Mormon feminists have hit on fashion to promote demands for a larger say in church affairs: This Sunday is “Wear Pants to Church Day," intended as a show of solidarity for women’s religious rights. Their sartorial flair has triggered some support – along with some bitter anger.
The event, which was being promoted on a special Facebook page, had drawn more than 1,200 supporters, a relative handful compared with the 6 million practicing Mormons nationwide. But by Thursday evening, the original page had been taken down and a new one posted, with this note:
“The event page got taken down due to the death threats. this is a page to further the cause but without a face attached. This page is for women who are choosing to wear pants this next Sunday.”
A screen shot of the original page included this comment:
“every single person who is a minority activist should be shot .. in the face … point blank … GET OVER YOURSELVES ….”
Passions were flowing about far more than pants.
“I’ll tell ya, the damn liberal women’s movement has all but destroyed God’s amazingly beautiful art of ‘femininity,’” wrote one male visitor to the original page. “I’d love to ‘weigh in,’ but a bunch of liberal HE-girls are not going to like my opinion of their angry masculine ways.”
A woman responded: “Ladies. Gentlemen. The point here is not pants. The point is to expose the fact that something as trivial and benign as pants can cause a riot. When a rule is this meaningless, and this scary to break, it NEEDS to be broken.”
Women commonly wear dresses or skirts to worship services, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not prohibit them from wearing pants. Yet proponents say women are expected to quietly toe the line on what men consider the proper clothing to be worn to church.
"The LDS dress code is not doctrinal," said one commenter, a woman. "Never was. All it amounts to is the opinions of elderly men."
In a statement issued before the death threats, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said, “Attending church is about worship and learning to be followers of Jesus Christ.”
For years, Mormon advocates for women’s rights have called the male-dominated church leaders hypocrites. Although the liturgy praises women as life-givers, men dominate church management, they say. Women cannot be ordained to a lay priesthood available to men and boys 12 or older. That gives men a spiritual and practical power that women do not share, critics say.
The church says that women’s roles are not lesser, just different.
The Facebook group, which calls itself All Enlisted, formed this month in an attempt to attract attention from Mormons nationwide during the holiday season. Organizers are also asking men to show their support by wearing purple, a color historically tied to women's rights.
Many commenters on the original Facebook page said the Mormon faith would be the winner in the debate -- if the movement got more people to attend church.
“If wearing pants gets you to church, great!” one Facebook visitor wrote. “If wearing a kilt gets you to church that’s fine, as long as you are not missing the important fact that we should be there to worship the Lord.”
But the threats cast a chilling shadow.
"Mormons actually threatening to kill others because of pants??? There is seriously something wrong when people are threatened by women wearing trousers," one woman wrote on the new Facebook page. "We are supposed to be members of a church that teaches love and tolerance and acceptance. Honestly, the hate I have seen about this issue leaves me wondering why people are members of Christ's church if they can't at least try to not judge others."