Answering the Challenge – Women’s Pants and Christian Liberty

This article is in response to a rebuttal by Lance, found here.

I am pleased to participate in a civil discussion on a non-essential of the faith. Finding people willing to engage with viewpoints other than their own is rare. Lance also avoids a lot of bad arguments. He doesn’t condemn me to hell for having a different opinion about something not explicitly in Scripture and he doesn’t think that history taints an article of clothing irredeemably. At the end of the day, Lance and I probably agree on far more than we disagree on. Frankly, if everyone in the Holiness movement were as open minded as Lance, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write all my existing articles. Smart people like Lance won’t fall into the worst traps that I saw people stuck in as a youngster. However, Lance brings up some compelling points, so I will address the crux of his argumentation. Because not all arguments are equally impactful, and because your time is limited, I will only respond to the arguments which are most threatening to my conclusion.


1) Who has the burden of proof?

“The responsibility does not fall on the Holiness Handbook but on Nathan to prove that pants better glorify God than a skirt.” – Lance

The burden of proof is not originally a concept from law, it is a concept from logic. If I say, “aliens have landed in the backyard” you should say “prove it.”  I cannot say “no, you prove that aliens aren’t in the backyard.” The person making the claim has the burden of proof.  I applied this concept to women wearing pants. I’m not claiming that God loves pants. I’m making no positive claims at all. However, the author of the Holiness handbook claims that God does not want women to wear pants – to which we should all say, “prove it.” If I want to prove that God does not want us to be drunk, I have the burden of proof, and I can do so easily from Scripture. Lance and company have the same burden here.

Lance’s take is that every Christian liberty must be justified explicitly and individually. In his view, is not enough for me to point to a generic justification of Christian liberty such as 1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient;” he thinks I should have to make a biblical argument for everything I do or don’t do. This is an extraordinarily broad claim on his part. I would agree that we should think about our daily decisions and whether they are “expedient” or helping us in our Christian walk. This sort of introspection is healthy. However, I do not agree that every single thing we do must be specifically justified. There is literally no limit on that statement. Lance must now justify his pillow, his bag of potato chips, his bedtime, his tossing a football with a friend, his deodorant, his cell phone, his cat. Lance has to justify every single action through biblical study before he takes it. This is an untenable position. My take on the burden of proof is much more reasonable; I say that a case must only be made in Scripture for us to say that Lance shouldn’t do something. Only if I say it’s immoral to wear deodorant do I have to open the Scripture and prove it.


2) Is it necessary to prove that women should wear pants in order to show that they can?

Lance has taken issue with how few positive reasons I give why women should wear pants. That is my entire point, I don’t see the biblical justification to control the lives of women in this area. Despite his dubious statements about who has the burden of proof, I think that if pressed, Lance would no doubt agree that there are a slew of things that are morally neutral. In fact, he would put almost all clothing into this category. He would say that baseball caps and tennis shoes and woolen mittens are all morally neutral – one doesn’t really glorify God or fail to glorify God by wearing them or not wearing them. I just add women’s pants in the same category with woolen gloves – morally neutral. Perhaps they have moral significance for individuals with individual convictions, but not for the church as a whole.

How much sin is ok? None. However, there are a tremendous number of things which are not inherently immoral. No amount of zeros added together will yield a negative number. Neutral is neutral, not bad. If I went to Lance’s place of work, I would most likely not be able to differentiate him from any of his male colleagues by his dress. Lance then has no inherent objection to the idea of some mainstream clothing as appropriate for himself, but when he starts talking about women’s clothing – he begins to wax poetic about how different from the culture they must be in order to be holy.

I don’t think women “should” wear pants. I think they can, while retaining their right standing with God. This is equivalent to me saying you can eat bacon. I would never write an article about why you are morally obligated to eat bacon. There are pros and cons to bacon and pants and the choice is yours. By arguing women should not wear pants, Lance takes on an additional burden that I do not.

But there are positive reasons to make the switch. I primarily presented the pro of practicality in my article. Lance seems to be OK with women wearing pants temporarily for practical reasons – he’s sort of following the “donkey in a ditch on the Sabbath principle” that Jesus taught. I applaud his openness here. And while it is true that you can run a 5k in a skirt, how many of your skirts-only friends run 5ks? I’ve never heard of one. How many Christian women do I know who have run a 5k in clothing other than skirts? Probably at least 50. So, the jean skirt culture tends to discourage physical fitness across the board. I’m sure there are fit exceptions, but that is the rule.

