Sisterhood of the Mormon Pants

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It’s been a while since I’ve had a second to sit down to write, dear readers, and I have so much to share. First, though, I want to offer my thoughts on the Pants Pants Revolution that lived and breathed in Mormon meetinghouses this Sabbath day. If this is the first you are hearing of Pantspocalypse 2012, I suggest reading and of the following articles to catch yourself up:

1. Salt Lake Tribune

2. Huffington Post

3. NPR

4. Ms. Magazine

5. Jezebel

6. Daily Mail UK

7. The Exponent

8. CNN

9. Feminist Mormon Housewives (many many articles to find here!)

Back from your internet Pantscapades? Let me start by being perfectly clear about what Pantspalooza is: THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE PANTS.

“Wear Pants to Church Day” was initiated by Stephanie Lauritzen, a 26 year old teacher from Utah, as the first effort of the group “All Enlisted.” AE is a group of faithful Latter-Day Saints who strive for gender equality in the church. Stolen directly from its Facebook mission statement:

“All Enlisted” is composed of faithful Latter-day Saints, their allies, and advocates for social change. It is intended to be a place of action where active LDS men and women can engage in acts of peaceful resistance to gender inequality in the LDS church. Drawing inspiration from suffragettes and civil rights leaders, we aim to display a respect for personal revelation and community strength as we seek to build Zion, a place where we fully realize and embrace the truth that all are alike unto God.

We strive to keep our actions consistent with those of the Savior by showing a commitment to Christ’s injunction to love one another as ourselves. We echo the words of Gordon B. Hinckley when he said, “God will hold us accountable if we neglect his daughters.”

And just under a week ago, “Pants” was born.

Stephanie wanted to engage in a simple effort to support, encourage, and empower her fellow Mormon feminists and to let them know “I’m here, I hear you, and you are not alone.” She was inspired while clothes shopping at Target to just wear pants to church. Keep in mind that wearing pants does not break any doctrinal rules of the Mormon faith. In fact, leaders of our church have expressed on many different occasions and in many different ways that they are less concerned with what you wear to church and are simply happy that you are there. No where does it say that women must wear skirts or dresses to church, yet the cultural expectation to do so is so strong and so pervasive that, for some women in wards across the country, to show up in pants is reason for their worthiness to be questioned.

Temple recommends denied because of pants.

Stephanie wanted nothing other than to feel like she could attend church as her authentic self without feeling like she has to compromise her identity to subscribe to cultural expectations of womanhood. For one day, she wanted to support her fellow sisters, in or out of the church, who have questions and feel like outsiders. She wanted to make church feel like a safe place – a place where the ward community could embrace each other and say, “come as you are.”

Wear Pants To Church Day gained some momentum and attention in the Mormon Feminist online community. Members in groups like “Feminist Mormon Housewives,” for example, rallied around Stephanie’s efforts and Facebook erupted with posts in support of “Pants.” Other members of our faith also started to take notice. Most people were just curious, some offended and indignant, and others shockingly violent.

We were called names: Feminazis, He-women, liberal (with all the vitriol induced writing the very word!), apostates.

One member of our faith, a journalism student at BYU, posted the following on the events page for “Pants”:

every single person who is a minority activist should be shot .. in the face … point blank … GET OVER YOURSELVES ….

AE’s effort to make church a more welcoming and open place for our brothers and sister were met with death threats. Because of pants.

Let me reiterate: this is not about the pants. This is about a group of women who dared to break a cultural norm in the church in an effort to make it a more welcoming place of worship for us more heterodox sisters. Women who found a creative way to live their faith and stand by their baptismal covenants to “bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort,” sparked a national conversation about gender, faith, and culture. These women, who often feel ostracized and silenced in their faith community, dared to live their faith and were met with violent and forceful resistance.

“Ladies. Gentlemen. The point here is not pants. The point is to expose the fact that something as trivial and benign as pants can cause a riot. When a rule is this meaningless, and this scary to break, it NEEDS to be broken.”

“Pants” is particularly timely and especially important. Perhaps it is because in the 1980s and 1990s, our feminist Mormon leaders were excommunicated for asking questions. Perhaps it is because until recently, and maybe even until today, feminist Mormons felt afraid to speak of their unorthodox theology, or to share with their ward members that they have questions. Perhaps it is because “Pants” was the first act of feminist activism that many of our brothers and sisters have experienced.

“Pants” is important because it was inspired by the same women and men, and in the same rebellious spirit, who made it safe for me to join the church, angst and questions welcomed and embraced. For many sisters in the church community, today was the day that love and extravagant embrace was was first experienced.

