Growing up, I always thought it a bid odd to wear the Christian t-shirts with the various slogans on them: Got Jesus? in the ‘Got Milk?’ style, Jesus – King of Kings in the same color and font as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cup, and May the Lord Be With You in the same font as Star War’s ‘May the force be with you.’ It seems that for every product imaginable, every brand name, there’s a way to parody them to reflect a not so subtle Christian message. Should we? I don’t think so. For one, think about brand loyalty. I eat a lot of Reese’s (they’re gluten-free!) but I never think about the Jesus – King of Kings – Sweet Savior t-shirt. What if there’s a brand that suffers from dishonest tactics – would a Christian shirt based off of their logo be seen as a support of their dishonesty? Would it also not taint something of Christianity’s reputation?
What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD?), Fully Rely On God! (FROG!), and Pray Until Something Happens (PUSH) Bracelets were huge in the 1990s. For as little as $1.50 you can wear a visible reminder of your faith and hopefully a conversation starter about it. I happened to have the Rainbow WWJD bracelet. It’s still somewhere in my possessions. I chose it because it made sense to me: I cannot afford to buy one in each color to have them match whatever I’m wearing, but if I wear the rainbow one, then whatever color I’m wearing will match at least one of the colors and be complementary to one of the other colors. Turns out, most people with the rainbow WWJD bracelet ended up getting in conversations – not necessarily about Jesus or what he would do.
According to the research I have done, there was a day and age where you could tell what a person’s belief system was by the hat they wore. Centuries ago, particular religious groups had pretty strict rules about what styles were modest and which ones were not. Over time, the distinctions between one set of beliefs and another faded away. Some groups were lost to time, others joined another group and took up their wardrobe practices. Religion became about what was in your heart, not what you wore. What is worn can be taken off, but what you are cannot be altered.
Perhaps that’s why almost no Christian I know actually wears the slogan t-shirts. Like me, they might have them, but they don’t find that wearing them in public does them any good. (Mine are Christians Obediently Praying Serving, and a Star Wars parody featuring the opening scroll text: Once in a galaxy far, far away … they were ordered in a fund raiser to support the church.) Perhaps there’s a measure of embarrassment to them … Did I actually buy this? Did I think it was cool? Perhaps our tastes have changed over time.
Ultimately, I think a lot of Christians would choose to act out the Christian message rather than worry about articles of clothing sending a commercialized message. Some of the shirts are awkward given that they are a Christian billboard and so many times ladies in particular are told to avert attention from themselves lest they cause a brother to stumble. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that a whole generation that grew up with WWJD bracelets are the ones most likely to flee the commercialized mega-church.
But I don’t think that having a tradition of wearing ‘Sunday Best’ is that much better. It’s all to easy to dress the part of a Christian. I remember one story about a young man who loved wearing suits to church – he looked forward to it more than anything. As he got older, he realized that he had been lying to God, showing up in his best, but hiding the worst below the surface. He was reading about the Pharisees when he came across the description of the white-washed tombs … pure and beautiful on the outside but dead and dirty inside. When he came to Jesus again, not in his ‘Sunday Best’ but as himself he felt like had been genuinely given a second chance. As for me, buying a whole new wardrobe for the purpose of going to church seems like a poor use of my resources. I do have some dress up clothes, but I never feel like me when I wear them. I can’t come as I am to worship when my wardrobe makes me feel like somebody else. So I was the odd one out that wore a t-shirt and jeans and Easter Sunday.
Christianity suffers from time to time from extreme legalism – some denominations take it to a whole new level while others manage to avoid it. Modesty teachings are one such example. Many young women are given extra rules to follow in deciding what to wear. The message is pretty simple: women are to be modest, cover up, and hide themselves – men not so much. One young woman said that she was told that she had to wear a t-shirt over her bathing suit at a church swimming outing, but that they boys didn’t have to. The church was far more worried about how the girls outfits would make the boys feel than how the boys lack of outfits would make the girls feel.
Truth is, one cannot measure holiness by the length of one’s trousers, capris, or shorts. Salvation is not decided by the degree of how much skin is covered up. Most young ladies are at the mercy of the fashion industry – if they decide that the color this week is fluorescent orange and green and pastel blue the next, that’s what they mass produce. Most of them aren’t familiar with these modesty rules and the ones that are choose to ignore them (you can when you aren’t Christians). So it’s not uncommon to see summer fashions getting shorter, tighter, and smaller a swell as more eye-catching; ‘look at me pull off this look’ and it’s almost impossible to find a modest wardrobe under these conditions. The debate is even worse online: “I won’t wear x because y” “Shouldn’t guys be taught to restrain themselves?” “I don’t see the harm in it.” “It makes me feel …” It’s a ruthless battle that rages on endlessly on countless blogs.
Then I remember something I learned from River on Firefly; “People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.” Christianity is meddlesome in just the same way. We tend to get caught up on the rules and forget to be truly Christians in our hearts. This is what I do know: the pharisees wore the right clothes but it wasn’t enough to keep their hearts right. Perhaps it’s not about what we wear but who we are.