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What Would Jesus Wear?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : July 11, 2007

imageProbably not a white robe with a red sash. It is hard to say definitively, but my guess is he wore pretty much the same thing every day–a basic, comfortable, durable garment of the sort common among 1st century Jewish peasants. My sense is, if He were to walk among us today, he’d probably only own a few “outfits” of a simple, comfortable sort.

The more important question, for us, is what ought we to wear in light of our call to follow Jesus? These seem to be the main impulses:

A) The Traditional “Good Steward” Impulse: We should save as much money as possible, buying thrift store clothing and, when necessary, buy new clothes from cheap retailers like Walmart. And we should use the money we save to support missions or tithe.

B) The “Relevant” Impulse: We should dress in such a way that is relevant to whatever sub-culture of which we are a part. So, if we’re ministering to wealthy kids in the burbs, we too should shop at Abercrombie.

C) The Progressive “Good Steward” Impulse: We should, like impulse A, buy thrift store clothing and, when necessary, buy new clothes from fair-trade retailers like No Sweat Apparel.

D) The “Who Cares” Impulse: I don’t think Jesus cares how I dress. He cares about the big-picture issues. And so, I’ll buy what I like, within the budget I set for myself.

A little over a year ago, I began to opt for option “C.” I stopped buying new clothing, unless I knew where it came from. I didn’t want to wear clothing made by some child in the developing world–or from some under-paid adult. Sure, it could be argued that having pants manufactured in Guatemala (or wherever) helps their economy; they only get pennies per hour, but it is still better than nothing. You might call that development. I call it exploitation. As long as Americans demand their favorite fashions at cheap prices, there will be labor-mongers in the developing world willing to exploit people to provide those fashions.

imageAnd so, I decide to only buy new things if I knew where they came from. I want to know the story of my garments–where the fabric comes from, whether or not the workers who make the garment are paid well, etc.

In Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, Palestinian union workers are using organic cotton to make t-shirts for a company run by an American Jew. For $20 bucks you can buy a shirt with a story. I think Jesus would wear one of these shirts.

If you are intrigued by this company, you can become an affiliate. It works the same way the Amazon Associate program does. For everyone who follows your link to buy their goods, you get a cut. If you want to buy a nice t-shirt, you can follow the banner to the bottom right and I’ll get a small cut. But I’d rather have you become an affiliate yourself, and spread the word. This is a good company that is doing things right. There are other great companies out there, for sure, but No Sweat Apparel is definitely a place to start your journey into buying Fair Trade Goods.

What do you think? Do you think embracing the Fair Trade movement is something Christians ought to do, or is it just a misguided liberal agenda?

What are some of your favorite places to buy Fair Trade goods?

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Comments

13 Responses to “What Would Jesus Wear?”

  1. Ben on July 11th, 2007 6:57 pm

    Really good question, and I like your break-down of the options when it comes to the “What Would Jesus Wear?” question.

    I haven’t made any firm commitments to do one thing or the other yet, but I have started thinking about what it might be like if, at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, I got seated next to the kid who made my sneakers for pennies an hour in a sweatshop. I imagine how crass and vulgar it would sound for me to say, “Hey, that was the global economy… tough luck.” I imagine that instead of saying that I would probably beg his forgiveness. Thoughts like those are starting to gnaw at me, pushing me toward Option C.

  2. Mark on July 11th, 2007 7:59 pm

    While from a pure humanitarian point of view, it may seem like buying from poor countries that lack basic human rights is wrong, it is a wrong assumption to think that buying from these countries is actually propagating the lack of human rights. According to Jefferey S. Sach in his book “The End of Poverty”. Jefferey actually says that buying from countries such as this helps these countries establish human rights around labour as the human rights are a benefit of having a strong economy. Additionally almost every country in the world that has moved out of poverty has had to deal with a period that is lacking in these basic human rights. I prefer the model of organizations like Mountain Equipment Co-op

    Mountain Equipment Co-op

    who continue to buy from these countries, but work with their suppliers to change the labour situation. Jefferey Sachs mentions a study he did in one country in South East Asia with sweat shop workers…he asked the women if they would prefer to go back to what they had before working in the sweat shops and something like 90% of them said no.

    This doesn’t mean that sweatshops are ok, but it is also not ok to assume that human rights are something that come for free or that lack of human rights is just due to bad exploitative people. Merely not buying from these countries is not going to solve the poverty problem but rather propagate it. I think it is time for us to begin to work more closely with these countries to assist them in improving their work conditions while still supporting their economies.

