The Doctrine Behind Modesty

Doctrine: Modesty is the absence of priestcraft (see explanation of this truth below).

Today, LDS Living posted an article by Katie Lambert (

I appreciated this article. It made a good point; one that needed to be said. But, it also made me think about why these kinds of situations happen. People humiliate in the name of honesty, but only because they are trying to teach correct principles. People get humiliated in the name of honesty because the standard hasn’t been explained to them. Or, even more likely, they don’t understand the truth behind the standard, so the standard seems rigid or ridiculous and they are lax in following it.

As I have studied modesty over the years, I have come to understand that modesty is about far more than what anyone wears. God sees all. He sees us without clothes or with them. People out in the world have seen a body naked. We have seen our own body naked. So, what’s the big deal?

Often, when teaching modesty people teach that our body is a gift. This is true. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” This scripture clearly states that our body is a gift that we are given which we are to use to glorify God.

But, let’s face it. Whether or not you can see my shoulders or my kneecaps is not necessarily going to make you have inappropriate sexual thoughts. Judgmental thoughts, maybe. So, why do I have to cover my shoulders and kneecaps up?

What if I’m covered from neck to toe but my facial expressions, body language, and verbal communication are lewd and crude and unfavorable attention to me? What if I’m wearing a burlap sack from neck to ankle, but it has an expression of profanity on it and I have a sleeve tattoo that shows because I’m only wearing cap sleeves? What if I’m dressed all in white but I have a scowl on my face and I’m making fun of others under my breath to the people around me?

The truth is modesty is about far more than the clothes we wear. It is about the words we speak. It’s about the messages we preach through our body language, clothes, and verbal communication. Most importantly it’s about the intent with which we do anything.

Modesty is the absence of priestcraft. In the Book of Mormon we are taught that priestcraft is a person setting themselves up for a light unto the world that they may get gain and praise of the world; they do not seek the welfare of Zion (2 Nephi 26:29). We learn that people say things or do things to get praise, riches, and honor (Alma 1:16). I note specifically that personal gain is rarely directly related to money. It is about honor, popularity, attention, and so forth. So, what does this have to do with honesty?

Consider that Christians are commanded to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:14); and as noted above to use our bodies to glorify God. Additionally, we learn that it’s not “us” we are supposed to hold up as a light but our examples of Christ (3 Nephi 18:24). So, it is Christ that we are holding up by our thoughts, words, and deeds (Mosiah 4:30).

So, what was the purpose of Christ’s life? Christ’s life and mission was to bring people to His Father, to help them come to know God, to help them accept the Father’s plan for them and to repent and/or be baptized and live a godly life, serving others (Matthew 23:11).

So, “immodesty” is anything that we do that gets in the way of us being a light, bringing people to God, His plan, baptism and/or repentance, and the opportunity to live a godly life.

So, if I wear form-fitting clothes to get the boys’ attention and praise so that I can feel good about myself, I’m using my body and my clothes to draw attention to myself and serve my own designs rather than to bring those boys closer to God (priestcraft). If I go to church and I’m covered neck to toe but I’m wearing a hot pink dress that poofs out, have died my hair bright purple and spiked it, have on the largest Kelly green earrings known to mankind and I sit in a conspicuous place (not that I’m not bright enough to attract anyone’s attention already no matter where they sit and keep them from focusing on the sermons/talks), I’m being immodest (priestcraft). If I speak in an un-Christ like way (profanity, crude jokes, gossip, etc.), and I claim to be a Mormon (Latter-day Saint) or Christian, while I’m at school, work, or anywhere that my example will be noticed, that language will draw focus to myself and take the focus away from God, whose name I promised to take upon myself at baptism (priestcraft). If I dress to be popular or to have a certain perception about me; which perception I make more important than being a light to the world—as Christ was—then I’m guilty of priestcraft.

I could draw up a long list, but those who are keen to be modest in thought, word, and deed know enough to ask themselves regarding any clothes, speech, or public actions, “Will this draw attention away from Christ and put the focus on me? Will this outfit, conversation, speech, or public example serve me or God?” Did not God say, “Thou shalt have no gods before me” (Exodus 20:3)? So, we must ask, “Am I doing this to get something for myself, to place myself in a position of praise and honor, instead of doing it to bring praise and honor to God?”

God is the great “I am,” and yet even He doesn’t do anything that will ever get in our way of choosing to follow Him, accept His plan, get to know Him, and embrace His saving ordinances. “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:24).

If those who preached modesty understood its true purpose, they wouldn’t be quick to humiliate those whose “intent” is clearly not immodesty i.e. priestcraft. They would accept them as they are and take appropriate opportunities to teach, in Christ like ways, about the doctrine of modesty. By pointing a finger and saying, “What you’re wearing is immodest.” What they are communicating to the individual is, “You are evil and horrible to have worn that,” causing humiliation, embarrassment, and shame.

When I was younger, I hated that church standards required that I wear knee-length shorts. At the time board shorts were not in style and in general I had to have my mom make my shorts or I had to cut off jeans. The patterns for knee-length shorts were not flattering, especially not to me, a freakishly tall girl with woman hips. I never wanted to be immodest. My intent in trying to skirt the dress code was never to wear daisy dukes. The same insecurity that made me not want to wear knee-length shorts also prevented me from desiring super short shorts.

At the time, I opted to simply wear jeans all the time, summer, spring, fall, or winter. It solved the problem. As I got older, however, and I pondered the standard of modesty, I came to some important conclusions that helped me to understand the purpose of the dress code to begin with. First, since we believe God is a glorified, perfected, resurrected man with a glorified, resurrected, perfected wife (whom we call Heavenly Mother), I asked myself, “What would Heavenly Mother dress like and why?”

A perfected, glorified, godly woman would have no insecurity. She would have no need to prove her worth, value, or attractiveness to others. She would exude confidence, love, and mercy. Her main goal in how she dressed, spoke, and acted would be to draw others, who saw her and interacted with her, unto God. She would dress in a way that would be beautiful but that would not make herself more important than her goal in bringing us to true joy and happiness.

Is being smelly, dirty, wearing tattered and ragged clothes immodest? Sure, if you’re in a place where such apparel is not appropriate or will draw undue attention to you. However, if you are doing good hard work that demands ragged clothing so that you don’t damage your other good clothes, then what you are wearing is appropriate to the occasion and modest. If you’re out mucking horse stalls then wearing super nice clothes would not only distract the people watching you muck, because they’d be worried about you ruining your clothes, but it would distract you from doing the work you were there to do.

It’s interesting to ponder that our own thoughts, words, actions, clothes, and intent can distract not only others from Christ, but ourselves as well. When we get caught up in priestcraft—setting ourselves up for a light—we prevent our own progression because we have made our will, praise, and honor more important than God’s.

So, for all you out there whether old, young, or in-between; whether you are a leader or a follower, modesty is far less about the outward appearance and far more about the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). That is the doctrine you should adhere to as you serve, counsel, and teach. And before you judge, find out the needs of a person’s heart. Often, the intent to be immodest is not there.


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