By John J. Duncan Jr.
My late wife, Lynn, used to tell me and occasionally would tell others that I still live in Andy of Mayberry days because I didn’t change. Although once she did say that it was probably good for our marriage that I usually wanted things to stay pretty much the same – that I was happy with the life I had. One day a few years ago, I saw in the newspaper that I had the same birthday as Don Knotts – July 21 – me and Barney Fife. When I saw that, I busted out laughing and thought, “well, maybe she’s been right all these years.”
One way that there has been a big change is in the way people dress. I think we have gone way too far in the casual direction, so much so that many have become sloppy in their dress even in public.
Of course, when I grew up and even in my early adult years, people used to wear nice sports coats and ties or very nice outfits to go to UT football games. Most even dressed up to fly on airplanes. Many times, in recent years, I would see people on the planes wearing shorts, tee shirts, and flip-flops. Some dress overly casual even in very nice restaurants, and I try not to look at men who want to show off their ugly feet wearing sandals.
The casual craze that bothers me the most is in the pulpit. I grew up in Eastminster Presbyterian Church, and ministers always wore robes when giving their Sunday sermons. They sure didn’t dress like they were going to a cook-out or on a hike in the Smokies.
I am certainly not opposed to ministers dressing casually if they are going bowling with a youth group or at a men’s retreat in the mountains. There is a time and place for everything. I just don’t think ministers should wear golf shirts, tennis shoes, or even jeans in the pulpit on Sunday or at a special service such as on Christmas Eve.
I guess they have gone so much toward the casual look to try to appeal to young people. But I think that some have gone too far and that they really would be more respected by young people if they were more dignified when preaching from the pulpit. Maybe these ministers are trying to appear younger, but young people need a minister they look up to, not one who is just trying to be their buddy or pal.
One of many things I admire about Pastor Clarence Sexton is that he always dresses in a very nice suit and tie when he preaches and even when he visits people in the hospital. I can tell that the wonderful students at Crown College love and respect Dr. Sexton. I don’t believe they would respect him nearly as much if he was wearing jeans, sneakers, or golf shirts every time they saw him and especially not in the pulpit.
I read once that President Reagan never took off his suit coat in the Oval Office. I taught American Government and Journalism for one year at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. I never took off my coat in front of my classes.
Many years ago, my Washington staff wanted to do a casual Friday. I knew everyone was doing that, and I am sure they were more casual when I was not around. However, I told them that probably 98% of the people who came to see us had either never been in a Congressional office or maybe had been to Washington only on a school trip many years earlier, and as a sign of respect for our constituents, we need to dress as nice as we could.
When I was a bagboy at the A&P, we were required to wear white shirts and ties. In my first two years at U.T., I was a salesman at Sears. All the salesmen had to wear suits and ties – no sports coats – and all the saleswomen had to wear black, brown or blue dresses.
I think the poor people in foreign countries who make our jeans probably think Americans are nuts for paying more for jeans with big rips in them.
Bob Harris went all the way through Chilhowee, Holston, and UT when I did and also grew up in Eastminster Church with me. He has lived in Atlanta for many years. When I told him about this column, he said there has been a “loss of decorum” and not only in the way people dress but also in traditional politeness. He said to dress nicely and to be polite was simply a way to show respect for others.