Spencer W Kimball’s (former LDS Prophet) spoke to BYU students a number of years ago on becoming perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. In this talk, he outlined areas where we should strive for perfection, which include: personal integrity, commitment to (BYU) standards, honoring covenants, roles of men and women, and personal appearance. While I agree that it is important to strive to become closer to God each day, I have experienced sometimes within the LDS culture a tendency for members to over emphasize some of the points that Kimball mentioned about being “perfect”. I have personally seen how this can lead to judgement of others, and essentially pulls people away from God when they think they are doing everything “right” in order to be favored of God.
Each person is travelling this journey of life and is on a different point along the path and with their relationship with God. Do I think it is a good thing to strive to be perfect in our covenants, integrity, commitment, and personal appearance? Absolutely! However, those of us who may be further along the path or perhaps have learned how to experience a close relationship with God shouldn’t shun those of us who are perhaps at a different point.
I’ll share some examples regarding striving for perfection in appearance, particularly on Sunday.
Within the LDS church, members are expected to dress a their Sunday best when attending meetings. Men are expected to wear a white shirt and tie and if you are the Bishop (pastor) I’m not sure if it is just an unwritten rule, but a suit is always the norm. Additionally, facial hair is not accepted if one is called to a leadership position such as a Bishop or Elders President (Men’s Group Leader). I assume the reasoning behind this is to portray the image of being closer to Jesus. The white shirt represents purity, closeness to God, etc.
While I do not have a problem with people wearing their Sunday best, I do have a problem with people who wear their Sunday best and then belittle or criticize those who don’t wear their church clothes in the same exact way.
I’ll share a personal story. A couple years ago, we moved to a new ward (congregation) and I wore a colored shirt with out a tie to church the first Sunday. The bishop of the congregation came up to me and said some things that could have been offending if I had let them be. Other personal examples are that I usually do not button my top button on my shirt when I wear a tie (I hate wearing ties!) because it is too restrictive. I also have other clothes that I feel fit my personality and style, which I feel are Sunday best but not necessarily a white shirt. When I wear these clothes, I’ve been teased and even reprimanded over the years. It gets even more fun when I let my beard grow out!
Another example I heard just the other day was a lady who came to church who hadn’t been in awhile and she invited her non-LDS friend. They both wore nice dress pants, but felt very looked-down upon and unwelcome because they weren’t dressed in the “right way”. She decided she didn’t want to come to church again.
I think the problem with having a mandate to have everyone look and act a certain way is that it then becomes a social norm. Subconsiously people think that it is wrong not to look and act in that certain way and others get ostracized or belittled either to their faces or behind their backs. In addition, I’ve seen that if people are not dressed in the certain way that is normal, people think that is an outward expression of inward sin on the part of the individual.
For those of us who are guilty of judging others for their outward appearances (I think all of us are guilty of this), it is important for us to remember the scripture in 1 Samuel 16:7:
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
So next time you see someone at church who may not be wearing clothes that are supposed to show an outward appearance of perfection, make a concious effort to not judge them, but reach out to them and get to know them for who they are. Chances are, they’re just trying to develop a relationship with God just like you are. They just hate wearing ties!