Song of the Week 2: Run
In Keeping with Our Modesty Theme

A Sense of the Despicable

I originally posted this back on May 28, 2006. But in honor of the subject being "called" as a new "apostle" today in the LDS church, I thought I'd resurrect it and post it anew. I wonder if the opinions he expressed in the article will now take on additional heft among the members? Are words spoken prior to one's call given apostolic authori-tay?

If Jesus were to walk into an LDS church meeting today, how would He be received? If the latest article in a church magazine on the subject of dress and grooming is any indication, Jesus very likely would be asked to leave. Why? Well, let’s start with hair: in all the pictures I have seen of Jesus, He has long hair. And, typically, He is shown wearing open-toed shoes. According to an LDS church General Authority, such things are offensive to God.

In the June issue of the New Era, the LDS Church’s official magazine aimed at adolescents, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy (the governing council just below the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency in the church’s hierarchical ecclesiastical structure) reprised a talk he gave to young people in 2004 titled “A Sense of the Sacred.” This issue is not yet available online at the church’s web site.

Here are the lowlights of the article with my comments on the same:

A Sense of the Sacred

Awhile back a young woman from another state in the United States came to live with some of her relatives for a few weeks. On her first Sunday she came to church dressed in a simple, nice blouse and knee-length skirt set off with a light, button-up sweater. She wore hose and dress shoes, and her hair was combed simply but with care. Her overall appearance created an impression of youthful grace. Unfortunately, she immediately felt out of place. It seemed like all the other young women her age or near her age were dressed in casual skirts, some rather distant from the knee; tight T-shirt-like tops that barely met the top of their skirts at the waist; no socks or stockings; and clunky sneakers or flip-flops. One would have hoped that seeing the new girl, the other girls would have realized how inappropriate their manner of dress was for a chapel and for the Sabbath day and immediately changed for the better. Sad to say, however, they did not, and it was the visitor who, in order to fit in, adopted the fashion of her host ward. This example illustrates one of my concerns.

So, the standard is now knee-length skirts. Are you saying, Todd, that the Lord is offended by young women wearing skirts that do not fall to the knee or lower?  I had never pictured the God of the Universe looking down from his throne on the planet nearest the star Kolob with a measuring tape in hand to determine with exactness the length of skirt his young female worshippers were wearing. 

And are only “light” sweaters with buttons acceptable to the Lord? Or can a young woman wear a heavy sweater without buttons? Todd, you imply that young women who fail to wear hose to church are dressed inappropriately. This seems a strange requirement to me, as the wearing of hosiery is often designed to accentuate the attractiveness of a woman’s leg for the pleasure of men. For this reason, strippers and prostitutes often wear pantyhose as a means of eliciting a sexual response in their male customers. Todd, I am sure this is not your motivation for encouraging teen girls to wear stockings or pantyhose to church. I do have another question for you on this subject, though: is it better for a young woman to wear fishnet stockings or attend church barelegged?

Years ago my ward in Tennessee used a high school for Church services on Sundays while our chapel, which had been damaged by a tornado, was being repaired. A congregation of another faith used the same high school for their worship services while their new chapel was being constructed. I was shocked to see what the people of this other congregation wore to church. There was not a suit or a tie among the men. They appeared to have come from or to be on their way to the golf course. It was hard to spot a woman wearing a dress or anything other than very casual pants or even shorts. Had I not known that they were coming to the school for church meetings, I would have assumed that there was some sort of sporting event taking place.

So, let me get this straight, Todd. You want to dictate to people of other faiths how they should dress for their services as well as dictate to young people how they should dress for ours? And you think that one reason people of other faiths should dress the way Latter-day Saints do is so that you, as an observer, won’t be confused about whether they are going to church or a sporting event? Your “shock” at seeing how people dress for their worship activities reminds me of some folks I have read about in the scriptures: “And it came to pass that after much labor among them, they began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel—therefore they were not permitted to enter their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross.” Alma 32:2-3. Congratulations, Todd, you have much in common with people from the Book of Mormon, even the Zoramites! Oh, and why do you capitalize the word “Church” when referring to the LDS church but not when referring to other “churches”? Is that a subtle arrogance manifesting itself?

