“Jesus hates your jeans.” An ode to church leadership.

I was hurt and sad tonight, but this post is not at all to hate on anyone specific or the church at large, even though this is about a very specific conversation I had tonight with someone representing the church. I hope with this post someone in that seat I was in feels understood and heard and I hope someone in the opposite seat as me thinks about things differently.

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Temple recommends. Temples are beautiful and I love them. I love the ceremonial aspect of it all and how ‘not in the world’ it is inside those blessed walls and I love to sit in the celestial room. I’ve had so many good experiences and I feel like I’ve grow closer to my Savior when I go to the temple and am able to find peace and comfort when I am super down and sad. I’m grateful I get to go and it’s part of my life to live worthy to be there. The LDS church only allows members abiding by the church rules and commandments and those that can answer the questions of the temple recommend to obtain a pass to enter. These questions are about faith, your commitment to the church, your habits with alcohol and premarital sex, if you’re honest, and other things of that nature. First you meet with the Bishop, the leader over the congregation that you go to, and then you meet with your Stake President, the leader over multiple congregations. Then you have a recommend for a few years before it expires and you go meet with leadership and answer the questions again.

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This last 15 months, I have probably only been in the country 4 of those. It’s been crazy and I feel tired and like I just want to eat salads all the time when I’m home (those are hard to safely come by in the third world). When I was in the Philippines this last January, I had already been a lot of places and I was behind back at home.  I had a really rough couple days where I was feeling inadequate and unsure about life and work and just all the things – one of those “the world hates me days”. One of my favorite things about being Mormon is the world wide church that makes me feel at home everywhere I go. The lessons are the same in every congregation all over the world. The leader is the same. The buildings are the same. You have an immediate family and help, and it has been such a blessing for me as I travel. I knew there was a temple close by where I was staying in the Philippines,  so I went to it that evening, and it was exactly what I needed. More so than anything else, I needed the renewal and peace of the temple and the calm and clarity I immediately felt as I entered and went through the ceremony.  While I was there, one of the temple workers pointed out that my recommend was going to expire soon and I made plans in my head to renew it as soon as I was home.

 

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In between the Philippines and my next trip I was in the US of A for only a couple days. One of which was Sunday where I met with my Bishop and got the first part of my recommend. I wasn’t able to get the second part unfortunately, and was really sad about not being able to visit the Fijian temple while I was there. Fiji was crazy with the recent cyclone that hit and it was a busy few weeks. When I got home a couple days ago, I realized that I had somehow lost the first part of my recommend from my Bishop, which brings us to today. Today was fairly hellacious. My main coworker is gone again (we tag team in and out of the country a lot), I have 800 emails (I wish I was exaggerating that), And I have piles of clothes and stuff from the last three trips I’ve taken that I haven’t had time to unpack. (Update* I’m traveling because I work for a non-profit that focuses on aid relief in natural disasters and international development – www.help-international.org – I didn’t think anyone but my mom would read this who knows why I travel… not trying to sound pompous… )

It was a day full of stress, feelings of inadequacy, homesickness for my wonderful mom and dad that always make things better, and the sadness of always being behind. Also no one ever thinks I’m home, so sometimes when I first get home the lack of friendship I feel is also sad, even though I know that’s not really true and I have people in my life that care about me. Don’t Satan and bad feelings just suck? Bottom line, I want to go to the temple. At 6pm I was really sad I didn’t have a recommend and in between doing a million things I stopped by to see if our Bishop was in his office at the church. I was wearing jeans, strappy sandles, and a long sleeve crew cut shirt and I wondered if it was okay if I was there. I had been told that there was institute (a casual dress Sunday school class during the week)  going on and I could just stop by Tuesday nights, so I hoped that since I was just going to have him copy things over from the record from my old interview it would be okay. I remember my parents having us dress up for tithing settlement and other meetings with the Bishop, but I just didn’t have time to go change and I was so stressed out and behind and I didn’t feel like it would be a big deal. Luckily he was there! He copied my info over and gave me the first half. We chatted about basic things and he asked me how Fiji was. I don’t get to come to my home/Utah church congregation very often and just feel lucky he knows my name. I was so excited that it worked that when I saw the Stake president’s office open too I asked if there was someone who could give me the second half of the recommend. They ask you the same questions and then sign it and you’re good to go! One of the members of the Stake Presidency whom I had never met said yes and took me to a room so he could ask me the personal temple recommend questions.

