are designed on the same pattern as one-piece swimsuits. While the world freely admits the pleasure of looking at female bodies exposed in lascivious attire, the worldly minded in the church deny that (1) such attire is lascivious, and that (2) normal men take any special notice of such attire. Brethren who make these denials are grossly ignorant (perhaps unmarried or sexually inactive), are sexually naive (sheltered from the real world and unexposed to the realities of temptation), or are intellectually dishonest (refuse to admit the facts condemning a practice they are determined to continue).

What Shall We Do Then?

Some who were once in the world have been baptized but not converted, and so have brought the world into the church. Others who once opposed the practice of mixed bathing in lascivious swimsuits have surrendered to the increasing power of worldliness, like Gideon who compromised the truth after having fought for it. Feeling the worldly pressures from within the church, they say, “If we preach on this, we will run off the members.” Feeling the worldly pressures from without, they say, “If we preach on this we will be viewed as fanatics by the community.” Forgotten in many cases is the heavenly call to preach the truth “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

Let us not surrender to the gloom! When we teach those within, the honest of heart will repent and only the hypocrites will be driven away. When those without hear stirring condemnations of sin, they will be touched by the power of the gospel as the Spirit intended (Jn. 16:8; Rom. 1:16). The consciousness of sin will bring them to the cross. This writer recently baptized the same hour of the night a young adult who heard one gospel sermon and who wanted to hear more afterwards because, she said, “I know what you said about swimsuits is true; I’ve been there -I’ve been guilty of the very things you warned of and know them to be true.” Faithful Christians can determine to teach modesty and to oppose sinful modern swimsuits. Many are so teaching, and many elders are standing behind this teaching. Irven Lee says that a church which tolerates such worldliness as gambling, social drinking, and immodesty of mixed swimming is a “garbage church” – and every town needs a garbage dump to collect unconverted brethren who persist in worldliness so they cannot ruin good churches. Consistent teaching keeps the church pure by encouraging the strong to stay strong, helping the weak to grow, and causing the stubborn to exit in search of their own kind.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 23, pp. 373-375
June 7, 1979