The dog days of summer often lead to a predictable phenomenon at Sunday Mass.

Invariably, there are women who show up in miniskirts and tank tops, while some men slouch in wearing faded tee-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops.

Amazingly, though, even in the sweltering Georgia heat, the tailored crowd perseveres. You’ll see women in crisp dresses and men in fine suits.

And when the two worlds collide, watch out.

Rarely does the tank-top crowd care what the posh people are wearing, but when it goes the other way, things can get ugly.

Some congregations try to solve the problem by posting dress codes right on the front door, warning women to watch hemlines and cleavage, and everyone to leave shorts and jeans at home.

People who protest such dress codes often claim they’re unfair to lower-income people, who, they say, can’t afford to dress up for church. Interestingly, though, it seems that lower -income people are usually the ones who go out of their way to look respectable at Mass.

In truth, I’ve done my share of cringing at tank tops and miniskirts in church, and there have been days when I felt like I was at a picnic rather than in church.

Still, I am not a fan of dress codes.

It’s because of that Gospel scene where Jesus is dining at a Pharisee’s home and a woman rushes in, unannounced. She uses her tears to wash his feet, dries them with her long hair, kisses them and anoints them with oil.

Problem is, a dress code posted on the front door might have kept this woman away. For one, her hair should have been covered, and it’s likely she was dressed all wrong, since she was, after all, known to be a sinful woman.

Today, that woman might show up at Mass in teetering high heels, a wisp of a skirt, and a plunging neckline.  Sadly, in some churches, she’d never get through the front door.

You probably recall that the Pharisee was shocked that Jesus would even talk to that sinful woman. He had to wonder: Wasn’t Jesus aware of her reputation?  And, of course, Jesus knew everything about her, but he still welcomed her completely.

It’s crucial to allow people access to Christ. Yes, they may be unruly and grubby, they may be dressed completely inappropriately, and they may be wearing too much cologne.

In summer especially, their choice of garb may cause some parishioners to shake their heads sadly and wonder what the tank-top crowd was thinking when they got dressed that morning.

But churches exist to bring people closer to God, not keep them away.

Yes, it would be great if all women wore clothing that covered their bosoms in church. And yes, it is odd how some men will dress better for a job interview than sitting in a pew.

Still, dress codes can lead down a slippery slope. It would be tempting to add that unruly babies also are not welcome, nor are restless toddlers or teens with too many tattoos and piercings.

And let’s not forget grandma whose hearing aid shrieks at odd times, and grandpa who sings off-key. Maybe all these folks could be shuffled into a separate room, reserved for the misfits.

Problem is, when you subtract the people who are dressed wrong, along with the crying babies and the folks who can’t sing, what are you left with?

Just a few people sitting smugly in the pews – and a congregation that has forgotten what Christianity is all about.

Lorraine’s latest books are “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a biography of Flannery O’Connor, and two fun-filled mysteries, “Death of a Liturgist” and “Death in the Choir.”

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