Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wear Pants to the Mormon Church

A woman wearing nice pants thinks about attending the LDS Church
What is Wear Pants to Church Day? A group of LDS feminists, called All Enlist, made the third Sunday in December the official “Wear Pants to Church Day.” At first it seems strange. Why would Mormon feminists stage a protest day to wear pants to church?

The reason is that culturally, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, women cannot wear pants, and must wear either dresses or skirts. A few years back, I went to a wedding reception in a Mormon church with a friend who was unaccustomed to Mormon traditions. She wore a pantsuit, and during the reception she turned to me and said, “Was I supposed to wear a dress? I just noticed that I’m the only woman wearing a suit.” She then told me that she felt that people were looking down on her, even though she was dressed much nicer than some of the people in ratty skirts.

Officially, women can wear pants to the LDS Church, as evidenced by these official statements by the Church.  “The Church has not attempted to indicate...whether they [women] should wear pant suits or other types of clothing.” (1971) “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.” (2012)

There seems to be a huge disconnect between the culture and the official policy. Culturally, you can’t, but policy-wise, you can. The Mormon Church has never said, “Women are welcome to wear pants to church, and we frown on having a judgmental attitude toward people that dress differently than the way we usually do.” Instead, they've issued obscure statements that are open to interpretation and really don’t address judgmental attitudes. Rather than warmly welcoming women with pants to church, they coolly don’t prohibit them.

So far, the reaction to Wear Pants to Church Day is almost all contained in one of three polarized opinions. Here are examples of each polarization:

#1: Devout Mormons who are judgmental about people who want to wear pants to church
  • “I’m truly saddened that these women would belittle themselves and their roles in the Church”
  • “The women who organized this need to have their heads examined.”
  • “Maybe men will start wearing skirts to church. How will the women like that?”
  • “If these women want to change things to the point that they can obtain the priesthood, then they should take it up with our Heavenly Father.”
  • “Why would any woman, especially one in the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) want to discard her femininity?”
  • “As a Mormon, the idea of a Mormon feminist makes me sick to my stomach.”
  • “The lord deserves the utter most respect! And I have been shocked to see lds women wanting to wear nice pants to church. I mean that's what u wear to an interview or somethin.”
#2: Non-Mormons who think that this is ridiculous:
  • “Who cares? Women can wear pants..even to church.”
  • “It seems to me that...they want a “grander role” and wearing pants to church is just the first step.”
  • “Most of the LDS women I know looked at this and just thought it was stupid.”
  • “Wearing pants to church...oh the humanity!”
  • “They need to start their own denomination.”
  • “Mormon women are discouraged from wearing slacks to church? Seriously? What’s next? 'Drive a horseless carriage to Church' day?”
#3: People who see this as a human rights issue and are avidly supportive:
  • “This isn’t about women wearing pants to church. It's about equal rights.”
  • “The scriptures, early church history and our leaders have shown us a women's equal role is in full unlimited (not separated) partnership with our brethren, in every capacity.”
  • “The dream is for all members of the church to not be scandalized by a woman wearing pants to church.”
  • “Those who support this movement are doing so because they see a need to bring awareness to the fact that there is no doctrinal basis for instructing women that a dress or skirt is the appropriate attire for church.”
I think that Wear Pants to Church day is one of the most significant cultural events to happen to Mormonism. Look through the heated opinions and ask about why this is causing such a stir. Why are so many active Mormons so bothered by this movement? Why do so many non-Mormons think this is ridiculous? Why do the avid supporters see this cultural awareness event as a human rights issue?

People who look different or don’t fit the Mormon culture, are they really welcome in the Mormon Church? I hope there’s a point in the future where the culturally different are fully accepted by Mormons, and I think that Wear Pants to Church Day is a significant start.

The people who organized this also want men to wear purple shirts to church, and allow women to pray in General Conference. But, personally, I think the next thing All Enlist should do to bring attention to a part of Mormon culture that’s not talked about much is a “Bring a Polygamist to Church Day.”

Links:
Photo: istockphoto/Zastavkin

2 comments:

  1. Over the last decade I've lived in several LDS wards, both inside and outside of Utah. In every one of them, some women wore pants to church on a regular basis, and nobody cared.

    ReplyDelete

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