We sat down and he turned to me: “Sister Whitehead, I’m glad you are here getting your recommend. Do you know who these questions are from?”

Me: “Umm… God?”

Him: “That’s right. God. God and Christ run the church. They want us to ask you these questions to make sure you are fit to enter Their house. So this isn’t an interview with me or anyone else – it’s with you and God. Do you understand that?”

Me, kind of confused at why he was telling me all this: “Um, yes.” 

Him, rather smugly like he had just caught me in a trap: “Do you think you would so casually approach the Savior?”

This caught me off guard. Super off guard. Honestly, I had completely forgotten I wasn’t wearing a dress. I just wanted a temple recommend. I immediately felt incredibly embarrassed as he stared me down. I don’t think I’ve ever been reprimanded for anything ever. I’ve always been a church rule follower and suddenly I realized that all the fluff about this interview not being with him was only to put me in my place where I would feel guilty and bad for what I was wearing as if I didn’t respect Christ enough rather than him wanting me to know this was a symbolic Q&A with God. I thought immediately of my Savior. All of the church movies and posters collided into a vision of Him and I thought about walking into this room to see Him instead of this man. I thought about times in my life when I have symbolically really needed to come to Christ and what a wreck I was at those times and how I never waited to be “dressed up and put back in order” for Christ but came to Him as is. I thought of my Dad. I’ve learned a lot about my relationship with my Heavenly Father from my wonderful relationship with my earthly father and suddenly I felt homesick and sad and remembered how all growing up he always let me know I could come to him. He told me if I messed up, if I got drunk, if I was in a bad place, I could always come to him or call and he would treat me with love and come get me. Although I was a good kid growing up, I had so much confidence that if anything happened and no matter what choices I made, he was there for me. My dad taught me that He was also there for me. This man in this suit didn’t know me. He didn’t know I was barely in the country a couple days and was super behind, going through a lot today, and hadn’t planned on being here, and hadn’t even had time to eat lunch or dinner yet and just wanted to go to the temple in the morning. He didn’t know my relationship with my Savior.

Me: “Yes, I would.”

Him, eyebrows raised and not hiding his shock: “OH! Well…. no one has answered like that before. Most people understand how they should humbly approach the Savior in their best dress.” 

I stared at him staring at me and felt so sad for everyone who has sat in an interview and felt judged. Felt like they were being put on the spot and made to feel small, talked down to rather than the accepting, loving community that I know is what Christ would want us to feel. I thought of my friends who have left the church. The ones who feel like the church is against them, that church leaders are offensive and not understanding or caring enough. I felt the pain of people that have sat in the seat before I sat there and tears started to build in my eyes.  I remembered stories people have shared with me about not being able to answer questions for their interviews and the anguish it brought them or trying to repent and having a hard time talking to their priesthood leaders. As I started to cry, the man started to look uncomfortable. I stared at him with a few tears starting to creep down my face and then I felt strength. I felt an outpouring of God’s love for me and for the people that would come after me that maybe weren’t as strong or as sure as I was.

Me: “I can come back if you think I’m being disrespectful like this.”

Him: “Oh! Well….No. let’s just go through these.” My tears and solid stare were making him uncomfortable. “You don’t have to leave. I mean, sometimes we make people leave and go change… but since you’re here let’s just do it.”

Me: “No, no I think if you feel so passionately about it I can go and just do this on Sunday when I’m in Sunday dress.”

Him: “No, I’ll just ask you the twenty questions. I’m just doing what I’m told. I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty or bad or offend you. In a few questions I’m going to tell you how much God loves you and how special you are.”

