I’m a Mormon.
Did you know that? Although I’ve been a member of the Church for my entire life, many people have said that this surprises them. While I dress modestly, avoid coffee and alcohol, go to church almost every Sunday, live in Utah, and refrain from swearing (usually), I’m used to getting a startled look from my acquaintances who have assumed that I’m not Mormon.
My sense of humor has an edge of crassness that I can’t deny. I have opinions, and as a blogger have found a good platform for speaking my mind. “Slightly inappropriate” is part of my blog’s tagline. I have a progressive view on many topics.
So, why don’t people think I’m a Mormon? Maybe it’s because I didn’t do a profile for the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. Maybe it’s because I have friends of various ethnicities, sexual preferences, and walks of life. More than anything, I think it’s because I adhere to LDS Church doctrine, but I’m not a strict adherent to every facet and social norm of Mormon culture. Especially Utah Mormon culture. I’ve lived in six different states around the US, attending church outside of Utah for most of my life.
So. Let’s get to the topic.
Wear Pants to Church Day.
The Wear Pants to Church day is not challenging a rule, but it is against the Mormon social norm. Nothing in Mormon doctrine nor official church policy says that wearing pants to church is wrong or breaking a rule. But it’s the cultural expectation in the Mormon church, especially in Utah, that women must wear dresses and skirts to church.
I will admit. I lean toward the feminist side. Not necessarily because I think that all women have been disenfranchised, but because I embrace the divinity of womanhood. I am proud to be female, and I am glad that there are things about me that make me different from a man. That being said, I am not a raging “Femi-Nazi”, or even an outed Mormon feminist. I am not wearing pants because I want a change to official Church policy, but I am wearing pants because I’m concerned about the harsh ways people are treated when they don’t fit the social norm at church.
“What makes social norms so powerful is that they often are not enforced by the hierarchy or someone in formal position, but rather we all enforce them on each other. We do this by treating people who break the social norm as deviant. This can be as clear as screaming hate speech at them or telling them how wrong/awful they are, but it can also be as subtle as the sideway glance, the fake smile or the cold shoulder. Alternatively, those who follow the norm can receive more acceptance, quicker dinner invitations, more visible callings, faster friendships. Often social norms don’t operate as clear bright lines, but often in matters of increment and degrees.”
The topic of modesty has been an oft discussed topic in the LDS bloggosphere (AKA the Bloggernacle). It is a cardinal sin in Mormon culture to be deemed immodest, but there are so many opinions on what is modest and appropriate attire for Mormon women (and token Mormon men, too). There is too much shaming in the church over modesty. And while modesty isn’t the topic of this post, it’s definitely related – It’s likely that you’ll be shamed or judged if you wear the wrong thing. Especially if you’re wearing the wrong thing to church.
For this reason, there is a proliferation of modest boutiques in Utah, which specialize in clothing items that cover up the parts of your body (like your shoulders) so that temple garments are covered. Although there is some cute stuff on their website, it cracks me up that a store called Sexy Modest even exists. I like to wear clothes that fit my body well, and sometimes trousers and a blouse look dressier than a dress.
My friend Sue gave a wonderful summation of her thoughts on the Pants to Church issue on Facebook yesterday. It’s lengthy, but worth reading:
Here’s what I don’t understand about the furor over the event. It wasn’t a protest. The church, as lately as last Tuesday, has already said that pants are fine at church. So there is no rebellion in it. It was a simple, quiet way to show solidarity and support with those who might not be totally orthodox. A way to perhaps quietly identify other women who struggle with the same concerns about what it means to be a woman in the LDS church. There is nothing attention seeking in showing up at church in a pair of pants. There is nothing disruptive about it. It was just a nice, harmless thing. A way to say, you know what, feminist lady who often feels alone and disenfranchised at church – we support you. We’re quietly here and around you. We recognize that not all women share these concerns. Some women feel valued and loved and respected in the church. Nobody denies that. But there are some women who do NOT feel that way. This was, as Courtney said, about outreach.
But people went absolutely bat-crap crazy about it. Some of the responses from conservative members were hateful and cruel and vicious. My friend Stephanie Lauritzen received death threats. DEATH THREATS for encouraging women to wear pants – SOMETHING THAT IS TOTALLY ALLOWED. And then it did become about standing up for something.
