A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast

Episode 10: Church Dress Code, Left-Wing PCUSA, & Congregations and Climate Change

May 06, 2021 Season 1 Episode 10
A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast
Episode 10: Church Dress Code, Left-Wing PCUSA, & Congregations and Climate Change
Show Notes Transcript

Questions for the Week: 

  • Is there a real "dress code" for church? I was raised with the perspective that "you can never be too dressed up for church", but I know that's not true everywhere. In fact, if you are dressed up a lot more than everyone else, I think it’s just as weird as being the only one not dressed up. What have your experiences been like?
  • Some people criticize the PCUSA as being a "SJW (social justice warrior), left-wing political party". Where does this criticism come from? Is there any validity to it?

Special Guest:
Jessica Maudlin, Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care, Presbyterian Hunger Program

Guest Question:
Our congregation cares about climate change and wants to start implementing environmentally conscious practices and incorporating these themes into our worship services. Where should we start? | 

Resource Roundup: 

Speaker 1:

Hello, and welcome to a matter of faith, a Frisbee podcast, the podcast, where we respond to your questions and comments on issues of faith, social justice, and church life. Don't be afraid to write in and ask your question because of it matters to you. It matters to us, and it just might be a matter of faith,

Speaker 2:

Whether it be faith in God, faith in others, or faith in yourself, we are brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and Unbound, the interactive journal on Christian social justice for the Presbyterian church USA. I am your host Lee Cato .

Speaker 1:

And I'm your host Simon dude ,

Speaker 2:

Without further ado, let's dive into today's questions. Simon. Y'all , can't see this, but me and Simon are in we're in different places right now than we're normally at.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. It's a little bit of a change of perspective. It's really interesting to see a different , uh , zoom background behind each other. And this time where I feel like we've seen the same two walls for a couple of weeks now, a couple of months, maybe a year.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Simon is probably used to seeing my light records on the wall and I'm used to seeing a Simons . What does that in your background? Is it the calendar?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And that calendar is actually only since the beginning of 2021 before there was nothing there.

Speaker 2:

Perfect. Yeah. So we're in different spots this week. So yeah, a little change of scenery. Glad to see you Simon. And let's start with our questions for this week. All right. So our first question and it's about a dress code. Is there a real dress code for church? I was raised with the perspective that you can never be too dressed up for church, but I know that's not true everywhere. In fact, you are dressed up a lot more than everyone else. I think it's just as weird as being the only one, not dressed up. What have your experiences been like? What have your experience has been like?

Speaker 1:

Oh man. Well, my experience with dress code has kind of been all over the place. Every church and every congregation sort of seems to have its own dress code or lack thereof. So I guess the easy answer or not will not answer, but response would be that there is no standard across churches with regards to dress code. I've been in churches where a majority of folks were in t-shirts and jeans and churches where for example, guys were wearing at the very minimum button down shirts and khakis. I'd probably say that most churches have a bit of both, but I do want to affirm that it does feel weird if you walk in and are severely under or overdressed compared to everyone. And I'd also like to flip this question a little bit and ask, ask a different type of question, which is, who are we dressing up for when we go to church? Are we dressing up for God? Because we are in God's presence in a special way in church that we're, you know, in God's presence, more so than another places. And that's an interesting question because I mean, theologically speaking, God already sees us at our best and our worst and accepts us as we are. So do we need to dress up then, or maybe a better question would be, are we dressing up for others to show that we take this, you know, this church thing seriously, this faith thing seriously? Or are we dressing up for ourselves to remind ourselves that we take it seriously? I don't know. There's different reasons that that , that people dress up or don't dress up for church. What do you think Lee ?

