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.
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.
“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,