It offends God when we come into His house, especially on His holy day, not groomed and dressed in the most careful and modest manner that our circumstances permit. Where a member from the hills of Peru must cross a river to get to church, the Lord surely will not be offended by the stain of muddy water on his white shirt. But how can God not be pained at the sight of one who, with all the clothes he needs and more and with easy access to the chapel, nevertheless appears in church in rumpled cargo pants and a T-shirt?

Well, it’s nice to know there is a “Peruvian Hillbilly Exception” to the Lord’s dress and grooming standards. Of course, curses on the Peruvian hillbilly who wears a blue shirt to church—that would, I am sure, offend the Lord’s tender sensibilities. So, God is not only offended but “pained” by: flipflops, clunky sneakers, skirts a half-inch above the knee, shirts that only barely meet the top of a skirt, colored shirts, bare legs on women, cargo pants, and men who don’t wear neck ties. 

Some say dress and hair don’t matter—they say that it’s what’s inside that counts.

Yes, Todd, “some” do say that. Who are some of these “some”? Here’s one: “But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7. Last time I checked, that was a Seminary Scripture Mastery scripture. I guess it’s a good thing the Lord did not need to rely on you, Todd, to find the man who would become King of Israel. In a Messianic prophecy, Isaiah said the Lord “shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.” Isaiah 11:3-4. And Jesus said “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” John 7:24. Todd, the Jesus I read about in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon seems to be foreign to the Jesus you claim is “offended” and “pained” by people coming to worship Him however they are dressed. As Hugh Nibley, Mormon apologist extraordinaire, put it: “The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism.” Approaching Zion at 54.

[T]hose who do not appreciate holy things will lose them. Absent a feeling of reverence, they will grow increasingly casual in attitude and conduct. They will drift from the moorings that their covenants with God could provide. Their feelings of accountability to God will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, they will care only about their own comfort and satisfying their uncontrolled appetites. Finally, they will come to despise sacred things, even God, and then they will despise themselves. . . . Rather than letting your life drift into carelessness, may it be one of increasing exactness in obedience.

This is really an astonishing series of pronouncements, Todd. But perhaps I should not be surprised. You are merely following the GA formula for talks: tell a fanciful story or two that fits perfectly into the point you want to make, pronounce some guilt-inducing new requirement for the membership to worry about, induce fear with a parade of horribles that allegedly will follow failure to adhere to the new requirements, and close with a plea for greater obedience to the counsel of the Brethren. But I must say this is really off the charts. We are supposed to believe that the slide down the slippery slope begins with wearing flipflops to church or, for men, wearing a blue dress shirt instead of a white. From there, the descent into perdition and a state of self-loathing is sure to follow.  The ridiculousness of these assertions to me is so obvious as to need no elaboration. But your audience, Todd, consists primarily of unsophisticated young people who have been indoctrinated their whole lives to “follow the Brethren” unquestioningly. So, your statements, while laughable to someone like me who can easily shrug them off, are irresponsible and dangerous to the impressionable young people who read the New Era. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for your fearmongering in the name of God. While you may be “concerned” about the length of skirts young women wear on Sunday, I am concerned about the harmful effects your despicable remarks may have on those same young people. That you are in a position of authority in a church that claims to be run by Jesus Christ Himself, and that you apparently have the blessing of those in the highest governing councils to peddle your nonsense, is enough to induce nausea. 

Comments

Belaja

BRAVO! What I find really worrying about this kind of thing is how it enables "wolves in sheep's clothing"--literally. Say you're an impressionable child and have been taught that outward appearance is a sign of righteousness. All a predator (of any kind) has to do is wear all the right clothes and have the right hair and styles. Adults get taken in by this crap too of course, but to have the church foist it on the inexperienced and consciously train them in it is--as you rightly say--despicable.

-Domokun-

Nice fisking, Equality.

"...is it better for a young woman to wear fishnet stockings or attend church barelegged?"

