Us vs. Them

My goal in addressing the topic of dress and decorum especially while at church is to focus attention on the matter. However, based on some comments I have received on the postings in different areas, it appears that I may need to caution those of “us” who consider ourselves above the fray on this topic to refrain from judging and alienating those we perceive not to be in this class – “Them”.

In listening to people, I have come to realize that most of the time, people do not intend to dress inappropriately; rather, they are just not that intentional in their choices for church. I had one gentleman share that after reading an article I wrote almost a year ago, he decided to wear long trousers to daily mass instead of the walking shorts he used to wear before (not that these were “inappropriate” – he just thought he could do better). He claimed he wears them, even when it’s terribly hot, but changes out of them right after. What a great example of personal sacrifice and intentionality!

Others have asked me to address tattoos, piercings and wildly colored hair at church. Really these are more permanent and a form of personal “self expression”. They do however call attention to the body part that they adorn. So if someone is tempted to “read” the artwork on your body during a church service, it becomes inappropriate. However, if someone has two nose rings or seven earrings on each ear, while that isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I don’t believe it is disrespectful to God. Same arguments regarding purple or green hair, ugly boots or beautiful shoes – we who do not gravitate to these, need to get over it!

An “us vs. them” mentality can be a dangerous road to tread. When we start to believe we are better than others for whatever reason, we inadvertently open ourselves to the possibility of overlooking our own flaws because we are focused on theirs. Let’s face it, none of us are perfect! We are all the body of Christ and condemning or judging someone else because they may not be doing something that we perceive as “right”, doesn’t foster Christ’s love. Besides, sometimes we may judge incorrectly. A friend of mine had to wear a cap to cover a wound on his head from surgery. If someone had deemed him disrespectful for wearing it, they would’ve been dead wrong. Just because I dress in an acceptable manner, doesn’t mean I am closer to God nor does it mean I’m a hypocrite! Ultimately God is our only judge and we are reminded in 1 Samuel 16:7 – The Lord looks at the heart. Trying to understand the people that don’t necessarily think or act as we do; can make it easier to be more charitable toward them.

We live in a culture that encourages extreme amounts of exposed skin. (Remember how we glossed over the lewd Time magazine cover and moved directly to discussing breastfeeding?) As a result we can easily become desensitized and this becomes our norm. We thoughtlessly equate beauty with overt sexuality. Another thought process: “if you have it, flaunt it”. I was at the bank last week and saw a young woman in her twenties wearing a fitted tank top that was long enough to just barely cover her behind. I was afraid for her to move – she had no pants or leggings on. The older lady next to me remarked, “Hey, if I had a body like hers, I’d be wearing that too”.  Truth is unfortunately, I found myself in the same trap about a year ago. As a designer I gravitate to the “unusual”. Shopping for a bathing costume for myself before vacation last year, I found some within my budget that were what I considered “run of the mill” and then I found a one-piece that was very unusual and rather complicated (you had to figure out how to wear it). Either way, it just beckoned and I loved it! Regrettably, I’ve got to admit, I actually remarked to my daughter that at my age, I was quite pleased that I could still carry it off! Thankfully I resisted the great urge to buy it (not easily) because while I believed it was beachwear and it did me justice or vise-versa; it was rather provocative. In other words: I know firsthand that it isn’t always easy to resist the temptation to comply with what is considered very acceptable by the greater part of our society.

I am not by any means back pedaling – I still believe we should give God our “first fruits” in all areas – including dress for church. However, positive reinforcement might work better to further the cause. My daughter Michaela graduated middle school a few weeks ago and kids were asked to wear “church clothes” to the award ceremony. She wore this outfit (no, that’s not her).  Apparently her teacher told her several times how “sophisticated” she looked. On cloud nine, Michaela decided to analyze her wardrobe to ensure continued dressing in a more “sophisticated” manner. A little encouragement goes a long way!

When Jesus “protected” the prostitute from the stones of the righteous, He didn’t condemn her but He did set the expectation with “Go then and sin no more”. Expertly, He exemplified the Spirit of the law – with love. Let us pray for the grace to do likewise.

Marisa Pereira

By

Marisa Pereira is a mother, fashion designer, currently runs a Design and Image Consulting business in Atlanta, GA, is a freelance writer and volunteers at her church and in the community. She holds a BA in Fashion Design and a BA in French with a minor in Psychology and has worked in the Fashion Industry for over twenty years. Frustrated at her inability to find appropriate church clothes for her 14 year old daughter, she heeded God’s call, and created the stylish but modest, Michaela-Noel clothing collection, now available on-line. Having lived in multiple countries, she is acutely aware of the emphasis cultures place on visual appeal. She analyzes the importance of presenting the best image of ourselves and passionately insists that it starts within. She regularly addresses adult and youth audiences – encouraging and teaching them to make a memorable first impact but more importantly - to create a lasting impression. Her websites are: www.mpcimage.com and michaela-noel.com.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Ncusimano1

    Great article and I am sharing it with the youth pastor of the church I attend.

