Diversity vs Moralizing All Differences

I saw a comment on the Internet about how there was a male dancer at BYU that had been reprimanded because he did his dancing try out not matching BYU honor code standards, specifically showing up with no shirt and in shorts.

A number of people (practicing but not believing Mormons) were commenting. Comments included the idea that the LDS Church had an immature attitude towards the human body and that it was dangerous and hurtful. Further, comments mentioned that there was a great inconsistency between being concerned about a violation of the honor code on a dance try out and then not being concerned over a man wearing a swim suit at the pool – which obviously covers just as much. One commenter (same one that claimed Mormons had an immature attitude about the body, I think.) mentioned that there was real danger in having an institutionalized inconsistency like this.

If I had a dime for every set of comments I see like this on the Bloggernacle or Facebook, I’d be a very rich man.

I think we have to be honest with ourselves here. These commenters were not merely criticizing the one incident. Had the dancer been unduly punished and the comments were solely about how the punishment was out of line with the violation, that would have been an understandable complaint.

But I just can’t see how these comments are anything but an outright rejection of Mormon cultural views of modesty as somehow immoral and thus in need of being stamped out of existence.

Mormons desires to encourage and (for those that agree and participate) live a certain set of standards about modesty. It was this cultural trait being criticized. I don’t recall the punishment itself (beyond a reprimand) even being mentioned in the comments, so this can’t be merely a case of feeling a particular incident was poorly implemented or too draconian in its punishment. There is simply no middle ground being left here. One must have these commenters views on modesty or one is immature, and not just immature – dangerous.

The attacks on the inconsistencies seem a bit more relevant, though still viewable from more than one angle. Yes, there is an inconsistency between restricting shirtless-short-dress on campus but then having no issue with swim suits at the pool.

But one could just as easily flip this around and say that the LDS church isn’t trying to be impractical, they are just trying their best to set a workable standard for their university that can easily be put into writing without the need for legalese. The fact that BYU allows an obvious exception for swim wear is proof that they are trying to acknowledge that it’s not about whether or not a man shows his bare chest. We could claim instead that this is just the institutional reality of trying to make a dress code for a Church owned institution that they know some other Mormons will look to for an example.  Not too much one way or the other is the goal – so the cry of inconsistency was probably a given unless they are prepared to make their dress code either require all men at pools to wear shirts or allow all men on campus to not wear one. The choice to be “inconsistent” was perhaps the only realistic one.

Said the way the commenters choose to view it, it does sound like a dangerous institutionalized inconsistency. Said like the above, it sounds pretty innocuous and probably even a cultural trait worth holding on to for diversities sake if nothing else. Perhaps the way it is said says more about the commenter than then the original subject.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. People choose to see the world through certain moral worldviews and everyone else’s is, at least to some degree, immoral by definition. It is tautologically impossible to have ‘two equal moralities’ because if we did, we’d not view the difference as a moral difference in the first place. So there is no middle ground here and I don’t really see a way around this.

Those that choose to see the Mormon cultural and religious choices favoring old fashioned (tried and tested?) modesty as dangerous have every right to use their own influence to try to change the Mormon subculture to match their own personal moral views. They have every right to work towards eradicating all difference between themselves and Mormons that they feel are moral differences.

It does not, however, bode well for the concept of diversity if we can’t stop ourselves from moralizing on something this small. And it bodes even less well when we feel we must demonize those that differ from us on something this insignificant.

17 thoughts on “Diversity vs Moralizing All Differences

  1. Bruce N, I think this is an absolutely brilliant point, and it hits on something that has been bugging me ever since I first began reading Mormon blogs 7-8 years ago. I remember very clearly a snarky post written about seven years ago about how somebody absolutely despised their mission president because he wouldn’t let the missionaries wear green suits — only dark blue and black suits. Now I happen to have two green suits, and I like them. But the thing that drove me crazy about this was: what is the point of writing something like this? The writer’s complaint is not going to change anything. The mission president has come and gone. The post was meant only to stir up contention and cause people to think: “wow, those missionary presidents sure are stupid/inflexible/backward, etc.” It was written in a way that this is the ONLY conclusion you could come to, and if you didn’t you were stupid/inflexible/backward, etc. I left a comment saying something to the effect of “missionary presidents are volunteers trying to do their best — can you cut them some slack?” And of course I was pilloried by future commenters as self-righteous, etc.

