Are bikinis sinful?


What Are Your Summer Bathing Suit Rules?

Now that summer is here it is time for pool parties, lake barbeques, and beach activities. As a youth ministry professional there is always one question that seems always rise to the surface: What is appropriate summer beach attire? Every youth ministry throughout the country has different rules and regulations when it comes to what is ok to wear at events that include water. All of the rules seem to surround the ladies and their swimsuit options. Bikini? Tankini? One Piece? Or my favorite, a Potato Sack.

Because our country is large and our micro-cultures are so varied, the rules we set up become “just the way we do things.” For many of us haven’t really thought through all of the reasons and cultural issues surrounding our decisions. We don’t even get push-back anymore because, “it is just how we do things.”

This way of setting up guidelines is perfectly fine with me. But the problem is that, when the larger body of Christ comes together for some summer fun, there seems to always be some conflict. Whether it is summer camp, a joint camping trip, or a denominational gathering, issues arise when one set of rules bumps up against another set of rules.

Will our pool be a bikini-free zone? For the churches who make strict rules regarding this, their students are ready. Even though the girls in this youth group wear bikinis to every summer function, they dutifully bust out their “youth group” swim suit for this event. But sure enough, some other youth group, who seems to have no morals, lets their girls wear bikinis. Now you have trouble! “Why do we have to wear these ugly swim suits when those girls get wear those hip bikinis?”

Purity or Freedom?
If you have ever been around a planning meeting for a joint event, you know that hours of conversation can swirl around the swimsuit issue. And in my world, it seems to be always framed in terms of modesty. We value modesty; that group doesn’t value modesty and as a discipleship issue, that group needs to see their sin and embrace modesty. While I do agree that modesty is an important value, I think there might be another way to approach the bathing suit issue.

Instead of the “one-piece” group pointing their fingers of shame and disgust at the “bikini” group wanting them to mature in their faith and value modesty, maybe the discipleship that needs to happen should come from the “bikini” group.

Check out Romans 14: 1-23 This is the passage where Paul talks about accepting their fellow Christians who are “weak in the faith.” One person believes that it is ok to eat meat sacrifices to idols, and another will only eat vegetables. He affirms that each of us personally will be held accountable for our decisions. God judges us, so we don’t have to judge each other. In fact, the stance that Paul argues for is not of finger pointing, but of self-sacrifice. “Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble.” (vs 20)

There is nothing wrong “in themselves.” To the pure all things are pure. It is culture that defines what sin is. Playing cards, drinking beer, smoking a cigar, and wearing bikinis are only sinful if the context you are in has made them sinful.

Clothing Is Culturally Optional:
It is kind of a trip to think about clothing and modesty as culturally defined, but as we look around the world and throughout history we know this to be true. What was acceptable beach wear in the 1920’s is vastly different than what our most conservative sisters and brothers accept at their pool parties. It is common for women in tribes of Africa or in the Jungles of Brazil to go topless. In their culture bearing it all isn’t shameful or sinful, it is simply their culture.

For the Yanamomo people in the Brazilian Rainforest the men are completely nude except for a small string they tie to their junk. If they come out in public without that string, then they have brought shame to themselves and are in sin. If one of these Yanamomo people becomes a Christian they are not supposed to immediately cover their privates and wear dockers. When they are in their context they dress in a way that won’t cause others to stumble. So the string stays.

If my Christian Yanamomo brother comes to Church with me and shares on a Sunday morning, the string will not cut it. It is not the string, but the culture that determines if something is sinful or not. But because my brother loves God and God’s people, he will gladly dress appropriately for our context because he doesn’t want to cause any of our people to stumble.

This same principle can be used for just about anything, and now must be used with bikinis. You see, the modesty group are actually the weaker brother in this passage of scripture. It is their cultural issues that cause them to see bikinis as sinful. The hard part is that the modesty group by nature of being the modesty group sees themselves as the true Christians, the keepers of the faith, and pure and holy ones. But in reality, they are the ones in danger of stumbling.

Another Approach:
If you have joint events that include swimming and you want a common dress code, that is perfectly acceptable. But it is a mistake to make the reasons be that those poor girls with no morals or concern for modesty the focus of the issue. For most students today bikinis are not scandalous in any way. It is the common dress of the day. And for those who live in beach communities, it is a way of life.

The real issue is that bikinis cause the weaker sisters and brothers, and mostly brothers, to stumble. The discipleship that needs to happen is for youth workers to walk with their bikini wearing-sisters to help them understand the vast variety of the body of Christ. And part of the call of being a follower of Christ is that we love another and serve one another. Part of that serving means dying to our own freedoms for the sake of the weaker sister or brother.