Me: “I don’t need you to tell me I’m special. I know God loves me. And I know God loves me whether or not I am in jeans or Sunday best. And I get that there are policies and best practices, and I’m sorry I’m not dressed appropriately but you can’t talk to people like that – it hurts.” And immediately all the feelings I’ve wanted to say to the church leaders I hear in stories that push and hurt people away from the church came out and as I cried I just wanted to help him not hurt people who sat in this seat next. “What are some better ways you could have gotten that point across to me?”  We talked about maybe just doing the interview if he wasn’t going to make me go change and then having a loving conversation about it afterwards after we’ve already talked and established a relationship between us. I told him for all he knows I don’t have a skirt or something and he should seek to understand why I’m not in a skirt before he just assumes I’m out disrespecting God on purpose. We talked about maybe just contacting my bishop so he could have the Relief Society touch on it in a lesson and explain the principle. He could have just told me when I had walked into the office that folks needed to be in Sunday best to get an interview for a temple recommend. I told him about my friends and people I know who are leaving the church and how it’s the feelings of nonacceptance that really drive people away. How starting our interview off like that without even knowing me or my situation wasn’t creating acceptance or love or community and how you can get people to change or adjust without telling them they aren’t humble enough or respectful enough etc etc.

I answered the questions and then he handed me my recommend and then I left. I know some of you reading this probably think I’m stupid for going to a temple recommend interview in jeans and then stupid for being upset when they tell me that’s not appropriate. But this was more than that. It was the delivery, the way that things were said, the way I was caught off guard, the way I wanted to walk up and not come back, the memories of other people’s stories, and the sadness I felt when I feel like God let me feel how others may have felt in similar situations. I know that man is probably super nice and someone’s favorite grandpa, and I’m not mad at him. But I guess the take aways are this:

1) It’s a choice to be offended. I felt sad and hurt and I know that we can’t control our feelings, and I feel like I was justified in feeling the things that I did, but we can always choose how we react to our feelings (If I could have said feelings in that sentence again I would have. Feelings.) In the end, I know that what he said and the bad feelings I felt weren’t true. I know God loves me and I don’t really think He cares about small things like jeans vs a skirt. I think He cares a lot more about my testimony. Do I think it is asked of us by our leaders to dress up? Sure. Do I personally believe it matters, no. There are some things I do because I believe that it is eternal doctrine and other things I do because I believe it’s being asked of us right now. Trying to run a church with this many millions of humans all with different weaknesses and needs has got to be hard. Be forgiving of people that they don’t understand the love of Christ rather than angry at them for being harsh and wrong. When you are offended or if someone is saying something wrong, speak up and protect people that may not be as strong as you. I get a few texts a month from Sunday school classes that start, “I wish you were here. You’ll never believe what this human is saying and I know you would stand up and say something.” Be the people to stand up when something is wrong. Tonight I felt embarrassed and upset and I wanted to just leave. But I stayed, felt supported by God, and then hopefully had a conversation with someone who will be talking to a lot more people that may need him to be more kind and understanding than he was with me tonight. Choose to feel and acknowledge your feelings, but also choose to forgive immediately and be strong to stand up for what is right.

2) Church leaders, be more kind. Accept first and then lead. Don’t correct before you know what’s going on. My mother always taught me that you can’t help anyone until you love them first and that has been the truest thing for me to live by. Be patient and kind with people as they work out their repentance and their answers to questions. Don’t say sweeping statements or tell people they just need to pray and read scriptures more and write them off. Seek to really love and understand people and then good changes will happen naturally. Please let people know they can stay in the church and we want them to stay, even if they can’t have recommends or if they aren’t doing things perfect or they have big doubts. We have to be better at building a community rather than a place for people to come once a week to mark it off their righteous checklist.