    Your point here is exactly right: people have set up a world of black and whites and no gray. Mission presidents must have no standards at all (missionaries in shorts and t-shirts, anyone?). If they have standards they are stupid/inflexible/backward. I can think of dozens of reasons why wearing green suits might not be a great idea. Perhaps it is unacceptable for the region where people are serving. A light green suit might make a missionary look very different than his dark-suited companion. Perhaps missionaries in the past have brought very flamboyant suits, which has caused problems. From the mission prez’s perspective, there is an easy solution: missionaries should wear either dark blue or black suits.

    But the position of the snarkers is meant to challenge the very idea of standards at all. And if you don’t conform to *their* idea of standards you are an idiot.

    The solution, it seems to me, is to follow a few logical points: 1)the Church is a voluntary organization. Nobody is forcing you to go to BYU or go on a mission. If you are going to do these things of your own free will and choice, you will have to conform to certain standards that may not make sense to you at first. There is room for a certain amount of feedback. But at the end of the day, you may not get your way. Deal with it or move on. 2)the world is a diverse place with different people who act in different ways than you would. Learn to be tolerant of their differences. This is a good lesson for us all.

  2. This post articulates some of what I have noticed as well.

    But I don’t think that the standards are inconsistent at all, nor are they a realistic nod to feasibility. Modesty does not exist in a vacuum. It is a product of its environment. This is not a Church concept, but one that exists across cultures. That is why it is okay to be unclothed alone or with a spouse, but not in public. Or in Europe, it is okay to be topless in public, but not naked. Or in America, it is okay to wear a bikini to the pool, but not lingerie which covers more skin than a bikini. Modesty has everything to do with the culture, the setting, and the communicated message. Whether or not that message is communicated intentionally or not.

    And modesty is more than just dress. It is also behavior and language.

  3. I personally feel that a lot in the Mormon Bloggernacle is emotionally unhealthy. I think we need to teach our members the principles of emotional health, and point out when blogs are virtual sickrooms of the emotionally abusive.

  4. So much to comment on… I deleted my thoughts a few times, and now I’ll just turn to some words by Dallin H Oaks which come to mind as I reread your last sentence regarding diversity.

    “The word diversity has legitimate uses to describe a condition…what we now call “diversity” appears in the scriptures as a condition. This is evident wherever differences among the children of God are described, such as in the numerous scriptural references to nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples.

    In the scriptures, the objectives we are taught to pursue on the way to our eternal goals are ideals like love and obedience. These ideals do not accept us as we are but require each of us to make changes. Jesus did not pray that his followers would be “diverse.” He prayed that they would be “one” (John 17:21–22). Modern revelation does not say, “Be diverse; and if ye are not diverse, ye are not mine.” It says, “Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27).

    Since diversity is a condition, a method, or a short-term objective–not an ultimate goal–whenever diversity is urged it is appropriate to ask, “What kind of diversity?” or “Diversity in what circumstance or condition?” or “Diversity in furtherance of what goal?” This is especially important in our policy debates, which should be conducted not in terms of slogans but in terms of the goals we seek and the methods or shorter-term objectives that will achieve them. Diversity for its own sake is meaningless and can clearly be shown to lead to unacceptable results.”

    So I’d ask, the kind of diversity that is being sought in terms of what some conceive as immodest dress, what is the ultimate goal being sought?

  5. It seems that Satan seeks to stir men up to anger against anything and everything. Even small things that are really no one’s business (i.e, dance programs at BYU, where everyone has signed a contract promising to abide by the code) enrage those who seek to be enraged.

    Harold Bloom, the great author and thinker, wrote that the reason God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was not because of homosexuality, but because the homosexuals had become inhospitable. They sought to impose their wicked views and lifestyle on others by force, and were destroyed for it. No one is forced to attend BYU. Such people could just as easily have attended the UofU or a thousand other colleges and danced half naked with no issues at all. But there are those who seek to impose their will on those who quietly seek to live a modest lifestyle. Some of these would have governments force BYU, the Church, and others to accept immoral lifestyles of all kinds on their grounds, and not on the grounds established by the private organizations.

    It will be this kind of issue that causes the collapse of nations today, when the wicked not only act out their evils, but impose them upon others.

  6. Dance auditions are supposed to be a very conservative affair, regardless of the school or company. You don’t want your dress to distract from your dancing in any way, or put-off of the judges even unintentionally. So with this being BYU, this guy was obviously looking for attention, and not as a dancer. And certainly the offended bloggers are looking for an excuse to snip at BYU’s honor code, no matter how ridiculous the offender’s situation.

    Good point, SilverRain. It really is all about the culture and setting. Clothing is a means of communication, a type of language. If this guy were about to go to a swim audition, his clothing would say “I’m ready to hop in the pool!” At a dance audition, the clothing says, “I’m hot enough to be the only one here with my shirt off, and I’m arrogant enough to do it at BYU!”

