Why I don’t wear a dog collar (part 1)

I was on a post-funeral visit last week and had really helpful conversation about the state of the church in England. During the discussion the subject of dog collars came up, because I wasn’t wearing one and don’t wear one except for funeral services where the family requests it.

My reasons for not wearing one up to now have related largely to fashion. Dog collars became fashionable at the end of the 19th century and, as my wife says, I look like a pratt in a collar, a pea on a stick. Collars also create an unhelpful status distinction between clergy and other church members.  I am not ontologically superior to the unordained so why should I dress differently?  Either everyone wears a dig collar as members of the priesthood of all believers or no-one wears a collar as we are all sinners under grace.  A badge helps identify me to outsiders just as well as a dog collar. For evangelism, I can’t be all things to all people for the sake of the gospel if I wear a collar, as it creates deference in many people and guards are kept up.

When I said at the visit that I don’t wear a dog collar, the reply was “you’re quite right because when people see a priest or vicar in the street, the first thing which comes into their mind is “I don’t think I can trust him, he’s probably a paedophile.””

If the dog collar has come to symbolise immorality it is time to get rid of it as part of a necessary rebranding of the clergy.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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13 Responses to Why I don’t wear a dog collar (part 1)

  1. Chris says:

    I’m not sure this is quite logical. It’s not the collar’s fault people think the way they do. So why do you blame the collar? What did the collar ever do to you? So it’s a symbol to someone of something less than noble. What other symbols should we get rid of? Geez, no wonder Christianity looks void sometimes. They left the symbology at the altar of human respect.

    Unless, of course, there’s a good reason, like …

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for your comment.

      I believe, as I said, that the very good reason for discarding this particular symbol is it that it has come symbolise immorality for many people. And so, following Paul’s logic it is better to drop religious symbolism (the ceremonial foods laws of the OT) where they mean something different to other people, so that these people might see Christ as Saviour, being made right with God by faith in his death on the cross.

      1 Corinthians 9:21-23 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

  2. Chris says:

    Fascinating, Neil. I have a reply, but it’s fuzzy right now, so I’ll write later. But I understand what you think a little clearer now.

  3. Jeremy says:

    You swallow the view of one person saying a negative thing… and justify your whole position on the basis of one conversation. I think that is outrageous.

    Sometimes it is helpful,
    Sometimes it is not.
    That is all,
    and it is up to me to be sensitive to when…

    It is not a great problem.

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hello Jeremy and welcome to TG.

      I am sorry that my post caused such a strong reaction, I did not mean to be outrageous.

      I think if you read my post again that my position is based on more than one conversation and that I practice what you preach. I do not wear a collar for a mixture of reasons including theological, fashion, historical and contextual. I do however, wear one when I think it is helpful (i.e. at funerals) and do not wear one when it is not helpful (i.e. on any other occasion). I wear one at funerals precisely to be sensitive.

      The point my post is trying to make is that the tabloid press has successfully re-branded the clergy by bombarding readers with images and stories of gross immorality. Just as the red rose of New Labour has lost its lustre over previous weeks, partly through immorality but mostly through skewed media reportage, so the white dog collar has been soiled in the last decade. And so I’m very happy to ditch the collar, though this reason is only one among many.

  4. Thabang aka Touch says:

    I get your point. But No, we should not get rid of dog collars. As a man who preaches the Good News, you have to remember that what people think does not matter. The is only 1 Judge which is God and 1 Lord which is Jesus who can judge us. People don’t see what you do in private but God does, why fear the judgement of people when you know they are not right. You are the man God has chosen to be a teacher to the world. If you notice that people are taking you the wrong way, make time where you talk to the people about letting God be the judge. Those men that wear dog collars whilst they are paedophiles should be left to God. Fear not a man’s judgement. There were hypocrites in Jesus’ time and Jesus did say people look at the outside but not the inside. It’s the inside that matters. If you aren’t one them(hypocrites) then wear a dog collar and don’t fear the judgement of people. Those who judge are still foolish. The wise have left judgement to God. The reason for wearing it is to show those who think the way they do that you don’t fear their judgement. You wear it because you don’t fear being seen as a man who follows Christ.

