I Wore a Skirt to Church on Sunday

I'm very grateful to have permission to reproduce here something by Carrie Stringham Teasdale. I've never met Carrie, but her words had quite an impression on me so I sought her out to ask whether I could share them on my blog. 

As background this past Sunday, 16th December, was designated by a group of Mormon feminists as "Wear Pants [Trousers] to Church Day". They felt that being required to wear a skirt or dress to church is indicative of the oppressive and patronising attitude in the LDS church towards women. Now, whilst I'll readily admit that it is a patriarchal church, I personally have never felt less valued or respected in it, or in any way inferior to my brothers in Christ's church. I also only ever wear skirts or dresses because I find them way more comfortable than trousers. In fact, I don't currently own a pair of trousers (that fit). I have held some pretty major callings (on the Stake Public Affairs Council, YW President, Primary President and currently Seminary Teacher) and really don't have any hankering to be Bishop. 

But enough of my waffling. Here's what Carrie had to say on the matter:

This Sunday, as most of you know, is one that is making the news for members of my religion. The theme for the day is neither Christmas, caring, Christianity, love or devotion. It is a few people's idea of Feminism. We live in a world of free speech. We attend a church that discusses free agency as a given right. Today is the day women show up to church in pants. A simple protest that, frankly, makes me sad.

I listened to a talk given by a member of the Quorum of the 70, visiting my stake in Colorado growing up. It changed my views on a lot of things in both religion and life. It began with a baby tantruming and an embarrassed mother hustling to get her child out of ear shot for the sake of the speaker and the message. The speaker smiled and nodded at the horrified mother and veered entirely off of his talk. In fact, he set his papers and scriptures aside completely. He commended her for stalwartly attending church with a young child, as he was a father himself and it was rather difficult to keep a baby behaving the way you'd like for three hours of the day. Not only did this mother sacrifice her time and patience, but the speaker took note of her thoughtfulness in helping others to feel the spirit and the personal meaning the talks in the meeting might have for them.

Then this speaker continued on, blowing my little Mormon girl mind. He mused at how much he loved the sound of children's crying in church. It meant someone was trying. He loved the smell of cigarette smoke lingering on someone next to him, because it meant someone was putting aside something they struggled with to say to God that they were trying. Then he mentioned that one of his favorite things was seeing someone in jeans, with messed up hair, or people sneaking in late. It floored me. Why on earth would he say that? I had sometimes heard women gawk and complain about these things and how trashy a person was, or I would see people roll their eyes as a mother got up for the third or fourth time with a screaming kid and eyes rolled.

He said a few very simple things that have impacted my take on my worshiping since. The Gospel isn't a complicated thing, people are. The Lord knows this and everyone is simply asked to give their best, no matter how small an effort it is, it is an effort. He spoke of the way everyone sins in their own way and that that person reeking of cigarettes in a room full of avid non-smokers put aside their pride and came to worship God despite the obvious mark of someone who wasn't living the Gospel the same way as someone next to him. Yet, that other person had their own sins, maybe ones they can hide easier. How brave and reverent a person must be to sacrifice pride for their God in the face of their fellow church goers' ideas of who they were. In this talk, this speaker went on to say that jeans may be all a person has, that we are asked to give our best to the Lord and wear our nicest things out of reverence to Him when in his churches.

In one stake I was in, there was a focus on keeping reverence in the chapel. People were asked to slide in to the center of pews to make room for late comers, the elderly who needed the outside seats and young families who would likely need to get up and down quickly to avoid disrupting the meeting. As a teenager, it astounded me to realize that simply scooching in a bit helped keep the meeting reverent. My mother enlightened me a bit explaining that people come to church for God, but they also come to get their ducks in a row, to become better people and they come to learn. By making an extra effort to make church better and a place to learn and better ourselves, we show selflessness and a love for other people even though we generally go for ourselves and our own salvation.

Back to the issue at hand. I've read the articles on this protest. Nice pants suits and slacks are what protesters are supposed to wear. Not too bad, right? At first it seemed pointless, as I have seen quite a few women wear pants suits to church already. Then I went back to the realization that this isn't about pants. It is about shock. Making your own issues rise above those of the people coming to worship. There are women going to church today, in hopes of getting so much notice that church leaders will be like "Oh, well then by all means, wear what ever you want, worship however you want."

See, the funny thing is that you ALREADY can. Anyone CAN wear pants to church; some women already do. People may judge you, thinking you are disrespectful or too poor to have a skirt on, but there aren't any rules against it. Those judging people have their own issues to answer for. It is your choice whether you think it is the most reverent and respectful thing you can be doing and if your heart is in the right place. If you really are just going to worship, I would hope that you do the best you can to worship the best you can. Frankly, it is none of my business. I suppose it is like that speaker said, at least you are going and trying to better yourself... right? Going to church is hard for me some days with dragging kids and doing hair and making an effort to just be there to show my Father in Heaven that I care. I may show up frazzled, frustrated and just trying to make it through the 3 hour block, but I go to church because I want to get past my own faults and just keep trying. I want to show God that to me, my life is about Him as much as I can make it be. What I don't appreciate is a movement to undermine the reverence of a meeting I sacrifice to attend.

