Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Code

In this week of Easter, in this time that we ponder and celebrate the death and resurrection of Yeshua as a sacrifice for His church, I think it's time to discuss something really important.

The dress code.

On Easter Sunday, all sorts of people will show up at church. A lot of people that aren't normally there. And people will dress up. The men will wear a suit, or maybe a tie. The women will wear bright yellow dresses and maybe even a big weird hat. Kids will be in uncomfortable clothing that makes playing on the floor practically impossible.

That's fine. It doesn't matter much to me what people wear to church. A suit is fine, shorts and tennis shoes are fine. I'm not terribly concerned either way.

It does become more of a problem when people get upset about what OTHER PEOPLE wear to church.

This is quite common, and it comes in many forms. First of all, you have the people who claim that we must "dress up" to show our respect for God. If you aren't wearing the appropriate clothing, God apparently isn't going to be pleased with your worship.

God likes his ties silk, by the way. No cheap imitations.

But worst of all is the Cleavage Police. These are the folks that believe that if women wear anything too tight, too short, too cute, or too provocative, that it's not at all appropriate. The reasoning for this generally seems to be that men can't control themselves in the sight of attractive females.

Evidently, if a pretty girl has a skirt on that doesn't go below the knee, all the men's minds will be filled with lust and they won't be able to listen to the sermon without visualizing themselves in an all-out pew orgy.

These rules seem to have a certain pecking order in churches:

  1. They only apply to women,
  2. They only apply to attractive young women, and
  3. They especially apply to attractive young women on stage.

This means that if you are an attractive woman who is a singer, or in drama, or in choir, or maybe up front to give the announcements (or preaching)... Please wear multiple turtlenecks, lest the men in the congregation try to molest you when you step off the platform.

Men. They're animals, I tell ya.

I've never understood these arguments, because they don't seem to give Christian men any credit whatsoever. They imply that 1) women need to cover up attractiveness, as if being cute isn't "reverent," and 2) men have no self-control over their sexual thoughts.

Never mind the fact that we're seeing women's legs and arms the other six and a half days of the week. That two hours a week on Sunday morning might just send me over the edge.

In I Timothy 2, Paul asks women "to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God."

I understand that women are to keep in mind reverence for God when they are choosing clothing. They shouldn't be putting stuff on merely to attract an eye of admiration, or to show off. It's something men should keep in mind too, but for some reason, all of the church "clothing rules" only seem to apply to women.

This is, admittedly, a silly topic. But it's also one that I know a lot of people have strong feelings about, and that's why I'm posting it. What do you think? How far do we go, as a church, in policing the clothing choices of people in attendance and people that are "up front"?

And you thought ecclesiology was just about the important issues.


Bethany said...

How far? Don't.

Why do we have a bunch of "avoiders" in the first place? It is a fear of being judged. If we are judged on what we wear, how much worse would we be judged if people really saw who we are? The church cannot be an open community full of sinners until we disregard appearance.

Joe B said...

Instead of responding to this post I think I will just sign my name to it. Well said, Scott.

Mr. E said...

The message of Jesus and Grace is the most important issue, but their are some women (old and young) who should be a little more modest in their dress when attending church services. Many of the younger women especially wear skirts so short that it doesn't leave much for imagination. I realize that if you are poor or don't have much to choose from in your wardrobe dept. then you just come as you are. That's how Jesus wants us to come anyway. However, if you can help it, please don't be showing off to others what you would only want your spouse or God to see.

Joe B said...

You know, the admonition for modesty in 1 Tim 2 is overtly referring to flaunting your wealth, not flaunting your figure. But it applies equally, since a nice figure is "wealth" in its own right. (People covet it, and it is a big source of status.)

Even so, the point of this text is not whether you cause your rother to gouge out an eye, it is whether you are acting like a big shot.

Joe B said...

SO, Mr. E, since the Java Jesus coffee house has an illustrious tradition of transparency and vulnerability (and since you are anonymous anyway) let me ask you a penetrating question.

There seems to be a phobia of legs and boobs among Christians. We live up to our necks in T&A all week long, but when we come to church we all freak out.

I like girl-bodies "more than ye all", to quote St Paul loosely. But I just don't get why people freak out so. Are men so afraid they might experience attraction or (shudder) arousal? Or are women so afraid that some man somewhere will see something naughty? It seems we should all be accustomed to sexy-looking people by now...and so what?

Honestly sometimes I think it is all a charade. As though uptight people just want an excuse to stare and think and talk breathlessly about how hot the hotties are, and this is the only occasion they can feel clean when they do it.

QUESTION: what is the danger you see when my daughter bounces by? That you might think an errant thought? That you might feel a tingle? Or that you might just tackle her right there on the carpet and go to jail for 10-20?

Whatever the peril is, you'll have to face it at the mall when church is over.

Everybody must "possess their vessel in decency and honor." So we might as well get started.

