Free to Choose Immodesty

There is a scandal going on at BYU as we speak. It’s such a horrible atrocity that the subject hardly fits within civilized conversation. In fact, it probably has the force to bring the Church Educational System, nay, the Church itself, to it’s knees!

Or maybe not. Maybe some self-righteous guy was just being a bit of a prick.

Why even discuss something like this?

Two of the missions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are to proclaim the gospel and perfect the saints. In Preach My Gospel, we are told that the purpose of missionary work is to “invite others to come unto Christ”. This type of incident interferes with the offering of that invitation, and consequently with the potential happiness and peace that follows the acceptance of that invitation.

The Note

On Valentines Day this week, Brittany Molina was studying accounting in the Tanner building on BYU campus. A complete stranger, a young man, walked up to her and gave her a note, then quickly disappeared. Excited to be getting a love note from a secret admirer, Brittany opened the letter and read this:

You may want to consider that what you’re wearing has a negative effect on men (and women) around you. Many people come to this university because they feel safe, morally as well as physically, here. They expect others to abide by the Honor Code that we all agreed on. Please consider your commitment to the Honor Code (which you agreed to) when dressing each day. Thank you.

As a side note, I went to BYU for a world-class education, not because I was looking to obtain an education in an isolated bubble. But I digress.

What kind of outfit was Brittany wearing?

This young man was not Brittany’s bishop, home teacher, parent, Relief Society president, or friend, and as such she was not his stewardship. The letter was a cowardly, emotionally immature misstep that embarrasses me as a BYU student and a Latter-day Saint, and should embarrass this young man.

You can find more updates on this news story in the article “BYU student’s honor code note goes viral” and the article “After dress code debacle Molina takes lemons and makes lemonade”.

The Letter of the Law

What does the Honor Code say about dress and grooming standards?

The dress and grooming of both men and women should always be modest, neat, and clean, consistent with the dignity adherent to representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any of its institutions of higher education.

Modesty and cleanliness are important values that reflect personal dignity and integrity, through which students, staff, and faculty represent the principles and standards of the Church. Members of the BYU community commit themselves to observe the following standards, which reflect the direction of the Board of Trustees and the Church publication For the Strength of Youth. The Dress and Grooming Standards are as follows:

Women

A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained. Clothing is inappropriate when it is sleeveless, strapless, backless, or revealing; has slits above the knee; or is form fitting. Dresses, skirts, and shorts must be knee-length or longer. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extremes in styles or colors. Excessive ear piercing (more than one per ear) and all other body piercing are not acceptable. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas.

This mirrors what the Church leaders have written in the pamphlet “For the Strength of Youth” on dress standards.

From the picture, it looks like Brittany’s dress comes above her knee. The BYU Administration has made it clear that leggings do not waive this standard. Under these guidelines, is she breaking the standard?

Yes.

And I’m completely okay with that.

There are too many other issues of greater import that demand my attention, and demand the attention of my peers in the Church, for us to be concerned with a minor dress infraction on a college campus.

The Prayer of the Utahns, er, I mean Zoramites

I think it may be worthwhile to look a prayer of the Zoramites. Their form of worship involved climbing a great stand known as the Rameumptom and repeating, verbatim, this prayer. It went, in part:

“Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy….

“Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children….

“But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren… which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.

“And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen” (Alma 31:15-18).

This attitude is repulsive, and it’s one that I see exemplified in the above letter. What did Alma think of this prayer?

“Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and a perverse people….

“Yea, and he also saw that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride” (see Alma 31:24-35).

Choosing to be Offended

We each have different standards. When confronted with such base evil as an honor code violation, what other choice do we have than to take offense and confront the evil-doer?

According to Elder David A. Bednar, we have plenty of other choices. He says,

“It ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else….

“To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.”

If someone does not share our standards, we have complete control over how we react when those standards are not met. I’ve lived outside of Utah most of my life. I grew up in California, served a mission in Hawaii, interned for a summer in Oregon, and will soon live and work in Washington. I’ve met countless people with different standards than mine. Had I always chosen to be offended and confront others like this young man, I would have run out of ink long ago.

Our Responsibility

I have standards of my own, and contrary to popular belief, I don’t think that they are restrictive. These standards act as guardrails in my life, and help me to be happy. Knowing how happy I am, I would certainly want others to share in that happiness, right? This leads me to share my standards, in the form of the gospel, with others.

But there is an important balance between boldness and overbearance. People are “free to choose liberty and eternal life,” but they are also free to choose “captivity and death” if that’s what they want (2 Nephi 2:27; see also this section of “For the Strength of Youth” on Agency and Accountability).

So what is this balance?

I talk about this in a post about Mere Christianity, and you can read more there if you like. In short, as we try to find this balance between being bold but not overbearing, between sharing our gospel standards and still remaining Christlike, perhaps we should keep this council from Rex Lee in mind. He said,

“It’s not enough to do the right thing. We have to do the right thing in the right way” (see here, page 4).

I like to go one step further, and add “for the right reasons.” Remembering that the ends do not justify the means helps keep us from going astray.

Is confronting a random girl about her perceived immodesty doing the right thing? Perhaps. Probably not, but perhaps.

But was it done in the right way? Certainly not.

And was it done for the right reasons? I’d wager the answer is a resounding “No”.

Let us keep this council in mind as we seek to balance boldness with overbearance in our quest to bring the everlasting peace and happiness of the gospel of Christ to our friends and neighbors.

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