Report of the Dress Committee (Mennonite Church, 1913)
We, the undersigned committee, having investigated the subject committed to us as best we know how and prayerfully meditated upon it, submit the following:
Statement of the Problem
The dress question is but a part of the larger question of nonconformity to the world, and this in turn is an essential part of the great question of consecration. They who have yielded their all to God have, if properly enlightened, taken a stand of complete separation from the world (2 Corinthians 6:14-17; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16) and are no longer submissive to its vanities and follies. They who lack in consecration, lack in submission to God and the Church, and to a corresponding degree are submissive to the evil influences of the world. Here lies the secret of the problem before us. The commandment not to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2) is obeyed in its fullness only as the condition described in Ephesians 4:11-16 is attained. To bring the entire membership to this lofty standard has always been, is now, and will continue to be one of the great problems confronting the Church.
We look upon transgressions in outward life as evidence that either the transgressor is not properly enlightened or his heart is not right before God. When the outward appearance indicates that the heart is not right with God, whatever may be the nature of the transgression, it is both the duty and the privilege of the Church, working either as a body or through individual members, to do all that can be done for the restoration of the transgressor (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1). Applying this to the dress question, when the kind of clothing worn by members is such as to indicate that they are not submissive to God and the Church, the Church should—through personal work, proper teaching, and wholesome discipline—do all that can be done to restore them to rightful relationship with God and the Church.
What the Bible Teaches
Recognizing the Bible as authority in all matters of doctrine and of discipline, we naturally turn to it for instruction on the question before us. A careful study of the Word makes clear the following:
1. The original purpose of clothing was to provide for the covering and protection (not ornamentation and display) of the body.—Genesis 3:7-11, 21.
2. Conformity to the world is forbidden.—Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; James 4:4; 1 Peter 1:14; 1 John 2:15-16.
3. Bodily ornamentation in the form of jewelry, costly array and immodest apparel is forbidden.—1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4.
4. Modest apparel is commanded.—1 Timothy 2:9.
5. Immodesty and vain display in dress are results of haughtiness (Isaiah 3:16), vanity and love of applause (Matthew 23:5; Mark 12:38), a feeling of self-importance (Luke 16:19; Acts 12:21; Acts 25:23) ; while modest apparel is prompted by meekness and godliness (1 Peter 3:3, 4; 1 Timothy 2:9-10).
6. The Church is vested with authority in all matters of doctrine and discipline (1 Timothy 3:15 ; Matthew 18:17) and so long as her rules and regulations do not conflict with the Word of God (Galatians 1:8-9) her decrees are binding and her authority should not be questioned (Matthew 18:18; Acts 15:6-33; Acts 16:4; Hebrews 13:7, 17).
The above teaching may be summarized as follows:
1. Clothing should he modest, simple. serviceable. economical.
2. In the purchase and wearing of clothing, all extravagance and immodesty and vain display are to be avoided.
3. Christians are not to follow the fashions of the world. They are to accent the authority of the Church, rather than the mandates of the world. as to what they should or should not do.
What the Church Teaches
Our conference records show that the above Bible teachings have been recognized and accented by the Mennonite Church. and efforts have been made to indoctrinate the membership and to maintain church discipline along Gospel lines. We recognize that fashion abominations exist largely because of vanity, lust, commercialism, the love of the world, the love of applause, and the deceitfulness of pride. These influences must be counteracted and our membership saved from their awful ravages. To this end we recommend that a greater effort be put forth looking to a more perfect uniformity among both brethren and sisters.
1. To Members in General.—That all members enter into an earnest, prayerful self-examination, and in whatever respects they have failed they change and conform to God's Word and the order of the Church; that we all, by proper example and personal effort, do what we can to bring others to the same standard. Members showing opposite tendencies should yield to the promptings of divine love and devotion and conform to church regulations at least as readily as wordlings conform to fashion for display, or as members of fraternities and world organizations conform to their peculiar regulations in dress to preserve their identity.
2. To Ministers and Their Families.—Inasmuch as church officials are especially mentioned as "examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:3; Philippians 3:17), their wives likewise mentioned in connection with men's fitness for public service (1 Timothy 3:11), and their children have much to do in making their ministry either profitable or unprofitable (1 Timothy 3:4-5), we recommend, that ministers and their families especially "be in behavior as becometh holiness," worthy examples in purity, in simplicity, in loyal devotion to God and the Church.