    I agree God does not judge us by our dress code but I am finding that people are dressing better for a party, work, and even the movie vs. dressing right for church.  We should be honoring him with our best as he does us.
     
    It’s my opinion we are dressy way too sloppy for church these days.

    Thanks.

  • Annie

    Thank you so much for your rational words. I agree with you on how we should dress for church, but I am more speaking about the part of not judging others. There has been such harsh judgment to many of the post, it was hard to believe the people were actually practicing Catholics. Some even saying it was their duty to God to judge other sins and change their ways. You handle this topic with grace and respect.

  • Ffarrell

    You are right to point out that we can dress better for church, and other activities, while not being judgemental of others.  Thanks for threading the needle (pun intended, sorry!) on the issue. Appreciate your articulating the concept of “intenionality”.  My daughter has that same outfit and looks great when she wears it.

  • Jsosullivan

    “We thoughtlessly equate beauty with overt sexuality”… This is only too true. I have noticed that over the years “sexy” has replaced “beautiful”. In magazines that used to do a “most beautiful” edition we now have “the sexiest”. Even commercials tell us thtat this or that product will produce sexy results

  • VB

    Marisa,

    I think we as Catholics have to be careful not to fall prey to confusing the distinct difference of “juding others” vs. “carrying out two of the spiritual works of mercy – “Admonish the Sinner and Instruct the Ignorant.”  These two Spiritual Works of Mercy are teachings of our faith.  We must not fall prey to “cowering” to those who claim the carrying out of these two Spiritual Works of Mercy is being judgemental in a non-Christ-like way.  The definition of Admonish means to:
       /ædˈmɒnɪʃ/ Show Spelled
    1. to caution, advise, or counsel against something.
    2. to reprove or scold, especially in a mild and good-willed manner: The teacher admonished him about excessive noise.
    3. to urge to a duty; remind: to admonish them about their obligations.

    In your many columns on modesty, you are carrying out these two Works of Mercy.  The example you gave of the gentlemen wearing shorts to mass is a perfect example of carrying out these two Works of Mercy.  

    However, on the subject of tattoos and body piercings, I feel the need to do some ”Instruction of the Ignorant” here as well, regarding your comment of, “If someone has two nose rings or seven earrings on each ear, while that isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I don’t believe it is disrespectful to God.” As you may not know, there is biblical and Christ-like reasoning regarding this very topic. It is the reason why Catholic Schools following the true Catholic Identity enforce a code of discouraging tattoos and excessive piercings and ensure that any that are in place, are covered.  Respectful piercings are permitted but anything considered faddish or distracting (such as 2 nose rings and 7 ear piercings) are not permitted. We can look to the bible to gain the reasoning for this topic:

    “What does the Bible say about tattoos / body piercings?”

    Answer: The Old Testament law commanded the Israelites, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28). So, even though believers today are not under the Old Testament law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15), the fact that there was a command against tattoos should raise some questions. The New Testament does not say anything about whether or not a believer should get a tattoo.

    In relation to tattoos and body piercings, a good test is to determine whether we can honestly, in good conscience, ask God to bless and use that particular activity for His own good purposes. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The New Testament does not command against tattoos or body piercings, but it also does not give us any reason to believe God would have us get tattoos or body piercings.

    An important scriptural principle on issues the Bible does not specifically address is if there is room for doubt whether it pleases God, then it is best not to engage in that activity. Romans 14:23 reminds us that anything that does not come from faith is sin. We need to remember that our bodies, as well as our souls, have been redeemed and belong to God. Although 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 does not directly apply to tattoos or body piercings, it does give us a principle: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” This great truth should have a real bearing on what we do and where we go with our bodies. If our bodies belong to God, we should make sure we have His clear “permission” before we “mark them up” with tattoos or body piercings.

    I think this guidance is right on. As a former military officer and father of five children, I have always faced this challenge regarding counseling soldiers and my children regarding the appropriateness of tattoos and piercings.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 tells us all we really need to know.  Before making decisions about tattoos and piercings, we must ask ourselves, “How will this help others see Christ in me, and be called to his ways?’ Could the time and resources spent on tattoos and piercings, and their after effects, be better spent?  

    God Bless!

MENU