“36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

 38 This is the first and great commandment.

 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

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For more beautiful temple pics check out: http://www.jarviedigital.com/

115 Comments Add yours

  1. lynne says:

    I bet he felt bad he had said that to you. As one who often opens my mouth and inserts my foot, I know the pain. It’s funny he would say that because the temple has clear rules for temple workers to accept anybody who comes with a current recommend to enter the temple and worship. Even if they come in casual clothes. Even if a woman comes in pants, jeans, flipflops, etc. the Los Angeles temple is my local temple and it’s very close to UCLA and not far from USC – they sometimes get people who have sick children in those hospitals… it wasn’t planned, they might be dealing with a pending or recent death, etc. So they go where they’ll know they’ll find peace -the temple. I agree with you the Savior’s arms are opened wide and full of love for anybody who turns to Him – no matter what! We do our best and the Lord accepts us as we are!

    Like

  2. GINA FOCOSI says:

    Courageous post. And just let me say — I totally agree! Having lived in Chicago my entire life (except BYU and my mission), I love the attitude around here of, “We care more about seeing you here than about what you are wearing.” Now, don’t get me wrong — We’re still encouraged to wear our Sunday best as a sign of respect for the Lord but, when we don’t (bad Chicago winter weather, etc.), it’s never been an issue.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I wanted to just comment on a line in this article that stuck out to me, ” I know some of you reading this probably think I’m stupid for going to a temple recommend interview in jeans and then stupid for being upset when they tell me that’s not appropriate.”

    No, I don’t think you’re stupid and I don’t think that you should make that assumption about yourself. I live in what would be termed “the mission field” outside of the Mormon corridor of Idaho-Utah-Arizona, although I grew up in Arizona surrounded by LDS people — so I get the Mormon culture smother. Where I live now, in rural, northern New Mexico, people just come as they are — to church, to interviews, to tithing settlement. Some people dress up, others do not — because we have so many people coming from different background, experiences, income levels and so on. And I’m sure if some of them showed up to my old ward in Arizona dressed in “their Sunday Best” they might be given then stink eye for not being blinged out. The truth is, I even feel that way now going home, because I’ve learned that I don’t need to keep up appearances. If the leadership in your stake are really particular about this, they need to start teaching the members of the stake before they end up in a situation similar to what you’ve described — and then not snark about it when someone isn’t following “the rules”.

    Our Stake Pres, has never said, or established any sort of policy or guidelines that state you have to be in “Sunday Best” for interviews. I know there are places that do, do that — Utah specifically. But even when I was a kid years ago, growing up in Arizona that “rule” was not in place. I think it’s a personal preference thing for the priesthood leader, and you were right to point that out to this stake president’s councilor. Policies and rules and Church culture of a particular region are different than doctrines, and we have got to start separating these things. I wonder too, if your stake presidency knows that even though we are asked to wear Sunday Best to the temple, if you show up in jeans and a tshirt, with a valid recommend, they will let you in to worship.

    Thank you for standing up for yourself. I hope that brother took his experience with you back to the Stake Presidency and they can work on being more sensitive about things.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Also agree that you are hardly stupid for coming in jeans. Your situation was crazy, and I think honestly going as you were WAS the humble option – rather than trying to gussy up, impress the stake president, you just used the time you had to get the recommend so you could go to the temple, where you needed to be for the comfort it gives. That is humility. You understand your relationship with God. That is humility.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience, most of all what you learned from it – to show how something offensive can happen, hurtful can happen, without you ultimately choosing to be offended. I think we’re told often we must choose not to be offended, but not always how or what it means, and this personal example is a perfect example of how.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Amy says:

    I can see both sides of this. I have a stake calling and I am blessed to see the amazing amounts of time and sacrifice people (much busier than I) give to their callings. I am blessed to see people who acknowledge their mistakes and try to be better. And I have heard leaders at ward and stake levels say some funny things as they learn to be better leaders. I have also seen people ruin the lives of others when they gossiped. My only real question for you is if you indeed just want to start a dialogue, improve leader training, did you send a copy of this blog post to the stake presidency member you interviewed with? Did you ask him if he was comfortable with you sharing this so that people could learn to be more compassionate and less quick to judge? If you included him on this so that it can be a truly open and honest conversation then I applaud you. But venting or sharing a story that puts someone else in an unflattering light, without their consent is pure gossip. So I am hopeful that this man was included in the decision to share this publicly. And just to be clear, I agree with you that this was misguided on his part. But i cringe a little to think that he may be blindsided by this since he probably thought that what you shared with him at that moment was pretty straightforward. I hope you can forgive him.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amy says:

