For members and non-members of the LDS church alike, it’s easy to confuse Mormon doctrine with Mormon culture. Mormon doctrine consists of the principles and policies taught by the church. It is the teachings of our prophets, whether it is found in scriptures, talks, articles, or lessons. Mormon culture, on the other hand, is much more loosely defined. It refers to the behaviors and beliefs traditionally, but not necessarily always, exhibited by Mormons. It can vary between regions. It is “the way we do things around here,” but not “this is what we must do.”
Here is an article that discusses the differences between Mormon doctrine and Mormon culture with respect to dress. The doctrine is that we must dress modestly. The culture is such that men wear white shirts and ties to church and women wear skirts and dresses. Could I wear a pantsuit to church? Sure, but it would be out-of-place, at least in any of the buildings in which I’ve worshipped. Because Mormon culture is so powerful and pervasive, toeing the cultural line can cause problems. In the article I linked to above, the female author tells about a time when was was not admitted into a temple because she was wearing a[n apparently very elegant] pantsuit.
This situation is a perfect example of the dangers of blurring the doctrine/culture distinction. Those of us who – for whatever reason – don’t fit perfectly into the typical Mormon mold are made to feel as though were are doing something more seriously wrong than merely breaking convention, but rather that we are not living the way we should, or, at the very least that we are poor representatives of our religion.