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Dress and Grooming Was My Stumbling Block

Dress and Grooming Was My Stumbling Block

Dress and Grooming Was My Stumbling Block


I WAS raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren religion, which is similar to the Amish and Mennonite religions. The Brethren movement began in Germany in 1708 as part of the spiritual awakening called Pietism. The Encyclopedia of Religion says that Pietism was marked by a “vision of a humanity in need of the gospel of Christ.” That outlook led the movement to launch successful missionary campaigns in various lands.

In 1719 a small group led by Alexander Mack came to what is now Pennsylvania, in the United States. Since then, additional groups have formed and separated from one another. Each group adhered to its own interpretation of the teachings of Alexander Mack. Our little church had about 50 members. Reading the Bible and sticking closely to the official decisions of church members were stressed.

For at least three generations, my family had held to this faith and way of life. I joined the church and was baptized when I was 13. I was raised to believe that it was wrong to own or use an automobile, a tractor, a telephone, or even a radio or any other electric-powered invention. Our women dressed simply, and we would not cut our hair or leave our head uncovered. Our men wore beards. To our way of thinking, being no part of the world included not wearing modern clothing, makeup, or jewelry, which we felt were expressions of sinful pride.

We were taught to have deep respect for the Bible, which we considered our spiritual food. Every morning before breakfast, we gathered in the living room and listened to Papa read a chapter from the Bible and make comments on what he had read. Then we would all kneel as Papa prayed. Afterward, Momma would repeat the Lord’s Prayer. I always looked forward to our morning worship, as the whole family was together, concentrating on spiritual things.

We lived on a farm near Delphi, Indiana, where we raised various types of produce. We hauled it to town by horse and buggy, and then we sold it on the street or from door to door. We felt that hard work was part of our service to God. So we focused on it, except on Sunday, when we were to do no “servile work.” At times, though, our family got so involved in our farm work that it was a challenge to hold to our spiritual point of view.

Marriage and Family

In 1963, when I was 17, I married James, another member of the Old Brethren. His roots in the Old Brethren religion went back as far as his great-grandparents. We both had a strong desire to serve God and believed that ours was the only true church.

By 1975 we had six children, and in 1983 our seventh and last child was born. Rebecca, next to the oldest, was our only girl. We worked hard, spent little, and lived simply. We tried to instill in our children the same Bible principles we had learned from our parents and others of the Old Brethren.

Outward appearance meant a lot to the Old Brethren. We felt that since no one could read the heart, the way a person dressed revealed what he or she was on the inside. Thus, if a member fluffed up her hair too much, this was considered an indication of pride. If the print on our plainly made dress was too big, that was another indication of pride. At times, these issues overshadowed the Scriptures themselves.

A Prison Experience

During the late 1960’s, my husband’s brother Jesse, raised in the Old Brethren faith as well, was sent to prison because of his refusal to accept military service. While he was there, he met Jehovah’s Witnesses, who also feel that engaging in warfare is inconsistent with Bible principles. (Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 26:52) Jesse enjoyed many Bible discussions with the Witnesses and observed their qualities firsthand. After much Bible study, he was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses​—much to our dismay.

Jesse spoke to my husband about the things he had learned. He also saw to it that James regularly received the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. Reading these heightened James’ interest in the Bible. Since James always had a desire to serve God but had often felt distant from Him, he was very interested in anything that could help him draw closer to God.

Our elders encouraged us to read religious magazines of the Amish, the Mennonites, and other Old Brethren faiths, even though we considered those religions to be part of the world. My father, though, had a strong prejudice against the Witnesses. He felt we should never read The Watchtower and Awake! So I cringed when I saw James reading them. I was afraid he would pick up false teachings.

Yet, James had long questioned some of the beliefs of the Old Brethren that he felt contradicted the Bible​—in particular the teaching that it is a sin to do any “servile work” on Sunday. The Old Brethren, for example, taught that it is permissible to water your animals on Sunday but not to pull a weed. The elders could not give him a Scriptural reason for this rule. Gradually, I too began to have doubts about such teachings.