For example, one woman shared her Pantsperience on the All Enlisted Facebook page:

I bore my testimony of my belief not just in the Gospel but that I have a place in it. And if I have a place in it, than so does everyone else, orthodox and unorthodox alike. There was room for all of us. {The bishop} wrote back in reply, “Thank you for your message and kind words for your fellow members of the Church. See you Sunday.” Now that Sunday had come, he looked me in the eyes and smiled. I noticed he was wearing a purple tie. Is that for me?

Today was not about pants. Pants were simply the tools with which we were able to spark a conversation about women’s role in the church and, more importantly, in the Gospel. Pantsmageddon illuminated some of the best and worst of Mormonism. “Pants” shined a harsh spotlight on some of the nastiness of breaking rank in the largely conservative (culturally and politically) Mormon community. But is also shined a warm and humble light on the best of what Mormon should be.

pants

Wear Pants to Church Day had nothing to do with pants, but everything to do with standing in support of our sister and brothers who, for whatever very real reason, feel ostracized and silenced in their faith home. It was about opening our dressers, our doors, and our hearts to neighbors and to love them the best way we know how. If nothing else, a few more people who probably wouldn’t have gone to church today met with their ward families for the first time in months or years; a few more people felt like they were seen, heard, and acknowledged; a few more people felt the love of Christ and found a testimony that, perhaps, there is a place for them in the Gospel. If nothing else, a few more people felt safer calling Mormon their faith home.

I want to share my Pantstimony that I know this is the church I choose to call home. I know that, in the spirit of Christ, I have faithful feminist leaders who carved a safe space in the church to let me know that I deserve to be there and that I’m wanted there. I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is graceful and patient and kind and provocative and supportive. I know that when I respond to the promptings of the spirit, I am reminded that I am “welcome and valued,” and that our Heavenly Parents are so glad I’m here.

With so much love,

LadyMo

ps – I don’t own any pants.

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8 responses »

  1. I was hoping for some Pants commentary from you!

    1) “Perhaps it is because in the 1980s and 1990s, our feminist Mormon leaders were excommunicated for asking questions” got me wondering about the parallels in Roman Catholic leadership and the way that nuns are being treated by the patriarchal hierarchy this year. Though, admittedly, most USian Catholics I know are far more lax about social norms than the wards of my LDS friends. I’m really curious about the excommunications and would love to hear more/have you point me in a researchy direction.

    2) Love you, love your pants, see you soon hopefully!

  2. Hi Mo! Welcome back!

    I have adorable linen dress pants that are perfect for Texas heat.. but the pants thing.. oooo it stirred up some crazy around here. I think that the thing we tend to get lost in is that it doesn’t matter what we wear to our Sacrament meeting, as long as we get there! 🙂

    It is wonderful to see you back and have a wonderful day!

  3. I know I’m in the minority on this blog – but I think this is all quite absurd. I didn’t even notice yesterday whether anyone was wearing pants. I was focused on the sacrament and the speakers. I don’t care if someone wants to wear pants, and neither does the Lord. Britt – to take a leap from wearing pants being cause IN SOME WARDS to question worthiness to denying recommends based on it is, well, quite a leap. And for a bishop to do so would be very, very wrong. You are right in saying that such a “rule” is quite meaningless (and it is totally cultural – it’s not doctrine, it’s not policy, etc.) – it is so meaningless, in fact, that I think all of this is straining at a gnat. Not to mention, as an article in Meridian Magazine suggested, sacrament meeting is not the place for “protests”. In wearing pants to sacrament, by engaging in this protest, participants are validating the very cultural structure and influence that they are protesting against. I don’t know about you, but I find that hypocritical.

    What is the desired outcome, by the way? Do women want to be granted the priesthood? Do they want to be able to give blessings? Do they want to be able to be in the bishopric? I personally would have no objection to that if it were the Lord’s will. But I don’t think wearing pants to church is going to influence the Lord to change His will.

    Keep thinking, Britt. Keep being fresh. But I honestly think this whole issue is wasted energy and is meaningless in its attempt to address some perceived wrong that you yourself admit is meaningless. I echo the many sentiments of “we’re glad you’re here”. Wear what you wish, as as long as you feel right before the Lord, but please don’t pollute the Lord’s sacrament with meaningless protests against meaningless cultural norms.