(Disclaimer: "my daughter" should be taken to mean a hypothetical person.)

Bill said...

So...maybe we should just go to church naked. We would definitely not be judged on what we wear and the men wouldn't have to spend all their time using their imaginations. Would that be better? I don't think it is too much to ask for modesty in the church. As for this rule only applying to women...what could a man do to dress provocatively? I don't see a bunch of guys running around in Speedos. I am such a conservative.

Mr. E said...

Joe B.,

My name is Mark by the way, so now maybe I'm not so anonymous.

I am also a great admirer of the female body. God designed me and every other man on earth to do so. I'm just saying that I should not have to be blatently subjected to over exposure while trying to focus my mind on worshiping God.

I am well aware of the "T&A" that is out in the world. Even though I don't want to "jump on" every woman that shows more than she should. It is very distracting at times. I taught 6th-8th grade for over 11 years and there were plenty of occasions when the young women had shirts that were not buttoned, or low cut that showed way to much skin for someone of that age (or any age for that matter) or they wore skirts that rode clear up to their "nether regions" so I could see the color of their underwear. I did not want to see this kind of dress in my classroom, nor do I want to see it anywhere else. It was not only distracting to me standing in front of class (Lord knows I might accidently get aroused in front of bunch of adolescent teens), but it was distracting to other students as well.

I do my best to boycott places or companies who think it's ok for women to dress with little or no clothes on. I don't watch movies where women dress like this, I don't eat at Hooters, I don't read Sports Illustrated b/cause of their swimsuit issues.

It's hard enough for a man to keep his mind on things pure and holy, without having to worry about looking at someone else's wife's or daughters' overexposed cleavage or accidently identifying the color of their underpants because the skirt or dress they choose to wear does not properly cover their bodies in a modest fasion. (Esp. at church)

Mr. E said...

I forgot to say last comment, that Idon't judge others by the way they dress at church. It's not my place to do so. If I do, then I am just as wrong as if I decided to lust after someone because of their dress. God welcomes all of his children to Him. After all He will run to meet us (like the lost son in Luke) no matter what we look like. As long as God is being praised, then I can look past lots of things.

Macca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Macca said...

Ok, at first, I'll admit that I had a standard Puritanical response to the thread. Then I realized that how our women dress the other 6 days of the week doesn't really affect us much, so I voluntarily branded myself as a hypocrite.

For your point of reference I grew up in a ridiculously-conservative Apostolic/Pentecostal background. That meant that women were not allowed to wear makeup, cut their hear, or wear pants of any kind. Men wore crew cuts, and sometimes mullets if their women would let them get away with it. Cleavage? Fuggeddabouddit. Cleavage to us was what a butcher did to meat.

So just so you know, I'm in the process of getting de-programmed from that nonsense.

On the other hand, I fought many modesty wars, most of them pointless, in the ministry. I have dealt with the "bulging twins" popping out of a skin-tight dress. I have rolled my eyes at a pastor's request that no "knees" be visible. And I come to the bottom line- what's modest in our culture, really? It's kind of subjective.

I've seen how new believers and seekers were driven away from the church because more than one "well-meaning" brother or sister informed them that "Christians don't dress that way." I've also counseled Christian men who struggle with lust. Lampooning either of them isn't productive. And we who are "enlightened" to appreciate the beauty of the fairer sex without sinning should think about those who struggle with such issues.

I don't know if covering boobies and cheeks in the first-century church was much of an issue. I would imagine that the only people who might dress that way would be immediately identified as a pagan or a prostitute. What I DO know, however, is that Paul was emphatic that our "freedom" should never cause another to stumble (see I Cor. 10, whole chapter).

I slept through most of my Broadcasting Law class at WKU, but I did wake up long enough to realize that the FCC struggled long and hard to define obscenity ( And what I take away from their decision made by minds much brighter than ours is that inappropriate material is subject to three criteria: 1. Does it violate community standards? 2. Does it define sexual conduct? and 3. Does the material lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value? I guess that we're not the only ones that struggled with what's appropriate.

In the end, most of our sisters in church are not dressing to incite a "rise in the Levi's." Their dress is probably not meant to flaunt sexuality. We who have "conquered our sexuality" (some sarcasm included there) should probably be able to overcome and not be scandalized by the cleavage-bearing hot chick young enough to be our daughter.

But still, something in me thinks that a level of self-restraint in dress is not a bad thing. I guess I haven't escaped the chains of my upbringing.

scott said...

I slept through some of my broadcast law classes at IU, but I also remember one Supreme Court justice saying "I'll know it when I see it" in response to what is "indecent."

And we've got the same issues ourselves. It's not absolute. What is indecent to one is pretty tame to another.

The people having a conversation like this aren't going to be dressing provocatively. The issue for me is if, or how, you tell someone ELSE what to wear.

Big Doofus said...

Sorry that I've been away for a while. I hope to get caught up a bit.

