This is not a Mormon-themed blog. When I do write about my religion, I try to make it very personal, because I can only speak for myself and my personal faith. But there is something going on in church culture right now and it is disturbing me deeply. I believe that a lot of us Mormons have lost focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of following a bunch of superficial rules. Most specifically regarding dress standards and modesty.
I get it, it’s easier to mark-up a checklist of rules and believe we are “righteous” than it is to measure the charity in our hearts, our love for one another, or develop a real relationship with our Savior. But should the Gospel be easy? Is it easy to come to Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit? No. But it is easy to say today I read my Scriptures, prayed twice, paid my tithing, held Family Home Evening, did my family scripture study, didn’t drink any coffee, tea or alcohol, do any drugs, or smoke anything so I must be a good person, right? Well I don’t know. It is possible to do (or not do) all those things and still not be righteous because of the way you treated someone. It doesn’t really matter how many Family Home Evenings you’ve held if you are gossiping, judging others, treating your spouse like crap, or going out of your way to make someone’s life miserable. On the flip side, you can do all those things but also treat others with Christ-like love, acceptance, and go out of your way to serve.
And I’m not saying that I’m above reproach. Oh no, I’m very well aware of all my imperfections and the mistakes I make on a daily basis. I’m not always Christ-like, I do judge others (especially those who go out of their way to hurt people), and I’m not always as open-minded as I want to be. So, by writing this I’m not trying to judge anyone, just call attention to how we all can be a little more Christ-like and a little less focused on the rules and more on loving others. Because, after all, President Thomas S. Monson said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”
I didn’t want to write a post about modesty. I am so, so, so sick of talking about it. However, there are several instances where I believe Latter-day Saints have gotten out of hand with this modesty rhetoric. For example, I have heard recently my friends tell me of incidents where:
- A non-member friend was turned away from an LDS Youth activity for how they were dressed, which was entirely appropriate but not up to “Mormon modesty standards.”
- A son was forbidden to pass the Sacrament because he has a shaggy haircut that his parents have no problem with.
- A 12 year old girl was sent home from Girl’s Camp because all of her shorts came one inch above the knee and were not right at her knee or capri length.
- An investigator was given snotty looks and was gossiped about for wearing a sleeveless dress to Church.
- An adult woman was told that the way she dressed (which was modest by all accounts and covered her garments, she just happens to have a shapely figure) was so provocative it might turn on a man who might go out and rape someone because of seeing her.
- A 28 year old single woman was given a lecture about how to attract a mate that had nothing to do with being a good person, good partner, and a woman of integrity, and everything to do about hygiene, wearing make-up, and dressing cute.
- A mother posts pictures on her blog of her kids first day back to school and gets 100 comments, some of them chastising her and calling her righteousness into question, for letting her teenage daughter wear an appropriate top that just happened not to have sleeves on it. In 114 degree weather.
- A son was not allowed to bless the Sacrament because he was not wearing a white shirt.
- Girls are being forced to wear loose t-shirts and shorts over their swimming suits at Girl’s Camp so as not to “tempt” the priesthood holders there, while boys are pretty much allowed to swim in trunks bare-chested at Scout Camp.
- Notoriously, a girl was kicked out of the testing center at BYU-Idaho and was not allowed to take a test because she was wearing skinny jeans. When in actuality she wasn’t and isn’t against the BYU dress code.
- Notoriously, a girl studying in the library at BYU on Valentine’s Day was approached by a boy who gave her a note shaming her for the way she was dressed because it turned him on.
All this stuff, this non-important superficial stuff, is driving me crazy. I cannot imagine the Jesus that I have read about and studied in the New Testament would be okay with anyone being turned away for the way they are dressed. In fact, who did Jesus embrace and show love to when everyone else wanted to stone her? The adulteress (John 8). And I’d have to say being caught in adultery is far worse a sin than a tank top on a non-endowed woman. And what did Jesus write on the ground when Pharisees demanded that she be stoned? “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” If we are all sinners, we are we throwing stones at each other? Why are we shaming our fellow brothers and sisters over how they are dressed instead of accepting them and loving them for who they are? The way we dress is a very poor indication of our inner worth or goodness as a person.
