A Gospel that Fits All People

Perhaps you read the news that trendy clothier Abercrombie & Fitch wants only the thin to wear their clothes.  For a long time retailers have included only the thin, thinner and thinnest models in their advertising visuals, but now A&F has gone several steps further and decided they will not even make clothes for people who are XL or XXL.  Actually, they do make XL and XXL clothes for the boys.  I suppose they still allow “athletically built” guys to qualify as cool – alongside the pencil-thin waifs.  But what about the girls?  There is no room for anything “extra” when it comes to the fairer sex.  By A&F’s standards, small and thin define beauty while large girls will need to shop somewhere else.

The decision by A&F to exclude the XL’s has led to an outcry by many, even those in business who judge the A&F decision not on sound capitalist ideals, but on simple morals and good taste.

Why would A&F refuse to sell their product to the large and overweight?  Simple, they want to project their image of “desired” (call it acceptable, cool, or whatever) not only in their paid advertising, but also in the day-to-day use of their product.  They know that each customer is a walking billboard for their product; and for a girl to be able to buy A&F clothes – not because she can afford them, but because she can fit into them – is now a status symbol.  “Look at me, I’m thin enough to wear A&F.”

We all want to belong.  We want to know that we are good enough to be accepted and loved.  The danger is when we believe we have to earn love and acceptance.  The danger also lies in setting standards by which we judge the lovability and acceptability of others.

In some ways, I’m glad A&F made such a boldly immoral move.  They are far more honest than most retailers, who advertise using only the thinnest models in hopes of luring in the dollars of everyone.  A&F is clear about who belongs in their tribe and who does not.  And unlike many high-end retailers, they’ve drawn the tribal boundaries not with dollars (Can you afford this?) but with physicality (Can you squeeze into this?).  Such a ridiculous decision shines a spotlight on A&F’s immorality, but the spotlight casts an illuminating glow on all inappropriate boundary-drawing, not matter who’s drawing the tribal lines – including the church.

A&F’s decision to exclude the XL’s has me noticing similar behavior among some Christian churches:

  • Churches whose postcards and websites feature only the prettiest people.  Like retailers, churches seem to think attractive people will attract people.  Such a philosophy might make good marketing sense, but theologically it is a bankrupt and gospel-void belief.
  • Similarly, churches that advertise with images of model families who seem to have it all together.  I’m not sure when “a happy, white-teethed family” became the goal of our faith.  It’s certainly not biblical.  In fact, I cannot think of happy family in the Bible.  The gospel neither requires nor leads to a happy and attractive family.
  • Worship teams populated only by the pretty.  I’ve often wondered why it is that ugly people evidently cannot sing.  Especially in very large churches, it seems that only the thin, attractive and stylishly dressed can lead worship.
  • Pastors who make a fashion statement.  Everybody has to wear something, so I get that pastors would not want to look like a slob in the pulpit (or on the stage, as the case may be).  But some pastors seem to take style to a level beyond what is appropriate.  Whether it’s a Southern Baptist preacher in a $4,000 dollar suit with $500 cufflinks, or a trendy mega-church star who looks like he’s ready for the catwalk in Paris, or the grunge guy sporting flannel and the world’s longest beard, the message that gets sent is, “You can trust what I am saying because I look the way you’d like to look.”

I don’t expect A&F to make gospel-centered decisions since they are a worldly business enterprise (although I’d be happier if they chose to show respect to all people).  I do expect churches, church leaders, and Christ-followers to be gospel-centered in all matters, including the messages we send through our decisions about clothing, body size, and attractiveness.  More personally, each of us needs to remember that the gospel does not exclude the XL’s.  The gospel of Jesus is for all people: the plus-sized, the buck-toothed, the fair-skinned, the bone-thin, the runaway, the well-kept, the addicted, and the average person you’d never spot in a crowd.  The gospel is for people not like you, and for you.

