By Gabriel Bell, Refinery29
In a mere 150 years or so, Mormonism has gone from a small, viciously persecuted sect to a thriving, global religion. Point of fact: This year, America - where church members were once hounded and killed for their beliefs - had an opportunity to elect its first Mormon president. That said, to some Mormons, their community still has some growing to do, and they've turned to clothing to make their point.
This week, thousands of Mormon women wore pants to Sunday services in an organized movement that was far more than a fashion statement. As the New York Times reports, there are no specific restrictions against women wearing slacks to services in the Mormon faith. Church leaders told the Times, "Generally church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don't counsel people beyond that."
Nonetheless, this "Wear Pants to Church" demonstration raised eyebrows and voices due to the issues it targeted. Currently, a significant number of women and men within the church feel that various policies represent antiquated and what some would call sexist values: women cannot be ordained, are not required to go on missions (as men are), and must contend with other inequalities both social and theological. By wearing pants to services (something frowned upon by many, even if it's not officially restricted) women all over the globe visually demonstrated a demand for increased equality. It was, in the view of one expert, "the largest concerted Mormon feminist effort in history" - a significant, conspicuous demonstration for a religion that has, for many justifiable reasons, kept much of its inner workings out of the public eye.
Of course, any push for change will attract detractors. And this demonstration for gender equality was no exception. "What is wrong with all you women??? If you're not happy with the LDS church, move on, find another place of worship. You will not change Mormon Doctrine," said one female Internet commenter. Yikes. But, judging from reactions on social media - where "Wear Pants to Church" as a moment was born - there have been just as many positive responses as negative ones. Obviously, the Mormon faithful will need to talk this out.
And, regardless of its immediate effect, "Wear Pants to Church" has achieved something profound. Said one feminist Mormon, the campaign, "has people talking about Mormon gender roles more than anything I've seen." Whatever your position on Mormonism, feminism, or religion in general, it's impressive to see important intellectual, theological, and social debates spurred on by the simple act of choosing what to wear. As people who deal daily with the fun, periodically silly aspects of dressing, moments like these remind us that, sometimes, there's real power hanging in our closets.
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By Gabriel Bell, Refinery29