The Optimist of Aug. 30 calls for someone, either an administrator or faculty member, to explain the reasons behind ACU’s dress code so that the students will at least understand why it was created in the first place. This is a reasonable request. Although I have only been at ACU for two years and was not around when the rules were written, I believe I can speak to this issue.
The university handbook states that all students, staff, and faculty are expected to dress with Christian appropriateness; this sentence pilots all the rest of the guidelines that follow. I think there is tremendous value in taking the stance that we as Christians can figure out for ourselves what words like modest, appropriate, and proper mean; that’s why Paul said in Phillipians to focus on whatever is pure, holy, beautiful admirable, etc., without having to list everything.
The Christians in his audience knew what these words meant; so do we. If we are pulling out measuring tapes and magnifying glasses to see how close we can get to the dress codes without violating them, we are missing the spirit of the admonition to dress appropriately.
Let’s be frank. American culture places enormous value on our ability to attract each other sexually. The dress code concern on our campus now can be limited pretty easily, I think, to clothing that exposes too much of the body. That is, I don’t think students are clamoring to wear shirts with vulgar wording or advertising for cigarettes and beer.
While nobody would argue against the idea that clothing is used to express the personality of the wearer, I would ask exactly which components of our personality are suitable for mass public expression? Should our goal be to wear clothing in such a way as to attract the greatest amount of sexual attention? While culture-at-large would say yes, I believe Jesus would say no. Maximizing our sexual appeal should not be the leading principle by which we choose our garments each day. This is not about causing our brother to stumble; this is about what guides our minds and actions.
Perhaps ACU is wrong for being specific; perhaps our handbook should merely state dress appropriately and modestly and be done with it. I will allow the administration to make that call. But in any case, I believe we are making a huge mistake to allow aggregate culture to dictate our clothing styles; we belong to a much more important counter-culture that calls us to live differently.
Dr. B. Cole Bennett
assistant professor of English