I'm just not sure what it is that we're debating here. I'll admit it, I do not need to be exposed to the "special parts" of the female body. I know a few guys that don't seem to struggle in this area. I'm not sure that most women have any idea what kind of affect this can have on men because they are not wired that way. I've been married for over 15 years now. I've been involved with youth ministry for ten years (not currently) and I even have two girls of my own. Women generally don't get excited about skin. Guys do.

But I also agree that it's difficult to tell people when they violate the sacred dress code. It's probably best for the women to deal with the women when it comes to this and it must be done in a very fragile matter.

Joe B said...

Bill aptly skewered me above on a point that is obvious enough. Of course i do believe that there are standards of appropriate dress.

But I will also say that worldly dress is not so bad. We love to act as though "sinners" run around naked. But they don't. They don't want to go naked, so they wear clothes. Their women dress almost like ours, and the differences are mainly symbolic, not substantial.

Look, I see some really cute stuff out there. And it makes me go "Hmmmmm." Okay? But it passes. They walk on by, and I say "Good job, God." And it washes off. Sometimes cupid's arrow hits me deeper, but that washes off too.

I say the root problem is guilt, not arousal. Arousal washes off like sugar off a teflon pan. But when you're covered with guilt it's like wearing a velour suit in a chicken coop--you will not be free of feathers until you lose the suit.

Macca said...

Big Doofus wrote It's probably best for the women to deal with the women when it comes to this and it must be done in a very fragile matter.

Totally agree. My sister-in-law, as a very fledgling Christian, was blasted by an "older sister in the faith" for wearing a miniskirt to worship. Sadly, to this day, my s-i-l doesn't attend worship because of "well-meaning" sisters who attempted to guide her.

Joe B said...

I found this verse that I think is dead-on central to this subject, Mt 6:22-23:

"The lamp of the body is the eye. Then if your eye is wholesome, all your body is light. But if your eye is evil, all your body is dark. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Green's Literal Translation)

I know this verse sounds strange and opaque, but here is my commentary on it. The "eye" is your outlook, more or less. Do you look at that cute rear end with evil intent? Are you cursing that kid by wishing evil things upon her? Adultery? Sin? Debauchery? If so, what you see fills you with darkness--you become the evil you project with your eye. But on the other hand, when you see that pretty rack, are you blessing what you see? Is this a child of God? Do you wish her life and peace? Is this God's handiwork? Is this another man's bride? Is this where babies come from, the hope of humanity? If your eye is wholesome, your whole body will be full of light. The goodness you project with your eye becomes what you are inside.

If you are full of blessing, and if you project that blessing in your outlook upon God's little hotties, you'll be fine! I do not care if your brow sweats a little. Chill! God has trusted you with all things, just be cool with his stuff.

It goes back to LOVE, "for to love thy neighbor is the sum of the law." That chick in the size 7 jeans is God's child, and in that regard she is no different than your best friend's pretty daughter. He's proud of her, and you're captivated by her smile. You both know she's hot...but he does not hate you for it. Just do right by him. Bless and do not curse with your eye. "God's face will shine upon thee and give thee peace."

It kills me to see my brothers agonizing over "lust", when I think that they are really usually just wrestling over ghosts of guilt. They see a beautiful thing and feel a glow inside, so they think it is a sin and they hate themselves because they like it. I find it sad and frustrating because that cycle drives men away from God in guilt and resentment. It taints the soul. And it paints God as a bit of a psycho.

Laura said...

I feel a little outnumbered here....

That said, I wanted to chime in from a bit different perspective. I grew up make-up, no jewelry, dresses only, must-be-3-inches-below-the-knee dresses...I was steeped in the idea that modesty is always the woman's responsibility, because the poor guys couldn't help themselves.

Then I grew up, and married a wonderful guy who has aided my recovery...

I have always been bothered by the dichotemy that exists...that somehow what is worn during the week doesn't matter, as long as I dress like a frump on Sunday morning, so I don't harm those poor guys who happen to attend church with me.

I thought Christianity was about a relationship...and that the other peripheral things would follow, as long as my relationship with God was growing. I think that I am only responsible for where I am in relationship with God, and not so responsible for all of the responses of those surrounding me. However, as has been noted, there has to be some sensitivity and openness to correction.

Now that I have a teenaged daughter, and am on the verge of being considered one of the "older woment" (horrors!), I think that maybe some teaching needs to happen for the older women to know how to approach the younger sensitivity and love, so as to not drive away the young, new believer. I have also come across some grandmothers who need to hear the same talk about their dress...

All of this is my opinion, and may not be very organized...this is a subject that has bothered me for quite a few years. Thank you for addressing the subject!

Joe B said...

Thanks for commenting, Laura! I hope you stay with the discussion on The Code and The Code II.

But I looked at your photo and I think you need to lengthen those sleeves a wee bit...


Libby said...

Thanks for writing this.