Fishnet stockings, definitely.

Meg Slate

Well done, Equality.

This stuff is so damaging to the youth of the church. The continued focus on the bodies of these young girls is demeaning and despicable. We should be focused on making them feel good about themselves, helping them feel empowered and proud of themselves. Instead we are telling them that donning flip flops will send them on an inevitable downward spiral toward self-hatred.

It is not flip flops, Mr. Christofferson, it is YOU who will make these poor young people despise themselves.

Capt Jack

"Had I not known that they were coming to the school for church meetings, I would have assumed that there was some sort of sporting event taking place."

You tell them, Mr Christofferson, everybody knows the Only True Worship is a business meeting with the corresponding dress code.

Great job, Equality. I, like you, get a little angrier every time I think about this article. The youth of the church deserve praise for their efforts, which are many, rather than condemnation for not measuring up to someone's outdated standard. On the other hand, I guess they're being prepared for a life in the church.
Jane Austen

Extremely Disaffected

I have seen the Fundies on CNN's 360 going to Church. They are all dressed in an appropriate manner according to Brother Christofferson (it looked spooky). I wonder if TSCC feels that the Fundies have stolen the one true dress code as well as the term "Mormon." among other things.

Extremely Disaffected

Equality,

I love the "Peruvian Hillbilly" excuse. Maybe this could be like a "beard card" at BYU. How hard do you think it would be to get this "Peruvian Hillbilly" card. Would it only be given to Peruvians?

Matt Elggren

This past Sunday my younger daughter had the pleasure of sitting next to one of the Christofferson faithful as she (a 10 yr old) reprimanded another primary child for wearing gouchos. The poor girl ran off crying to her mother. This young saint then asked my daughter what she thought...my daughter said, "well, my older sister is wearing gouchos today too." Silence.

What a mess the church makes of our children.

ChristFollower

His point about dress showing respect has some abstract validity to it. The problem is "the other end of the stick", where we have people running around the church as self-imposed dress police. IMHO the damage done through encouraging judgmentalism is worse than the good that is done by encouraging people to show respect through their manner of dress. The bottom line is that a principle like this should be taught, and then it's up to the individual to decide how to best show respect. We are very good at teaching people how to put up facades and not very good at teaching them to admit they need a Savior.

Equality

CF, I agree with you. I didn't mean to imply that I thought people should be slobs or that there aren't good reasons to dress nicely on occasions or that church might not be one of those occasions. What is pernicious to me is the idea that, as a matter of principle, what is on the outside is a reflection of what is on the inside--that this is a valid way to judge others. I think D. Todd might do well to watch the movie Devil's Advocate where Al Pacino plays the devil (who is, of course, a lawyer). He's very well-dressed and well-mannered. I think that was the point Nibley was making as well.

Gunner

Putting the Carnival together and was surprised. The speaker was from my wife's ward and at our reception. I never knew the man outside of a handshake but my wife's family fawns(?) over him. Also Packer which they knew in Boston.

Diane Lowe

I too, prefer the fishnet stockings.

But then this begs many more questions to be asked:

Do women have to wear pantyhose, or are thigh-highs OK? If thigh-highs are OK, then can't I wear thigh-high stockings with a garter belt? What about knee-high stockings? Since our skirts come to the knee (or lower) already, knee-highs should be OK since people won't look above the knee.

:P

Great post!

Craig

Wow, creepy to the max. Even when a (relatively) loyal member of the church, I found such teachings absolutely crazy. I never understood why they were so fixated on such silly things. I'm surprised it took me as long as it did to finally leave the church.

hank rearden

That's it. From now on, no Mormon can mock the Jews for "looking beyond the mark", developing laws on top of commentary on laws, creating the Talmud, etc. The degree of freedom (the plural nature of "degrees" clearly being far too lavish) offered the faithful Latter-day Saint is but smoke and a mess of pottage for the freedom that is their true birthright.

Those fuss-budgety cultural excesses of the previous generation are being embraced by the next. Instead of the tolerance and big-picture orientation of Hugh B. Brown, the most uptight quirks of Mark E. Petersen, Boyd K. and Bruce R. receive current leaders' imprimatur.

