Wearing My Pants and My Broken Heart to Church

(For a quick primer on why Mormon women wearing pants to church is a big deal, read this article, or visit the official Pants to Church website.)

Confession: I didn’t wear pants to church last year on December 16. I wanted to stand with my brothers and sisters who often feel marginalized in our church, who are hurt by the harmful gender inequality we see in the workings of a church we’ve loved. I couldn’t do it. Instead, twenty minutes before church was supposed to start I sat on my bedroom floor sobbing, staring at the lovely brown dress pants laid out on my bed. I chose a purple skirt instead, told myself that this was not the way I wanted to engage in the discussion about Mormon feminism. I told myself that I was choosing not to cause a stir so that I’d have better opportunities to build bridges and talk to my church family about my concerns.

The truth: The vulnerability of being the only woman showing up to church in pants was too frightening for me. The vulnerability of standing out, showing on the outside the deep ways I felt alienated on the inside, was just too much for me. I wanted my brown, hounds-tooth dress pants to wave on my legs like a flag—a symbol of my broken heart. I wanted to go to church in pants and say to the people I’d loved with and worshiped with and served with: Please see me. Please see how much I’m hurting, how much I wish our church were more Christlike, how much I wish I were better than I am, how deeply I wish to believe that there’s a place for me here, even with all my doubts and frailties. I wasn’t brave enough.

Since that day, I’ve worn pants to church a number of times. At first it was an act of bravery. I felt different, felt strange and stared-at. Another woman in my ward thanked me for wearing pants and began to do so also. I’ve heard gossip that others in our congregation have seen our pants-wearing as a sign that we don’t have firm testimonies. Trust me, though, these pants-wearing days had little to do with any lack of conviction on my part. It’s become more pragmatic than that. I find it utterly silly that a bunch of fabric that would be perfectly suitable as a dress somehow becomes inappropriate church attire when it’s sewn together between my legs. Also, I find it much easier to focus on worshipping God when I feel secure and comfortable—wrestling two little boys through church is much easier to do in pants. I’ve come to love being the weirdo woman who wears pants to church. The whole unspoken, unofficial dress-code of our happy-valley culture is not something I agree with or feel a need to abide by. When I show up to church I wear my best, and I’m there for reasons much deeper than signaling faith or lack of faith through my outward appearance.

I don’t wear pants to church because my testimony is hurting or because I lack faith and have doubts. I come to church, whether in pants or a skirt, because my testimony is hurting, because I lack faith and have deep, serious doubts. This is a bit of a coming-out post, because even some of my closest family members and friends have no idea how much I’ve struggled and questioned over the last few years. I’ve questioned everything, spending months at a time feeling solidly agnostic even about the existence of God. I have serious concerns about the ways the LDS church functions, the way our Mormon culture deeply harms individuals who don’t fit the mold. I have honest, probing questions about the truth and value of certain practices and doctrines. I have good and beautiful homosexual friends who have left the church because they could not embrace their sexuality, stay Mormon, and stay alive. This deeply troubles me. Though the official church stance on LGBQT people has changed in positive ways, I think, there are not enough answers yet for me to feel satisfied with them.

My heart, my good and loving heart that still wants to be like Jesus like it has since I was a little girl, cannot always square the reality of my church and its imperfect people with the goodness and love of the Jesus Christ that is its namesake. So I struggle. I hurt. I try. And I keep coming to church, because if there is a God in heaven (and I do believe there is, want to believe in a father god and a mother god who are our heavenly parents and love us) then I want to keep giving God the opportunity to touch and soften and mold my heart.

Perhaps it is wrong to live like I do, to believe as I do. I am, admittedly, better at living the second great commandment—love your neighbor as yourself—than I am at loving a God that I can’t always find a way to access. Perhaps that is pride on my part, I don’t know. But I just can’t believe that God would make the two great commandments mutually exclusive. I believe in loving God by loving his people here on earth, by loving and accepting and welcoming those around me—my atheist friends, my gay friends, my drug-addicted friends, my Molly Mormon friends, my Buddhist friends, all of the people around me whose goodness could never be contained in a label. I love them all. And though there is much I am struggling to believe right now, there’s one thing I will likely always believe in. I believe in Jesus, I believe in the Jesus who loved the sinner, who reached out to the outcast and pulled her in with his love and his tenderness. I believe in the Jesus who asked us to do likewise, and I am earnestly trying my best to follow that example.

So today I’m wearing pants to church. Not just that, I’m wearing pants to church in the congregation I grew up in, with the people who first taught me about Jesus, who taught me to believe and watched me grow up so sure of my faith. Today I feel brave enough to be honest about who I am. I want to believe, I’m hanging on to the core of my faith, but I’m not always sure about the rest of it. I want to believe, but I also want to be part of a world that is kinder, more inclusive, more Christlike. So today my pants are more than pragmatism. Today my faith and my doubts and my struggles and my compassion will be worn on the outside. Today I stand in support of all those who could use a bit more love and welcoming. I believe in making the circle wider. I believe we all have the capacity to love more, to see each others’ broken hearts and find room for all kinds of people, for many different people with many different ways of finding truth.