Reaching Out to Every Tom, Dick, and Muhammad

Reaching Out to Every Tom, Dick, and Muhammad

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Mission, like charity, begins at home. Christ calls us to share the saving Good News with all creation, starting with the creation next door and down the block. Sometimes, the neighbour’s name is Tom or Dick. Sometimes, it is Muhammad—or perhaps his sister Fatimah. St. Paul bids us become all things to all men in our Gospel outreach, and this includes being culturally sensitive as we share the Faith with our Muslim friends.

High up on my list of “Things That Make You Go Huh” is the reaction of some Muslim women to the feminist denunciation of their Islamic niqab or veil. This veil, which covers up the faces of Muslim women, is generally regarded by westerners as a symbol of oppression, and feminists are quick to exhort their Muslim sisters to rise up and thrown off their niqabs, saying that they have nothing to lose but their oppressive chains. Like me, these feminists are flummoxed when some Muslim women reply that they rather prefer to wear their niqabs, and they further suggest in return that it is western women who are being oppressed—or at least degraded. So, we may ask, what’s going on here?

What’s going on here—i.e., in the secularized west—is the progressive abandonment of female modesty, which is part of a larger project of sexualizing women generally. This is part of an even larger trend of sexualizing more or less everything, including even friendship. In saner times, people of the same sex could enjoy close intimate and even physical relationships which were not sexual. That is now long, long gone.

Now, the very word “intimate” means “sexual,” so that an intimate non-sexual relationship is a contradiction in terms. Pornography is pandemic, sex education is taught in schools to prepubescent children, and in the entertainment industry, little is left to the imagination. Our culture not only assumes that everyone over the age of sweet sixteen is having sex, but also that they should be having sex. The concept of postponing sexual activity until marriage is derided as absurd, quixotic, and possibly pathological. Liberation has become indistinguishable from licence—if not indistinguishable from licentiousness. Little surprise that in this super-charged environment, the tendency is to sexualize women.

Many Muslim women look around at this secular state of affairs (which they assume is a Christian one, since America is a Christian nation) and not surprisingly want nothing to do with it. If it is a choice between celebrating twerking and wearing the niqab, they pick the niqab, and it is hard to blame them. The stark alternatives seem to be either a Christian culture which sexualizes women and throws modesty and restraint to the wind, or an Islamic culture which values feminine modesty and covers women with a veil.

Our task as Christians, therefore, is to let our Muslim friends know of a third alternative—that of Christian modesty and chastity. The call to embrace the Christian Faith involves not only turning from Islamic dogmas, but also from secular western ones, such as the secular dogma that sex outside marriage is normal. It calls us to repent of all of our sins, including sins of sexual immodesty. Godly Christian women needn’t cover up every inch of their flesh when in public, but they should dress and comport themselves in a way which honours God. That is what St. Paul meant when he instructed Christian women to “adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly” (1 Timothy 2:9). And lest one jump all over St. Paul for his counsel to women (that favourite sport of liberal theologians), let us remember that St. Peter said the same thing to them:“Let not your adornment be external, but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

We hear in these words not the personal preferences or prejudices of Paul or Peter, but the authentic voice of the apostolic tradition. Christian women (and men too; modesty and dignity are not uniquely feminine virtues) should model modesty in dress and comportment. Our neighbour Muhammad and his sister Fatimah need to know that there is an alternative to secular North American standards of morality—an alternative which preserves what they justly valued in Islam and yet which combines it with a new freedom in Christ. Secular women may dress as they will and twerk if they want. Christian women will be models of modesty and true beauty.


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Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence was formerly an Anglican priest, graduating from Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada in 1979 before serving Anglican parishes in central Canada. He converted to Orthodoxy in 1985 and spent two years at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. After ordination he traveled to Surrey, B.C. to begin a new mission under the O.C.A., St. Herman of Alaska Church.

The Church has grown from its original twelve members, and now owns a building in Langley, B.C., where they worship each Sunday. The community has planted a number of ‘daughter churches’, including parishes in Victoria, Comox and Vancouver.

Fr. Lawrence has written a number of books, published by Conciliar Press, including the Bible Study Companion Series, with verse-by-verse commentaries on the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, the Early Epistles, the Prison Epistles, the Pastoral Epistles, the Catholic Epistles, and the Book of Revelation, as well as a volume about how to read the Old Testament , entitled The Christian Old Testament. He has also written a commentary on the Divine Liturgy, entitled, Let Us Attend: A Journey through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. SVS Press has published his book on Feminism and Tradition, examining such topics as the ordination of women and deaconesses. He has also written a synaxarion (lives of Saints), published by Light and Life, entitled A Daily Calendar of Saints, recently updated and revised and available through his blog. He has also written a series of Akathists, published by Alexander Press, including Akathist to Jesus, Light to Those in Darkness, Akathist to the Most-Holy Theotokos, Daughter of Zion, A New Akathist to St. Herman of Alaska, Akathist: Glory to the God who Works Wonders (a rehearsal of the works of God from Genesis to Revelation). His articles have appeared in the Canadian Orthodox Messenger (the official diocesan publication of the Archdiocese of Canada), as well as in the Orthodox Church (the official publication of the O.C.A.), in The Handmaiden and AGAIN magazine (from Conciliar Press).

Fr. Lawrence has a podcast each weekday on Ancient Faith Radio, the Coffee Cup Commentaries. He has given a number of parish retreats in the U.S. and Canada, as well as being a guest-lecturer yearly at the local Regent College, Vancouver. He can also be found on his personal blog, Straight from the Heart.

Fr. Lawrence lives in Surrey with his wife, Donna. They have two daughters, and three grandchildren.