Let the inexorable and logarithmic slide into complete irrelevance begin! The stone cut without hands was not merely a growth/force metaphor - it was a clear projection of cultural sophistication.

Carrie Oakie

Great post and good E. quote: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for your fearmongering in the name of God." Indeed!
Todd (I'm going to call him this from now on)sounds like the male version of Julie Beck.

Sister Mary Lisa

I wonder what Todd'd say about a man wearing pantyhose with his suit. I think it'd be priceless being a man and sitting next to him so he could see the nylons below the cuff of my trousers...I bet he'd move away slowly and start drafting his next talk right then. Heh.

J. Muhlestein

I agree that there is some "looking beyond the mark" going on here, but I'd point to your fisking rather than Elder Christofferson's intended message. So keen are you to point out anything and everything you consider offensive about this talk that perhaps you marked not what's the pith of all--that some church members, especially teenagers, choose to wear clothing that draws attention to themselves rather than allowing the focus to stay where it should be--on the worship of God. And yes, that is a problem.

It's not up to me or any other fellow churchgoer to pick on others and point out what is or isn't considered appropriate dress. That is indeed offensive. (Mote and beam, anyone?) But it *is* the responsibility of Church leaders to define appropriate dress if it's clear that the rule of thumb isn't being adhered to in church. Ergo, this talk.

-Domokun-

J. Muhlestein wrote: "But it *is* the responsibility of Church leaders to define appropriate dress if it's clear that the rule of thumb isn't being adhered to in church."

J., I hope you are aware of the Bible Dictionary entry on the Pharisees:

=====
http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/p/30

PHARISEES

A religious party among the Jews. The name denotes separatists. They prided themselves on their strict observance of the law, and on the care with which they avoided contact with things gentile. Their belief included the doctrine of immortality and resurrection of the body and the existence of angels and spirits. They upheld the authority of oral tradition as of equal value with the written law. The tendency of their teaching was to reduce religion to the observance of a multiplicity of ceremonial rules, and to encourage self-sufficiency and spiritual pride. They were a major obstacle to the reception of Christ and the gospel by the Jewish people. For the Lord’s judgment on them and their works see Matt. 23; Mark 7; Luke 11: 37-54.

=====

To me, it seems like church leaders dedicating a whole talk to church dress is exactly in the spirit of the Pharisees. It's ironic to me that if you substituted "General Authorities" in that entry, it would still be true. The LDS church is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would rail against if he were on the earth today.

INTJ Mom

Great post. I think you should send this in a letter to good ole' Todd. And btw, I've despised sacred things, and (shocker) even god for close to 20 years now and amazingly I don't despise myself. I'm doing pretty well.

dpc

If Jesus were to walk into an LDS church meeting today, how would He be received?

"I'd bet he'd be cool
I'd bet he'd be mighty fine looking
I'd bet that he smells divine
And I'm not talking about Calvin Klein's Obsession
No, he's just one of those people who smells good all the time, there's no reason why"

"I Bet He Was Cool", by Savage Garden

The whole post sounds like a tribute to Pink Floyd's "A Brick in the Wall"

We don't need no education, Todd...Leave those kids alone!

It's comforting to know that you have the intellectual sophistication to shrug off such harmful advice. Teenagers are a lot smarter than you give them credit for. I think your attitude towards them is unwarranted and it also makes you appear both condescending and arrogant.

randy

Well, the Reagans' church in California would scandalize Elder Kristofferson. I went there once with friends who attended that church--back when Ronald and Nancy attended--and half the congregation was dressed casually.

I was in an innercity branch for a while where one of the kids passed sacrament in a New Orleans Saints t-sirt, and nobody else was any more or less observant because of that. Oh, and the EQP who preceeded me had his son and daughter help prepare the sacrament on Sunday mornings, and the bread and water seemed to have the same effect on the believers as if they had been prepped by Aaronic priesthood holders. Hey, Mayan, remember that kid who wandered into sacrament meeting in his swim suit, looking for the pool?

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