Okay, can someone tell me, is there an 11th Commandment that I’m missing? Is it “Thou shalt not wear jeans?” What if I braid my hair? Is that sin? Will I go to hell? Or to jail?
No, not hell. I can’t find that in my Scripture. Here, you look. But jail? Yes. If I’m Ugandan, anyway, I can be jailed right here at UCU.
On a recent Saturday, this is what happened to a long-time employee of mine who teaches dance to my children. While leaving campus, Moses was looked at, questioned by gate security, taken to UCU’s police post, then, incredibly, thrown into its cell.
The incident shows how far UCU has strayed from the original spirit of its dress code.
When my wife and I saw Moses behind bars, he wore neat pants, a collared shirt, closed shoes and short hair. But his pants were jeans and his hair had small braids. “Women’s hair,” a guard told me.
This apparently was his sin. Or crime. Or joke. Apparently Moses had also been rude. This, after the gate guard kept his identification card and led him to the post. Hmm.
The ironies are laughable. A nearby woman whose breasts hung out of her loose dress chided Moses. Security didn’t mind her. I, meanwhile, wore shorts and my wife wore jeans. It was a weekend, after all. We asked if we’d be jailed next.
In the developed world, this sort of farce would be on the national news. Institutions have no authority to jail anyone for their appearance. A university would quickly find itself in court.
More so, as professing Christians, we’re called to treat each other with more respect.
As debate on UCU’s dress code continues, let’s all, especially gate guards, also know the letter and spirit of UCU’s dress code – see Section 3.3 of the original code. It allows for casual dress on campus in off-hours. In fact, it specifically allows “jeans, t-shirts, sleeveless blouses, capris and sports caps” during these times.
No, UCU’s dress code was never meant to be a blunt tool to harass guests. It was meant to ensure that we look, as they say in Uganda, “smart,” while in academic settings like the classroom. It’s up to, more than anyone else, lecturers to ensure these parts of the dress code are respected while in these sessions.
Instead, with new so-called training recently, guards have harassed and even barred casually-dressed people: often guests and staff residents, often on evenings and weekends, often for wearing something as innocent as jeans. How bizarre, as if Satan himself wears jeans.
Or, what if Jesus showed up in long hair and jeans and sandals at UCU’s gate? I suspect He’d also be refused entry.
Then Jesus would call UCU a place of “white washed tombs.” He’d add, “You look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
This, after all, is what Jesus said to religious leaders who just didn’t get it, who didn’t understand that God is not about heavy rules, but a deeper freedom.
It’s all something for us to ponder, especially those of us who believe that pushing formal wear will somehow stop sexual promiscuity and other harmful behaviour at UCU. Why? Because these things – challenges at any university – grow in one’s heart, not appearance.
Now we’re left with this. Not that UCU is the only school in the world with a dress code. It’s not. It’s just likely the only one with the shameful distinction of putting casually-dressed guests behind bars. What a disgrace. And a wake-up call.
I can still hear Moses calling out from his cell: “Christianity is in your heart, not your hairstyle.”
Of course, he’s right. Isn’t it time for some of us to lighten up? And allow both the dress code and our Christian code to better govern our actions?