Vai's View: Teach modest dress standards while children are young

Published: Friday, June 17 2011 10:00 a.m. MDT

Earlier this week, just before our news anchors tossed to me for sports, they read a story that had particular interest for me.

The European Basketball Association refused to make an exception in its uniform policy for an Israeli point guard named Naama Shafir, an Orthodox Jew who normally wears a T-shirt under her jersey to cover her shoulders. The EBA requires all team members to wear the same uniform.

Shafir, who is the first female Orthodox Jew to earn a Div. 1 scholarship and who also plays for the University of Toledo, would not compromise on religious grounds so she initially bowed out of the tournament that begins today in Poland.

By last night, the Israelis announced Shafir would join her teammates for the tournament because the team created a sleeve that covers their shoulders, which the entire squad agreed to wear.

How refreshing for a young college-aged woman to live her faith and take a stance on modesty, even if it's beyond American standards.

Different cultures and religions have different mores — some, odd to us in Western society and many, much higher than our own.

I vividly remember as a boy the hushed gasps that permeated through the crowd in Tonga at the inter-island championship track meet when LDS-owned Liahona High School's girls' team stripped from their warm-ups to reveal running shorts and tank-tops.

All the other schools — public and parochial — wore Victorian-era skirts and blouses. This was 1968, but Tongan sentiments were, as they still are today, very much Puritanical. Predictably, Liahona swept all the events and created a controversy over their "American-style" uniforms. Styles have loosened a little in Tonga, but not much.

The issue of modesty is an interesting one in the LDS Church and in my own family and culture.

Nearly 10 years ago, my wife was called as our stake's young women president. Among the issues that confronted her was modesty at stake dances. I was a recently released bishop so she asked me for advice and for help at the dances.

Over the years, I had collected bags of T-shirts from events and appearances I make for my job. I simply suggested to my wife that we take a bag of my shirts — many of them XL and some XXL — and I would simply hand them to girls with bare midriffs or spaghetti-strap tops and insist they wear it over their clothes. If anyone refused, I'd ask her leader or parent to take her home — either to change or to stay.

Initially, there was some resistance. But slowly, our modesty issues were resolved, at least at our dances.

I always handed them to offenders good-naturedly, with a smile on my face and often with a hug and a word of encouragement. It didn't take long for my XL T-shirts to become a fashion statement, so that even the ones who dressed modestly, requested a shirt that they seemed to wear in the most creative and sophisticated ways, as girls are wont to do.

It's been years since my bag of T-shirts appeared at a stake dance, but from time to time, a young mother will stop me in the hallway to tease me about the shirts, or occasionally I'll hear a confession from someone who once wore a "Brother Sikahema T-shirt." Boys never posed a problem, although once I had to borrow belts from skinnier male leaders for boys whose pants hung too low, exposing undershorts.

My wife recognized that we were simply treating the symptoms.

So, she and her presidency set out to address the modesty issue with talks, firesides and youth conference workshops for the kids and their parents, many of whom were new converts who simply didn't understand. The more difficult task were the long-time members who sometimes seemed apathetic about it, though it's crystal clear in the "For The Strength of Youth" pamphlet that church publishes.

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