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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Does It Matter How the Preacher Dresses? No.

Recently an opinion article from was shared with me and some of my friends and colleagues; we were asked to share our thoughts about it. So I did, briefly. But I thought I might expand upon my thoughts for a wider audience here in the blog.

In the article “Does It Matter How the Preacher Dresses?” Joe McKeever encourages pastors to “turn up the dial a notch” and not be sloppy in their dress. For McKeever this seems to mean wearing a suit and tie – the accoutrement de rigueur for ministers (Protestant ministers, anyway. McKeever’s post says nothing of those pastors whose traditions would see them dressed in an alb, chasuble, or phelonion…)[i]. Ministers, according to McKeever, should dress up to “inspire confidence” in their congregations.

“It’s time for the preachers to look and act like the adults in the room.” McKeever says. “Quit following the kids and start showing them proper respect for the Lord’s house, the Lord’s service and the worship of the Lord.” Ministers have to look respectable and show “proper respect for the Lord’s house” or else be condemned and despised in the hearts of people like McKeever and David’s wife, Michal. (2 Samuel 6:16)

But I’m not terribly impressed by McKeever’s article. The whole dressing up, suit and tie thing doesn’t impress me the way it seems to impress him. The whole argument reminds me of the controversy over beards within Christian history. Clement of Alexandria called the beard "the mark of a man," and said, "it is therefore unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood." But the Council of Aachen in AD 816 required monks to shave every 15 days. Both beards and beardlessness were held up by various factions as the mark of Christian respectability. Who was right? Depends who you ask, I guess.

I’m also not impressed by McKeever’s argument that dressing up (in a suit coat and tie) inspires confidence so it must be a good thing. “It’s why the presidential candidates are wearing suits and white shirts and ties. … Inspiring confidence,” he says, but we know how much respect and confidence politicians inspire in us these days, right? Besides: crooks, con artists, and used car salesmen dress up in a suit and tie for exactly the same reason. Hitler wore a suit and a tie, too. So what? Good people dress up and look nice. Terrible people dress up and look nice. The suit and the tie is not a mark of respectability. Looking good does not mean being good.

I’m guessing that the itinerant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, who-unlike the fox with his den and the bird with her nest-had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58) probably looked a lot like the “hitchhiker just in from a day on the highway” that McKeever sneers at in his article. In fact, Jesus probably had no beauty or majesty to attract us…nothing in his appearance that we should be inspired by him. (Isaiah 53: 2) Yet he inspired the people to follow him. Not because he looked like he had authority, but because he taught with authority. (Matthew 7:29)

I’m not especially inspired by suits and ties (or by the Salvation Army uniform, for that matter, even if it is the accoutrement de rigueur of my particular denomination). I’m inspired to confidence by people who prove to be honest and caring. One of the most influential ministers in my life wore polo-shirts, shorts, and black socks and sandals – not an outfit to inspire confidence… But I trusted that man more than most; I trusted him because he was good man-not because he looked like a good man.

[i] His article also seems to be geared exclusively to male ministers since he never mentions skirts, dresses, or pant-suits…)

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