  3. Jeshua on July 11th, 2007 8:19 pm

    Mark, I appreciate your thoughts. I tend to be one of the option A folks, though I have lots of sympathies for option C, and lots of frustrations with option B and D folks. I don’t intend this as a defense of ignorant Walmart buying, however I have spoken with folks from those poor countries, and even the pennies per day they are making is important to their survival. So perhaps that should spur some other questions: if we were to successfully boycott the exploitation of foreign cheap labor, what would happen to those economies and people? Would it result in fairer wages or in disaster? If we make it a black & white issue of fair wage vs. exploitation, the answer seems obvious. But I would love to hear some exploration of the other issues that surround it.

    P.S.–my Mom adds that she thinks part of the conversation should be that Americans own way more clothes than we need. Perhaps we should not just focus on fair trade, but using less in general.

  4. mandy on July 11th, 2007 9:51 pm

    i totally value the fight for fair trade….. its something that has recently been brought to my attention.
    i wish our culture, world-market, and consciences were more suitable for this type of commerce…..
    unfortunately, the big brother “big box” runs America.

  5. markvans on July 11th, 2007 10:56 pm

    Mark,

    I’m not advocating that we withhold our dollars from developing nations. I think we should purchase strategically. There are great fair trade opportunities popping up all around the world that we should explore. And of course we should try to use our resources to promote justice, rather than simply avoiding injustice.

    Jeshua…I agree, part of our problem is that we need to confront our own desires. So much of these issues stem from our own greed for luxury goods. For example, the hunger for cell phones is fueling the mining of columbite-tantalite in the Congo, and control of mining has added tinder to the conflicts in that country. Our gluttony and greed need to be disciplined. We need to embrace simplicity as well as shop wisely.

  6. espiritu paz on July 12th, 2007 12:49 pm

    I think we should go a step beyond embracing the fair trade movement, which most often means to patronize it. I think we should become the fair trade movement. Somebody should be thinking of what fair trade Wal-Mart would be and look like and then they should create it.

  7. markvans on July 12th, 2007 12:59 pm

    Espiritu…I like it! You’ve got moxie!

  8. Geoff Holsclaw on July 13th, 2007 4:34 pm

    mark,
    good post, as always. and that dude is wearing my shirt. and I might add that ‘no sweat’ has pretty cool shoes too.

    about the economy, i think we should indeed boycott known rights abuses and instead buy from 2/3 world economies via consumer co-opts, fair-trade, or union-based factories to ensure a fair wage for a days work. Sure the clothes will be more expensive, but that is the whole point. in this way you can both send your money to developing countries while also not participating in exploitation.

  9. Anna on July 16th, 2007 9:08 am

    I take option C a little further by purchasing fabric (sometimes made in the USA or otherwise somewhat fair trade) and sewing a portion of my clothing. That cuts out a few of the oppressive steps. The patterns I create myself or buy from small designers, usually families or mothers.

    Buttons or other fiddley bits are more troublesome…they almost always come from China.

    Sewing fills in the gaps around Thrifting.

    ~Anna

  10. Geoff Holsclaw on July 16th, 2007 1:34 pm

    anna,
    that’s awesome. we jut bought a sewing machine and my wife is learning to sew. she loves it. Made me a shirt and a couple of skirts for herself. on the one hand it might seem a terrible through back to the 50’s when women were oppressed by housework (that’s one narrative), or on the other hand it is solidarity with and refusal to exploit other labor while also bucking the economy by being productive instead of merely consumptive.

  11. chris jones on July 17th, 2007 7:13 am

    tough question…do we think we can isolate ourselves from the injustice by buying clothes with a story…we are part of it…simply having the cash to spend 20 bucks on a “t” shows we can’t escape the problem…my daughter (11) is learning to make clothes but man the fabric is outrageous…maybe we should learn to live with a lot less…

    I tend to shop thrift and buy new when I really have to from wal-mart and use the extra to help Compassion International.

    does shopping at wal-mart make us (me) part of the problem ? I have wondered about that (even boycotted Wal-mart for a while) but then I think about the Temple system of Jesus’ day and how they oppressed the widows but Jesus and his followers hung out there and participated. so did the early church…

  12. Anna on July 17th, 2007 9:06 am

    Geoff,

    Exploitation, Hah! Try telling that to my radical egalitarian mother who sews quilts and baby clothes! I inherited my sewing machine and serger from her. ;)
    I strongly suggest reading The Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who illustrates the “Alternative Feminine Economy” of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in rural America. That’ll shatter a few narratives for ya!

    ~Anna

  13. tina on May 6th, 2008 12:39 pm

    Hi, I know that all the others have posted in 2007 but there is a question I have: Is there any scripure text you know which could help me to get further? I don’t know in how far fair trade and development policy is standing together and weather we couls not hely better by giving moeny to different organizations? Thank You, Tina

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