Because we had long believed that ours was God’s church and we realized what we would experience if we left it, we found it difficult to break away from the Old Brethren. Yet, our consciences would no longer allow us to remain in a religion that we felt was not fully adhering to the Bible. So in 1983 we wrote a letter explaining our reasons for leaving and asked that the letter be read to the congregation. We were disfellowshipped from the group.

A Quest for True Religion

Thereafter, we began a quest to find the true religion. We were looking for consistency, a religion whose adherents bore the kind of fruit they taught others to produce. First of all, we ruled out any religion that participated in war. We were still drawn to the “plain” religions, for we felt that a simple way of life and plain clothing were indications that a religion was no part of the world. From 1983 to 1985, we took time to travel the country, examining one religion after another​—the Mennonites, the Quakers, and other “plain” groups.

During that period Jehovah’s Witnesses called on us at our farm, near Camden, Indiana. We would listen, asking them to use only the King James version of the Bible. I respected the Witnesses’ stand on warfare. But it was difficult for me to listen to them because if they couldn’t see the need to be separate from the world by dressing plainly, I felt they couldn’t be the true religion. Pride, I felt, caused people to dress other than the way we did. I believed that things, or possessions, made one proud.

James began to go to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, taking some of our boys with him. I was very upset. My husband urged me to go with him, but I held back. Then one day he said, “Even if you don’t go along with all their teachings, just go and see for yourself how they treat one another.” He had been impressed by this.

Finally, I decided to go along but to be very cautious. I walked into the Kingdom Hall in my plain dress and cap. Some of our boys were barefoot, and their clothes were also plain. Yet, the Witnesses came up to us and treated us lovingly. I thought, ‘We’re different, but they are accepting us anyway.’

I was impressed by their loving attitude, but I still was determined just to observe. I wouldn’t stand or even sing their songs. After the meeting I flooded them with questions, asking about things I didn’t think they were doing right or about what a certain scripture meant. Even though I wasn’t very tactful, each person I asked took a real interest in me. I was also impressed that I could put the same question to different ones and get answers that were harmonious. Sometimes they would write down the answer, which was very helpful, as I could then study the material on my own later.

In the summer of 1985, our family went to a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Memphis, Tennessee​—just to observe. James still had his beard, and we still wore our plain garb. Between sessions there was scarcely a moment when someone wasn’t visiting with us. We were drawn by the love, attention, and acceptance shown. We were also impressed by the unity, for no matter where we attended a meeting, the teachings were the same.

James, moved by the Witnesses’ personal interest, accepted a Bible study. He scrutinized everything, wanting to be sure of what he was learning. (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21) In time, James felt he had found the truth. However, I was feeling torn apart inside. I wanted to do what was right, but I didn’t want to “go modern” and be counted “worldly.” When I first agreed to sit in on the Bible study, I had the King James Version on one knee and the more modern New World Translation on the other. I checked every verse in both translations to make sure that I wasn’t being misled.

How I Became Convinced

As we studied with the Witnesses, we learned that our heavenly Father is one God, not three in one, and that we ourselves are souls and do not possess an immortal soul. (Genesis 2:7; Deuteronomy 6:4; Ezekiel 18:4; 1 Corinthians 8:5, 6) We also learned that hell is the common grave of all mankind, not a place of fiery torment. (Job 14:13; Psalm 16:10; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Acts 2:31) Learning the truth about hell was a milestone, since the Old Brethren could not agree on the meaning of it.

Yet, I still wondered how the Witnesses could be the true religion when, in my mind, they were still part of the world. They didn’t lead the “plain” life, which I thought was so necessary. At the same time, however, I realized that they were fulfilling Jesus’ command to preach the good news of the Kingdom to all people. I felt so confused!​—Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20.