Speaker 2:

So I have a very different, well kind of a different experience growing up because we're , we are we're I'm from rural South Carolina. We didn't get dressed up that much unless it was Easter. Now we can talk about that too. People get dressed up for Easter. I mean, it is something else. And sometimes it is based out of tradition, which I think is great. And I think that's something that , um, many people live into and, and that's just, that is just kind of what is a part of their tradition. But I also think it is an interesting question because right now where I live in Nashville, they call them like hipster churches, you know, like there's, there's like fashion. Like it's, it is interesting to think about why people wear what they wear in church. And , and I do think sometimes it is like, you are trying to bring your best self before God, you know, whatever that means. And , and for me it's like, I don't , and it doesn't necessarily end up being like khaki pants and, you know , uh , a suit or whatever. Sometimes it's like your most expensive pair of jeans and your most, you know, your most like rabbit, felted hat, that's really big, like those kinds of things. Like , and so I do wonder about like, what does that mean? And, and how are we viewing God through what we wear? And for me, that's, I feel like us bringing our best to God is bringing our full selves to God. So if that's your full self, then bring it on if that's just what you want. Perfect. But I do think, I do wonder about the performative part, but I also, I also have the question of like the dress code for the pastor. Like that's another thing that I've always wondered. Um, I am a pastor and I used to preach a lot and pastor churches and do pastoral care for churches. And I mean, I was one of the first ones that they wore that wore a short sleeve shirt, you know, to preach in. And that kind of stuff has never been something that I've wanted to kind of perpetuate. Like I've never really, there are some times where I have preached in the suit and sometimes I wear a row , but I remember the first time I appreciate like a short and I have tattoos if people don't know. And it was very shocking for people, even a short sleeve shirt, you know? And so I wonder about that. And especially with women or people who identify as women or gender non-conforming folk, who, who dressed to express their authenticity, like I've heard, yeah. I've heard , uh , some car against getting mad about the high heels that women wear and , um, all this kind of stuff. But yeah, the church clothes is a very interesting topic and I do think it really depends on, you know, like who it is. It's like, are you just trying to dress to impress the people around you? Um, church is also a Haven for dating and things like that. People have that culture in church too. I don't know if that's your experience, but I do think there is some, some of that in there too.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And I'm glad you mentioned what the pastor wears and thinking about, you know, sort of the standard that gets set for when let's say you have a newcomer or a visitor coming into a congregation or a church, because I think there is a question here for faith communities about what the perceived dress code implies to those visitors dress codes can contribute to a sense of being welcomed, or they can not contribute to a sense of being, or feeling welcomed. Particularly if a dress code is very high and let's say, I walk in under dress , there is a feeling of, Oh, I don't know if I belong here and it's possible to feel immediately outclassed or, or just sort of intimidated by that. But I , now I say that with a caveat that I also know there are places around the country where there is a culture of dressing up and looking your Sunday's best. And, but the thing that's a little bit different there is that that's usually, probably at every church in that area or community, it's sort of, it's again, it's about culture of the place and everyone more or less intuitively understands that. And so there's not guesswork involved about what, what people will look like when you walk in. So I think that that's a question for faith communities to think about as well. Would someone walk in and feel welcomed regardless of how they are dressed? Would their clothing be a barrier to entry or a barrier to feeling like they could enter? I think is something we're thinking about.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's a , that's a good, I just think that's an overall good kind of standard, you know, it's like, what kind of culture are you cultivating? Uh, yeah. I like that when it comes to how we dress now, I am one that I love, I love clothes and I don't necessarily like dress up clothes, you know, but I do, I do think having spaces where people can express themselves authentically in there and what they wear, because that is an expression of who they are and who they want to be. So, so yeah, I think, yeah, churches should be having this conversation. I mean, there have been conversations about fashion and clothes within churches for centuries and how that, how are we perceived in that? I mean, when, when ministers wear robes that big Geneva robe has a meaning, like stripes on the sleeve means something. And I don't, I don't wear the Geneva robe. I'm more of a slim lines. I don't like the big arms, but I do think it's, I do think, yeah. To talk about what that means , uh , within the inclusivity of your church, but I also love some, some church fashion, I think that's,

Speaker 1:

Oh, most definitely. I distinctively remember when I was younger and well, as you mentioned Easter, and some of those more special holidays related to church, and I was like, Oh, I'm wearing a blazer to church today. You know, like, you know , it's something special and it's particularly inter particularly interesting now with a lot of churches being virtual, because you don't have that sort of pressure or question related to dress code because no, one's there in person. So you can literally, as people have said, go to church in your pajamas and that's perfectly fine. And so I think that will be an interesting question when people do come back together, when we all finally do gather again, are we all going to be going Sunday's best from the get go ? Cause we haven't seen each other in a while or are we going to be relatively casual because we're really just focused on being together and who cares, what we're wearing.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Who knows, who knows how this will change church fashion? I mean, I've preached before online with like gym shorts and like a nice shirt, you know, like I don't, I don't know , um, what it will look like, but I think people, some people will really hold on to the hat, the church, ladies hat I saw online this older black woman who had a different hat for each day of this, this pandemic time and, and really held to that tradition. And that's something that's very steeped in the black church. And so, so yeah, some, I think it really just depends on where you are and, but my grandmother always was dressed up didn't matter. But , uh, but yeah, bringing your authentic self, how will that change the dress cut of the church? Interesting question.

Speaker 1:

All right. So really our next question is about critiques of the PCUSA particularly online and an internet forums and comments. Some people criticize the PCUSA as being a S J w or social justice warrior left wing political party. Where does this criticism come from? Is there any validity to it? What do you think, Lee , where does the criticism come from? Is there any validity to it?

Speaker 2:

Paul's um, I think that, that, if that is, I think if that label means that we are walking with our neighbor, loving our neighbor, calling out injustice, if it means speaking the gospel and walking in the gospel and following Jesus, then if that's what that label is then. Sure. And we've talked a little bit about this on the podcast before, but I do think we are getting continual mentioned of the church needs to stay out of politics or they've just become a political party. But I , I do think it's happening more and more often as, as the church becomes more vocal as they should. And speaking out against things that are happening. But the church as Christian Brooks said in one of our podcasts, the church has always been political and, and, and in all honesty, I mean, you and I kind of fall into the upper aggressive way of being in the world and specifically when it comes to church, but we also criticize this church too. And I also think there is a , another side of the argument is that no matter what this church does, the people on the left are just going to constantly being, you know, they won't critique the church and that is the complete opposite. You know, me well enough and people on this podcast and listen to this, know me well enough that I'll criticize it and , uh , and the drop of a hat. But I do think, but I love this church and that's the reason why I do it. And I hope I don't come across as like completely cynical about the church, but it is because I love this church and I know, and I, and I can see where it can be and where it should be when it comes to the gospel. But I do think it comes from some of it comes from fear. Some of it comes from just pushing down the fact that the church has always been involved in political movements, but so was Jesus. And, and I , I don't necessarily think there's, there's validity in labeling it as something that, that within the definition is just meant to be negative. And it's meant to be in comparison to right wing political party, which we've seen as mostly racist, white supremacist rhetoric. I just don't see. I don't, I don't see it labeling it as something that is just an opposition of what somebody is holding on to , if that makes sense. I think it's the gospel. And I think that's what we're doing. And I don't, and I hope people realize that first and foremost, like we are followers of Jesus first and foremost, we are, we are followers of a God that calls us beloved and create us in God's image. And that is the first and foremost thing that we do. Uh, we, we criticize all political parties, not everybody's going to do the right thing, but, but I think, I hope that people realize that first and we follow God and not Joe Biden or Donald Trump or anybody in a political party that is not our end all be all allegiance. Our end all be all allegiance is to God and to Christ. And so I hope people begin to realize that, what do you think Simon?