      So I just read a bunch of other comments and I now worry you will take my comment the wrong way. I am not standing wagging my finger at you:) Just trying to understand and remain hopeful that people can forgive each other. Cuz sometimes we have to forgive without ever seeing the other person change:)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jean says:

      Worrying that what you are sharing – if done in truth – will make someone else feel uncomfortable, is co-dependent behavior. This seems to have been shared to teach both leaders and those who could be offended if they chose to be. Not gossip.

      Like

    3. Elizabeth says:

      The stake counselor was the one who made the mistake, and I disagree with you that she needed to ask him if she can share the experience. She didn’t mention his name, so it is only between her and him what his identity is. Her post is NOT gossip!!!!! he screwed up and just like politicians, church leaders who screw up like that run the risk of having that screw up publicized.

      Like

    4. Person says:

      She doesn’t need permission from anyone if she didn’t use their name. He was riding a high horse and it was unnecessary to make her feel uncomfortable. She is free to vent in whatever forum she chooses.

      Like

  6. Todd says:

    It’s NOT what you are wearing….it’s what is in your heart.
    Sometimes some self-righteousness and undeserved judgement escapes from some people.
    You have a great heart and beautiful intentions. This is what is important and lasting.
    Thank you for your post.
    These are thoughts coming from a previous bishopric member of a young single adult ward who would never have even considered your clothing an issue for a temple recommend interview. I was grateful and thankful to just have young people desire and be worthy to go to the temple.
    Keep up your great faith and attitude. You are a great person!!

    Like

  7. Kate says:

    Suzanne,

    I came across your post on the Facebook page of a friend of mine. She is LDS, I am not (I’m Lutheran and proud to be). I should’ve been working, but thought, “why not check out this post?” and let me tell you, I am so glad that I did.

    First, I am shocked at how many negative comments there are about your post….and from people who claim to be Christian and claim to know Jesus. Was not His main lesson “and the greatest of these is love”?

    It saddens me so much when people judge others, for any reason! It saddens me that your leader judged you based on your appearance (in the “real world”, that’s called bullying). And it saddens me that people came to your page, something personal to YOU, and are judging YOU based on your own thoughts and opinions. I am not sure exactly what the Mormon church teaches, but I’ve been taught the only person who truly has the right to judge is God, the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.

    Second, I’m in education. I work with kids for a living and work in one of the lowest socio-economic schools in our district. Can you imagine if I judged every student, new to my class, based on their appearance when they walked into my classroom? If I decided right away if they were “dumb” or “smart”? And that applies to any profession out there….what if doctors accepted clients based on what they were wearing? And yes, I get that you were at a church, not a classroom or a doctor’s office, but the principle of the matter still applies – judging someone based solely on their outward appearance, be it clothing or weight or skin color or hair style….that’s just not what the Lord had in mind.

    Anyway, I am happy you shared this post. To me, it’s bigger than the Church leader issue…it’s a societal problem and one that only we can fix. And I don’t know about you, but I think that when I meet my Maker, He will be more concerned with what I did with my time on His Earth than what I wore while here.

    Like

  8. MB says:

    I can’t help but think of Elder Holland’s words, “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but he deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work.” (April 2013, “Lord, I Believe”)

    Like

  9. Gail Wasden says:

    When my husband and I were temple workers in a California temple, I was once at my assigned place in the entrance foyer and saw a couple come is who were dressed about the way you describe yourself. I have heard counsel that it would be appropriate to actually enter the temple in our good clothes,so my first reaction was negative. Almost immediately, I realized that since they were inside the building, they obviously had temple recommends and it was not my place to judge: they had come! And these just might be their best clothes anyway, but that wasn’t even the point. THEY HAD COME! And it was my opportunity to make them feel welcome!