During this critical time, the love of the Witnesses helped me to continue my investigation. The whole congregation took an interest in our family. As various members of the congregation came by​—sometimes making an excuse to visit by buying our milk and eggs—​we began to see them as truly good people. Our house was not avoided because a particular Witness was studying with us. Rather, anytime people in the congregation were near our house, they stopped in. We desperately needed this opportunity to get to know the Witnesses, and we came to appreciate their genuine interest and love.

This personal interest was not limited to the Witnesses in the congregation nearest us. As I battled with the issue of proper dress and grooming, Kay Briggs, a Witness from a nearby congregation, who by preference dressed simply and chose not to wear makeup, came to visit me. I felt comfortable with her and was able to converse more freely. Then one day Lewis Flora, who had also been raised in a “plain” religion, came to visit me. He could see the dilemma written on my face and sent me a ten-page letter, trying to soothe my troubled mind. His kindness moved me to tears, and I read his letter over many times.

I asked a traveling overseer, Brother O’Dell, to explain to me Isaiah 3:18-23 and 1 Peter 3:3, 4. “Don’t these verses show that plain dress is necessary to please God?” I asked. He reasoned: “Is there anything wrong with wearing a bonnet? Is braiding hair wrong?” In the Old Brethren, we braided little girls’ hair, and the women wore caps or bonnets. I could see the inconsistency, and I was impressed by the traveling overseer’s patience and kind manner.

Gradually, I became more and more convinced, but there was one issue that still bothered me greatly​—women would cut their hair. Christian elders reasoned with me that some women’s hair only grows to a certain length, while others’ hair can become quite long. Was one woman’s hair better than the other’s as a result? They also helped me to see the role of conscience in dress and grooming and gave me written information to take home to read.

Acting on What We Learned

We were looking for good fruitage, and we found it. Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) We were convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a people who show true love. Even so, this was a confusing time for our two oldest children, Nathan and Rebecca, since they had accepted the Old Brethren religion and been baptized in it. Eventually, they were moved by the Bible truths we shared with them, as well as by the love shown by the Witnesses.

Rebecca, for example, had always longed for a warm relationship with God. She found it easier to pray to him when she learned that he did not predestine how one would act or what one’s future would be. She also drew closer to God when she came to appreciate that rather than being some part of a mysterious Trinity, he is a real person, one she could imitate. (Ephesians 5:1) And she was happy that she did not need to use “thee” and “thou” when speaking to him. As she learned God’s requirements concerning prayer, as well as his grand purpose for humans to live forever in an earthly paradise, she came to feel a new closeness to her Creator.​—Psalm 37:29; Revelation 21:3, 4.

Privileges We All Enjoy

James and I and our five oldest children​—Nathan, Rebecca, George, Daniel, and John—​were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses in the summer of 1987. Harley was baptized in 1989, and Simon in 1994. Our whole family remains devoted to the work that Jesus Christ commissioned his followers to do, namely, proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom.

Our five older sons​—Nathan, George, Daniel, John, and Harley—​as well as our daughter Rebecca​—have each served at the U.S. branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses. George is still there after 14 years, and Simon, who finished school in 2001, has recently also become a member of the branch staff. All our boys are either elders or ministerial servants in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My husband serves as an elder in the Thayer Congregation, in Missouri, and I stay busy in the ministry.

We now have three grandchildren​—Jessica, Latisha, and Caleb—​and are happy to see their parents instilling a love for Jehovah in their tender hearts. As a family, we rejoice that Jehovah drew us to him and helped us to identify his name people by the godly love they display.

Our hearts go out to others who have a strong desire to please God but whose consciences may have been trained by their environment instead of by the Bible itself. We hope that they might find the joy we now have in going from door to door, not with produce, but with a message about God’s Kingdom and the wonderful things it will accomplish. My eyes are filled with tears of appreciation when I think of all the patience and love we were shown by the people who bear Jehovah’s name!

[Pictures on page 19]

When I was about seven years old, and later as an adult

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James, George, Harley, and Simon, dressed in plain clothes

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This picture of me bringing produce to market appeared in a local newspaper

[Credit Line]

Journal and Courier, Lafayette, Indiana

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With our family today