Dear Aunt Sevvy:

I’m a church school teacher. Every year we have the same battle over the student handbook: jewelry. Here’s the thing: the majority of the students’ moms wear jewelry themselves. Yet it’s an issue the school can’t let go of.

The proponents say it’s about simplicity and economy in lifestyle. But we don’t enforce that with Adventists’ cars or homes. Others say we have to hold a line or or it will get worse and worse until students look like hookers in the hallways. Silly argument: just because we change this rule about dress doesn’t mean we have no rules!

Meanwhile, we teachers are stuck enforcing a policy that hardly anyone but a handful of conference rule-makers and old board members thinks is important. Aunt Sevvy, why can’t we let go of rules that are no longer relevant?

Signed: Reluctant Jewelry Cop

Dear Cop:

Although Aunt Sevvy is a strong proponent for personal freedom, even for children, she does understand the need for schools to have rules, and for students to have boundaries. However, you are correct when you say that we have a very hard time examining rules and changing them when necessary. The no-jewelry rule for schools, Auntie agrees, should have been deep-sixed ages ago in favor of something more nuanced.

To answer your last question (perhaps too technically): sociologically, organizations latch on to certain signifiers of identity that they find almost impossible to change. Jewelry is one of those for us. Once a group has held one of these identity signifiers for so long, changing it causes an identity crisis. Even if 90% of a group wants to change one of these markers, the remaining 10% generate enough anxiety to threaten the survival of the whole organization.

The explanations you’ve heard, as you’ve said, make little sense. Economy and simplicity? Aunt Sevvy has seen a person driving a $80,000 Mercedes and living in a million-dollar house and wearing designer clothing criticize another church member for wearing a dime-store necklace. As for the “slippery slope,” Auntie has generally found it’s only the people who are sitting still who are sure the footing is uncertain—while they tell the rest of us how we have to walk on what they insist is spiritual slick ice if we’re not to slide into chaos. What hypocrisy!

You’ve taken the first step: you’ve identified the problem. And if you’ve named it, so have hundreds of others. Now, how to change things without raising the anxiety level? As Jesus once said of a demon, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Good advice about our church’s old stubborn rules, too.

For what it’s worth, Auntie has observed it’s often harder to change something directly than to let it become quietly ignored.

You will agree, of course, there’s nothing intrinsically spiritual about earrings or no earrings. The jewelry rule is just a symbol of our stuckness. It would be nice if we had church leaders who led us out of stuckness rather than insisting on it.

Unadornedly yours,  Aunt Sevvy

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