S'pore pastor apologises after asking girls to dress modestly to prevent men's 'lustful thoughts'

Backlash.

Mandy How | February 24, 2021, 10:38 AM

Pastor Joanne Chow of Pasir Panjang Hill Brethren Church has apologised after asking women not to dress in a revealing or provocative manner, so as not to incite lustful thoughts from men.

The post, titled "In the fight against sexual temptation, defence is not enough" was published to Christian site Thir.st's Instagram page on Feb. 21, 2021.

Chow's essay comes after news that prominent Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias had committed sexual abuse, with added allegations of rape.

The accusations came to light only after Zacharias died in May 2020.

Backlash from Singaporeans

Shortly after Chow's post went up, young Singaporeans have voiced their concerns with this bit in particular:

"Can I also make a special appeal to the girls?

Let’s help our brothers by not dressing in a revealing or provocative way*.

Of course you don’t have control over their lustful thoughts, and it may not be a sin to wear that skintight dress or post that bikini photo, but if we can help our brothers, why not?

Avoid it not because we must do it, but because we love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ."

Here are all the slides:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by THIR•ST (@thir.st)

The problems that were highlighted by young Singaporeans included victim-blaming on the part of Chow, as well as the reducing of men's accountability in sexual crimes and taking away the onus on them to not be sexually tempted.

The most-liked comments on the post laid out the problematic nature of Chow's mentality espoused in the essay, while others made fun of the scenario by doing a gender reversal.

Defended stance in initial response

In response to the backlash, Thir.st updated their caption to include the disclaimer that the same school of thought applies to men.

The publication added that their stance was in no way faulting the victims in cases of sexual harassment or assault.

"We have always denounced such acts of violence and have said that perpetrators must bear responsibility for their offences."

"Practical advice"

The comments section of the post was updated with a similar clarification from Thir.st on Feb. 22.

It confirmed that the post was situated as a follow-up to articles addressing Zacharias' sexual misconduct, and couched the essay as "practical advice" to avoid sexual temptation.

The clarification emphasised,

"She acknowledged that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own thought life. However, she also suggested that girls could help the guys by dressing modestly. Both statements can be true at the same time and are not necessarily in conflict.

It would be simplistic to say that the issue of lust can be solved by modest dressing. That is not what the article is claiming. And yet it is also true that a revealing outfit worn by girl makes it harder for a guy not to be sexually tempted."

Hi everyone,⠀

Thank you for your comments on this post. We've heard your concerns and would also like to clarify the intention behind this article.⠀

When news of Ravi Zacharias' sexual misconduct broke, we published several articles that addressed the need for repentance of sin, accountability and ministry to victims who have been abused.⠀

As a follow-up to those articles, we felt there was a need to offer practical advice on how Christians can avoid falling into sexual temptation. ⠀

The underlying premise of this series – How Not To Fall – is that men and women alike face temptations, and we all have a personal responsibility to guard against sin.⠀

Sharing from her perspective as a female youth pastor, Pastor Joanne talked about taking steps to protect ourselves, partner with others and pursue God. It was under the 2nd point where she mentioned how we can help one another within our Christian community.⠀

She acknowledged that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own thought life. However, she also suggested that girls could help the guys by dressing modestly. Both statements can be true at the same time and are not necessarily in conflict.

It would be simplistic to say that the issue of lust can be solved by modest dressing. That is not what the article is claiming. And yet it is also true that a revealing outfit worn by girl makes it harder for a guy not to be sexually tempted.⠀

While the article didn't go into specifics of how a guy could stumble a girl with his dressing (this could be explored in another article as modest dressing wasn’t the main focus of this article), we acknowledge that there are certainly instances where this could happen as well. ⠀

It would be inaccurate to say that this post seeks to blame women for the sexual sin of men, or worse – that victims of sexual assault deserve it. This is not what we stand for nor what the writer intended.⠀

To have such a stance would also be inconsistent with other articles we have published that call on men to treat women with respect, not to objectify women and to exercise self-control. In fact, we have a few more articles lined up that would address some of these points. ⠀

We encourage you to look out for them.

Pastor apologises

On the night of Feb. 23, however, Chow apologised to those she might have hurt, addressing specifically victims of sexual abuse.

The apology was also posted as a comment on the same Instagram post, but was buried by a multitude of comments from other users on the thread.

She said that she does not advocate victim blaming in anyway, and that a victim's attire is irrelevant in any sex crime.

"I made the point about dressing modestly purely as an appeal for consideration, with the best of intentions.

While the Ravi Z revelations caused me to start thinking about this issue again, my article was actually not about addressing sexual predation or how to avoid it. Rather, I hoped to encourage the Christian community to help each other avoid sexual temptation."

Chow added that both men and women play a part in this, and acknowledged that the message could have been better phrased or framed.

Nonetheless, Chow still encourages women to dress modestly, "purely as an appeal for consideration, with the best of intentions".

You can read her full apology here:

Hi everyone, I realise that my comment on dressing modestly has sparked many responses and comments, and even angered many people. I'm truly sorry if it has hurt anyone, especially victims of sexual abuse. I understand how it ended up coming across as insensitive and that it caused offence to some in light of the recent revelations around Ravi Zacharias.

I hope you will allow me to clarify my position. To be clear, I do not advocate victim blaming in any way. In any sex crime, the victim's attire is irrelevant. Women are not responsible for men’s actions. I made the point about dressing modestly purely as an appeal for consideration, with the best of intentions.

While the Ravi Z revelations caused me to start thinking about this issue again, my article was actually not about addressing sexual predation or how to avoid it. Rather, I hoped to encourage the Christian community to help each other avoid sexual temptation.⠀

In this area, both men and women play a part. As a woman, I wrote the article to speak to other females who want to take sexual temptation, and their part in the church seriously.⠀

There is greater clarity on hindsight as to how a message or thought could have been better framed or phrased; I accept that. It was not my intention at all to insinuate victim blaming or excuse predatory behaviour and I apologise if it came across that way.⠀

Top image via Thir.st's Instagram page