February 26, 2024

Righteous Fashion Police?

Lori Futcher

There were many features observers could have noticed about the three teenage girls in the church foyer. They could have noticed the heavy makeup, the choice to wear pants instead of dresses, or the clip-on earrings.

But what the pastor’s wife noticed was that two of the girls were visitors. She introduced herself and offered to treat them to hot drinks the next morning. The girls happily woke up early and met her at the designated shop, where she had come prepared with cards containing getting-to-know-you questions.

“I was thinking I wanted to go to church there,” one of the girls enthused after leaving the shop. “Now I know I want to go there!”

I admire what that pastor’s wife did, but truth be told, I’m not sure I’d have the courage to extend such an invitation to total strangers. If you don’t share my same level of social anxiety and see yourself replicating this behavior, go for it. Young people who feel valued by church members are more likely to stay in church as they transition into adulthood, so I can’t overstate the importance of this kind of ministry.

But what if you’re like me? What if you love the idea of reaching out to a young person but just can’t push yourself to do something like this? This might be one situation where I would encourage you to follow the Dalai Lama’s advice: “If you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

It’s an unfortunate truth that for every story of an Adventist church member befriending a young person who doesn’t fit the mold, there are many more stories of those young people being criticized by our church’s self-appointed fashion police.

Chris was in his twenties when he and his roommate attended an evangelistic series at our church and chose to get baptized. The two young men joined our youth group and helped bring a dying class to life. But then Chris started feeling discouraged. He stopped attending. One Sabbath, he stepped into the church foyer to return a camera he had borrowed from the youth leaders. He was in the building for only a few minutes, but the interactions he would have during that time could have brought him back. However, he was wearing shorts, and one of the members took it upon themselves to chide him for his attire. We never saw Chris again.

Several years ago, I asked a teenage boy what he thought of the Adventist Church. “I’m OK with the Adventist Church as a whole,” he told me, “But I don’t like my church.” When pressed as to why, he told me it was because a greeter had critiqued one of his classmates for a too-short skirt. Even when the criticism hadn’t been directed at him, it had affected his relationship with the entire church body.

We need to remember that not everyone who walks through our church doors is already in a fully committed relationship with Jesus. Some are coming to find Jesus, and when they are met with criticism instead of love, they may decide that what they were looking for won’t be found at church.

One Sabbath a pastor asked his congregation, “What would you do if a naked woman walked into the church?” There were a few gasps and snickers as members texted their responses. The pastor received a variety of answers, ranging from those saying they would look the other way to remain pure to others saying they would give the woman a friendly welcome. But one response stood out from the rest: “I would find a sheet she could cover herself with.” Perhaps it is this kind of response the Bible is referring to when it says, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8, NIV).  Is there a young person at your church whose fashion choices are bothering you? Take a moment to consider what you can do to help them feel valued. In doing so, you just might bring them one step closer to Jesus.