On Pants & Shootings: How will it end?

Last week one of my readers invited me to participate in the ‘Wear Pants to Church’ Sunday campaign.  She gave me a link to the Facebook page so I could get a sense of what this was all about.  I smiled to myself and thought it sounded like a bit of a giggle.  And then I clicked on the link to the Facebook page – and wouldn’t you know it, it felt like the night of the US Presidential Elections again, except this time worse – much, much worse.  The vitriol was  difficult to read, the spite and hatred was meteoric, and left me shaking my head in wonder.  Seriously!?  A campaign for  women to demonstrate their resistance to a certain representation of the ideal Mormon feminine was met with a level of meanness that that made it almost unreadable – and I’m usually up for anything!  In any event Facebook shut the site down because of death threats, one  from a BYU student (Travis James Richardson to be exact) who suggested that these ‘minority activists’ (those who wanted to raise questions about gender inequality in the church) ‘needed to be shot in the face – point black’.

 

And now its Sunday morning in New Zealand and I’m debating with myself whether or not I will wear pants to church today, and whether it really matters after a weekend of unsuccessfully trying to make sense of a senseless and horrific shooting at an American elementary school, and a mass stabbing at a school in China.  I suppose I could talk about US gun laws, and the plight of disturbed young men, oppressive patriarchal regimes, and the insanity of violence as a solution for even those most innocuous of challenges to the ‘order of things’.

 

But this Sunday morning, as I prepare for my penultimate Gospel Doctrine lesson for the year, I want to talk about how it all ends.

 

This year there have been two touchstones in our Book of Mormon discussions that have stood out as the most topical; Clothing (as a sign of class inequality), and violence (as a final solution to that inequality).  These  issues have prompted the most exercised of class responses to our contemporary social arrangements.  A few weeks back,  we considered how diverse Meso-American populations with long held animosities, political, social and cultural differences, were going to peacefully occupy the same space.  Because the message of the Book of Mormon is clear that the nature of an entirely secular existence is such that the final solution to our differences will always, must always be mutual annihilation.  And the only remedy is cultivating the language of the spirit.

 

I’m certainly not wholly conflating the language of the spirit with the language of the institutional church, although I do think as churched folk we are given the tools to apprehend and translate the language of the spirit, but it would appear that even our church language can become secularized (as in the case of the vitriol surrounding Pantsgate 2012).  The cultivation of a vibrant, mature, calming, peaceful and centred spiritual life sometimes has to happen in spite of, or independent of a particular religious orientation because it forces us to face up to our spiritual being in a world of complexity and pain.  A world that calls for our active presence in , not our abandonment  and refusal of that world.  A case in point:

 

Two years ago a Christchurch couple lost their 4 year old son when a young man floored his car through a corner, mounted the footpath and hit Emma and her two children Jacob and Nayan who were walking home from Eastgate Shopping Mall.  Young Nayan died at the scene.  What resulted was something extraordinary.  While the media crucified 17-year-old Ash Austin, calling for his incarceration, Duncan and Emma Woods chose to forgive, and spoke out at publically at the futility of sending Ash to prison – for which they received some misguided criticism.  Duncan’s response was as follows:

 

Many people make assumptions that our “forgiveness” comes out of a Christian faith. I wish I had such faith. I believe in no god and that there will be no reunion with my son at the pearly gates. With no faith I can not allow anger to invade me and spread those feelings through my already reeling family under the belief that we all end up okay for eternity anyway. I don’t have this luxury of a belief structure.  My behaviours are not directed in the best interest of the man who impacted my life so severely, but at the life that remains. I don’t believe that anything I do matters to Nayan, but I know it does to Jacob. So I conduct myself with grace, I find forgiveness (it is genuine), I let go of anger and hatred so that I don’t be a contagion of these things for my living son. My actions are not noble, they are born of what I believe are the best things I can do for him.

 

A centered spiritual life looks beyond the present and asks, ‘how will it end?’  How will it end for me, for my family, for my community and indeed for the world?  From a contest over clothing, to brutal social violence, our current social course seems to be all-symptomatic of a human failing to privilege grace over nature.

 

Will it end with the reproduction of all of our cultural norms, folkways and mores intact?  If so, the Book of Mormon makes clear that the compounding interest on ‘business as usual’ is ultimately too high a price to pay.  We are finally called to a life of spiritual integrity, where all parts of ourselves work in a harmony with each other.  Where the admonishment to be people of grace bears itself out in our personal as well as our political yearnings.  Where our churched spaces are characterized not only by the spiritual animation that is a central tenant of the religious life but also by a daily and public  life that mirrors that animation.   Where we, on a daily basis, powerfully catalyze social and cultural transformation – because our vision and hope in a joyous end is more potent and motivating than our yielding to the inevitability of the final grisly, brutal apocalyptic downfall of the human race?