One thing that makes me sad about this are the many, many comments inviting people to leave the church if they don’t like it. TO LEAVE. Let me ask my true believing friends and family this question, because I really don’t understand it. If you believe you have the one true path to God, how can you justify inviting someone to step off that path? If you believe that the church saves people, and brings us back to Heavenly Father, how can you justify encouraging people to leave the church? Aren’t you then working directly for the adversary, trying to lead people away from his church? Please explain that line of thinking to me. You are uncomfortable with how someone else thinks/feels/believes/works through their Mormonism, and so, instead of embracing the fact that we are all in different places in our faith journey, you INVITE THEM TO LEAVE. I don’t understand this.
I’ve also heard a lot of complaining about disenfranchised/inactive/former Mormons being involved in this. When you leave the church, why can’t you just leave it alone, they ask. Here are my thoughts. It is really hard to “just leave” the church. There are a lot of good reasons for staying and trying to make it work for you. Maybe you are married to a member. Maybe your kids are Mormon. Maybe you are afraid to lose your friends. Maybe your entire social structure is built around Mormonism and you don’t want your kids to be ostracized. Maybe you love a lot of the religion and see good in it and want to make it work, but have a lot of concerns that you are trying to work through. Maybe you are intellectually connected to Mormonism. Maybe you are angry because you feel lied to. Maybe you love the people. Maybe you HAVE left, but you have parents, family members and friends who still judge you for it, admonish you for it, mourn over your inactivity. Maybe you have parents who remind you every week that they are putting your name on the temple rolls and are praying for you to return, making you feel like crap. Maybe you are tired of being judged for your beliefs. Maybe you love green jello and roadshows. Maybe it is your spiritual and cultural home and you are trying very very very hard to make it work, because it is a big part of who you are, and at the same time, knowing that the church DOES change and evolve, you are hoping to see it change and evolve in this regard as well. Maybe. Maybe a little of all of those things. It is really hard to just leave and leave it all behind. That doesn’t make people angry and possessed by Satan, that makes them human.
One thing this pants event has taught me is that you just can’t disentangle the culture from the religion. I have had so many well meaning true believing friends respond to some of my objections by saying “that’s cultural, not doctrinal”. Well now we know what happens when you push back against the culture, even in a totally harmless way. It seems like the culture is just as much the religion as the doctrine. It makes me really sad, and it makes me feel a whole lot less welcome and able to continue attending. But I won’t be pushed out until I am ready to leave and convinced that it won’t harm my family to do so. So l will quietly sit behind the piano again this week, fulfilling my primary pianist calling. I will be there in body if not entirely in spirit, and I will continue to allow my patient, understanding bishop to have hope that he will eventually win me back over to the right side mentally, however futile that hope might be.
And I will be wearing pants.
Can you see why wearing pants isn’t a bad thing?
For the record:
- I am not in direct rebellion with church doctrine.
- I am not trying to be a dissenter.
- I am not possessed by Satan.
- I am not breaking the rules.
- I am not rallying for women to be given the Priesthood
- I am not begging for absolute equality of the genders within the Church
- I am not asking for a change to official Church policy
- I have no problem with wearing a dress or skirt
- I am not asking for others to wear a skirt, but to understand why I won’t be wearing one tomorrow
I am silently showing support for my sisters who feel like they don’t fit in at church. It is a show of respect, not disrespect.
My faith has waxed and waned over the years. I’ve had a difficult time moving from ward to ward, and always being immediately called into Primary (8 or my last 9 callings have been primary teacher or nursery leader). I feel a little out of touch with the workings of the Relief Society (despite doing my visiting teaching, attending mid-week activities, reading the lesson manuals, etc). And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
However – I am currently feeling the most faithful I have in years. I am excited about the progress the church is making worldwide. I pray. I am temple-worthy. I’m feeling less jaded with Mormonism than I was, say, a year ago. I’ve had recent and magnificent promptings of the Spirit. I feel more faith in mankind. And despite the horrible tragedies that happen in the world, like the shootings in Connecticut yesterday, I think there is so much good in the world.
I don’t think anything bad will come of me wearing pants tomorrow, but I expect it cause some confusion and questions. I hope it will generate some conversation about acceptance, and why social norms and culture of the church are not doctrine. And especially, why we should not shame others or ask them to leave the church over trivial matters.
As the 11th Article of Faith says,
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege; let them worship how, where, or what they may.
If we allow others to worship how they see fit, it shouldn’t matter if they are wearing trousers.
So readers, tell me. Will you be wearing pants to church tomorrow?