Torch Article: Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith

01 May 2019

Vanity – Thy name is clergy…

Clergy shouldn’t really care that much about clothes, or do they? Somehow, the phrase “clothes make the minister” doesn’t really fit the image. The public doesn’t expect their clergyperson to make a fashion statement, but why not? 

Although most clergypersons don’t feel entirely free to wear styles that run contrary to the stereotype of clerical dress, (always black shoes), there’s a growing trend that allow clergy to put down their begging bowl and become fashionably hip.

Once fearful of resembling the styles of the rich rather than the meek, filthy materialism has become tantalizing for some who prefer their garb not reveal their professional identity. And it’s mostly about shoes; actually sneakers.

An Instagram account recently popped out called “PreachersNSneakers,” showing clergy wearing footwear so expensive that it could easily exceed what members of their flock would shell out for a few months rent or mortgage payments. Walking in the “path of God” while wearing a pair of blood-red Air Yeezy2s, a sneaker made in collaboration with Kanye West, can easily run the parson upwards of $5000. It begs the question: Can a clergyperson look too good? Congregations surely want their clergy to be comfortable in their attire, but is there a limit to footwear that bars no expense? 

As a wearer of sneakers myself, I have often been chided for wearing sneakers to church during Jazz Vespers. My footwear didn’t fit the expectations of even laidback jazz lovers. Perhaps I would have gained some respect had I worn a pair of Nike Air Fear of God sneakers going for $500 online.

The conversation about what walking the talk really means has received quite a buzz, but clergy prefer not to go there. Nor do they feel they need to account for owning a $1900 Gucci bag or a pair of pants running for $500. They may have received the call to serve God, but there was no stipulation as to appropriate or inappropriate attire. Where does it say you can’t do spiritual work looking good? 

When pushed by a confused public, however, to offer some explanation, these styling clergy will appeal to the need to relate to millennials. Young people, they maintain, are opposed to traditional worship and traditional dress codes. The clergy have thus traded in their suits for leather, and their footwear, well, seems to guarantee religion as “cool” for young generations. It all comes down to branding, and hip clothes, apparently, is the brand of choice for future worshipers. 

So, I have my eyes set on a pair of Yeezy Boost 750’s that run merely $700. I am told that “prominent pastors” wear them, so if you see me with the fancy footwear, I hope you feel proud of your minister rising to prominence. Or do most people carry a double standard for how clergy dress, precluding a little pizazz? Is it fair to deny a pastor’s penchant for luxury, and on what grounds? Should particular lines of clothing be prohibited for the clergy?

A robe used to make life a lot easier for everyone. The clergy never had to decide what to wear, and the congregation never rendered an opinion. But these days, religion presents (too many) options. Ultimately, how hip do you want your clergyperson to be, and in the decreasing membership affecting so many denominations, will the right pair of sneaker bring in a new generation? TRG