Oh, Pantsgate, Pantsgate.
For those of you not following along, a feminist Mormon group, All Enlisted, created a small event: Wear Pants to Church Day, in which Mormon women would go to church wearing pants in order to quietly protest sexism in Mormon culture and, yes, doctrine, too. (Note: this post is NOT the place to debate whether or not there is sexism in Mormon culture and doctrine. It’s beside the point.)
I am a proud feminist and a proud Mormon, but I wasn’t going to participate in Wear Pants to Church Day. Though I believe we have room for improvement in terms of how we treat women (to put it mildly), I don’t think a Sabbath worship service is the appropriate venue for protest. People are there to worship their Savior and commune with Him by partaking of the sacred emblems of His flesh and blood. They don’t need to be put on edge or made to feel wrong. It’s a personal, intimate, sacred space. It’s not a space for public displays of discontent. As correct as he may have been with the substance of his complaints, Martin Luther didn’t nail his 95 Theses to the door during Mass.
Besides, as I looked at the life of the Savior, I could not think of a single instance when He went out of His way to “make a point” or “stick it to the man.” That isn’t to say He didn’t make points. In fact, many of His points were very controversial and they enraged the religious establishment. But it seems to me that He largely made these points as He performed His greater ministerial work: teaching people, caring for the downtrodden and outcast, healing the sick. In the course of an active, engaged Christian life, I reckon you will challenge more than enough people just by existing. I wasn’t sure that you needed to set aside a special day for it.
So I was content just to sit this one out.
But then something happened: the event grew. And grew. It got picked up by the local press. Then it got picked up by the national press. Suddenly the Facebook page was a flurry of activity — much of it horrifically abusive and vitriolic.
There was dismissal. There was ridicule. There was judgment. There was anger (and not the righteous kind). There was frantic insistence that wearing skirts and dresses is the only way for women to honor God on the Sabbath Day. There were calls for the excommunication of organizers and participants. There were even death threats and threats of violence made against fellow Latter-day Saint women for — what? — wearing pants to church? Something that isn’t even “against the rules”?
And that’s when I realized. My dear friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we are broken.
We are hurting in deep, deep places. The vitriol and rage that is coming from both sides — though from what I’ve seen, most of it appears to be on the side of those most vehemently against the pants — is shocking. It reveals a deep insecurity we carry as Mormon people: the fear that we are not enough.
It’s not hard to see why. We have been mistreated. Our history is one of expulsion and even extermination. Though we’ve managed to integrate into the larger society fairly well these days, we still fight stereotypes on a daily basis. The outside world thinks of us as “weird,” “cultish,” rigid, unacceptable. They make fun. They dismiss us. And it hurts.
So we’ve said, “We’ll show them.” We respond by putting our best foot forward and donning our happy, smiling faces. We dress in our Sunday best and go to church and live each day trying to convince everyone around us and ourselves — oh, especially ourselves — that we’re fine, we’re fine, we’re fine. Even when we’re fighting depression, anxiety, self-loathing. Even when we’re struggling with pornography, substance abuse, anger. Even when we’re sick. Even when we’re destitute. Even when we’re lonely. And it’s hard work. It’s not easy putting your best foot forward when all you want to do is curl up on your couch and cry. It’s not easy serving others when you’ve denied yourself to the point you’re not even sure you exist anymore.
So when someone comes along to tip over the apple cart and says, “Maybe we’re not as okay as we think,” there’s backlash.
So much backlash that Facebook has to shut down a page about a harmless protest about pants, because it’s a become a hotbed of abuse.
Brothers and sisters, it’s time to stop this.
I still can’t get behind a protest in church. It’s not the right venue. But neither can I let my sisters, who have decided to take off the mask and do the unthinkable — go against the narrative and say, “hey, I’m hurting here” — stand out there all by themselves to catch 200 years of pent-up pain from a beautiful, brilliant people who perhaps still struggle to find their place in this world.
So here’s what I’m going to do. Tomorrow, I’m taking a trunkful of my best clothes to the local homeless women’s rehabilitation center. I’m going to give it to the women there, who need nice clothing for court appearances and interviews with potential landlords. On Sunday, I’m going to don jeans and a t-shirt — because by then that will be the nicest clothing I own; quite literally, my Sunday best — and go to church and sit with my ward and take the Sacrament and worship the God of our mothers and fathers.
If there are other women in pants there, I hope they will understand what I’m saying: “I love you. I’m with you. Your pain is my pain.”
If there are those dressed in their Sunday best (just as I will be dressed in mine), but who are afraid that what’s inside never quite lives up to the shine they’ve created on the outside, I hope they will understand what I’m saying: “I love you. I’m with you. And if I can be here like this, please know that you are acceptable just as you are.”
My dear friends, there is room enough in Christ for all of us.