    Like

  10. Roy Avondet says:

    I read this blog post that was “liked” by a friend and found myself cheering for the thoughts about having church leaders be even better at being kind and sensitive to members’ feelings. But also, in the back of my mind and probably from 40 years of service in various church leadership positions, I thought it important to give a bit of a break to church leaders. Over the years despite doing my best, I have known of times when things very innocently said or done rubbed someone the wrong way. Even my facial expressions or posture on the stand seemed to attract some offense now and then. I have learned by my miscues and have become quite aware of my own need to be at my best. That member of the Stake Presidency had left his family on yet another night to be of service so members of his stake could have the privilege of dropping by for their interview to obtain a temple recommend. This was likely on top of his own 40-60 hour workweek. Maybe he had just had an encounter with someone clearly not in harmony with the reverent spirit of the temple. Without in any way justifying bad behavior by leaders, it should be noted that called leaders are not always to make people comfortable (see Elijah, Elisha, Moses and even Jesus Christ). The young ruler who popped in to pose a question to the Savior didn’t leave his presence in a state of comfort. Leaders must be very careful to represent the Savior in word and deed. We must be very careful to support and sustain them in their efforts, including having a conversation directly with them like you did on how they could improve. Leaders need love and forgiving too.

    Like

  11. wenditayl says:

    Here at Las Vegas Temple, we see tourists who are not dressed in “Sunday clothes” and they want to do a whole session and they have their recommend. They are WELCOMED, no questions asked. IN the Temple, IN jeans. That’s how God intends it to be.

    Like

  12. Mary says:

    I had a stake president say similar things to me when I was coming in for an interview before my mission. I had just gotten off work and didn’t want to be late, so I didn’t change. It was sad because I left the interview thinking about Sunday clothes instead of excited to be preparing for the temple and my mission and considering the council he gave. I could have planned better and I do now, but it is still a bit of a painful memory. I just don’t think you should feel at all stupid, especially since you weren’t planning on meeting with the stake presidency and the bishop had already given you the interview… Thank you for standing up for yourself and speaking up about how you feel, and standing up for all of us, really.

    Like

  13. dudeandco says:

    What a joke! What kind of verbose, drawn out, self-righteous post would we have to endure if the sides of the equation were flipped?!

    Like

    1. suzannemarie says:

      well you still read it, even if you missed the entire point ❤ xoxo

      Like

      1. Buzz Welch says:

        I know its been almost two years since you posted this but oh my gosh, this is beautiful, thank you for your courage. I am currently serving as a YSA bishop and I don’t care at all what people wear. ‘Accept first, and then lead’. Exactly what the Savior did, and does. Thank you. Just thank you.

        Like

  14. BoB says:

    Suzanne, I love your story. You handled that in awesome fashion. I found this today because yesterday I was turned away from a stake level recommend interview because of my clothing. I am 1st counselor in branch presidency familiar with ‘Mormon uniform’ ideas but never knew there was a clothing requirement for an interview. I have also never had one during the week. I am forty-one and all of my temple recommend interviews have been on Sunday, so this has never come up as an issue.

    We, at the moment, are a one car family. I have to figure out how to get several work related tasks around town done, get the family to the store before closing, so we can close the store in between 5:30 and 6:30 drive 45 minutes (in the rain) to the interview at 7:00, get my pregnant wife and children fed. I am 100% focused on logistics. Changing into church clothes on a busy work day never once crossed my mind, and frankly nor should it.

    We were turned away. He did what he thought he had to do, and I am fine with that, but I completely disagree with the principle. I will never again schedule an interview for any day other than Sunday. If church clothes is the most important thing, then we will do it on church day.

    I am bothered a bit by what happened, but in the long run no big deal for me; however, if this had occurred closely following my reactivation in the Church it would have been very very bad.

    I have come to believe that in a way there are two churches that meet at the same time in the same building. One is the Church of Jesus Christ wholly founded on His gospel and doctrines, which Church I completely love. The other is the Mormon Church mostly concerned with arbitrary protocol and unwritten cultural mores. I don’t care much for the second one, and I find it distracts from rather than enhances my ability to follow the Savior.

    Like

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