This week Mike McKinney and I addressed a question we received on the subject of why we as a Church group have not been more specific about appropriate dress and grooming for services and on the use of makeup. We thought it might be helpful to share the main part of our response.
I would like to preface this by saying that I — along with some of my fellow ministers — have not been unaware of and are becoming increasingly concerned about a growing trend of casualness, immodest clothing and the use of heavy makeup, all of which have never been considered appropriate in the Church of God culture — at least not in any group with which I have been affiliated. I would like to re-emphasize proper grooming and dress, as has always been taught in the Church. It is fundamentally a matter of godly humility and out-going concern. The use of color and style are personal choices, but these choices should always be tempered by modesty. Coming to services unkempt, unbathed, with shaggy hair or dressed for the beach or a bar-b-que — or even coming late to services — are signs of disrespect to God and your brethren. I know that with meeting in-home and in smaller groups it is tempting to relax standards and be more in line with the way the world operates. Please consider this matter as part of your personal responsibility toward God and your fellow man.
On the issue of makeup: When Mr. Armstrong banned the use of makeup in the 70’s and 80’s he was reacting to its misuse and the wrong thinking it often brings. Makeup itself wasn’t a sin, or he would never have changed the Church’s position on it. The problem with makeup, as with so many things we do, is the intent. The use of makeup by ladies in God’s Church to tastefully enhance their appearance or to cover problem areas is not wrong. On the other hand, makeup that is sexually-provocative — which is usually accompanied by immodest behavior or dress — is wrong.
Mr. Armstrong saw a trend in the Church that reflected the wrong sexual values of the society around us, especially coming into the 70’s. He sought to guide us away from that kind of thinking. Thus he placed a moratorium on makeup. After getting additional input and thinking it through more carefully, he realized it was an over-reaction to the problem. He changed his mind, but cautioned us not to return to the values of the world. Again, some women took it too far, and he felt he needed to rein it back in again. Makeup was never the problem, but the misuse of it was. In too many cases it violated the principle of modesty. Mr. Armstrong referred to “a little, tastefully done” as a guideline. There is a growing trend in the Church for women to wear heavier makeup and brighter lipstick — a trend which mirrors the values of society. The Church does not endorse that, but nor should the ministry be put into the position of being the makeup police. We have not been negligent to speak about the need for modesty. “Do not let your adornment be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quite spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4). If a woman is striving to live a godly life, then these biblical teachings will resonate.
Some are confused about what the Church’s approach to makeup should be. Many use certain quotes from Mr. Armstrong, but fail to investigate what he said on the matter later or how the principle he was applying should be taught today. There are many examples of how correcting a problem doesn’t always mean a judgment set in stone forever. Parents seeking to help an irresponsible child may take away driving privileges from the child. The driving isn’t the problem, the irresponsibility is. But to get them to look at the irresponsibility, they take away the driving privileges. It can be a very effective teaching method.
In much the same way, the apostle Paul told the Corinthians that maybe it was better not to get married. It wasn’t a command and he certainly was not implying that marriage is a sin. But an unmarried person can focus differently on life than a married person does. At the same time, he said if you can’t control yourself sexually, you had better get married so you can have sex as God intended — in marriage.
“I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:6-9)
Our dress follows the same principles. Dress often follows personality. Some people wear more colorful ties or dresses, as suits their taste. God’s creation reflects the same kind of diversity. Dress, however, should be modest — not sexually provocative or revealing.
Mr. Armstrong never dictated specific clothing. He wore what he considered to be fine suits and his ties varied from subdued to more colorful, depending, I assume, on the occasion and how he felt that day. What he did say over and over is that Sabbath wear should be clean and the best one can afford. He did write at one time that if you can only afford bib overalls, then they should be clean and pressed. That is an enduring principle. Some people can afford better clothes than others. If someone in the congregation cannot afford a suit or an appropriate dress, it would be a considerate action for one or more in the congregation to help them obtain what they need. Some dress too casually because they do not yet understand the respect they should display in coming before God at services. Casualness in dress and conduct is a hallmark of today’s society and is the environment we live in. The young and new attendees need to be gently guided. We all understand things differently at different times. Society now tends to place more value on comfort over appropriateness. It’s easy for us to fall into that same trap. We can get lazy over time and need to be reminded of the respect we should have before God at His services.
It should be remembered too that we tend to judge others based on our sensibilities and taste. What I may consider “proper” dress may not be a view shared by others. Others may look at what we wear and find it improper based on what they would wear. But we are not talking about personal preference here. The question is, “Are the clothes that I as a lady in God’s Church am wearing encouraging wrong behavior or prurient thoughts in others — especially in those of the opposite sex?” The standard is not our opinion. The standard is modest apparel that follows principles found in the Bible regarding avoiding the creation of a stumbling block for others.
We should also mention here, since this will be read in various locations around the world, that cultural differences do come into play. What is considered appropriate clothing can differ. In the Philippines for instance, men often wear barongs (a formal shirt worn untucked). It is appropriate and practical for the tropical climate. On the other hand, Hawaiian shirts, certainly outside of Hawaii, are not considered as dress attire and are not the same thing at all.
We adhere to the same biblical standards Mr. Armstrong taught and attempt to encourage personal character building by having members make decisions based on clear biblical principles. Character is built by an individual making spiritually-based decisions. Mr. Armstrong would not have had it any other way. In conclusion, a quote from Mr. Armstrong:
“No woman in God’s Church should ever APPEAR “painted.” As we relax moderately on this question, women must be cautioned against overuse, bad taste, and the scriptures admonish women to retain MODESTY.
I have always said a woman should do her hair in a manner that is most becoming, in reasonable and proper modesty, for HER. Our women must avoid the overdone Hollywood glamour-girl grooming on the one hand, and the plain UN-beautiful eyesore “religious uniform” on the other. Both men and women should dress in a manner that does not attract special attention because of grooming or appearance too far from the average. And we should take a little pride in our appearance – not from VANITY, but to be pleasing to others” The Bulletin, 1974.
Marshall Stiver and Cliff Veal have returned to London safe and sound after their trip to Rwanda and Madagascar. (The brethren in Madagascar are wholly untouched by the plague, which this year has claimed more lives than usual.) It was a profitable trip and your prayers were very much appreciated.
Mike McKinney/Brian Orchard