    Love,

    Scott

  4. Thank you for all of your quotes and valid points. In response:

    First – I feel the need to offer the “it is up to YOU to choose to not be offended and it is YOU who needs to forgive the offender. PERIOD. It doesn’t matter what the offender has said or done. What would Jesus do? (Isn’t that always the answer?! lol) That means that unless the Bishop calls you into his office and specifically says, “Sister, I see you are wearing pants today. Are there any sins you need to discuss with me?” then no, your worthiness is not being called into question (unless of course God shows up at your doorstep and asks the same question – but then you might have bigger problems – just saying.) Do not for one moment think that your idealistic views and actions will change the heart of the person(s) who have judged you (and remember – everything is on their shoulders, not yours – judge not, lest ye be judged……and we all know how that scripture ends – with Heavenly Father knocking at your door.) Regardless of gender, the only persons opinion that you should care about is your own and God’s. I know that is much easier said than done, but trying to start a movement against being judged for whatever you are doing is NOT (and it will NEVER) make you feel better, or make the other person change their judgement. I guarantee you that even if the Prophet were to get up and announce equality (and pants on Sundays) this person would still be offended and still, most likely, dislike you. Pray for those that despitefully use you, and judge you, and generally make you feel unwelcome. Jesus has never, not once, suggested that we protest or take a stand for our beliefs, ideas or opinions, and most certainly not because someone has made us feel unwelcome or judged.

    Second, the mission statement, while obviously well thought out, has one glaringly obvious issue. Is it not our job as believers in the truthfulness of the Gospel, when we truly love God, to submit our will to him, with the utmost humility? Is not resistance the EXACT opposite? When Jesus said to become like children, did he mean with temper tantrums and disobedience? NO.

    Third – rebellious and spirit – two words that should not be used to describe each other.

    Fourth – I refuse to go to those blogs. I trust you, and I wish that you could have more clearly summed up and defined what it is that these women are seeking (see above comment – are they hoping for Priesthood powers?) I don’t refuse to go to the blogs out of self-righteousness or to spite them. I refuse because I do not think I will find anything uplifting there, nothing to feed my spirit with the love and hope that Jesus set as an example for all of us.

    Fifth – I am not saying that these issues are not real, a large part of anyone’s lilfe, and that they should not be addressed. But frankly, each day my prayers are for the people who truly mourn for the loss of their loved ones (which had nothing to do with anything feminist) and for people whose mental illness, emotional anguish or hardened hearts make their lives more than they can bear. I pray for the children around the world who are abused in any manner, for children who die needlessly, for human beings that suffer for things beyond their control.

    Lastly – the only thing I know for certain in this life is the love that my Father in Heaven has for me. I feel it when he comforts me when life doesn’t go the way I had expected, when someone has hurt my feelings, when I have lost someone I love. I have felt it even when I have done wrong. He loves me, he knows me, and he forgives me for my wrongdoings – but he only forgives me when I am truly humbled and submit to his will – even if I don’t like his will or his plan for me. There are basic principles of the gospel that trump this “resistance,” because this life isn’t about gender or equality (don’t forget the cliche “Life isn’t fair,”) but it is about doing God’s work. If this is God’s work, then carry on, but God has asked us to do his work without creating contention. Is it not better to write to the Presidency and seek guidance and counsel from them? If nothing else but to at least alert them to your issues? Has someone been denied a temple recommend? Do not look to Facebook or blog posts, but seek to higher counsel, stake presidents, district leaders, etc.

    You know I love you Brittany. I have no ill will towards anyone (although if you point a gun at my face, I will be equal parts scared and ANGRY – and will repent for that later, lol!)

  5. I’m very grateful for all the voices who come here, Scott, and I’m glad that we are all able to engage in civil discussion. I hope to maintain that civility as well 🙂

    First, Pants Day was not about women wanting the priesthood, but entirely about standing in solidarity and comfort with those women (and men, too!) who don’t feel like they fit in at church. That feeling, while perhaps not the of the mainstream, is real and worth acknowledgement. Pants Day was, at first, about breaking a cultural (and yes, Scott, silly) rule that has absolutely zero doctrinal or theological consequence in order to break down the boundaries between members who are comfy cozy and those who are sitting on edge. But then it became obvious that just breaking a non-rule would further ostracize these men and women who already feel like they exist on the fringes of their faith home.

    Some of these men and women who dared to show up to church in pants were told by their fellow ward members to “just leave the church.” Like, resign membership and walk away from Mormon. Others, on the other hand, were embraced and loved and welcomed. Wearing pants wasn’t intended to be a protest (what are they protesting, really? a non rule? boring), but an act of solidarity. Wearing pants or purple, for a lot of the members of our church, was a way to say, “I know you are hurting, and I love you.” That’s it. That’s all it was supposed to be. It wasn’t an effort to commander priesthood authority or to rewrite the Book of Mormon. It wasn’t an effort to piss people off or even to get the attention it did. All it was intended to do was to show love and support, however silly it may be with pants, for the brothers and sisters of our faith who are hurting.