There is another more important reason that stands out why pants may be a good option. Dresses may distract from your witness. Natalie has told me that when she was engaged in ministry to young people from rough homes (at a local park), she was routinely asked to explain her style of dress. She lost control of the conversation, because many people just wanted to know if she was Amish, and why she was Amish, and why God wanted her to wear a dress. Without definite Scriptures to point to, the conversations got confusing fast – and completely off track. If you never witness, this won’t be a problem for you. So maybe Lance would allow pants when women are witnessing to people from non-Christian backgrounds?


3) What does the Old Testament have to do with it?

The case against pants from Deuteronomy 22:5 requires at least three things to be true at once.

  1.  Some parts of the Old Testament law must still be binding for Christians.
  2. Deuteronomy 22:5 is one of those still binding pants (“moral law”).
  3. Deuteronomy 22:5, if properly applied today, would prohibit the wearing of pants.

Think of these three premises as the three legs of a stool. If any one premise fails, the stool falls over, regardless of whether the other two premises stand. My article attacks all three premises, because I think they are all wrong. If you agree that any one of my attacks is successful, then we cannot use Deuteronomy 22:5 to oppose women’s pants.

  1. I have a very logically consistent position on this, which I have explained in-depth in my article on how Christians should understand the Old Testament. I argue from Scripture that we are bound by exactly zero percent of the Old Testament law.
  2. Even if you believe we are still bound by certain sections of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 22:5 is a weak candidate. Contextually, the next verse is about how one should deal with baby birds, and a few verses down is about not mixing wool with linen. The verse after that is about making sure that you have three fringes on your garments. In the space of seven verses, we have three about clothing, and we are to believe that two of the clothing verses are ceremonial and non-binding and one is moral and eternal. Why would this one be uniquely moral, but the ones around it all be ceremonial? It seems like a completely subjective cherry-picking excursion. For the “abomination” argument, check out this article.
  3. And of course, even if you believe that we are bound by the letter of Deuteronomy 22:5, I make the additional case that a woman in pants could be obedient to letter of that verse. The command only requires a slight differentiation between male and female clothing, not completely different clothing styles. That is the point of my analysis of Hebrew culture. Thus, to claim that this verse precludes pants today is to claim that Old Testament law has gotten stricter in modern times than it was for the Hebrews. The New Testament often toughens the law by expanding it to the heart, but strengthening the outward standard is not something I can recall an example of anywhere else in Scripture. It’s comparable to saying that based on Deuteronomy 22:11 (Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together), not only can we not wear garments with two types of materials, but we can’t wear a garment with two types of colors either. This ad hoc expansion of things never stated in Scripture seems like a very poor way apply the Old Testament.

If you agree with my analysis on any one of the above three points, then the Deuteronomy 22:5 pants argument is overturned.


4) Aren’t skirts better than pants?

The crux of Lance’s argument is different from the Holiness Handbook, which is good. Lance doesn’t want to say that women’s pants are a sin, because he knows such a claim would be hard to prove Biblically. So, he won’t say it outright. However, he wants to compare wearing pants to sin so that he can still say it should be functionally banned. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. He compares it to a “prideful speech” (pride is a sin). He calls the wearing of pants “a struggle in the area of modesty” (which is a sin). Lance avoids calling things sin and says we shouldn’t be so concerned about labeling, we should just do the most moral thing.

His argument is new to the discussion, which is why I didn’t address it explicitly in my original piece. His argument is that women’s pants are not banned by Scripture per se, but skirts and dresses are morally superior, and we ought to prefer the superior option.

His claim for the superiority of skirts is two-fold:

A) Skirts are uniquely feminine in our culture – men don’t wear them at all.

“Why choose the unisex option when you can choose the gender distinct option?” – Lance

B) Skirts are more modest than pants.

