One of the discussions that occasionally comes up on various Mormon blogs is the issue of how to react and/or teach about inappropriate behavior and dress. The youth, particularly the young women, tend to be most often the subject for this, as the standards given by the Church are more specific than elsewhere, but the problem, for me, is more in how to react to these issues, rather than the standards themselves. Standards and laws are much the same. You can simply follow them the best you are able, or decide not to and understand that there are consequences involved. A person driving over the speed limit may be subjected to a fine. A girl in a bikini at a Church function may be asked to cover herself with more appropriate clothing. I’m not going to argue the merits or effects of those standards and laws. I want to address the ways to enforce said standards and laws.
In all of the dealings of God the Father and Jesus Christ, the example has been set – praise in public, reprove in private. This is very important in dealing with anyone, no matter what the issue. Another thing to remember when reproving, or even just advising, someone is your relationship with them. Some theoretical examples:
- Once I saw that a young woman had managed to get a sticker attached to the backside of her dress without her knowledge. Rather than tell the girl myself (which would be embarrassing to her), I passed it along to an older woman to take care of it discreetly.
- At another time, a young woman in the class I was teaching was absent-mindedly leaning back in her chair, not making the connection that she was wearing a short skirt. Even though I was her teacher, I felt it was more appropriate for me to mention it to her mother, rather than going to the girl herself.
- At a church youth dance, I notice that the skirt of a young woman seems a little too short. Not being a leader, teacher, advisor, or of any relation to this young woman, I have no recourse. It is not my job to police or even advise on dress standards. It doesn’t even need to be kept as something to “deal with” later, or remember as more proof of “kids these days”. (What am I doing checking out young women’s legs, anyway? Creepo.)
- I am an advisor to the Deacons Quorum. I notice that some of the young men are starting to get a little sloppy in their dress for passing the Sacrament. In a private setting (not in front of the whole group), I make mention of this to the Deacons Quorum President, who can choose how to manage it himself. I can advise if asked, but it is not my responsibility to fix. If one of the deacons is my son, however, I get the responsibility to teach my son how to dress better.
- I notice someone has been coming to Sacrament Meeting dress in t-shirt and jeans or other inappropriate clothing. I make no mention of it at all, not even a disapproving glance, as it is absolutely not my purview and I have no idea as to the circumstances of that person. The only thing I should be doing in this situation is welcoming and fellowshipping the person, as it is the person, not the clothes, that have come to worship.
Open criticism is akin to gossip. You are telling the perceived faults of another to people who have no concern in it (especially bad when you, yourself have no concern in it). For most of the people in your ward you are not their keeper or minder. Seek out the virtues of each person, get to know them as people, and let those who are placed to advise to their own work. Vigilant criticism, especially before others, is hurtful and damaging, most especially to you.