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Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

21 May, 2010

Adamant Abstention from Adornment

I read an article which mentioned a pastor's wife who would wear her wedding ring at work but take it off when in a primarily Adventist setting. Somebody saw her at work and stared at her for a few seconds. Then that person had the gall to say, "Oh, I didn't recognize you with your ring on." The moment I read this, I about blew my top. Granted, it was in the 1980s when wedding rings were finally considered customary and then permitted. But the amount of condescension in that one sentence I highly doubt even Lady Catherine de Bourgh could have equalled.

In June of 2007, amidst what I now see was a very deep depression, I wrote a short story which became a novel about a girl whose life hit rock bottom. She attempted suicide, but through a Deus ex machina in the form of a kind upperclassman, she survived and became a Seventh-day Adventist. The pastor of the church in Lamond, California, a fictional town 20 minutes from Redding, was Noah Murphy. He felt using his given name was too sacrilegious and went by Murphy. He was married, but refused to wear a wedding band. When Clarissa, the protagonist, came to church the first day, the youth Sabbath School class welcomed her, but the pastor did not. The long, pink scars on her wrists, combined with the necklace she wore caused Murphy to shun her--and to shun her new boyfriend, the man who had saved her life. Later on in the story, he saves the two of them from a potentially disastrous encounter caused by heavily spiked punch, and later still he officiates their wedding. But even though I made him a good guy in the end, I still stereotyped him for a reason.

In the Adventist church, plainness is heavily encouraged. In the 1866 standards for dress, we were to be "scrupulously plain". Adornment of any kind, including but not limited to makeup, jewelry, elegant dresses, pearls, and so on and so forth, was outlawed not only by the Church, but by Scripture, citing a particular passage in Isaiah that was taken somewhat out of context. In my own family, the condescension produced by the Adventist church in the last quarter of the twentieth century has driven people away for forbidding things that were culturally appropriate, that were customary.

It seems that a lot of people view plain dress, and abstention from wearing jewelry and other adornment as requirements for membership, even as requirements for salvation. They are in reality teachings, not requirements. And I question these teachings. Why? They are so rooted in the keeping of standards as divinely ordained that we lose sight of the reason they are there in the first place. The reason for discouraging the wearing of jewelry, makeup, fancy clothes, etc. is so that we focus not on ourselves, but on Jesus. By judging people (Matthew 7:1) for wearing jewelry, how are we promoting the love of Jesus? By making sure that others follow our now irrelevant standards, who are we like? Read the Gospels and you will see that the same kind of enforcement was the pet control scheme of the Pharisees. If we weren't as flexible as we are, we'd have thrown out anybody who suggested that wearing a wedding ring was all right!

Another thing that makes the teaching of abstention from adornment seem almost Pharisaical is church attire. If we are to dress plainly, simply, without adornment, why do we almost require that people wear formal or semi-formal clothing to church? What struck me as the most hypocritical was when I saw in church a woman wearing a flaming magenta dress, sporting a sterling brooch the size of a golf ball, and wearing a hat which matched the dress. I was confused because I'd always been told wearing hats was irreverent. And aren't brooches jewelry? And what about that magenta? It attracts attention! Could it be a cultural difference? I still don't really know.

My sister has a pair of magnetic stud earrings that she could wear without getting her ears pierced. She got them for a fairly low price, maybe twenty dollars. They look great on her, and if somebody told her to take them off because they're jewelry I'd step in and defend her. Why? Because those earrings aren't to show status. They aren't to draw attention. They aren't gaudy, aren't kitsch. If you make my sister take off her twenty dollar earrings, then you should take off your five hundred dollar suit coat, sixty dollar tie and eighty dollar shoes because you, my friend, are no better than a Pharisee.

So again I ask, if we condemn (Mt. 7:1!) our fellows for wearing jewelry or makeup, what are we doing to further God's kingdom? Are we spreading the love of Christ or are we being legalistic, expecting perfection from our followers? Is it really a theological issue, or is it one of the last ways the Church controls their members? Wedding rings are fine in a lot of circles, but there are people, the fictional Noah Murphy for instance, that refuse because wedding rings are jewelry.

I myself plan on wearing two wedding rings: one that the Church will approve of and one that it won't. One will be a band of gold, and another will be a tattoo, a symbol of permanence. And will I want to hide the fact that I have my wife's name tattooed on my finger? No way! I would wear it with pride, reaffirming my love for her every day regardless of whether or not I'm wearing that band of gold. The letter of the law says no jewelry, no tattoos, no adornment. But the spirit of the law is much different: instead of focusing on looking good, we should focus on Jesus Christ. It's what He would have preached.

Your Brother in Christ,

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