When I first read through the Facebook event description of the Wear Pants to Church Day event sponsored by the action group All Enlisted, I wasn’t particularly alarmed. Really, I agreed with most of their intentions. In fact, just last night I was talking with my husband about how most members of the Church frequently mistake Church culture for Church doctrine.
I have said before (simply echoing Church leaders) that the doctrine of the Church is actually very limited. Anything beyond the true doctrine is policy, policy we believe is based on an understanding of doctrine and revelation. Policy we sustain in General Conference twice a year as we sustain the leaders who we trust to make the policies Heavenly Father feels are best for our time (which means they – the policies – do change).
The Fight Against Cultural Myths: A War Worth Fighting
Back to my first impressions of the Wear Pants to Church Day event. I loved much of what the sisters said on the Facebook page. I think what tempered the whole description for me was their first paragraph, the reading of which almost caused me to shout “Amen! Hallelujah!”
Did you know that church leaders have not discouraged women from wearing pants since 1971? … After many reports of overt or silent judgment, a group of LDS women decided it was time to stop the perpetuation of the cultural myth that there is something wrong with women wearing pants. (emphasis added)
I felt that they were actually acknowledging that the problem in the Church (judgment over women wearing pants/people wearing jeans/tennis shoes/colored shirts/etc to Church) is a cultural myth, rather than some Church policy. And before you start tossing out quotes from General Authorities counseling us to wear this or wear that, let me remind you of Elder Christofferson’s most excellent and timely talk in April 2012 General Conference during which he appropriately reminded us,
…it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.
So you can erase your comment with a quote from some apostle or prophet that said you should wear a white shirt while passing the sacrament. That’s great, if you have a white shirt. If you want to wear a white shirt. Owning a white shirt or having a desire to wear a white shirt is not a prerequisite to being ordained to any priesthood office, or performing any priesthood duty. If you feel like you should wear a white shirt to perform your priesthood duties, great for you. If you don’t think it matters, good for you. What matters is that you are worthy to perform those duties – which has more to do with the heart than the outward appearance.
The sisters describing their demonstration kept getting more and more points with me as the description went on –
“The Church has not attempted to indicate just how long women’s or girls’ dresses should be nor whether they should wear pant suits or other types of clothing.”--LDS Church Presidency (1971)
“Attending church is about worship and learning to be followers of Jesus Christ. Generally, church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the savior, but we don't counsel people beyond that.” –official church statement December 12, 2012
Why, this is most excellent! Someone is helping educate the masses about how dumb we all are for thinking that cultural norms (even Church culture ones) are somehow what the doctrine of the Church mandates. Or even Church policy. Obviously, women wearing skirts is not Church policy, and I thought these great women did an excellent job explaining that.
I must have skimmed through the rest of the description because no red flags went off until I read the post a second time.
This event is the first act of All Enlisted, a direct action group for Mormon women to advocate for equality within our faith. … we do want the LDS Church and its members to acknowledge the similarities [between men and women]. We believe that much of the cultural, structural, and even doctrinal inequality that persists in the LDS church today stems from the church's reliance on – and enforcement of – rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality.
Wait a minute! You just told me that your goal was to correct a cultural myth, but you’ve just pulled a bait-and-switch on me! Now you’re telling me that you want “equality within our faith” and you see “doctrinal inequalit[ies]” in the Church, perpetuated by “the church’s … enforcement of … rigid gender roles.”
I had so much hope – this was almost a group I could stand behind. I was excited that someone was trying to address the cultural myths that seems to be endlessly perpetuated in the Church. These cultural myths are not perpetuated by the General Authorities, or by Church policy. On the contrary, I have heard the prophets and apostles constantly hounding us in General Conference, urging us to give up the culture and live the doctrine. It’s the members of the Church falling short of the counsel of the prophets that perpetuates cultural myths.
Stoning People for Their Sins
My thoughts went immediately to the new Church website, Love One Another. Nothing found on that website is news. There are some great personal stories, which I think are very effective in breaking down culture – when people can see what happens in cultures outside their little bubbles, they are more appropriately armed to take down the culture in their own bubbles. None of the doctrine on the Church’s new website is different from anything that has been preached previously. Since Christ walked the earth we have been counseled to love one another regardless of our differences, regardless of the sins of others. It was Christ himself who said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”, the adulterer.
It is not our place to stone people to death, literally or figuratively, for their sins.
A Misguided Discussion
The purpose of the Wear Pants to Church Day demonstration was not the only thing that bothered me about the entire situation. The comments that have been elicited have been equally as disturbing. Comments such as,
“What if these women have received revelation that this change needed to be enacted?”
“I'm offended you would ask me to wear a colored shirt, one that I shouldn't be wearing while performing priesthood ordinances.”
“maybe … the ones that have left will come back knowing that the church is finally putting action towards attitudes”
“the Lord has told us that dresses are a sign of reverence and he has asked us to wear them..its not a commandment … but we are to listen to the Lord and to our prophets”
“I feel sadness for the sisters that feel hurt and confused enough to feel they need to participate in this, because it means that they have not yet gained a true testimony of the divinity of womanhood in the Lord's plan of happiness, and how ESSENTIAL we are to that plan”
“To me, their reasons are that they don't understand the basics of the gospel. They don't understand the priesthood and womanhood. And that this is the Lord's church. They don't understand the symbolism of the temple.”
I have problems with all of these comments. People are either continuing to perpetuate the cultural myths by spouting their misguided understandings of Church policy (the colored shirt comment) or they are confusing culture with doctrine.
People who are helping to perpetuate cultural myths need to stop it, and people who are confusing culture with doctrine need to stop it.
And all of us need to stop judging each other. I said to my husband that it seems like the people who think you should only wear dresses are judging the women who would like to wear pants, and the women who would like to wear pants without being judged are judging the very women they accuse of judging them.
Let us please apply Uchdorf’s Hammer: STOP IT!
An Action Group For Cultural Change
Where does this leave me?
Wanting to form an action group for women who want to promote charity and the doctrine of the Church. Women who want to break down the cultural myths and replace them with kindness, love unfeigned, boundless compassion, and non-judgmental attitudes.
So I thought to myself “Why not form one?” An action group – dedicated to these very things.
Our motto would be “Charity never faileth.”
And then I remembered – there is already an action group for that.
It’s called Relief Society.
The Savior Himself has organized the women of the Church into an action group. One that should be at the forefront of breaking down cultural myths. A group that should be at the forefront of compassionate outreach to women who feel marginalized and pushed aside.
It is a worldwide sisterhood, but at the same time, it is a grassroots movement. Each ward has a Relief Society specifically and specially equipped to deal with the issues in that particular ward. Why? In my ward, the women in my Relief Society, the women who need my help, are my neighbors. I live, work, and play in the same places as them. I see them on a regular basis. If I am doing my job as a disciple of Christ, I am listening to the pain in their hearts. I can see if they are being ostracized by judgmental skirt-wearers. I should be observant and recognize when they feel left out because their husband is blessing their baby and no one gives them the accolades they deserve for gestating, laboring, and delivering that beautiful baby. If I am doing my duty as a real Christian, I will be reaching out to include the broken hearted, those who are different in whatever way – whether it be homosexuality, divorce, single motherhood, whatever makes them different, I can be the one who reaches out and helps them feel unity and love under the umbrella of compassion and charity.
So I have no need to start an action group. The Savior did that already. But I am renewing my membership. I am gearing up to be the best member of this action group I can be.
Who’s with me?