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MUKONO, UGANDA – Okay, here’s a question.

There are two new theology professors at UCU. Soon after one starts teaching, it’s discovered that he spends significant time mingling with Kampala’s crowd of drinkers and prostitutes. The other new professor, who is the cousin of the first, then comes to UCU’s classes wearing dreadlocks, torn jeans, several earrings and a rather large tattoo.

Both are warned, but neither change their behaviour nor appearance.

So, what do you do?

Fire them, of course. And quickly. Now, what if the first is Jesus of Nazareth, and the second is John the Baptist?

It’s a scenario to remind us that appearances can be deceiving, and, as thinking Christians, we need to be careful how we interpret the many messages we get in life, including from our Christian communities. We need to clarify what comes from God, and what comes from, in this case, our Christian subculture.

It comes to mind in response to UCU’s new dress code. I personally feel the new code is a reasonable attempt to ensure everyone on campus looks decent, particularly those who are otherwise inclined to dress provocatively.

Looking “smart” is a trend in Africa, and it’s good to help prepare students for the work-world, where more formal attire is often worn.

On this level, it makes perfect sense for UCU to continue to set itself apart from other regional schools. We have something good going on here, and let’s continue to build on it together.

At the same time, it’s easy to misunderstand this new dress code as one that now makes UCU more “Christian.” It’s not. If you don’t believe me, wait long enough and you’ll see folks in heaven with ratty jeans, and others in hell with threepiece suits.

We need to be especially careful about leaning on Scripture to backup what are actually cultural modes. For example Genesis 2:25, 3:7 and 3:21 are used in the introduction of this new dress code, suggesting that from the beginning God has somehow favoured smart clothing.

In fact, these verses don’t emphasis clothing at all, but our nakedness. They reveal our shame over this nakedness, after our fall, after our sin of pride. They also note our hopeless attempts to cover ourselves (with fig leaves), before God comes to our rescue with more lasting coverings (animal skins), a prelude to Christ’s lasting cover of grace.

So God covers us in a way we could never do ourselves. This has less to do with clothing, and more to with – did I mention it? – our inherent pride. Even smart and appropriate clothing can be a source of such false pride, distracting us just as much as anything else can.

This is why Jesus told us to stop fretting over things like clothes, and look at how our caring Father dresses even the flowers of the fields. UCU has a unique role in Uganda, to bring God’s spirit and train tomorrow’s leaders. If it’s going to fill this calling, students and staff alike need to work through these kinds of cultural blind-spots.

Otherwise we’ll go through life deluded, thinking we’re following Jesus, when we’re actually following our own distracted ways, still thirsty, somehow missing the deeper well of love and truth that’s right beside us.