  7. It’s not just Harold Bloom who said that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality rather than homosexuality. The prophet Ezekiel was pretty clear that “the iniquity of Sodom” was refusal to share worldly goods with the poor: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49.

    I just don’t get why people who have no ties to BYU care that BYU does things that they think are silly and backward. The best comparison I can come up with for me is if I were to get all hot and bothered that Oral Roberts University teaches some crazy ultraconservative notions of history. Who cares?

  8. SR, to back up the point you made in number 2: in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (where I lived for four years) women go to work in short shorts and miniskirts and tank tops revealing just about anything and everything. They go to the beach in mini-bikinis called “tangas” that literally just cover the nipple (think eye patches). Men only wear speedos (“sungas”) to the beach. The Carnival parade has literally thousands of men and women walking around nude. Yet, when I lived there there was a huge controversy because some people wanted to to to the beach nude. The difference between a tanga and nude is literally the size of an eye patch, yet it was *not* culturally acceptable to have a nude beach. The culture drew the line. Tangas and sungas are acceptable, but nude at the beach is not. Nude during Carnival is acceptable, but not at the beach.

    So, even in the Brazilian world of practically no standards (by American mores), there actually *are* standards.

  9. Thank you, Geoff!

    Exactly, and the standards aren’t about what skin is showing and what isn’t (no matter how much dissenters try to force it into that way of thinking.) They are about messages sent. The guidelines set out by Church publications are about setting a standard of skin coverage because that is what is easily monitored and understood, and because that is what is in the LDS modern culture considered acceptable, but NOT because that is what modesty is.

  10. About twenty years ago, in the early days of the worldwide web, someone claimed the peta.org URL and used it for a web site that he labeled People Eating Tasty Animals. The person doing this didn’t seem to have much of an agenda with his barbeque recipes and leather handbags beyond teasing some silly people. He put up samples of the incoming hate mail, some of which ran with the theme, “You must be a terrible, twisted person to put so much effort into this web site.” His responses were something like, “No, it takes very little time and effort. It’s amazingly easy to aggravate some people.”

    That comes to mind because I think we can often assign internet writing more importance than the author had in mind. Some people like to write, and some like to bellyache, and some like to beat their favorite themes whenever a slim opening provides a chance. In cases where no rational person could care as much about a particular topic as some writer seems to, it may well be that that writer doesn’t either.

    Other times, though, the idea mentioned above by psychochemiker about emotional health does seem to apply.

  11. So here’s a question for you. Is modesty really that small? I understand why you say that, but at the same time, it’s often people who take on modesty who are taking on ‘bigger’ issues. Modesty is part of a package deal, and it’s more than just hemlines and necklines. Through small and simple things…. So I guess in a way I’m not sure it *is* that small. Fighting the ‘small’ battles is, in my view, often a smokescreen for a lot deeper issues with our faith. And ironically, as bigger deals are made of ‘smaller’ things, they can sometimes take on even more unhealthy cultural baggage, clouding people’s ability to seek for spiritual understanding of seemingly insignificant ‘temporal’ or ‘small’ standards.

  12. Maybe BYU should only have or allow or support ballroom dancing. Then there would be no possibility of such inappropriate behavior.

  13. Why should BYU have a problem at all? Again, each of the students there has signed onto an honor code that includes a very specific modesty section. What we have here is an incident of someone slyly protesting that code. That is a sign of sheer immaturity. Rather than just warn the student, they should have sent him packing. There are hundreds of kids that want to attend BYU, but can’t, because some idiot like this kid are taking up a space that he does not appreciate.
    If the kid wants to dance naked, let him go to somewhere else that allows it.

  14. Michelle,

    I believe you are right. And I believe that is the answer. But on the surface it appears as I state it. Only once you realize that the goal was not to criticize one policy but to modify out of existence the entire culture does it begin to make sense what is happening.

  15. Don’t you think it goes deeper…that by focusing on things that seem only cultural, people think they can modify doctrine? It’s a perfect spiritual trap, really, and it makes me sad to watch.

    There are two concepts that come to mind – how important it is to understand doctrine (“true doctrine, understood, changes behavior” a la Pres. Packer) and to realize the critical difference between the priesthood line and the personal line of revelation. Most of the energy of criticism is spent is on priesthood line kinds of decisions and issues, where most of spiritual growth, imo, comes of sustaining that line (which includes living in line with it) while seeking earnestly for light through the personal line. Zion isn’t about perfect policies, but about pure hearts embracing and living and being changed by the truth of the gospel — the whole of it.

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