Speaker 1:

I think that in a polarized political and emotional atmosphere, it's really easy to point the finger and at anyone and say you are this and reduce issues and perspectives and to very simple concepts and try to put people into boxes. And I think anyone on any side of the political spectrum can be guilty of doing that to it, you know, to someone else. And so I just want to put that out there that that is something that is very easy to do in an atmosphere that we live in currently. And so I , I would really like to hope that we can get past that and think more about the reasons people feel called to actions and beliefs that they hold. Um, I think that this particular criticism of the PCUSA , uh , comes about because we do talk about justice a lot and we're overall a fairly progressive church. And we talk about all of that because it's important. And I think the criticism would be valid if we are calling for justice and not connecting that work to scripture and emphasizing how it's rooted in the Bible, because that would give the impression that we're just demanding something that fits our social political agenda and calling it justice, but that's not what's going on, or it shouldn't be what's going on. And that can be a fair critique of , of the progressive church as a whole, if we forget to root our calls for justice in scripture, and to say that publicly, and sometimes I think that is easy to happen because it's easy to get swept up in the emotional weight of injustices and problems in the world and just be like, Oh, this needs to be fixed. This needs to change. And then we forget what we forgot to mention that we were called to do it in the first place, because we were so busy focusing on the problem. So that's a fair critique. If you , if it's that we're not rooting what we do in scripture and making that connection very clear. Fair enough. You know, I'll take that now, if someone takes issue with the way that we interpreted that scripture and used it as a biblical foundation for our actions, that's a different conversation. That's just a wholly different conversation about interpretation and understanding. And we can have that at another time, but I also think that there's this sort of accompanying tone with , um, with statements like this , uh , which is that progressive churches in the piece, like the PCUSA focus a lot more on justice and issues like racism than necessarily on topics that are maybe more considered core to faith, such as salvation by faith or the importance of the resurrection. And I would just put out there, like you said, Billy, that simply because we're saved by the sacrifice of Jesus and the love of God does not mean we should not be trying to address issues and injustices that people in our world face. And I think I've said this on a previous podcast, but there's no greater way to reflect the love and grace that we have been given than to stand up for. And with our siblings, whether they be siblings in Christ or our human siblings, and to stand up and follow the Prince of peace and call out violence, discrimination, and any other issue you want to talk about, we have to live out our faith through our actions, and I think that's what we're doing. And if someone takes issue with that, I don't really know what to say, because that is all part of being a follower of Jesus. And if they have a different interpretation of that, we can have that conversation too. But I think that's sort of where this criticism comes from is there's a difference in understanding about what Christians should be focused on in terms of our work and what we're called to do. And we can have that conversation too, but I think it's, there's a little bit of validity if we don't route it in scripture, but once we do, I'm not really convinced that there's a whole lot more to talk about there.

Speaker 2:

It's all. And it's all about we as Presbyterians believe, you know, I mean, and we've said this before too, like we don't necessarily believe in getting saved. We believe that grace was given and that it's there, you know, like it's there, but it is our calling as followers of Jesus to respond. And as you said, reflect that love into the world. And that completely changes what it means to be a person of faith. If that is what we believe, not necessarily our job to be going and to , and to going out and trying to save the masses because we believe that's already been done and not showing any kind of judgment toward that, that belief. But I do think that it is something that is different in the piece and being a Presbyterian is that we are, we're constantly trying to, to, to see the world and how to make it better. And, and, and that is the job that is our calling is to really deconstruct what's happening. But again, I hope people don't think that , that we're always criticizing someone who was , who believed , who built is believing something completely different, but it is criticizing even with an , we don't have it all together . We don't, no institution has it all together. And I , and I don't want people to think that we're, that we are just a part of a political party and we're just going along with what's happening right now, because there's a different administration. And that is not, that is completely not the case. And because there are things that are happening that don't align with what we believe the gospel to teach us and what the Bible is telling us to do. But I do agree with Simon that sometimes it does get lost that this type of work is rooted in the spirit. It's rooted in scripture, it's rooted in, again, our allegiance to God and not, and not some like a partisan organization. So I do think it is important for people to remember that now we may partner with different people. I mean, we won't always agree on, you know, how those organizations are run or what, like, I just think there's so much more nuance to the relationships we have with people. And it's kind of always been that way. And so I hope, yeah, I hope we just don't blanket it and, and really try to understand the nuances. And I know that's not the easiest thing to do. My grandma said, it's, it's easier to make an enemy than it is to have a friend because you actually have to get to know people. You have to get to know , um , what that means. And if you're not affected by stuff that's happening in the world, if you're a person of privilege, or if you're a person that isn't effected by the choices that are being made, of course, it's easier to make statements that are , um, blanketed in some ways. And it is our job to kind of remind people of that and to really push people. And I think that's also a walk of faith too. So I think it's a lot more complicated than a left or right thing.

