I wore the pants twice. Once, on “protest day.” The other was a few weeks later, on a day when it was -13 degrees outside. I decided that since it was not a big deal for anyone the first time, and since it was freaking frigid outside, I would wear them. Both times, I chose an outfit that I wear to church often, subbing in a black pair of dress slacks in place of the black skirt I would wear. I went about my Sunday mornings the same as I always do, preparing as reverently as possible with four kids in the house. I felt that I looked nice, that I was wearing some of my best clothing, and that I was ready to participate in the sacred ordinance of renewing my covenants. Again, it was uneventful. Mostly, people seemed not even to notice. I say this, not because I was expecting or waiting for a big response, but for the sake of illustration. I had honestly hoped that there would be no response at all. In my extremely conservative Lehi ward, that seemed like a tall order.
On a Tuesday evening a few weeks later, I got a call from the First Counselor in our Bishopric. When I had concerns about wearing my unconventional dress pants, Brother C was always the one I imagined would have a problem. He had called to ask if he could come by the house, and confirmed that my husband would be home. I said he could, that Jeremy would be. He had come to our house before, to extend callings. It never entered into my mind that he would be coming to confront me about pants, or to give me a worthiness interview in my front living room, with my children running around the house. I am still incredulous when I remember his first words to me, which were, “I have come to talk to you about your wearing of pants to Sacrament meeting.” I remember him saying that the reason he felt duty-bound to speak with me about it was that some of the people in the ward (an unspecified number) had come to the Bishopric with concerns that they were “allowing” my behavior. He had an obligation to “fix” my bad behavior, so that people would not get the impression that they were ok with what I was doing in wearing pants to church. In Other words, some unnamed group of people in our ward were standing in judgement of me, and he didn’t want to be held guilty by association or complacency.
I remember I handled myself calmly and I was mostly articulate. I remember him being largely inappropriate. He pointed to a couple who had just moved in, where the wife was hugely pregnant. He talked of how she was wearing a skin tight shirt that showed everything, and how he couldn’t help but notice how attractive she was. How “back in his day” women wore clothing that hid that kind of condition. But, this is the way we do things now, so he guessed he would have to “just get used to it.” He also crossed the line in a big, HUGE way, by telling me a story that he had no way of knowing I already knew. My bestie, Kristen, (who had long since moved out of the ward) had been called in by the Bishop several months earlier, for breastfeeding uncovered while doing her calling in the library. While my opinions on that are a mute point, this is not: Brother C, who was not in that interview with the Bishop, was sitting here in my living room, detailing intimate details of her discussion with the Bishop, and regaling me with tales of how wrong she was to do that, and how they had set her straight. I suppose this was all some sort of attempt to illustrate how wildly out of control we women are in this ward, though I honestly didn’t pick up on that in the moment.
(As a side note, when I told the Bishop about this later, he got very angry. He was insistent that he is “very tight lipped” about the things said in his office. He also said the reason that Brother C knew about it was that he had handled it. Which was not true. Her interview was with the Bishop, only.That whole thing is still disturbing to me. I should not have to live in fear that what I say in the confidence of the Bishops office will be used as an example of what not to do, in others ward members living rooms. Wildly inappropriate, IMO.)
But, I digress. There was a moment, where I had pointed out that the church has said that we do not counsel members on what to wear to church, and that dresses/skirts are a social norm that have nothing to do with actual doctrine. Bro C was reading to me from the RS handbook (he had come prepared), some obscure quote he had dug up, that said women are encouraged to dress in their best, and not to wear anything that is too casual. I countered, “I don’t feel that there is any difference between a black dress skirt, and a nice, tailored pair of black dress slacks. I felt as though I was in my best dress.” He got very angry, then, and said to me, “Well, we as a Bishopric dis.a.gree!” I had nothing to say back, out of fear of being accused of not obeying my priesthood leaders. In hindsight, I would have said, “Please, head on back to my closet and pick out for me, then, the outfit that you think is my very best. Because, apparently that is what we are doing here. You are here to tell me what my best is, and I am expected to comply or face publicly humiliating consequences. Are you in the habit of of telling all of the ward members that what they feel is their best, is not good enough?!” In hindsight, I am also really glad I didn’t get that snarky with him. The conversation as a whole was actually fairly kosher. I felt I had articulated myself well. I definitely had some adrenaline running through my veins.