“Can any sane person put the two side by side & state that a skirt is the lesser of the two? Why then is the least modest & feminine is being paraded as on the same par as the skirt?” -Lance

This argument is appealing, but alas, it falls to a new double standard. High heels are exclusively worn by women in our culture. Every argument he makes about skirts needing to be worn because they are the exclusively feminine lower body attire can be made about high heels as the exclusively feminine footwear. Why would women wear leather boots or tennis shoes, designed for men, when they can wear the unassailably feminine high heels? Because high heels aren’t practical you say? Now you’re sounding like a defender of women in pants. Certainly, you can find medium height heeled shoes which you can exercise in. The only problem with this argument is that it is wrong.  Being exclusively feminine is not an inherent moral virtue found in Scripture or anywhere else. If it was, then it would be incumbent upon women to design new styles of hat and blouse and mittens that were exclusively feminine. If that is more virtuous, then why would we stop at the waist? Shouldn’t we strive to do our very best?

Furthermore, even if Lance and his defenders hold resolutely to the idea that pants are wrong for all American women, what about culottes and rompers? Both articles of clothing are worn exclusively by women in mainstream culture, so even Lance would have to allow them, right?

In answer to the modesty question, I have already stated that if some pants are modest enough for Lance and I to wear, then some pants are self-evidently modest enough for women. Lance says that modesty isn’t common in women’s pants and I agree. Nor is it common in women’s shirts. That’s not a valid argument against shirts and it’s not a valid argument against pants either. It is enough to say that some shirts are modest, and some pants are modest. Culottes though – it’s hard to argue that they are not inherently modest, so again Lance has to give that one up.


5) Doesn’t even Paul make specific rules sometimes?

Lance points out that Paul doesn’t just teach general principles, sometimes he teaches specific applications. It comes as no surprise to me that Paul does that and we can no doubt learn from the way in which he applies Scripture. However, Paul was inspired by the Spirit to reveal God’s divine truth. Just because Paul could elaborate with authority on the application of Scripture doesn’t mean that Lance can elaborate with authority on the application of Scripture. Paul had apostolic authority, Lance does not. If you want to say that pastors can elaborate with authority, you come dangerously close to the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope. And of course, you must contend with the fact that for every-God-fearing preacher who interprets things your preferred way, there is almost certainly one who disagrees. So, who has the authority? The answer is neither. God’s word is authoritative; this includes the teachings of Paul. If Paul had elaborated on the issue of pants, then there would be no reason for us to discuss it further. However, any modern commentary or sermon is not authoritative, but open to critique based on the Word of God and sound reasoning.


6) What about the slippery slope?

If women wear pants, won’t their children all smoke pot? No. I have no problem with applying biblical principles to everyday decisions. Some principles are clear – multiple New Testament rules say drunkenness is wrong. So, is the effect of being high on pot or cocaine like drunk on wine? Yes. You lose touch with reality, you forsake your obligations to others, and you destroy your body rapidly and irreversibly. That is very similar. Au contraire, we also see a passage in Corinthians that says women’s hair should be different than men’s hair. Does that mean that women can only wear skirts? Um … no. That is a ridiculous stretch. So, few people even make that argument – they go to Deuteronomy 22:5 and make a poor argument which I have debunked thrice over.

So, where do we draw the lines to prevent sliding into moral relativism? That’s a great question, and the Bible has plenty to say about it. That’s why I wrote an article explaining that in depth.


7) How can we best show Christian values within our culture?

This is the right question. Lance asks it, and it is a good one.

My answer to this question? We best show our Christian values by engaging the culture, not withdrawing from it. I was just speaking to a Christian about my age who has crafted his career to join the fashion industry. In his estimation, 90% of his male colleagues are gay. Why would he choose to work in such a place? Because, in his words, Christian values are desperately needed in the fashion world, which is full of people who have no concept of the value of gender that God ordained.

When we get hung up on vain disputes about Old Testament law, we isolate ourselves from both the culture and from our fellow Christians. We end up in micro-factions that are unable to engage the culture.

Lance is afraid that if we demolish this edifice of legalism, something terrible will be erected in its place. Lance – come and see what has been built in its place. The church is alive an active all around the world. I just visited a church in rural part of New York (not the most conservative part of the country) that expects to bring in around 1,000 people for three Christmas Eve services, many will be lost. They preach the gospel there, unadulterated. It’s the same gospel I heard in Holiness churches, it’s just that in Holiness churches, there were never 300 sinners coming to hear it. When you do mental gymnastics to add bonus rules to Scripture, you create an environment where the essentials get drowned in a sea of trivialities.

We can do better.  When we focus on matter of the heart, and we replace rules with discipleship, we can be the light of the world. I know – I’ve seen it done both ways.

-Nathan Mayo

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