I was walking in the night
And I saw nothing scary.
For I have never been afraid
Of anything. Not very.
Then I was deep within the woods
When, suddenly, I spied them.
I saw a pair of pale green pants
With nobody inside them!
Ah…growing up as I did, in my sheltered little pre-internet, TV-less, censored book, Christian world, that was one story that scared the poo out of me. It had all the elements of a good horror story – it could be read in the sing-song cadence familiar to me from the best of the hellfire and brimstone sermons. It involved someone small and helpless, alone, at night…with something very scary walking about (yes, I confess – I was at least 9 before I could reach the end of that story and realize, in true Suessian fashion, that all’s well that ends well.) But most of all…it had something that was the great and scary bugaboo of all little good Pentecostal girls…it talked about PANTS.
Yes, pants. The garments that were never to be seen on a true-blue, born again, sanctified, Holy-Ghost filled, water-baptized woman…the garments that I heard sermon after sermon after sermon about, the garments guaranteed to send me straight to the pit. Forget handbaskets and/or good intentions – the road to hell was paved with denim, crotched clothing that showed the oh-so-seductive and completely evil form of a woman and don’t you forget it, sister!
If you haven’t grown up in “The Church”, I’m sure you’ll find it impossible to relate. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that most people outside the little theocracies don’t spend their time worrying about fabric meeting in between their legs. Most people would get up and walk out of an hour-long harangue complete with screaming and begging and pleading for women to throw themselves on the alter and remove their evil, evil pants (and of course replace it with a skirt! get your mind out of the gutter!)
I’m told that as a little girl, my mother dressed me in pants before my parents were “completely in The Truth”. I even have a baby outfit with little baggy 1970’s pale green pants (paging Dr. Freud…I mean Dr. Seuss…whoever. They were pale. They were green. They were pants. And yes, they were evil.) But sometime before I was two, it was decided – pants were wrong.
I remember being 12, almost 13, and prepping for our move to the North. My parents bought me long johns. I screamed and cried and stomped around and threw a fit because I was terrified – literally terrified that these pants – you know, underwear that was long and kept me warm under my Apostolic skirts – were going to send me to hell.
My mother, attempting to reason with me, said completely the wrong thing. “These aren’t any different than pantyhose, you know – they just don’t have feet in them. And they are warmer. And nobody can see them. They won’t send you to hell.” It stopped my terror – and started me thinking.
Like the dominoes I played with, one little argument knocked over so very much. There have been lots of articles written about the theology behind it all – lots of trees used, lots of pixels pixelated regarding the pros and cons of this particular debate. I don’t intend to spend a lot of time on that here. But I can honestly say that one point in time was a point where I turned – where I began to not believe the things drilled into me.
For my Pentecostal friends who will read this (and won’t comment, at least not on here, because you love me and want to be friends still, or because your pastor might Google you and find out you’re on the internet reading something from a “backslider”) – no, I haven’t thrown over the essentials of the faith. I believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man, that He came to show us the way to Heaven, that there is no other Name under Heaven and earth whereby I can be saved.
I just don’t believe that He really cares all that much about the way I wear my hair, or the shoes I choose, or if I wear pants instead of a skirt or even a skirt instead of pants. He doesn’t care about that anymore than He minds if I delete that shaming chain letter lumping me in with the 70% who won’t take a STAND for the SAVIOR and show everyone in the world I’m not really a Christian just.by.hitting.delete. (PS: I have it on good authority, though, that Jesus would BCC. If you’re going to hit me with a gag-inducing piece of schmaltz in my inbox, don’t share my email address with all your other victims. Please.)
It’s been years since I’ve believed that wearing pants would keep me out of Heaven. Years where I dodged the questions my friends would ask, things like “Does your church believe these jeans will send me to hell?” and “What do you think? Does God really care if I wear pants?” That usually got awkward silence out of me…and I know some interpreted it to mean that I thought that yes, those unholy jeans were strutting them down the road to perdition. My silence, though, was because I couldn’t say what I felt. Yes, my church DID teach that one of the first things a woman who was truly saved would do is to go buy skirts. It DID teach that the first thing a “backslider” did was to go buy pants and cut her hair. It DID teach that a woman who had a desire to show her form (only reserved for her husband! Lascivious evil woman wanting to strut her stuff to the world. Bad!) was going to hell.
For me to say otherwise would have been to lose my position as a Sunday School teacher. It would have meant losing my place in the choir. It would have meant losing the right to teach youth group, to be a mentor, to participate in group activities, even (in most cases) the right to speak in church.
So I lived for years being lauded as one of the “good ones” – one of the ones who had “always been in the Church”. One of the ones who would “never backslide”. I mean…I’m 3rd generation Pentecostal. My husband is 4th generation. My grandpa was a missionary. There was a whole heritage of Holiness being carted around in the hemline of my skirt and the uncut ends of my hair! But inside, where it counted? I was devising excuses to sneak out of the annual Holiness seminars. Ways to slip unseen and unnoticed to sit in a darkened Sunday School room and wait for it to just be done. Ways to shrink into the corner and not be pressed into “alter service work” where I’d have to hold women’s hands up high and pray as others tried to shake the “world” out of them.
When the subject wasn’t “Holiness”, let it be noted that I was a willing participant in church. I enjoy a great song service where people are free to cry and sing and laugh and dance just as much as the next Pentecostal. But somewhere along the way, reverse psychology kicked in. All the sermons about “don’t apply LOGIC to the Kingdom! Just believe! Doubt is of the devil, saints! You can’t THINK your way into Heaven!” just made me, well, THINK. I know that God chose the foolish things of this earth to confound the wise. But I believe that He gifted me with wisdom. I have a brain, and I’m not ashamed to use it! And when sermon after sermon tried to tell me that I could only reach Heaven by disengaging my brain, it didn’t work. You can’t THINK your way into Heaven, ’tis true. But you can’t NOT think your way there, either, you know?
I’ve decided to publicly acknowledge the fact that not only do I not think wearing pants will send me to hell, I’ve made a choice to wear them. You know, where people can see them. I’ve been wearing jeans. Out in public.
Not (like most women in The Church that I know) just as pj’s. And to lounge around the house in. And under my ski skirt. And under my dress to go hiking. And maybe to wear for one’s husband because jeans are as titillating and seductive as a Victoria’s Secret show when they are so forbidden.
I’m wearing them in public. Where people can see (although, given the body I possess, perhaps they still wish they couldn’t ;))
Reactions have been mixed. Everything from hugs and smiles from people outside The Church, and people who have left, to literally being snarled/growled at by a (rabid?) cult member, and the gamut in between. Stares and whispers. Pointed fingers. Hugs. The occasional conversation where I’ve been applauded for finally taking a stand for what I truly believe.
It has disappointed some people. It has made others happy. You know, pretty much like any other decision I’ve ever made. But for me, for right now, I’ve made the decision. No pair of pale green pants (or any other color!) will hold that much terror for me, ever again. And now, you all know it too.