Winford James

Dr Winford James

In the matter of the controversial fashion show recently staged over three days at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, I have been looking to see and hear the word ‘sin’ and any of its derivatives used by those Anglicans who have been condemnatory — after the fact.

But I haven’t been lucky. What I have experiencing is emotive words and phrases like ‘disrespectful’, ‘unfortunate’, ‘obscene’, ‘desecration’, ‘flabbergasted’, ‘dumbfounded’, ‘in mourning’, ‘perturbed’, ‘completely out of order’, ‘ this sad deterioration of respect and modesty’, ‘a direct contradiction and affront’, ‘this display of immodesty’, ‘improper’, ‘scandalous’.

Anglicans are outraged, especially their chief official, Bishop Claude Berkley, but they are not calling the behaviour sinful. So we are left to conclude that a behaviour may be obscene and out of order while not being sinful. More pointedly, the condemned behaviour in the Cathedral is not a sin, only disrespect and desecration.

And what is that behaviour? According to the Dean of the Cathedral, Shelley Ann Tenia, it is women modelling scanty swimsuits at the altar and in the aisle of the holy place.

Tenia explains that the organisers, StyleWeek, were given ‘clear guidelines’, especially for the swimsuit presentations (there were Carnival costumes as well), which were flouted when, on the last day, a quality control officer positioned backstage to ensure compliance abandoned her post for a while. She is quoted as follows: ‘I said I am okay once I see no bumsies or boobs and if anyone has any way that makes that impossible, then they need to not show it or use wraps and sarongs, and the models must have on leggings.’

So it is the revelation of buttocks and breasts — I am mildly surprised that another part was not also highlighted — that was/is the problem, especially since the organisers were instructed to have the models cover up with wraps, sarongs, and the like. The fashion show itself, staged within the holy place, had passed muster.

The Bishop seems to agree. In a press release that is manfully honest and deeply contrite, he said the following, inter alia (emphasis mine):

‘The Anglican Church…sincerely apologises…for the MISUSE OF THE CONSECRATED SPACE within the Holy Trinity Cathedral.’

‘[T]he depiction of SCANTILY CLAD MODELS PARADING ALONG THE AISLE OF THE CHURCH offended individual and collective sensibilities locally and internationally.’

‘[S]uch a parade is COMPLETELY OUT OF ORDER, INAPPROPRIATE and is STRONGLY CONDEMNED.’

‘Our Church has hosted fashion shows in the past and WE HAVE NEVER COME TO THIS SAD DETERIORATION OF RESPECT AND MODESTY.’

‘[T]here was a DEVIATION FROM THE AGREED GUIDELINES. At first sight of this deviation, the show should have been shut down.’

So what the Bishop is saying is that the fashion show is approved but not the scanty clothing or the consequent exposure of buttocks and breasts, which is improper and immodest.

While he condemns the immodesty, impropriety, and desecration, he does not speak in terms of sin. And I know him to be a very careful and deliberate man. So he must clear up some things for me — both in the press and the next time we bounce up at the airport.

So women may model swimsuits in the church, but the swimsuits must not be immodest, that is, must not reveal breasts and buttocks? Is it okay then to reveal crotch, thigh, and midriff? Given the subjectivity of the notion of modesty, how do you fix the boundary between modesty and immodesty for general acceptability? Do you really expect women to wear ‘modest’ — that is, unrevealing (whatever that means) — swimsuits on the beach?! For that, it seems to me, must be the point of modelling modest swimwear within the church; model in the church what you will wear on the beach.

So the modelling of immodest swimsuits is immoral (you didn’t use the word, though; only implied it), but is not sinful? Is the Church avoiding the word these modern days? Do people actually sin any more? And you are free to ignore these three questions: Is alcoholism a sin? Is homosexuality? How do these two behaviours compare with swimsuit immodesty?

Tenia tells us that the three-day fashion show was a fundraiser to help with the restoration of the earthquake-damaged Cathedral. If you ask me, from a pragmatic point of view, that is the thing the Church authorities must focus mostly on, not the morality of swimwear. Once the show is legal and does no harm to anybody (except to their sensibilities!), what does it matter if breasts and buttocks are highlighted? After all, Tenia tells us that the Cathedral is regarded as a great place for showcasing the talent of our designers and other creatives… .

But, like the Bishop, I would have shut the show down the moment the designers broke the agreed guidelines. I am sorry: a deal is a deal.

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