Monday, 25 November 2013

Mormon Women: “Wear Pants to Church”–or Nothing at All?

Wear Pants to Church 2What is happening in the Mormon Church? For a second year Mormon women are being encouraged to wear pants (trousers) to church to support a feminist drive in Mormonism. What is it about?

According to the Pants to Church official website:

“Mormon feminists, women and men, wore dress pants and the color purple to their local LDS Church services on December 16, 2012. People wore pants for many different reasons, but many of those who participated were concerned about gender equality in the LDS Church.

This year, Mormon feminists will be wearing dress pants and/or the color purple to LDS Church services on December 15. We are wearing pants to celebrate inclusiveness in the LDS Church. We believe that everyone is welcome at church.

and he inviteth them all to come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile (2 Nephi 26:33)”

This gives an insight into the level of anxiety felt among Mormons over the simplest, most innocent things. I remember being at a Mormon dance in the 1970s where there were some colourful lights travelling gently around the walls and ceiling. One woman (it always seemed to be the women) protested, “Strobe lighting has been banned by the church!” She clearly had no idea what strobe lighting was but she knew the rules.

Mormons worry about such things and who can blame them when their religion is so often about petty rules and regulations? Even when you leave such a setup it can take years to get out of the habit of asking yourself, “Is it allowed?” The Pharisee party in the Bible would feel at home among these people.

Church leaders, too, can’t help themselves, with an “official statement” being issued:

"Millions of women in this church do not share the views of this small group who organized today's protest, and most church members would see such efforts as divisive."

For pity’s sake! Its a pair of trousers. But that is where Mormonism is, culturally, in the 21st century; anxious, apprehensive, legalistic, always looking around, anticipating a tap on the shoulder, an invitation to have a chat with the bishop about appropriate clothing. “Brother Thomas, where is your tie today?”

Apparently, there was “a milestone at a church general conference in April when a woman led a prayer for the first time in the conference's 183-year history.”

Imagine that! A woman praying – in church!!

As these things do, it can get ridiculous. At the most recent general conference in October, women stood in line outside an all-male priesthood meeting and asked to be let in. They were denied. They were protesting at women’s exclusion from the Mormon priesthood.

Imagine that! Women barred – from a church meeting!!

Mormon Women Bare

But imagine if they had turned up naked! Salt Lake City photographer, Katrina Anderson has been photographing nude women for the past year for her project You can read an interview with here on Religion Dispatches.

The photos, she says, are a statement against the "extreme modesty culture within Mormonism."  She feels although the intention to teach modesty is good, the effect is often shame and too much focus on sex. "I don't think women should carry the burden of how men view them and see them," she said.Eliza Snow

Imagine trying to persuade Eliza Snow (right) to take off her clothes for the camera! She would banish you to Outer Darkness.

Of course, like all legalistic systems, Mormonism majors on guilt, and sex is such an easy target in the Christian West. Many a young Mormon has spent two years fighting against his hormones on a mission, far from home, dreaming of his wedding night only to find duty, religion, piety and a set of ugly, cumbersome temple garments all conspiring to make the night memorable for all the wrong reasons.

What is happening in the Mormon Church? The world, the march of progress, education, the challenge of post-modern culture. It is what is happening to churches across the western world.

They are having to face the onslaught of reason and the challenge of liberalism and reason demands they pick their battles more wisely. I suppose trousers in the chapel are radical enough for now.

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