Are bikinis sinful?

May 28, 2012 — 22 Comments

This post was featured not to long ago on


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!

22 responses to Are bikinis sinful?

  1. and what do you do with those “tankinis”? those girls are probably lukewarm and God would just spit them out of his mouth…

  2. Just had a good conversation about this. I’ve decided to have no policy other than asking my parents and leaders to talk to girls who we know whose swimsuits are “clearly” inappropriate. Not ideal, but so far not bringing attention to the issue has made this a non-issue.

  3. Chad,

    I’m sorry, but I disagree with your statement that not bringing attention to the issue has made it a non-issue. Boys will still struggle with lust, even if it is not addressed.

    • Boys will struggle with lust whether girls are in bikinis or full on sweat pants and sweatshirts ;)

      I like this post. Good stuff ben

  4. This is a good post, and I agree, guys are going to lust no matter what policy or stance we take. However, that does not give us a valid reason to ignore it. I love your stance of taking the spotlight off of the girls and onto everyone, but it is something we still need to address.

    The struggle I have had as of late is on the guys side. Abercrombie and other companies have made bare chested men just as much of a focus of lust as girls in bikinis, and I had a parent ask me why we don’t make the guys keep shirts on too. I have honestly struggled with what to do on this one… any help?!?

  5. Culture doesnt determine modesty to the Christian. If this were true, its a slippery slope as we cant forget the “culture” of this world is against God and on its way to hell.

  6. Culture defines how culture feels about sin, but has nothing to do with how God feels about sin. God gives us the term modesty. We have to figure out how to make God’s value for modesty part of discipleship. Legalism is painful and never positive. However, lawlessness leads to full-blown cultural shift and evil. Scripture says it is connected with “losing heart.” In the New Testament there is no detailed law as in the Old Testament. However, we do see the heart of it. What does it mean to be modest? How do we apply that to swimming? That’s a better starting point than…”are such and such sinful?” We must also come to terms that in our postmodern culture we are prone to let everyone think their interpretation is always right. Sometimes a kid or a mom is simply wrong. (Does that make your postmodern hairs stand up?) We have to have the courage to choose our battles well. May God give each of you wisdom to know what to do.

    • hey eric,

      thanks for commenting and being apart of the discussion. i totally agree with you and actually have no postmodern hairs so they aren’t standing up. i am all about choosing battles and fighting for truth and for holiness. i just wanted to push back a little on the normal paradigm in how we approach this topic. we can’t just always blame others, especially when they do not share our convictions. we must own our junk and if we are the weaker brother, then ask others to give up their freedom for our sake.


      • Ah if that postmodern joke seemed directed at you. I’m 34 and have a bit of the postmodern virus myself…ha! You made some great points and I’m sure we all agree that the Bible is the standard. I was being captain obvious here. Its tough…even after I read my own comment I saw some holes. It was a catchy title and a good conversation. I liked your cultural references. Good article. I agree we can’t force our own convictions just because we make the rules.

  7. Culture does not define what is sin, the Bible does. Paul also talked about what is modesty dressing is. Now, I do know that there is a culture and context to take into account and I think we don’t need to follow what it say about the way to dress word for word but I do believe there is a modesty thing he talks about is still for today. Also, you cannot say that if someone stumble it is there own fault. If I give a drunk a beer is it his fault or mine? In that case I would be aiding him in his sin. We as Christians have an biblical obligations to do everything we can not to cause another brother to sin.

  8. Very interesting article, Ben. I’m loving the comments and “debates” above. I’m still thinking a bit on this – definitely something that each of us needs to pray about in each of our ministries.

  9. Please don’t assume that I judge someone else because they wear a bikini. Maybe I just prefer that my teenage daughter not wear one, and maybe in trying not to have a double standard in our home feel that my teenage son shouldn’t go to youth activities where the girls all wear them. Are bikini’s sinful? Not necessarily. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean that I judge you or think I’m better than you, or that I’m “weak”. We try to make decisions based upon our own family background and experiences, and ultimately based on God’s word. But please don’t judge me for having a standard by which we choose to live. I would only expect non-Christians to do that.

    • benjaminkerns March 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      Debbie. Thank you for your thoughtful response and you and I are pretty close in alignment. I just think it is helpful to look at some of these issues through a different lens so that we are not just making choices out of tradition but out of appropriate readings of scripture and our context. Thanks again for your thoughts.

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