Speaker 1:

So joining us today is Jessica. Modlin the associate for sustainable living and earth care for the Presbyterian hunger program for the Presbyterian church USA. And we're so glad to have her to answer a question about sustainability. So the question is our congregation cares about climate change and wants to start implementing environmentally conscious practices and incorporating these themes into our worship services. Where should we start, Jessica? Where should they start?

Speaker 3:

Where should they start? Um, thanks for this question first, I would just start with saying you are in really good company. So I know sometimes when I talk to congregations, they feel like that they are out there in this desire by themselves, and it feels really big and scary and overwhelming. So first I would just say you're in really good company. Our denomination has a rich history of policy and public statements that support a variety of ways to care for creation, including addressing climate change. In 1990, the general assembly adopted a policy called restoring creation for ecology and justice, which calls our denomination as a whole to engage these tasks of restoring creation. The culture restore is a specific part of that , um, resolution. And it said that as a denomination, we recognize and accept that all of the ways of restoring creation are a central concern of the church and that we are called as Christians to incorporate it into the life and mission of our church. At every level, it says that we understand that every new initiative that we, we seek as a church to embrace and embody that there has this implication for creation tied to that, it also recognizes that the work to restore creation is not a short-term project, but it's something that really is a part of the life and the work and the witness of the church. And so it also approaches this commitment with real seriousness. And so we know that there is an awareness that as we cherish and steward, God's creation, that it enhances our ability to be the church and to achieve other goals that we, as a church set for ourselves as part of that call to restart creation in 2010, the PCUSA certified its first batch of what we call earth care congregation. So these are congregations like, like the , the poser of this question , um, who have committed to doing a specific number of actions every year , um, in four categories. So worship education, facilities, and outreach, and as part of that, the hunger program , um, really helped support and resource congregations in doing work in each of those areas. So a good place to start is with the denomination and with , with me and with our office, we specifically have created a guide called the guide for greening Presbyterian churches. And it's , it's created to be a rubric for churches to measure what they're already doing, to see where they stand in all of these activities that could be done. But it's also a really helpful tool for churches who are interested in doing more to see what else they could be doing. Um , in 2021, we actually just finished certifying for this year and we've certified 276 churches. So we are excited to see that so many people do care about climate change, do care about the work to restore creation. And we offer, in addition to that, there are webinars and resources that we work on as a denomination, but that we also help connect churches to , from other houses of worship, both Presbyterian and some ecumenical groups. We work with creation, justice ministries, has it been nomination that is an excellent source of , um, sermon starters and resources around specific , uh, church, important church, holidays and dates. And so , um, we collaborate with them and other environmental and sustainable living voices from across denominations to help produce those. One of the things like the scene's really simple too, but starting with the Bible. And if you are someone that you'd like to follow the lectionary, but maybe you aren't super good at sussing out. Like , you know, this is specifically an environmental verse or not. There is a resource called the green Bible by Harper press, which is an NSRB translation that has a focus on environmental issues and teachings. And it's anything that could be having environmental implication or connection is printed literally in greening in the Bible. So it's a translation that many, many Presbyterians are familiar with, but has that stand out to it ? We were also really excited to see that the most recent printing of the book of common worship has sections of things. So as you're planning worship, there are prayers and musical selections and liturgy . That's focused specifically on that. So that's a great resource. Additionally, there is a grassroots organization that we work closely with called Presbyterians for earth care, and they are a great source of , um , materials for preaching in for lifestyle things as well. We also have a sort of a , a mental or a virtual library, if you will, of lots of different books, that would be really helpful tool. So if you know that there's a specific issue that you would like to share with your church or do Sunday school or Bible studies about that we can recommend. I know one that we've just recently come across that I am currently devouring right now for myself. It's called the eco Bible and it's ecological commentary on Genesis and Exodus, and it's written by two rabbis. So it has a Hebrew lens to it, which I really appreciate. So those are kind of the, that's kind of the top level answer that I would share with that. And you know, if you are a congregation that you are looking for, how do you, how do you incorporate these things into the life of your worship? Specifically? I have found that already existing or care congregations love to connect with other people who are maybe just starting out that journey. And so that's something else that we can offer is we can help try to find another earth care congregation in your area that we could connect you to as well.