3. To Ministers and Teachers.—That aside from being proper examples in simplicity and separation from the world. they exercise diligence in teaching this subject in a way that people will not only see what the letter teaches concerning. simplicity and nonconformity to the world in attire, but also the connection there is between this and a holy life.
4. To Brethren.—That they manifest their loyalty to the Church by wearing the kind of clothing approved by God and the Church, avoiding all things forbidden or testified against in Scripture (as heretofore mentioned), holding aloof from worldly fashions as manifest in the changing styles in the shape and texture of hats, collars, coats and other articles of apparel, especially such things as are manifestly worn for bodily ornamentation or because they are "in style." Brethren, as well as sisters, should recognize that they can not be conformed to the world and be true to Scripture, and their appearance should give evidence of such conviction and consistency.
5. To Sisters.—That they take the same attitude of loyalty to the Church and submission to the Word of God as that recommended to the brethren, attired as "women professing godliness," avoiding all styles indicating immodesty (such as low-necked dresses, short sleeves, gay colors, fabrics insufficient to properly cover the body, hobble or slit skirts, etc.), hair combed modestly that the devotional covering may be worn with decency and order. They should not only refrain from wearing any form of the bonnet which indicates that it is worn for display rather than service, but also from wearing any head-dress which in any way discourages the wearing of the devotional covering.
6. To Our Congregations and Conferences.—That they exercise diligence in saving the entire membership from conforming to incoming styles; that patience and forbearance be combined with firmness and strict adherence to the Word of God in their teaching and discipline; that they take such steps and adopt such measures as in their judgment they consider necessary and wise to bring the entire membership to the above standard.
We further recommend that this conference appoint five brethren to bring such further recommendation before our next meeting as circumstances may determine.
J. S. Hartzler
L. J. Heatwole
J. E. Hartzler
D. G. Lapp (Sub for T. M. Erb)
D. D. Miller
The delegates received the report prior to lunch on the Thursday session. The afternoon session was opened by singing, after which Bro. E. S. Hallman of Goshen, Indiana, read a portion of scripture and led in prayer.
After a brief but pointed discussion the report of the dress committee was adopted and the following were appointed a committee as authorized in the report: L. J. Heatwole, Daniel Kauffman, D. D. Miller, J. E. Hartzler, T. M. Erb.
This report, adopted October 29-30, 1913, was a response to a question brought to the Mennonite Church General Conference sessions held at Johnstown, Pennsylvania on October 25-26, 1911. That action read:
As the tendency toward fashionable attire continues to be a growing evil in many portions of the brotherhood, should not this body appoint a committee whose duty it shall be to investigate conditions, make a thorough study of the subject, formulate a remedy and report at the next meeting of the General Conference.
The delagates in 1911 took the following action:
We reaffirm the position heretofore taken by both the General Conference and all our district conferences in support of separation from the world and modesty in apparel. We believe that the body of our people are willing to cooperate in the work of bringing all our people to the Gospel standard of simplicity and spirituality. We recommend that a committee of seven brethren be appointed to study this question in all its phases and bring to the next General Conference a report of hwat they consider to be the best way to maintain proper discipline on the question.
The matter of dress had become of increasing concern in the "Old" Mennonite Church in the 1890s until midway through the 20th century. Between 1865 and 1950 the district conferences and the General Conference of the Mennonite Church passed 230 resolutions on the matter of dress, many of them calling for prescribed clothing. It is assumed that Daniel Kauffman, editor of the Gospel Herald, drafted this document.
Some of the divisions that took place within the Mennonite Church in the 1950s and later continued to include nonconformity in dress as a key issue.
- Report of the Eighth Regular Meeting of the Mennonite General Conference held at the East Union Church near Kalona, Iowa, October 29th and 20th, 1913. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1913: 12-13, 19-24.
- Gingerich, Melvin. Mennonite Attire Through Four Centuries. Breinigsville, Pa. : Pennsylvania German Society, 1970: 28.
- Juhnke, James C. Vision, Doctrine, War: Mennonite Identity and Organization in America, 1890-1930. The Mennonite Experience in America 3. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989: 130 ff.