The Bible has a lot to say about clothes. It may not sound like reality tv advice or the internet reaction to Abercrombie, but it has surprising depth on the topic.
“You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.” (Duet 22:11)
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Is 61:10)
“Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.” (Neh 9:21)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (MT 6:25-34)
And these are just a few of the passages. Why so much about clothes? I think an illustration about All Peoples helps shed some light on the subject.
On Sunday mornings all around our neighborhood there are folks heading into churches. From storefronts to 100 year old sanctuaries to brand new buildings, from every theology and background people gather for worship. And most of these congregations people are dressed to the nines. Men in fine suits, women in fancy dresses, the children in dress shoes that pinch their toes. Folks are literally wearing their Sunday Best. There is good reason for this. Church was a place to bring your best before God. Sunday go-to-meeting clothes weren’t worn to the factories or the fields, they were reserved for the day of praise. For the African-American church this was not simply an act of devotion is was also subversive to a dominant culture of oppression. In the context of European colonialism, the black body was seen as ugly; to honor the body with the finest clothes was a rejection of that idea. (There is a great article on this found here)
In the midst of this honorable tradition comes a corruption of that ideal – don’t come to church if you aren’t dressed for it. I’ve heard from so many of our members one of the things they love about All Peoples is that they can “come as they are.” Folks have felt rejected from other churches because they didn’t dress the right way – sometimes by the words spoken, often through the silent looks given. One of the folks newer to our community said, “If I don’t have the strength to put myself together all fancy, that doesn’t keep me from coming to church.” For folks looking from a sanctuary from the struggle, they’ve found a place where they can come and be embraced.
Clothing conveys a powerful message. To some a fine outfit is an offering to God. To another it can be felt as a barrier. Still others might see it as hypocrisy – like whitewashed tombs. And others see it as a way for disenfranchised folks to claim power. And all of this is true at the same time. On Sunday morning I look out and see folks dressed up and showin out. I see folks in biz caz. We’ve got folks that come in hoodies and people wearing the only clothes they own. My hope is that as a community we can welcome and claim all of these individuals and experiences as part of us.
Because in the end, no matter what we show up wearing to church, we have gathered for one purpose – to be clothed in Christ. “To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) It is not what we are wearing that determines our place in the kingdom or our welcome in the congregation. It is as we are clothed in righteousness, in what God has given us through Christ. We are no longer simply ourselves, but born again with Christ living in and through us.
At All Peoples we don’t care what you wear, because here we put on Christ.