Speaker 4:

And so now we are going to go to our resource Roundup segment and Jessica is actually going to stay with us to offer us up some resources more than what she did and her answer, which I think is great. This is resource upon resource. We really need that. And so Jessica, what are the resources that whoever's listening or congregations people who are trying to do this work? What are some resources that are best for this type of work?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. So there are a couple of things that , um, I would suggest one of the things, if you are looking to focus on climate change, the hunger program has put together something, we call the climate care challenge, and you can find that on our website at pcusa.org/ccc . And it's a two-step challenge that we've created that you calculate your carbon footprint. And then you agree in the first step that you're going to do one thing on a personal level to change your carbon footprint. And then on the second step that you agree to connect to other folks and encourage them to do something either on a broader level or have a wider group of people participate in that. And so we have had, you know, that looks a lot different in COVID perhaps than it would pre COVID, but it's still a really great way to start those conversations with people about climate change and how we, as people have an impact on that before folks who are looking at not just your, you know, perhaps your energy consumption, but what goes, what goes into the fuller cost of the items that you buy. We also have a resource called considering our treasure, where we look at , um, the Luke 1234 passage and help Presbyterians as they engage a life of helping assess where their treasure really is and how they're spending it and what the impact on the environment is related to that treasure. Another really great resources, actually a partner of ours that I would encourage people to check out their website. Particularly if you're looking for statistics and graphs, a group called blessed tomorrow, which is the faith arm of an organization called eco America has been a hunger program partner for several years. And they have really great materials to help us talk about climate change, because we know that you can't, you can't talk to everyone the same way about an issue. And it's important. It's particularly not to lead with fear when we're talking about something as important as climate change, because really the issue isn't we want to scare you. It's we want you to understand what the implications are. So they have several resources called let's talk and 15 steps that really help individuals and pastors sort of create a elevator or a digestible version of addressing climate change or why we should care about addressing climate change. They also have a resource called moving forward. That's particularly helpful for congregations. And it's looking at how as a congregation do you become climate refuge? So whether that's, you know, working, working to set your church up to be shelter in the case of a nasty natural disaster, that's the result of a climate change event, or whether that's, how do you turn your landscaping at your building into a natural habitat for plants to help combat the impacts of climate change

Speaker 1:

In your area? So you can find those resources in a great many more [email protected] . So those are the three that I would start with. Well, Jessica, thanks so much for sharing those great resources. Uh , we hope that everyone will check them out if they're, as they're looking to be better stewards of the environment and to incorporate these important environmental themes into their worship services as well. So we'll have the links for all of those resources in the show notes for people to check out. And we hope that everyone enjoyed hearing from Jessica today. And we're so thankful that she could join us. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 4:

Thanks, Jessica. This has been the matter of fate podcast brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and Unbound. If you would like to submit a question for discussion, you can do [email protected] , we look forward to hearing from you, see you next time. Thanks everyone. See you next time. Thanks everyone for listening to episode 10 of a matter of faith, a Presby podcast, don't forget to subscribe at your favorite podcast

Speaker 1:

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