What is considered proper or respectful or professional attire not only varies across cultures, but also within the same culture over time. Given the enormity of the climate crisis, we must make common sense adaptations to our idea of what’s “acceptable” if we hope to drastically lower our energy consumption.
Let’s start by wearing shorts to church.
In the past, almost every LDS priesthood leader sported a beard. The so-called “Mormon underwear” was one piece and extended to our ankles and wrists. We now wear two-piece garments that are significantly shorter and which have been modified in several other ways as well. Since the marks in the fabric are symbolic, we don’t need the knee mark to rest precisely over the knee.
Let’s shorten garments even more to allow every endowed member to wear shorts and to allow women to wear sleeveless dresses. There’s really no reason, of course, that fashion for men can’t include sleeveless dress shirts as well. It’s not blasphemy.
Knees are not sex organs. Neither are shoulders. Let’s stop teaching our sons to swoon when they see them. Tackling the climate crisis means discarding “moral” obstacles that are detrimental both morally and physically.
Some professional workplaces already allow employees to wear shorts in the office, even to go barefoot. The building managers use less air conditioning in the summer — and therefore less fuel — but the employees are still comfortable enough to get their work done. If we’re talking about 50,000 workplaces, or 10,000 churches, the benefits add up. It’s something we can do now, without having to wait for innovations in technology.
When I was a missionary in Rome, the temperature could be quite warm by April. But the mission president insisted that no elder leave their apartment without a suit coat until he gave the order. By mid-May, we were all miserable, but the president was not ready to let us go out in our slacks and white shirts just yet. We had to suffer a little longer for propriety’s sake.
Then, on May 16, suddenly it was proper and respectable to walk around without a coat.
Even back then, the arbitrary nature of the decision struck me, all the more when I realized the sister missionaries had no such requirement. If they felt warm the first day of March, or even in mid-February, they didn’t have to wear a jacket at all. Nowadays, sister missionaries can do the unthinkable — go without pantyhose and even wear pants, absolute and utter apostasy just a few years ago.
Businessmen often head to work these days without the ties that were formerly mandatory attire. We have “casual Friday” or “game day Friday,” when professionals go to work in clothing that would have seemed shocking 20 or 30 years ago.
We must make similar adaptations at church. We need to wear heat-appropriate clothing. Eliminating ties alone would allow us to raise the thermostat a degree or two. Jesus never wore a tie. Ties aren’t essential for showing God respect. And let’s hear it for sandals at church. Jesus wore them even in the temple.
If Mormons want uniform ward meetinghouses and stake centers, we at least need to build them with architectural features that help regulate temperature. At a minimum, we can paint the roof of every church white.
If we can’t lobby health insurance companies to cover sun block, let’s make sure every member has access to it through the Bishop’s Storehouse.
Church leaders are notoriously resistant to change, so while we wait for official word on possible adaptations, individual members need to start taking personal initiative incorporating these strategies on their own.
Perhaps we could also try a pilot program where, one Sunday a month, all the meetings are conducted remotely. We could add a “gasoline fast day,” where members are encouraged not to drive and to donate the money they would have spent on fuel toward helping retrofit the homes of members.
With a little thought, and perhaps some divine inspiration, we can develop other ways to make the cultural changes necessary to address the climate crisis. Obviously, wearing sandals isn’t going to solve the problem by itself, but it’s indicative of the shift in mindsets and worldviews that is necessary.
So let’s start wearing shorts to church.
Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of “Invasion of the Spirit Snatchers,” “The Washing of Brains” and “Human Compassion for Beginners.” johnnytownsend.com