That week was particularly difficult. I can remember it was one of those weeks where everything seems to be a challenge or a crisis. I got sick the day following our confrontation. Like, bed-ridden sick. Laying in bed gave me time to reflect on how hurtful Bro C’s visit had been. I started crying, remembering how he had been so condescending. I reflected on the fact that he had a very sick wife at home, but felt he had nothing better to do than spend an hour and a half of his Tuesday evening lecturing me on my choice of church clothing. I reflected on what I felt was an invitation by a member of the Bishopric to conform, or get out. I felt I had been told that I had to hide my true self, and put on the face of illusory perfection, if I wanted to continue in my “highly visible” calling. There was no room in their ward for my imperfection. *Especially* not in Sacrament Meeting, where we are all showing each other how righteous and good we are, by mode of dress. I reflected on the unnamed group of people who had judged me, and hidden that judgement under the umbrella of the priesthood, allowing them to remain anonymous to me. I thought about how I was being asked to fix their judgement, their ignorance, for them. Once I started crying, I couldn’t stop. I cried for the rest of the week. I cried as though someone I loved had died. Maybe because I was dying inside. I seriously considered quitting, considered telling them to keep their damn church calling, and their “perfect” ward. I was so hurt, so angry, so in utter disbelief that people could get this upset over an extra seam in the fabric between my legs. Talk about much ado about nothing!
My anger led me to write this blog post. It was a good outlet. But still, I wavered in my eventual resolve to keep my calling. I imagined standing up every week to lead the music, in front of a body of people who were laughing at me, judging me, looking down their noses at me. Just the thought of it shook me to my core.
A friend recommended that I talk with my Bishop. I took that advice, and made an appointment. That meeting is mostly a blur. Except for the resolution, which I wrote down that day: He had said to me, “When someone in the ward is doing something wrong, it is our responsibility as a Bishopric to make sure that that behavior is corrected, or it looks to other ward members like we support what is going on. For example, if a male ward member is living in an apartment with his girlfriend, and they are not married, we need to address that so that others don’t start to think it is ok.” While I disagree on many levels, my response was, “Maybe, in a situation where someone has done something wrong, you need to address it. But, in my case, I didn’t actually do anything wrong. (He nodded his assent, here.)
“What has happened here is that a body of your ward members are standing in judgement of me, which I believe to be wrong. Your response to them is what I would call a “blame the victim” mentality. Instead of addressing their judgement with them, and working to fix that, you have brought their problem to me. You’ve made it my responsibility to fix their problem for them. It’s for them to resolve with their Savior. It is not for me to make the problem disappear so that they don’t have to be uncomfortable, anymore.”
The Spirit was so strong! He sat in shock, nodding agreement. After a few moments of silence, he said to me, “Ok, then. Let’s leave it at this: as long as you feel you are in your Sunday best, we will leave it at that. You’ll never hear another word about your mode of dress at church, from me.”
While I felt such comfort at having been validated by my Bishop, it took me a long time to heal from the hurts of being rejected by my ward. I haven’t worn pants since, feeling as though I could not emotionally endure another bout with these fine Christian people. However, this new action has inspired me. It has rejuvenated me. I find myself waking up to the fact that my worship is my worship. Regardless of what anyone else thinks or says, when I take my own reverence into that sacred ordinance room to renew my covenants, the Lord accepts my sacrifice. He doesn’t look at my outside apparel. He looks into my heart. A heart that is as sincere as it ever was; maybe more sincere for the healing I have received of Him, from this traumatic experience. He sees me, He knows me, and with my Savior, I don’t have to hide who I am under billowing layers of fabric called a skirt.