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"Does God really care what I wear?" That's the headline on a flyer on an exhibit table at this year's Values Voter Summit, the annual evangelical political confab sponsored by the Family Research Council. The exhibit hall is an especially good reminder that the evangelical community may be among the last bastions of American prudery.
Modesty Matters, the group behind the flyer, is a new addition to the event this year. It was founded by a modestly dressed retired pharmacist from Roanoke, Virginia named J.H. Woolwine. He gave me a leaflet showcasing some models of modest dress for young people. They look like Mitt Romney’s high school yearbook photos: Buttoned up college students from 1965 wearing knee-length dresses and neckties.
A "back porch thing" run by Woolwine and his wife, Modesty Matters is a somewhat quixotic effort to "move the media back to modesty," which Woolwine believes could be a compelling nonpolitical issue that people on all sides could agree on. He could be right about that. Anyone who has struggled to find clothes for young girls that don't make them look like hookers might agree.
Of course, the information Woolwine is handing out might put off a few potential supporters, especially the women he's seeking to persuade. On the flyer asking whether God "cares what I wear," the writer explains that women need to dress more modestly in church because "men are particularly visual. Immodesty in church can trigger lustful thoughts." It's an interesting sentiment among a crowd obsessed with the possibility that Islamic militants could impose Sharia law on America. Woolwine is also distributing a "Resolution for Women," which asks women to make a number of pledges, including "I will champion God’s model for womanhood in the face of a post-feminist culture."
But Woolwine insists that his activism isn't just aimed at women. "It's for guys, too," he says. So far though, his group hasn’t really picked up steam. He's got flyers out asking for someone to make him a website, and the table in the exhibit hall features a little box for donations. But he says he's gotten quite a few signatures for his petition to ask Congress to make the day after Labor Day national "Modesty Day," to remind kids going back to school to put some clothes on.
I ask Woolwine how some political women stacked up in the modesty department. He said he thinks that Michelle Obama has served as a good role model in that department, as has former First Lady Laura Bush. Not only that but 'each has advocated good things," like reading and eating right, he adds. How about, say, Sarah Palin? Woolwine declines to express an opinion on the former vice presidential candidate. When I mention that her kids might not be the models of modesty he's looking to champion, he says, "You may have a point there." But the real winners in the political modest department, in Woolwine's opinion, seem to be the Romneys, who look a lot like the people in his flyers (although this was before Romney disclosed to Kelly Rippa that he likes to sleep in "as little as possible" and expressed his admiration for Snooki, who's hardly a paragon of feminine propriety). "I think the Romneys dress and behave modestly, as do their families," he says.