 

This Sunday women in the church across the United States will wear pants to church, Sandy Hook parents and families will wail with unrestrained grief at their shocking losses, parents in China will keep vigil at  the hospital beds of their lacerated children,  incendiary bombs may go off in Syria, Egypt’s divisive constitutional reforms may incite more fatal demonstrations.  And while there are many words that might critique, analyse and argue  these issues, I feel convinced that only the language of the spirit will help us resolve, heal, and powerfully transcend this moment and bring us to a place of hope and peace where the end is more than the beginning.  How will it end? I don’t know, but today, and everyday I can live as if the end is up to me.

 

  • Ganesh

    One of the first ‘minority activists’ of the church was Emma Smith, she dared to suggest that the school of the prophets practise of chewing tobacco couldn’t be inline with the God that she was aquainted with. She probably even threatened to withhold her cleaning services. Her protests lead to Section 89 and our most distinctive doctrinal practises.

    • Gina Colvin

      Churr! Go Emma eh? I wonder sometimes if her disapproval of polygamy was also inspired and had her husband listened to her we wouldn’t have this uncomfortable historical legacy.

      • George Ziegler

        Oh come on Gina.I’m sorry but I have to add my two cents here. If her disapproval of what the Lord instructed her husband the prophet to do was inspired, that suggests that God is a God of confusion, contradicting himself, and we know that’s not possible, so why even suggest that!? I’m sure it was more of personal feelings, as the majority of people would feel who are devoted to their spouse.
        And I think it a bit of a stretch of the imagination to call Emma an activist! Expressing displeasure at an extremely unpleasant task would hardly be grounds to be classified as a rebel!

        • Gina Colvin

          I think our activism comes in all kinds of shades George!! Emma has spurned a legacy of faithful descent which Mormon feminists have long drawn on as an inspiration. I wouldn’t say that her protest and displeasure was without its consequences across time.

  • http://www.heartofafricafilm.com Margaret Blair Young

    This is a gorgeous synthesis of the terrible with the ineffable. Thank you.

    • Gina Colvin

      Its my pleasure Margaret. Thanks for your feedback.

  • Darren

    “How will it end? I don’t know, but today, and everyday I can live as if the end is up to me.”

    You’re exactly right, Gina. You should always personalize the scripture and be the best moral person you can be.

  • pagansister

    As to a woman wearing pants to church—does God really care? I would think that he/she would be happy because they came to church—not the outfit worn. As a woman who can’t remember the last time I wore a dress anywhere—it is obvious I’m not male when I wear slacks/pants. What is the point in insisting that a female Mormon wear a dress?

  • Rich

    Your insights leave me hopeful that 2013 can be a tiny bit better. I’m thankful our church has members like you Gina!

    • Gina Colvin

      Thanks for the vote of confidence!!!! Much appreciated.

  • JR

    I understand both sides of the issue. I have been to other churches where women and men wear shorts (weather allowing), torn clothing, etc. I can understand why the church wants us to wear our best to show respect, to help us be the best we can be. But on the other hand there are parts of the world where our U.S. culture imposes certain things that are cultural and tries to make it doctrine. Like white shirts for males. The church could do a better job with culture in other countries, even here. We are so bogged down as a church with culture that we have forgotten doctrine. I don’t care what people wear to church. My son had a friend leave the church because the Bishop of the friend insisted the friend wear slacks to pass Sacrament. The friend wore his best dark black jeans, that is all he had, came from a very poor family. He wore a white shirt and tie but that was not good enough for the Bishop. There is no consistency – one Bishop can be a tyrant and another be humble, and interpret things differently. We have to quit accepting Priesthood authority that is abused as normal. There are other issues in the church that, in my opinion, are more important to bring to the attention of the church more than women wearing pants to church.

    • Gina Colvin

      I agree – there is too much variability in the style of leadership and few checks on it so that we get tossed about quite a bit depending on the kind of bishop/State President we have. My bishop wouldn’t give two hoots about what someone wore to church, as long as they were there. Another Bishop felt the young men were nudging toward inactivity when their hair strayed below the neck line or came to low on the brow! I think the pants thing is part of the bigger picture your point to. The fact is that Mormonism suffers from a legacy of charismatic authoritarianism. My sense is that it is fading at the upper ends of the church. There are fewer edicts now, and more generosity in our political, cultural, intellectual diversity. The members on the other hand are harder to move because church is bound up with their identity and their culture and change in that regard threatens change to self. But watch this space – my sense is that we are at the start of the Mormon Renaissance!

  • http://netzero john cunningham

    the heshes that pretend they are females would be identified and have a problem with it.

  • Mark Jasinski

    Don’t you think sacrament meeting is not the place to make political statements?

    • Gina Colvin

      Keeping women feeling as though they have to reproduce a particular kind of feminine aesthetic in church to be accepted is political. What these women are setting out to do is to make a social change – and I know no other earthly place in which our greatest yearnings for social change is more explicitly stated than sacrament meeting. We Mormons are the consummate theorizers when it comes to social change, as long as its not right here and right now! This campaign just makes it present.

  • Sam

    So did you wear pants to church? And how did it go?