How would it make the Lord feel to realize that these women are so focused about having all the glory of the day, about having the Gospel be more about them today, that the Sabbath is more about personal entitlement than the Saviour  Is it so important that we care more about what is covering your hind side than if your fellow worshippers get to worship and get the messages and spiritual growth they are hoping for today?

Comments

  1. I agree with this completely. I also feel concern for those women who wear pants because of health concerns or because of work requirements when they have no time to change, or for any other reason. How many of them will skip church rather than have people assume they're part of the so-called rebellion group? What women wear to church is a non-issue and has nothing to do with the reason we go to Church.

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  2. If I am going to visit my Mum, I dress up unless I arrange to meet her on the beach. If I went to a job interview I would wear my smartest clothes. How much more should I dress when going to the Lord's house

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  3. My husband HATES wearing a suit, but each week he puts on his suit, then add's a tie which he hates more. He has never complained about it - he knows how important going smartly dressed and with reverence. I always try and dress as if I was going to the Temple or actually to meet Heavenly Father. I love the privilege of owning decent clothes to go to church in. It hasn't always been that way. I wear a dress to the Temple which is 35yrs old and made out of my curtains as that was all I had at the time.
    I agree with all three comments above - hooray for love and respect and common sense

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  4. Love this!! Thank you for sharing what so many of us are thinking....I too am a Seminary teacher and think I will share this with my class!!

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  5. You said everything I wanted to say and more. What a well written and thoughtful post. Thank you!

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  6. Yes, I may wear pants to church but I don't often have an opportunity to wear a dress. I work outside and sometimes it is extremely cold (I'm in Alberta, Canada), I welcome the chance to dress up and feel more of my feminine side. My dresses and skirts help me feel reverent. When I was a new investigator, one of our senior sisters commented on my best Sunday slacks, the Elders hadn't mentioned that wearing a dress was required - when I asked about the comment later, these wonderful young men tried to find a few written words saying I had to wear a dress but admitted they thought it was a rule because the females in their families always did. Nice to know I have agency.

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  7. From one who participated, I can tell you that the theme of the day was in fact Christmas (if by Christmas you mean Christ, as we believe he stands at the helm of the LDS church) caring, Christianity, love and devotion. I doubt I'll be able to convince you that this is the case, if the reaction I've gotten from most other Mormons has been any indication, but I do want to say that I did this with a spirit of love and a spirit of devotion. If I didn't love the Church, I'd walk away. If I didn't love my Savior, I wouldn't have set myself up to get the stink eye from friends and ward members who thought I was "looking for attention" as you say. If I wasn't devoted, I wouldn't do my visiting teaching, hold a calling, attend the temple, or do my best to follow the Savior. I know Pants caused a lot of hoopla. And while I think there's room in any discussion for thoughtful disagreement, I hope you can see some of the good that came from it and continues to come from it. Many who hadn't been to church for years or months came in an act of support. I truly hope that the majority of members of the LDS church took this opportunity to embrace them, whether they wore skirts or pants themselves.

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  8. Noelle,

    People gave you the "stink eye" probably because the "Pants day" was seen by many as making a political statement in Sacrament meeting. Many would rather some other medium be used to make a political statement - not Sacrament meeting. Not to mention, so many on LDS feminist blogs come across as thinking that The Brethren are a bunch of old, male chauvinist pigs who are oppressing women. "Non-pants" people in Church find that distasteful. If the "pro-Pants" people don't mean that, then they need to do a better job of portraying their "Christ-like" attitudes. I am so glad that you love the Church and the Savior, but when reading all the hundreds (or even thousands) of comments on Mormon feminists blogs, it is hard to find the few who portray themselves as true lovers of the Savior and His Church. They need to do a better job of portraying that if that is their true intention.

    Personally, I think questions such as "Why do men only hold the Priesthood?" or "Why can't women say a prayer in General Conference?" or "Why are only men Sunday School presidents?" are fair questions. But when those questions are coupled with an assumption that only old, chauvinistic, out-of-touch "oppressing women" male leaders are the reason for it, then it becomes distasteful. At least that coupling seems to be embedded in the majority of online discussions about such subjects. Please change that if you want to be taken seriously.

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  9. Dear Anonymous,
    I hope in the end we can agree that all of us could stand to be a more Christlike, whether we identify as Mormon feminists or not. I can't vouch for everybody, but I can tell you as someone who was quite involved with the whole thing that I saw a truly impressive amount of turning the other cheek and patience in the face of insults and derision coming from disheartening amount of fellow Mormons ("you're going to hell for participating; you should just leave the church; you are stupid" and much worse). Political statement or not, and whether you disagree or agree with the pants thing or not, I hope that the important thing was that they came to church/that they're your sister. I don't think anyone who shows up to Church deserves the stink eye. Because luckily, it's not up to us to be the judge of anyone else's hearts. It is, however, up to us to show one another kindness and respect, on both sides of the issue. I believe the Brethren to be kind, good men who are led by inspiration. And I believe there's room for all of us in the Church, pants or skirts.

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  11. ^^ Condescending much? Anna? I think both Noelle and Anonymous were articulating their sides with respect and kindness.

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    Replies
    1. It was just meant to be a friendly reminder to keep the respect and kindness in case it should become heated in future. But point taken, and I have removed my comment.

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