    To address your points, Erin, I want to share my ideas about resistance and standing for what you believe. I might not make a lot of friends in this circle by comparing these pants wearers to our early pioneers, but did they not both engage in peaceful resistance? Did they both not stand for what they believed especially in the face of people who hated them and judged them? I think you make a great point about resistance from a doctrinal perspective, but I think it’s important to note that these women were engaging in peaceful resistance at a cultural level. I think Mormons do that anyway in the secular world, but it feels a lot different (and possibly scary) when it’s happening within our own walls. The only thing these women did was wear pants to church. No rules were broken, no sins committed, no comments made. Just pants.

    I certainly respect your decision to not visit those links. I included them as a resource so that my voice was not the only one being heard and that I could present a more complete picture of this cultural phenomenon. And I’m lazy. I am incredibly biased and perfectly own that bias. To summarize, Mormon women wore pants to church and that’s weird. Mostly, I wrote this post because I think the conversation about the pants is far more important than the fact that people wore pants. We should be asking ourselves why it’s such a big deal (from both sides, although I hope I’ve articulated one side clearly and with patience). We should be asking ourselves why it is so dangerous that this small group of Mormon women wanted to wear pants to church and why so many more people pushed against them? Should they stand up for themselves or should they relent and be pushed down? Why are people calling them names? Telling them to leave the church? Threatening to kill them?

    “It is about doing God’s work. If this is God’s work, then carry on, but God has asked us to do his work without creating contention.” I absolutely 100% agree. For a lot of women who were inspired to participate in this Pants Day, it was the first time they felt loved and welcomed at church. Many were changed by the relationships formed. For some, it was the first time they went to church in a long time. Isn’t that God’s work? Shouldn’t we be doing everything to make church a great place to exist without contention? If something as simple as a few women wearing pants to church is enough to make it that much safer for the outsiders, who are we to shut them down and shut them out? For a lot of women, this weekend was an answer to prayers that are meaningful and purposeful to them. And as an added bonus, no rules were broken!

    The Gospel is radical and powerful and extravagant. It inspires people to do radical and powerful and extravagant things. Like sisters who wear pants to church to comfort their sisters, or bishops who grow their hair out to support the teenage boy who refuses to conform to cultural standards, or young men and women in a warm and loving ward in Kansas who love the crap out of a boy with perfectly coiffed hair and pink bow ties. That is powerful. That is what it means to live our faith. That, for me, is what makes this church great.

    ps, Erin, I think in that situation, you are entitled to extra helpings of scared and angry. I love you too much to put anything but marshmallows in your face. 🙂

  6. I love the thought of a bishop growing his hair out to comfort a young man! You know, I guess I just don’t get it, because as I said, I didn’t even notice. I just don’t care what people wear to church, although I did smile to myself at the guy who wore his tie so that the small end was longer than the big end. It was perfectly tied otherwise. Just made me wonder what he was thinking. Maybe I’m not so sensitive to those who are on the edge because I, like you Britt, was once the new kid (well, a 45 year old kid), and I just took the bull by the horns and said, “I belong here. Love me, cause I’m going to love you”. Maybe I should be more sensitive to those who are quite so confident. (Actually, I am pretty sensitive to such things – I just didn’t make that connection about the pants thing).

    And Britt – OF COURSE it will remain civil. It would be pretty stupid to be otherwise, wouldn’t it?

  7. Scott, as converts, you and I had a very strong and very personal act that changed our lives. I’m grateful for the men and women who came before me (us?) who did really hard and really scary work to make it easy and comfortable for me to join this church. I can only repay that debt by doing the same for another sister in need of comfort. And if she needs me to wear pants, then I’m wearing pants.

    I never doubted it would be uncivil – I am just noting how grateful I am that it can stay that way here! The conversations happening in other forums are nothing short of hateful and hurtful. I am glad to be surrounded by caring and honest friends 🙂

    *I heard in a talk one Sunday about a boy who was ignored and ostracized in his ward by the other YM, YW and families because he had long hair and was labeled a bad boy. The bishop was inspired to make him feel loved and included and wanted and worthy: “I’m not going to cut my hair until you do.” Amazingly powerful and powerfully loving. That’s the Gospel hard at work 🙂

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