And when I think of these poor young women or young men being turned away from activities or not allowed to participate in ordinances they are worthy for (and shirt color and length of hair does not and will not ever be able to tell anyone about the righteousness of that person’s character) I can’t help but think of the Scripture, “But Jesus said, suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). What is more important people – what these children wear to church or an activity or the fact that they actually showed up? A teenager willingly comes to church or to a church-related activity and we have the temerity to turn them away? Are we crazy? How is the exclusive behavior going to help build the kingdom when the Gospel of Christ is supposed to be inclusive?
I highly doubt that when we get to heaven that God is going to be so concerned with the way we dressed (which has everything to do with culture, climate, and time period) that it will trump how we treated people, if we were a loving parent, spouse, friend, and if we honestly strove to serve others with a joyful heart. But then again I’ve always been a spirit of the law kind of person, and not the letter of the law. If God is going to keep me out of heaven because more than once my skirt hitched up and you could see the bottom of my garments, or I folded my arms and part of my cleavage was showing, or because when I lifted my arms above my head part of stomach showed, then that’s not a God I want to believe in. I believe in a loving God; not a punitive one.
And I will be damned if anyone tries to make my daughter feel ashamed of her body because of the way she is dressed. Doesn’t she get that enough from the media? Doesn’t she hear enough messages out in the world telling her she isn’t good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, stylish enough, without her getting it at church too? I got some flack for letting her wear a bikini this summer because “someone might look at her in a sexual way” and I say if anyone is looking at my 11 year old in a sexual way they are a pedophile and they need to be locked up and kept away from children for all time. She is a little girl.
Some people think I need to teach her how to dress like she’s wearing garments now or she’ll never be able to make the wardrobe switch when she goes through the temple. To this I say, BS. I grew up in a part-member family and my parents did not wear garments. I never saw garments until I married my return missionary husband. In fact, I didn’t even know what garments were or that Mormon adults wore them until I was well into my teenage years. I didn’t take out my endowments until I was 26 years old after almost 6 years of marriage. And somehow, without any training my entire life, I was able to make the switch in my mind and wardrobe over what clothing is appropriate now that I have made sacred covenants regarding the garment. It was actually really easy to stop wearing regular underwear, tank tops, and shorter shorts. The difference between me and my daughter is that she has not gone to the temple, she has not made any covenants, and as her parents we’re not going to pretend and force her dress like she has.
We are forgetting the real definition of modesty and let me tell you , it has nothing to do with hemlines and the lengths of sleeves. Modesty is defined as freedom from vanity, boastfulness; regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress; simplicity and moderation. Which is why I find those Sexy Modest boutiques to be so deliciously oxymoronic. You cannot be calling attention to yourself and be modest no matter where your skirt falls on your body. There is also nothing humble about turning those away from church activities or shaming them for their dress because you are essentially saying you are so much more righteous than them that you can be in a position to judge them. That is not anywhere near decent behavior.
I am not saying we should do away with teaching our children the standards of the Church. But all those rules and commandments are going to mean nothing if we are not first teaching them how to be Christ-like. One of my favorite quotes is from LDS church founder, Joseph Smith, when he said, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves” (Messages of the First Presidency,comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 3:54). So can we please, please, please stop this madness and allow each other to govern ourselves without feeling like every member the modesty police? We need to stop and ask ourselves “is this what Christ would do?” before we tell someone they can’t come to church with flip-flops on, kick them out of a testing center, shame them into thinking their body is responsible for someone else’s sexual thoughts, or make them feel unwelcome at church or an activity. If Christ can love and accept the adulteress, we can love and accept the girl who shows up to a church activity in a tank top.