*For those of you who are not LDS, a little background: In our faith it is the cultural norm for women to wear dresses or skirts to Sunday services. It is our belief that congregants should wear the best of what they own, and historically this has meant dresses and skirts for women and shirt and ties/suits for men. There is a movement to “silently” protest other cultural and political inequality issues within our church by wearing pants to services this Sunday. This movement has been received with much vitriol and general misunderstanding by those who simply do not agree.*
A couple of weeks before I was supposed to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I was in the university library doing research when, on a whim, I decided to look up “Mormon” in the encyclopedia. It was simply out of curiosity for what I would find there (I had practically never heard of a Mormon before my encounter with it not too long before then). I also had a bit of roiling indecision as to how I felt about its polygamous past. And I knew Mormons had received quite a bit of persecution for this as well as other things especially in the early days. Essentially, I was looking for a way to bind myself to them through their past struggles. Empathy breeds loyalty quite often, after all.
So with an inquiring and somewhat fearful mind I read the entry under “Mormon.” I was met with most of what I expected, but one thing I did NOT: Blacks and the priesthood. I learned that prior to 1978, blacks were not allowed to hold the Priesthood. Simply because they were black. An anguished disbelief filled my soul in that moment. I shut the book, my eyes tearful, a painful pressure in my chest. What I had thought was the answer to my spiritual longing had turned out to be a farce--yet another example of human bigotry and hatefulness.
I wrestled with this news. At first I was in disbelief. I asked Brad about it. Was it true? He had no answers at the time which satisfied my troubled heart. And believe me, I WANTED someone to give me an excuse. ANY excuse which I might find just acceptable enough to make the leap of faith.
How could something that seemed so beautiful have that kind of ugly stain on it? How could Mormons claim their prophets were inspired by God if these so-called prophets had historically treated those of differing skin color so unfairly?
I’m not going to go into the details of my decision to join the Church anyway, or the years of unreconciled issues with some of the skeletons in the Church’s closet. Suffice it to say, I’ve come to terms with blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, gender issues, and nearly everything else that has given me pause because I have knocked, repeatedly, tearfully, on Heavenly Father’s door.
My point here is that I struggled. I was hurt when I read that. Deeply. I couldn’t understand. I could not envision any explanation that would satisfy me (and I have heard a lot of explanations which I think are a load of poppycock but that seem to satisfy other people just fine).
And so now I’ve come full circle. Being on the other side, the side that’s at peace with how things are, looking at those on the outside of the window who have read their own encyclopedia under “Mormon” and don’t like what they see. Feeling alone. Confused. Frustrated with one explanation after another foisted on them which doesn’t satisfy. What’s worse, their struggle has been trivialized, attacked and met with swift judgment. What was once their quiet pleadings for understanding have now turned into frantic and public tears of strife. Some even concoct extravagant defensive plays, all in an effort to protect their tender hearts from human judgment, and many in an effort to return the hatefulness, tit for tat. An eye for an eye.
The general feminist stance on the role of women in the church doesn't resonate with me. And that’s all I’ll say about that. But I will say this about the people who do agree. I’ve read and heard their words. I know them. I’ve befriended them.
And you know something? They, on the whole, are more thoughtful, more understanding, more introspective, slower to anger, slower to judge, more loving, more Christ-like than most of the “conventional” Mormons I have met. What’s more, these odd-balls, who seem always to interrupt the flow of Mormon culture, have inspired me in a way that has, over the years, built this great sieve of compassion within my mind through which my experience of humanity passes through. I am more like Christ because of them. The ones we so often consider controversial, too-sensitive, too malcontent, spiritually offensive even, have been my spiritual guides toward eternal perspective.
I know one thing for sure about these souls, and more specifically about women who face struggles with reconciling gender equality. They are authentic. They aren’t making it up. And you know who else knows this? Christ. He suffered their pains just as they face them now, so He knows. Will we then, simply because we haven’t walked in their shoes, claim that their struggle is ill-founded? Will you tell Christ that too? He who bore that pain for and with them? Who bore your own pain as well?
It’s not about the pants. It is about the pants. To me, it doesn’t really matter what it’s about. These precious souls are suffering. I will wear pants for them because I love them. I will bear possible judgment for my actions because I love them. Maybe not a single sister in my current ward is struggling. But then again, maybe one is. And maybe she feels alone. She might even be too frightened to wear pants herself. Is my search for the one worth the likely possibility that people will draw the wrong conclusion about my participation in such a “protest”?
I’ve seen a number of well-meaning but misguided responses to the pants movement. One, the argument that this “protest” is disrespectful to the sanctity of our Sunday meetings, sacrament specifically. My thoughts are that the Sacrament is about communing with Christ. What else can we bring to the sacrament table but those things with which we struggle? Yes, the intention may be two-fold. It is, for many, a call for attention to those things with which they struggle. And you know what? That’s okay. Because the Sacrament was instituted because of our imperfection. Do we not also call attention to ourselves when we don't take the sacrament because of our suffering that makes us feel too far removed from Christ's mercy? Well, I can tell you that those who feel ostracized for their sentiments on female equality in the church often do feel removed from His love, and especially from the love of others. I've seen their tears with my own eyes. And the bottom line is it's being brushed aside as "sinful" or "testimony damaging." Too many want to shut the conversation down because it threatens the fabric of their testimonies. The beauty inherent here is that we all, whether pants or skirt wearers, will be meeting at His table, petitioning whether quietly or openly to that same God. The right people will hear the real message. I hear. The humble and charitable will hear. But most importantly, He hears.
There are going to be many who have looked, are looking, and will look at those with pants with pity or even anger. Probably their meditations will be interrupted. Perhaps even their ability to perceive the Spirit. But the walk for everyone is a solitary one. What we choose to look at on our path is up to us. The more critical players in this are the ones who are hurting. And their pain is very very real.
Don’t you just want to put your arms around them and tell them that you love them and that you understand what it’s like to struggle?
I do. So I'm going, with my pants-clad legs, for them. An embrace. They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. We, them, you, him, her, I. All are sick spiritually. Who is right concerning womens' roles in our church is not my concern, and I will not make an ultimate declaration about what is when it comes to gender and the Church. Ultimatums are dangerous. They stunt the growth of our souls and inhibit our journey toward becoming more like Him.
So I’m here, sisters, brothers. I've heard you with an open heart. You are not alone. I want to help you bear your struggles, and if wearing pants can be a balm of Gilead for you, I will wear them. I love you.