A few weeks ago at church, a visitor from another ward stayed after Relief Society to chat with me. After talking for several minutes about important things like suffering, prayer, and healing, she threw me for a loop with a completely different topic of conversation.
“Can I ask you a random question?” she said.
“Why do you wear pants to church?”
I stared and stammered a little — an unusually inchoate response from me. I was completely thrown by the question, which I considered a fairly shallow inquiry coming hard on the heels of a meaningful theological discussion. But it was obviously important to the woman standing in front of me, who seemed like a very kind person who somehow couldn’t reconcile the fact that a member of the Relief Society presidency could unapologetically wear slacks to church almost every week.
I did not give her a satisfying answer. In the weeks since then, I’ve thought of several responses I could or should have provided, including my favorite: “Well, in all those dreams I’ve had where I showed up to church having forgotten my pants, nothing ever ends well.”
- I could have tried the practical route and pointed out that it was fifteen degrees outside and I deserved to stay warm in winter.
- I could have tried the service route and noted that I am sometimes on standby as a substitute nursery leader, and pants gave me the flexibility to play on the floor with two-year-olds.
- I could have played the modesty card and observed that pants cover up far more of my body than skirts and run less risk of unintentional garment peekage.
- I could also have made a legitimate case that since most of the first-timers who show up in Relief Society are wearing pants, someone in the leadership should wear pants to let them know that they’re absolutely welcome in church even if they don’t dress like Molly Mormon.
There were lots of ways I could have played it, but the real reason — “Because I am in charge of my own life, and I prefer pants” — would only have prolonged the conversation. So I basically stared, and wondered. Why in the world is this insignificant cultural issue even a topic of discussion?
I’m not aware of any official pronouncements on this subject, which is an appropriate lacuna because the whole question is silly. I don’t require a pat on the head from a guy in pants in Salt Lake City giving me permission to wear pants. It’s hardly a gospel question; it’s a cultural one that is steeped in Mormon ideas of class, gender, and respectability.
I’d rather focus on the actual needs in my ward, the task of healing my little corner of the world. So I will roll up my shirtsleeves — and my pantlegs, if it comes to that — and get to work.