The next time you get together to plan your event and you are worried about dress code around the pool, it would be helpful if the tone was a little less judgmental about those people, and to own our status as the weaker Christians. Then in grace and humility we can ask those with more freedom to graciously give up some of their freedom for our sake. This posture would dramatically change the conversation and might even lead to some good ‘ol fashioned discipleship.

Speedos will always be sinful!

11 Comments

  1. One thing that has come out of our rules that all swimsuits at camp for women have to be one-pieces is that the boys would wear speedos and the girls called foul on us. We saw the logic and now boys have to have swim trunks only!
  2. One thing that has come out of our rules that all swimsuits at camp for women have to be one-pieces is that the boys would wear speedos and the girls called foul on us. We saw the logic and now boys have to have swim trunks only!
  3. Solid post. Really great perspective. The only thing Id push back on is the tension of letting culture dictate morals at a higher authority than scripture. There comes a point where if you let culture dictate things that scripture will be trumped, which isn't what any of us would want. Because saying "culture defines sin" is not a great blanket statement that would hold up. granted I see what you're saying with that, but a blanket statement like that is obviously untrue. I'm not saying I totally disagree, but I just think there has to be a point where "cultural acceptance" is irrelevant, whether its this issue or any other.
  4. Solid post. Really great perspective. The only thing Id push back on is the tension of letting culture dictate morals at a higher authority than scripture. There comes a point where if you let culture dictate things that scripture will be trumped, which isn't what any of us would want. Because saying "culture defines sin" is not a great blanket statement that would hold up. granted I see what you're saying with that, but a blanket statement like that is obviously untrue. I'm not saying I totally disagree, but I just think there has to be a point where "cultural acceptance" is irrelevant, whether its this issue or any other.
  5. While I agree with much of what you share here, I have to agree with Austin. To follow in the path of "culture dictates sin" can become damaging vary quickly. I have struggled with this question for years in our ministry contexts (small farming communities through upper middle-class suburbs), and each one is different. BUT each one shares a similarity. Though the cultures were all welcoming to things such as bikinis, they were still a very real temptation for our guys, and many of them fell into lust because they had girls around them showing off their "goods." Even our strongest guys were tempted by strong, upright teen girls who just happened to be conforming to the culture's idea of what was appropriate. Though I am not quick to create a line in the sand that determines what modest is (in my experience this actually encourages people to get as close as they can without going over the line), I would be wary of simply allowing those under my leadership to be lazy simply because that is what the culture around us accepts. I like to think of it as a learning and growth experience, and an opportunity to call students to live up to a higher standard, and think critically about how what they are wearing affects the people around them.
  6. While I agree with much of what you share here, I have to agree with Austin. To follow in the path of "culture dictates sin" can become damaging vary quickly. I have struggled with this question for years in our ministry contexts (small farming communities through upper middle-class suburbs), and each one is different. BUT each one shares a similarity. Though the cultures were all welcoming to things such as bikinis, they were still a very real temptation for our guys, and many of them fell into lust because they had girls around them showing off their "goods." Even our strongest guys were tempted by strong, upright teen girls who just happened to be conforming to the culture's idea of what was appropriate. Though I am not quick to create a line in the sand that determines what modest is (in my experience this actually encourages people to get as close as they can without going over the line), I would be wary of simply allowing those under my leadership to be lazy simply because that is what the culture around us accepts. I like to think of it as a learning and growth experience, and an opportunity to call students to live up to a higher standard, and think critically about how what they are wearing affects the people around them.
  7. I agree with the comments above that state it is dangerous to let culture dictate what sin is. Another problem I have is that Paul was speaking of food and said, "There is nothing wrong with THESE THINGS in themselves...." Where did you get that there is NOTHING that is wrong in itself? I believe that in the Bible God sets forth Guidelines. Culture is set forth by people. How can we say that culture is what defines sin? There are things that are wrong! Who came up with Bikinis? Was it a God-fearing woman who sought out the advice of men, to see what makes them stumble, or was it a woman who was fighting for her freedom? As your post states, Christianity is all about laying down our freedoms. Most of our culture today is all about fighting for our freedoms. And so much of what women do now is fighting for their freedoms to do what they want, with no regard to how men around them struggle. I know that people don't want to lay down the law and set down exact guidelines, but I do wish that people would look into how the men around them feel and what makes them struggle. Oh, and it goes both ways - guys wearing "wife-beaters" and baggy jeans that are so low that they show off their "treasure trail" are not being considerate to the ladies around them either.

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