A Cut ABove the Rest: A Lesson from Ruth Matete’s Dress

For something so short, the commentary on Ruth Matete’s dress is rather long. This post, then, can only come as a thread in an otherwise elaborate fabric of feedback. For those who don’t know Matete, or “didn’t see” her dress (no pun intended), she was the winner of last year’s season (5) of Tusker Project Fame. And last Sunday, she graced (or, as some think, disgraced) the stage in the finals of the just ended season 6.

Matete (as a friend put it on Facebook) was too long for her dress. Now, this is not a problem, or even surprising. Contestants and performers wear short skirts and dresses all the time at Tusker Project Fame. However, Ruth Matete is a professing Christian, and she even leads worship sessions at her home church. The uproar over her dress was that it did not befit (again, no puns) a Christian. The general feel of the critical feedback (from both the church and the world) was that Matete’s dress presented Christians in bad light.
I commend Ruth Matete for her prompt and “without excuses” apology afterwards, but that should not excuse us from learning from her experience.

Now, apart from the sharp and curt criticism, some of the more thoughtful responses have addressed issues of cultural relativity when it comes to modesty, and the need not to cause the weaker brother to stumble. While Matete’s dress may have been appropriate in certain cultures, some have argued, it was not appropriate for all cultures. They have said that this was not necessarily an issue of inherent sin in Matete as much as it was an issue of cultural blindspots. So we shouldn’t be so hard on her.

I agree with that argument. But I thought I should highlight one more thing that has largely been ignored. Ruth Matete is a worship leader at her church. Yes, I know that has been mentioned. Actually, every comment I’ve come across has mentioned that. But my concern is more specific. I am not here to adDRESS Modesty as a Christian,  but Matete’s office as a “leader” in a church  (for lack of a better descriptor).

Concerning those in leadership positions in the church, the elders,  Paul tells Timothy:

“An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” 1 Timothy 3:2

Ruth Matete is not just a Christian. She is not just a member of her church. She has an important, influential (and may I say, leading?) role in that church. And for that reason, her apparent “immodesty” must be taken rather more seriously. To be above reproach is not just about not sinning, it is about “not looking like” you’re sinning. It is about “not even a hint”. It is to be a husband of one wife in a culture where polygamy is the norm.

To be above reproach, as a leader in the church, is to live a cut above the rest. And putting on a dress that’s “a cut above the rest” is not one of the ways to do this — irrespective of the prevailing cultural context.

 This is how Michael Houdman, my boss over at GotQuestions, outlines the verse:

“The word “must” is emphasizing that this particular quality of being “above reproach” is an unconditional prerequisite for a leadership role in the church.”

Being above reproach is not negotiable. It is not to be excused. It does not “depend”. It is the reason many male pastors have a policy about counselling female congregants without accountability, without the office door open, without any other person around.  Houdmann continues:

“Similarly, the overseer must not give cause for those outside the church to impugn its reputation. Being above reproach means that no one can bring a charge or accusation against him.”

And this is exactly the response Ruth Matete’s dress evoked. Was it an oversight? Did she just not think about it? Or could it be that she was ignorant – her church leadership did not teach her – about the responsibility that comes with holding such an important office in God’s church? It is my prayer that we will learn from her failure, and that she, too, will be our classmate in taking that lesson.

One last thing:

“Above reproach, however, does not mean without sin. No Christian lives an entirely sinless life, nor will we until we reach the glorified state in heaven. Above reproach means that the overseer’s life is free from sinful habits or behaviors that would impede his setting the highest Christian standard and model for the church to emulate.” – Michael Houdmann.

For the fame of His name,


8 thoughts on “A Cut ABove the Rest: A Lesson from Ruth Matete’s Dress

  1. Its funny how christians are quick to judge, I being saved and a staunt christian I dont see any problem with what she wore… I wouldnt have apologised if it were me… and it is not a sin to wear a short dress… Why you are so quick to correct her and condemn her??? I cannot be stopped from doing my own things to save a brother from stumbling… why in the first place the exposure of thighs makes men want to stumble is another discussion… because again society has made it look sexual when its not… Much as I am a brothers keeper I will look good for me wear short dresses for me… if a man decides to stumble that’s upto him and how he perceives his sexuality that’s upto him.. & I will continue professing that I am a christian because I am & I am tired of the Hypocrisy with which my fellow “saved men” portray tired of the self righteousness there is… You must be a such a good saved guy… But then again the issue of good from bad has been decided by a mere man like you & by society… Far as am concerned I follow my bible without a care in the world what the rest of the church thinks of me.

    1. Yes Meg, I agree with you that you are saved and follow the you bible. I am a born again Christian middle age man, I love to follow the word of God not because people say it, not because my spiritual leaders read it to me, I mean not as a ritual. However, I can point out that you live as though Christianity isolates people from things that happen around them when they decide to follow it. Ask yourself, why did Paul tell the gentiles not to circumcise or do it at their free will? it is because Christianity did not isolate them from their culture. You agree with me that cultural standard are important in anyone’s life and its definitions whether it favours or does not favour you, will remain. So the judgement of the dress is as per the socialisation through which people have gone. On the issue of making brother to stumble by exposing thighs, I will just refer you to Galatians 6:2. Ask yourself why Paul tells you to carry the burden of each other. Be ready to present others holier than when they first interacted with you and remember Mark 9:42. Christianity calls for you to live holy so that people will not find anywhere to condemn you, to a point you can say “My conscience is clear.
      I will say, Christians ought to live a holistic life, they need to be close to God but as Paul says, we have an obligation

    2. Meg..if you have no problem with what she wore and claim you are saved, then I will conclude that probably you are the type of person that someone described as a “false convert”

  2. Interesting. Isn’t Tim 3:2 referring to overseers/bishops? None of which Ruth is. Not to excuse inappropriate dressing by those who serve in church, just to point out that there must be other more suitable verses for this context.

    1. Hey you. I had the same debate within myself when picking the verse. But I settled for it because of it’s greater point. I also figured that different churches “do” church differently, i.e. some churches don’t have elders or bishops in the biblical sense. I know of some churches where those who lead in worship must be part of the church eldership. In other words, culture has corrupted the traditional offices.

      So I went for the bottom line, that Ruth is not just a mere congregant. Hers is an authoritative and higly exposed position, and that’s why the prevailing instruction in the verse applies to her. Otherwise, we’ll have to abandon some Bible passages because some churches don’t have those categories.

      But I understand your concern. And this is how I settled for the verse. If it is way out of context, I am willing to take it back. Is my message still biblical?

  3. If only we had as much time to reach the lost, we don’t have to comment on everything any christian does. Lets led a quiet life and mind our own business cos truth is Ruth wont read any of this..

  4. As much as I agree with Cornel I think the verse is out of context I would go with the one for modesty which think is a factor of what is inside of someone

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