Stop dressing so tacky for church…

Tacky Dress-Church 2

Dress, manners and morals.  Isn’t it possible that we’ve lost something in our current culture of casual?  Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that, with casual as an almost universal guiding principle, we live in an age of “sloppy dress, sloppy manners, and sloppy morals.”


Take the area of dress.  There’s recently been a small but thoughtful chorus expressing concern about dress at school, at work, at public events, and in the church.


John Blake, writing on CNN’s Belief Blog, provides a helpful overview: “People are dressing sloppier everywhere, not just church.”


The Saturday morning supermarket shopper still in her slippers and rollers at the checkout.


Teenagers slouching around with their jeans sagging over the butt-cheeks.


Casual Fridays has morphed into casual every day and even tech tycoons like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wear bland T-shirts during public presentations.


But the focus of Blake’s article is the church:  “Stop dressing so tacky for church.”  He begins by recounting the experience of New England pastor John DeBonville.


DeBonville has heard about the “come as you are” approach to dressing down for Sunday service, but he says the Sabbath is getting too sloppy.


When he scans the pews of churches, DeBonville sees rows of people dressed in their Sunday worst. They saunter into church in baggy shorts, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes and grubby T-shirts. Some even slide into the pews carrying coffee in plastic foam containers as if they’re going to Starbucks.


“It’s like some people decided to stop mowing the lawn and then decided to come to church,” says DeBonville, rector at the Church of the Good Shepard in Massachusetts. “No one dresses up for church anymore.” …


Blogger Jennifer Fulwiler expresses the same concern: “Why Don’t We Dress up Anymore?”


The reasons why people stopped dressing up could fill a book. Yet Fulwiler offers one explanation that’s seldom mentioned – lack of gratitude.


Fulwiler’s revelation came one day as she watched scruffily dressed people board a plane. She flashed back to a black-and-white photo she had seen of her grandparents boarding a plane in the 1940s. Most of the passengers were dressed in suits and ties and dresses because air travel was such a privilege at the time.


“We dress up for what we’re grateful for,” she says. “We’re such a wealthy, spoiled culture that we feel like we have a right to fly on airplanes,” says Fulwiler, author of “Something Other than God,” which details her journey from atheism to Christianity.


Church is like air travel now – it’s no longer a big deal because people have lost their sense of awe before God, Fulwiler says.


Yet some of these same people who say it doesn’t matter how you dress for church would change their tune if they were invited to another event, Fulwiler says.


“If you had the opportunity to meet the Queen of England, you wouldn’t show up in at Windsor Castle wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” she says


Carl Raschke, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver, argues that clothes weren’t that important to Jesus or the early church. 


The early church was anti-hierarchical and adopted a “come as you are” approach to worship, welcoming outcasts and the disenfranchised who often couldn’t dress in fine clothes. …


Raschke cites Mark 12:38, where Jesus mocks the fine clothes worn by the Pharisees, a group of elite Jewish religious leaders of his day.


Others cite James 2:2-4, where the writer of the New Testament book criticizes early Christians for discriminating against poor people visiting the church in dirty clothes and favoring the man “wearing a gold ring and fine clothes.”


“Adopting a dress code would not only be suicidal for American Christians who are swimming against the stream of casual secularism, it would be antithetical to what Christianity sees increasingly as its abiding mission – to reach those who are marginalized and ‘don’t fit in,’ ‘’ Raschke says. …


While Raschke raises important points about pride, self-righteousness, and discrimination, he fails to properly address the culture of casualness.  Is the “church customer always king?”


[T]here’s a danger in making people too comfortable in their clothes on Sunday morning, says Constance M. Cherry, an international lecturer on worship and a hymn writer.


Some churches have embraced a business-oriented “the customer is always right” approach to worship that places individual comfort at the center of Sunday service, says Cherry, author of “Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services.”


“Many young people and boomers judge the value of worship service based on personal satisfaction,” Cherry says. “If I get to wear flip-flops to Wal-Mart, then I get to wear flip-flops to church. If I get to carry coffee to work, I get to carry coffee to church. They’re being told that come as you are means that God wants you to be comfortable.”


What the Bible says


The Bible says that’s not true – people had to prepare themselves internally and externally for worship.


In the Old Testament, Jewish people didn’t just “come as they are” to the temple in Jerusalem. They had to undergo purification rituals and bathe in pools before they could enter the temple, says Cherry, who is also a professor of worship at Indiana Wesleyan University.


Both Old and New Testaments suggest that people should not approach God in a casual manner, Cherry says. Psalms 24 urges the faithful to “ascend the hill of the Lord …with clean hands and pure hearts.”


When Jesus taught in the synagogues, he also observed the rules and decorum of being in God’s house, Cherry says.


Cherry isn’t calling for a restoration of first-century cultural norms, such as women covering their hair in worship, or a rigid dress code. She says churches should meet people where they are, and make even the poorest person feel welcome.


She just says that preparation for worship should give less thought to people and more thought to the divine.


“There should be some sort of approach to God that will include certain steps to honor the God that is not our buddy but fully The Other,” she says.


Others back up Cherry’s call to keep the Sabbath special. Dressing up really makes a difference on Sunday, they say. … “It actually sets the Sabbath apart from every other day.”





Stop dressing so tacky for church” by John Blake.


Clothing Matters: What We Wear to Church: Why what we put on may be more important than we think” by Duane Litfin, former president of Wheaton College.

Why Don’t We Dress up Anymore?” by Jennifer Fulwiler.

On the Coarseness of our culture and what we have lost, as illustrated in a commercial” by Msgr. Charles Pope.

Sloppiness in School, Sloppiness at Work” by Mary Morrison.

Decline of Manners by Jessica Smoot.




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