Wearing Pants To Church On Sunday

mormons pants on sunday

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.

If you aren’t familiar with the hullabaloo about Wear Pants to Church Day event , read up here. Or here. Or here. Or here.

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.

From Feminist Mormon Housewives:

“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.”

mormon modesty short dressThe 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:

I plan to wear pants on Sunday, if I go at all.

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?

Flashback Friday – Faith by George Michael

George Michael Faith
Confession: I used to have a crush on George Michael as a tween. I used to have sleepover parties with my 4th and 5th grade friends, and we formed the GM4ever secret fan club – George Michael Forever! We would take markers and make fake tattoos with our GM4ever logo on our arms. And of course, we would stay up late watching MTV and waiting for the jukebox intro and tight jeans panning camera shot of “Faith.” In fact, George Michael may have been the first person that I said “He has a cute butt” about. We were all so heartbroken to find out that George was actually gay, and he would never marry one of us.

A few weeks ago at work, I heard my coworker Dan Richey start crooning “Well I guess it would be nice, if I could touch your body. I know not everybody has got a body like you.” I let out a little squeal, and he asked me what I was laughing at. I told him “I used to LOVE that music video when I was young.” He was a little confused, and said that he didn’t know that he didn’t know the song was that old. I messaged over the link to George Michael’s Faith music video and a few seconds later he started laughing. He quickly messaged a link for Limp Bizkit’s cover of Faith. I had no idea that “Faith” had been covered, but it was the song that kickstarted my recent obsession with listening to 80’s and early 90’s music. “Faith” came on in the car with Rosie the other day, and Rosie knew every single word. Who knew she would love it just like I did?

george michael faith

Cause I gotta have faith!

 

Self-Less – Thoughts on Service and Depression in Mormon Culture

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

My whole life, I have been taught of the value of selfless service. If you are ever struggling with yourself, find someone to serve and it will help your situation not seem so bleak. It is important to show compassion; to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those that mourn, and to succor the weak. The following two verses come to mind:

“And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” Mosiah 2:17

“He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 10:39

Marvin J. Ashton counseled those suffering from depression to “not doubt your abilities. Do not delay your worthy impressions. With God’s help, you cannot fail. He will give you the courage to participate in meaningful and purposeful living. Prayer and service lift their spirits and increase their self-esteem and feeling of power or control. Taking the focus off of themselves also helps put their problems in perspective and makes them feel they are not singled out for challenges. A day of service makes them feel useful and significant to others. At the moment of depression, if you will follow a simple program, you will get out of it. Get on your knees and get the help of God, then get up and go find somebody who needs something you can help them with. Then it will be a good day.”

Depression isn’t a sign of failure, but the feeling of failure. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is like telling a sick person to perform surgery on himself. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, an LDS father of five said, ” We have this ‘All is well in Zion’ kind of thing going on here…We’d rather not talk about it at all…or maybe go talk to the bishop about it. If there really is  a mental health issue you need help with, it doesn’t work to talk to your ecclesiastic leaders.” He touches on a pretty common misconception – that the bishop is your all-knowing source of guidance and counsel. If you’re having a problem of ANY type, you need to go talk to the bishop. But this is not necessarily true. Most bishops are not formally and professionally trained in psychology. Bishops are given guidelines in a handbook, and are told to “follow the spirit.” Bishops do the best they can, but they have limited resources. They are able to refer you to a mental health professional, typically through LDS Family services. Unfortunately, an untrained bishop may attribute overwhelming feelings of depression as evidence for a serious undisclosed sin. These unnecessary feelings of guilt will likely make the depression even worse. Psychological disorders are NOT a reflection of sin. I wouldn’t be surprised if most disorders found in a mental health clinic were also found in a typical ward.

I was reading a link someone sent me on Mormon Depression via Twitter the other day. It was an article by a conservative Christian pastor named Mark Cares, President of the Truth in Love Ministry. The Ministry has launched a billboard campaign in Idaho called “Feeling Worthy?” and campaign literature focuses on Mormon “stress points.” Pastor Cares said, “Mormons are under a significant amount of stress because of all the commandments they need to uphold and the duties they need to perform in order to be worthy to receive God’s blessings — including his forgiveness. The article asks, “Are Mormon women plagued with guilt and stress because of their religion, or is this campaign simply another form of anti-Mormonism?”

Paraphrasing the article a bit, researchers have drawn conclusions that the large Mormon population in Utah is partially to blame for the high levels of depression in the state. According to studies by Mental Health America and Express Scripts, Utah is the most depressed state in the country, and Utah residents are prescribed antidepressant drugs at a rate twice the national average.

A 2008 ABC News article stated, “The postcard image of Utah is a state of gleaming cities, majestic mountains and persistently smiling people. But new research shows a very different picture of the state, a snapshot of suicide and widespread depression…Psychiatrists point to several factors that could contribute to Utah’s high levels of depression: limited mental health resources, restricted access to treatment as a result of cost, poor quality of resources and a varied list of other factors, including an underfunded educational system and a culture deeply rooted in the Mormon faith.