About Chad Hall

Chad Hall is the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary and also serves as a leadership coach for ministry and corporate clients through his role as Partner with Coach Approach Ministries and iNTERNAL iMPACT.

6 thoughts on “A Gospel that Fits All People

  1. This has to be one of my top 10 articles of all time. Thank The Lord He has moved in your heart to write this. An honest look at how our churches are so often trying to “fit in” with the culture. I’ve seen this way too often. And it goes beyond clothing…do you have the nice car? The fancy house? The outgoing personality? Do you hang with the in crowd at church?

  2. “They are far more honest than most retailers, who advertise using only the thinnest models in hopes of luring in the dollars of everyone. A&F is clear about who belongs in their tribe and who does not.”

    Not to be ticky, but that’s not quite accurate. Everyone uses skinny models. Everyone. And those familiar with A&F will know of their blatant (and extremely annoying) use of what’s called ‘vanity sizing.’ So for instance, I’m a solid 33″ or 34″ waist, and yet I wore a 30″ or even a 29″ in A&F. They lull people into believing they’re actually much smaller and fit than they are in reality. So it’s sort of misleading when they say no XLs or whatever. What they really mean is no (normally sized) XXXL or XXLs. Which a lot of brands have already nixed, by the way.

    Not sure if that really qualifies as “immoral” or not, but it’s clearly a marketing move to promote brand exclusivity and to let A&F consumers know they’re cool. Repugnant and off-putting? Sure. But a tempest in a teapot. This has already happened in most stores, they just didn’t rub it in people’s faces.
    Appreciated the article.

  3. My hubby and I have been in ministry since we were newly weds. It’s been a running “joke” amongst ourselves that we’re not “sexy” enough for most churches today. I wouldn’t say we’re ugly people, per se. But we’re definitely not worship leader or postcard material. I tried that couch running program. 3 weeks and a heel spur later ended that. After our son was diagnosed with catastrophic epilepsy any sense of put together went out the window. The past six years have been about survival and clinging to faith that the happy ending is yet to come. Everything in between is filled with glimpses of glory and a lot of guts. I watch my husband remain faithful and true and my heart is moved. He has lived the Gospel for and before us through joyful moments and times when our spirits were crushed beyond words. I’ve thought to myself often…where are the people who think faithfulness is “sexy”? Or worth pursuing. Somehow healthy living has become synonymous with spiritual health. It’s a myth. Faithful, humble, obedience is a reflection of spiritual health. And I’m blessed to have a man like that holding my hand and leading our family through our life together.

    BTW he’s the one who shared this article with me. Loved it. And honey, if you happen to read this comment…hope I didn’t embarrass you too much. 😉

  4. Thank you, Chad! I’ve never known a “creative and effective” method for contextualizing that didn’t push clear biblical limits to some degree, introduce questionable ministry conduct, weaken rather than inspire high morally conservative ideals, or habitually excuse and defend immaturity in the church.

    One would expect that if contextualization by today’s definition is God’s design for powerful new ministry effectiveness, the result would be greater humility, unswerving passion for holiness, richer doctrinal understanding, increasing biblical discernment, and a consuming desire to search the Scriptures. Instead, churches espousing these methods are often marked by greater pride and disdain for authority, increasing worldliness and sensuality, doctrinal ignorance and confusion, lack of discernment regarding error, and the exaltation of personal opinions, bravado, and “spiritual talks” over actual Bible preaching.

    It’s also glaringly obvious that churches with this approach talk of being missional, but then never seem to contextualize back into the traditional church sub-culture it believes is so out of touch? I never see contextualizers being “all things to all men” by rockin’ traditional clothing, crowding an organ with some senior saints for an old fashioned hymn-sing, sporting pocket-protectors to “reach” techy nerds, or flooding traditional worship services just to “bridge” relationships. But why not? If being missional, intentional, authentic, radical, out-reachy, and evangelistic means anything, shouldn’t it mean being burdened for “misguided” mentors as well?.

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