  5. neilrobbie says:

    Hi Thabang, thanks for taking the time to comment on TG and welcome!

    You make a good point about what people thinking not mattering with respect to what I wear. My dress code does not affect the way God sees me, because my status before God is determined by my faith in Christ. Yet, that works both ways, wearing or not wearing a dog collar. Surely I can wear jeans and a hoody and not fear the judgement of others as I go about being a vicar.

    You say “The reason for wearing it is to show those who think the way they do that you don’t fear their judgement. You wear it because you don’t fear being seen as a man who follows Christ.”

    I can see the attraction of thinking “I’ll wear this dog collar to show that I am not ashamed to be associated with Christ.” Can you say why only the vicar should wear one and not everyone else in the congregation?


  6. Thabang aka Touch says:

    You are the leader of the congregation. Simplified ‘For the same reason only the King and Queen wear a crown’. Not the whole country.


  7. neilrobbie says:

    Thanks Thabang. Some people, with a Roman Catholic theology, would probably say that the priest wears a dog collar to identify with Christ as his representative. I identify with the congregation as a sinner under grace. I wondered if you were coming from a Catholic perspective but I don’t think you are, are you?

    Identifying me as the leader of a congregation is a good reason to be marked out. This can be done by wearing a name-badge or even by words at the start of the service. Why does it have to be a piece of white plastic tucked into my collar?

    With love in Christ


  8. Thabang aka Touch says:

    Lol. No, I’m not Catholic. Someday when I become a Pastor/Priest, I want to get married and have a wife. Apperently Catholic priest aren’t suppose to marry(correct me if I’m wrong). And I believe that whether a person is catholic or not shouldn’t matter. It makes me wonder why there is so many different churches. It’s all about Christ.

    Here is my theory on why it is a ‘piece of white plastic tucked in to you collar’. If you look at it, only a potion of it can be seen. It is by the neck and the neck is where your voice box is. 1. White symbolizes peace. 2. Only a potion can be seen to symbolize that you are more peaceful on the inside than on on the out (the is more good in you than there is on the out). 3. The white is inline with you throat to show that what comes of you is peaceful words (As Jesus said ‘What you say is from the heart’). 4. It’s close to your head because the head controls the whole body. And it is below you head to show that you choices are carried by peace.
    But over all, if you don’t have Christ then it won’t mean a thing.

  9. neilrobbie says:

    Hi Thabang

    The issue of a dog collar is one over which men have religious liberty. The question is, then, what do we do with that liberty. One pastor will say “I will not wear one for these….reasons” and another will say “you should wear one for these….reasons”.

    Paul gives us the principle for such matters of religious liberty. We are justified by faith in Christ’s death for our sins. Through faith we are made acceptable to God. What we wear, or eat or think of religious importance, such as feast days, are matters of liberty.

    Romans 14:1-3 Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t. And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.


  10. Thabang aka Touch says:

    True. Putting it like that then I won’t argue. In my eyes it is like a mark to show you are a chosen man who follows Christ’. You are right about ‘not condeming each others actions’.

    Here is why I consider it as a mark:
    1. When God sent Adam and Eve out of Eden, He put a living creature (Cherubin) and a flaming sword which turned into all directions. ‘This was to keep anyone from coming near the tree that gives life’. (Gen 3: 24). {isn’t this like a mark?}.
    2. (Gen 4: 15) ‘So the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who met him not to kill him’.
    3. The Jewish have an altar, to us Christians it might not mean much but for the Jewish this is what they use to make sacrifices.
    4. When we die, tombstones are put up. This is not necessary, but when you see one, it is a mark that shows us that ‘what is now in the soil, use to live on it’.

    You are right, whether you wear it or not might have no importance to God. But it acts as mark.

  11. neilrobbie says:

    Hi Thabang

    The question the Apostle Paul raises in Romans 14 is, who is the weaker brother? The one who wears a dog collar or the one who doesn’t. We all like to be the weaker brother as it makes others have to do what we want. This is the doctrine of victimisation – if you don’t do what I want you to, then you make me a victim.

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