As these depressed Mormons, particularly women, serve themselves out of their rut,  a key principle is not often mentioned; the opportunity to serve requires the other half of the service equation – someone in need of service. Sometimes, the person desperately in NEED of service is overwhelming themselves with GIVING service. As I struggle to improve my self-confidence and trust my innate abilities, I tend to drop everything when I hear of someone in need. I want to be happy, so I help. It does feels good to be helpful, but I’m realizing how often it depletes me.

I’m in a constant battle between my own needs and the needs of others. My husband has needs. My daughter has needs. My parents have needs. 90% of the time, I ignore what I need for myself. And I’m beginning to realize how harmful my “selflessness” has been. I’ve given up on dreams and desires of my youth. I missed out on much of Rosie’s young years because I was working to support my family. I’ve postponed my goals of fitness and weight loss because the financial cost was too overwhelming for our meager budget. A lot of the time, I don’t know what is worth aspiring to in my future.

I am realizing my desperate need to allow myself to be selfish, not selfless. And it feels like foreign territory.

I know through my religious beliefs that my struggles are temporary. God has a plan for me. The following quotes and scriptures help sustain me when I feel like I have no strength to keep trying.

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8­9).

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

“Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (“Doctrine and Covenants 122:7)

“If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. . . .Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood.” Spencer W. Kimball

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just like people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is just like an old time rail journey … delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”  Gordon B Hinckley (quoting Jenkin Loyd Jones)

Mormons and Media

Some of my readers, online friends, and acquaintances in general have asked me what I think about HBO’s Big Love portrayal of a Latter-Day Saint temple ceremony. I will defer you to the official statement of the Church, found at Mormon.org

Official Statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:
SALT LAKE CITY 9 March 2009

Like other large faith groups, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes finds itself on the receiving end of attention from Hollywood or Broadway, television series or books, and the news media. Sometimes depictions of the Church and its people are quite accurate. Sometimes the images are false or play to stereotypes. Occasionally, they are in appallingly bad taste.

As Catholics, Jews and Muslims have known for centuries, such attention is inevitable once an institution or faith group reaches a size or prominence sufficient to attract notice. Yet Latter-day Saints – sometimes known as Mormons – still wonder whether and how they should respond when news or entertainment media insensitively trivialize or misrepresent sacred beliefs or practices.

Church members are about to face that question again. Before the first season of the HBO series Big Love aired more than two years ago, the show’s creators and HBO executives assured the Church that the series wouldn’t be about Mormons. However, Internet references to Big Love indicate that more and more Mormon themes are now being woven into the show and that the characters are often unsympathetic figures who come across as narrow and self-righteous. And according to TV Guide, it now seems the show’s writers are to depict what they understand to be sacred temple ceremonies.

Certainly Church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding. Last week some Church members began e-mail chains calling for cancellations of subscriptions to AOL, which, like HBO, is owned by Time Warner. Certainly such a boycott by hundreds of thousands of computer-savvy Latter-day Saints could have an economic impact on the company. Individual Latter-day Saints have the right to take such actions if they choose.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an institution does not call for boycotts. Such a step would simply generate the kind of controversy that the media loves and in the end would increase audiences for the series. As Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Robert D. Hales of the Council of the Twelve Apostles have both said recently, when expressing themselves in the public arena, Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves with dignity and thoughtfulness.

Not only is this the model that Jesus Christ taught and demonstrated in his own life, but it also reflects the reality of the strength and maturity of Church members today. As someone recently said, “This isn’t 1830, and there aren’t just six of us anymore.” In other words, with a global membership of thirteen and a half million there is no need to feel defensive when the Church is moving forward so rapidly. The Church’s strength is in its faithful members in 170-plus countries, and there is no evidence that extreme misrepresentations in the media that appeal only to a narrow audience have any long-term negative effect on the Church.

Examples:

During the Mitt Romney election campaign for the presidency of the United States, commentator Lawrence O’Donnell hurled abuse at the Church in a television moment that became known among many Church members as “the O’Donnell rant.” Today, his statements are remembered only as a testament to intolerance and ignorance. They had no effect on the Church that can be measured.

When the comedy writers for South Park produced a gross portrayal of Church history, individual Church members no doubt felt uncomfortable. But once again it inflicted no perceptible or lasting damage to a church that is growing by at least a quarter of a million new members every year.

When an independent film company produced a grossly distorted version of the Mountain Meadows Massacre two years ago, the Church ignored it. Perhaps partly as a result of that refusal to engender the controversy that the producers hoped for, the movie flopped at the box office and lost millions.

In recent months, some gay activists have barraged the media with accusations about “hateful” attitudes of Latter-day Saints in supporting Proposition 8 in California, which maintained the traditional definition of marriage. They even organized a protest march around the Salt Lake Temple. Again, the Church has refused to be goaded into a Mormons versus gays battle and has simply stated its position in tones that are reasonable and respectful. Meanwhile, missionary work and Church members in California remain as robust and vibrant as ever, and support for the Church has come from many unexpected quarters — including some former critics and other churches.

Now comes another series of Big Love, and despite earlier assurances from HBO it once again blurs the distinctions between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the show’s fictional non-Mormon characters and their practices. Such things say much more about the insensitivities of writers, producers and TV executives than they say about Latter-day Saints.

If the Church allowed critics and opponents to choose the ground on which its battles are fought, it would risk being distracted from the focus and mission it has pursued successfully for nearly 180 years. Instead, the Church itself will determine its own course as it continues to preach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.