What the Oval Office and the Church Have In Common

Shirt, Tie, & Jacket

The Essentials? Shirt, Tie, & Jacket.

Much has been said over the last several days about what is and is not proper attire for the Oval Office.  President Obama has said that he wants anyone in the office to wear a shirt and tie out of respect for the Oval Office and all that it represents.  Some have criticized Obama for this, saying that his dress is too casual and that he and others should not only be wearing a shirt and tie, but also a jacket.

The whole thing seems somewhat amusing to me since President Obama seems to be trying to honor the office by his conduct and dress code, but it does remind me that the same type of thing happens at churches.  A precedent is set by a generation of church-goers and when a younger generation comes behind and acts a little differently, things can become uneasy and conflict can arise.

Don’t believe me?  How would you feel if your pastor showed up Sunday morning and was not wearing a suit and tie?  What if he left his jacket at home for the week?  What if he did not even have a tie and was only wearing a collared shirt?  You may not think much of it.  In fact, you may even prefer it if you are a little younger, but how do you think the rest of your fellow church-goers would react?  I come from fairly traditional churches in my past and I know from experience that a collared shirt is not acceptable.

What does a pastor and others need to wear to church in order to show proper honor and respect to God?  Should a pastor be expected to wear clothes that are different than the rest of the people in the congregation?  If so, why?  Aren’t we all called to show the same respect, or do pastors have a greater responsibility in this area?  I agree that we should seek to show honor and respect in our dress when we go to church, but who decides exactly what this means?  Who decides the proper dress code for church?

There are many newer churches that have younger congregations that have pushed against the whole idea of suits and ties.  The pastors of these churches often wear a simple shirt and jeans when they speak.  Would it be fair for those on the outside to say that they need to dress better because they do not honor God properly with their clothing?

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7 Responses to What the Oval Office and the Church Have In Common

  1. Robynne says:

    I have had this discussion a few times. As you’ve almost definitely noticed, I don’t dress up for church. Aaron wears a t-shirt and jeans and walks around without shoes on Sunday mornings. I understand the concept of showing respect through your clothing but, in all honesty, I don’t want to feel awkward and uncomfortable every week. I had to wear my “Sunday best” for dinner at the Monroe competition tonight, and all I could think about was how uncomfortable my shoes were and how under dressed I felt compared to the other candidates. I hate dressing up. I don’t mind going super formal, but anywhere between casual and formal is uncomfortable for me. Because of this, I feel like dressing up for church would be a distraction for me and would make me feel uncomfortable. I wouldn’t be able to give my best to God mentally if I felt that I had to dress up for church.
    Some people are more comfortable in nice clothes. I do not feel like we should all pressure each other to do what we feel is right. I think that however you personally feel you are giving your best to God is how you should go about things, and people shouldn’t be so judgmental of others.

  2. Tim Farley says:


    Your comments make me think of this passage:

    “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
    (Romans 14:1-6 ESV)

    Of course, there are also passages that speak of not causing our brother to stumble, which means we give up our own desires on his behalf. How would that apply to how we dress?

  3. Ben A says:

    Interesting post and response to Robynne’s comment.

    I had a pastor (he usually wore a collared shirt and nice pants) who did 1/2 of a sermon in formal robes and 1/2 of a sermon in tight leather biker garb.

    The point was two fold.

    #1: You can wear anything and be a Christian (early Romans 14 – all food is happy)

    #2: How you look alters the perceptions of others (late Romans 14 – don’t make my bro fall)

    There is a fine medium in there, isn’t there. The trick is that the balance for age 25-35 will topple the scales for 65+ and 15- genearations (and vice versa).

    We really need to practice some patience. But I think it’s okay to speak our mind so long as we don’t “despise” or “judge.”

    As for me, I think Obama is an idiot and I hate him. 😉

  4. Davo says:

    I’ve been to both kinds of churches, and for comfort sake I prefer the casual approach.

    I think what disturbs me most about this issue is that it can become an issue. I mean, really? What the pastor wears is the most important issue we can find to address?

    It seems like if this issue is a big deal in the church, then the church isn’t very aware of anything else going on in the world.

  5. Jeff says:

    Definately one of those issues that falls in the “majoring on the minors” category. (I’m refering, not to this blog entry, but to the entire issue in general). Thank God that there are a spectrum of churches and that people can worship whereever they feel called.

  6. aaron says:

    Honestly, is this worth discussion? I’m certain Christ wore a dirty smelly robe and cheap sandals.

  7. Tim Farley says:


    I wish it were as silly as it seems, but this is a real issue in many churches. Tradition can be extremely difficult to change, even when the tradition is something so trivial. Many churches get so caught up in these types of battles that they cease doing the things that they are supposed to be doing.

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