Church attire: Where do you draw the line?

Shorts similar to the one in question. Would you wear this to church? (Photo found via Pinterest.)

During worship service at church today, a woman slipped in to the pew in front of where I was seated with my parents. What drew the eyes of most of the nearby seated churchgoers to her was not her late arrival (service already started around 10 minutes earlier) but that she was dressed in shorts. The kind that’s a fad lately.

If I passed by her say, out in the streets or inside a mall, I would have thought she looked fashionably dressed (she paired her shorts with a sheer white blouse, gold hoops on her ears, gold bangles, and clogs) and thought nothing of it. But shorts during Sunday worship service at the church? That raised a lot of eyebrows, including mine.

I’m not a prude. I often go to church wearing jeans because I feel most comfortable in them. I’ve also seen some women in our church wearing blouses that’s nearly a tank top, and some would also come in strapless dresses, and those don’t bother me. But although I may be a bit more liberal than most when it comes to church attire, I draw the line somewhere and that includes shorts.

Granted that like everything else nowadays, fashion has evolved to the point where the lines between what’s appropriate for one occasion and what isn’t for another are blurred. College students show up for class in sandals and skimpy shorts. Jeans are now totally acceptable at the office. Some even wear leggings to work and consider it a proper office attire. A T-shirt under a blazer is also now considered acceptable work apparel, categorized as “business casual.”

But I believe there are still some good-old norms and traditional social ethics that perpetuate, and one of those is that you dress appropriately in the house of God.

In March this year, at the height of one of the hottest summers in the Philippines, Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Youth, reminded churchgoers not to wear “flimsy summer outfits” in church despite the scorching heat.

“I think the Lord deserves more than simply shorts and sneakers,” Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Youth, told reporters in a recent interview. Baylon said that if one could dress to impress a boss or a VIP, he or she could also do so for God. “It’s just a matter of propriety,” he said.

In 2007, the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila issued a dress code for its churchgoers after they received complaints that most of their mass attendees are not dressed appropriately. Among those prohibited are skimpy shorts and skirts for women.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), of which the church we regularly attend is affiliated with, has not formally issued a dress code for churchgoers. But they do encourage appropriate church attire. There is a Dress Code section in the Church Manual (a copy of which I found on Scribd), on page 79 under the section “Public Worship”, which states:

“Sensitivity and modesty are the keywords in how we dress during church activities, particularly during public worship. In general, dress to draw attention to God, not to yourself. When in doubt, err on the side of modesty.”

I like that – “err on the side of modesty.” That woman in question at church today did err, but not on the side of modesty. Anything that shows too much flesh is never modest in my book. And wearing shorts is also never a surefire way to draw attention to God.

Maybe UCCP should formally lay down official ground rules on dress codes. But, on second thought, maybe it’s better off just encouraging its faithful to err on the side of modesty. Issuing a formal dress code would give rise to awkward situations. Like, should “violators” of the dress code be ushered out of the service when we’re not supposed to turn away anyone who comes to worship the Lord? Should the church assign someone to act sort of like a “church fashion police”, checking out the clothes worn by each one of those who pass through the church doors? (For some reason, this one brings to my mind an old lady going around with a ruler on hand measuring the length of women’s skirts) And what would be the punishment for repeat offenders? So yeah, I guess encouraging its flock to be sensitive and modest in how they dress up for church is a better option.

The bottom line, I guess, is for churchgoers to use plain, old common sense (which I’m afraid is not so common anymore). Common sense dictates that any garb that shows too much flesh (legs, cleavage, navel) naturally attracts unwanted (or wanted, depending on the wearer) attention from churchgoers. Shorts is one of those that draw attention to your legs, not to God.

I know that the Lord looks not into what you wear but what is in your heart. But clothing matters, especially in church. It used to be that going to church was a dress-your-best event. That’s why it’s called “Sunday best” because that’s what it was back then, looking your best for the Lord. But until now, you still want to look your best when you show up for a job interview, right? Or for a date? Then why not for God?

3 thoughts on “Church attire: Where do you draw the line?

  1. I totally agree with this post 100%! I am liberal when it comes to clothing but i still draw the line whenever I go to the church. We are there to please God and to pay respect, not to distract people’s attention.

  2. I don’t attend a Catholic church but it is a church nonetheless. I don’t know if it’s an Orange County thing, but I remember my husband and I were shocked at how short a girl’s skirt was- we could see her tampon string. It’s very normal here. It’s not a bar, people, it’s church!!

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