|Trying on Daddy’s Shoes|
A few months ago, our amazing Stake President (similar to a Catholic Bishop) had what I thought was a brilliant idea. He wanted the men of each congregation to learn more about the divine purpose of the Relief Society in particular and women in general, and so decided that last month each Relief Society President would teach the 4th Sunday lesson to priesthood brethren from Sister Julie B. Beck’s talk from the April General Conference of the Church. A sister, teaching with authority to the brethren. Pretty awesome.
The flip side to this was that a brother from the High Priests’ Group would teach the Relief Society sisters from Elder David A. Bednar’s talk from the priesthood session of the same conference. This also had the potential to be really great, but in our own congregation it had mixed results. The older brother who taught– whom I quite like, personally– was obviously a bit flustered to be speaking to a room full of women. Some of his wording choices and phraseology ended up being a bit unfortunate.
Complicating things was the fact that I was sitting next to a lady who has been investigating our faith, and has really been through the ringer when it comes to life in general and men specifically. I could sense her unease growing as the discussion touched on topics of patriarchal ordination, without much thought as to how the matriarchy of the church fits into the picture. Toward the end of the hour I tried adding some of my own personal thoughts to the conversation, but I sense it may have been too little too late. She was extremely frustrated with the way he had seemingly sidelined the women of the Church in his lesson– although I am certain that this was not at all his intent. Having been wronged by the men in her life, it was yet one more experience that seemed to confirm in her mind that men and women would never be equals– at least in the minds of men.
Yesterday, I wrote a bit about my experience growing up in an environment where I knew without a doubt that I was valued just as much as my brother, and that men and women were absolute equals in God’s eyes. As a result, this has translated to my having a very happy and fulfilling marriage to a man who feels exactly the same way. Our marriage is truly a loving partnership, in every sense of the word. Although he holds the priesthood and I do not, I have never felt a sense that I am somehow “less than.” (Which is not to say that there haven’t been questions I’ve wrestled with when it comes to the culture and certain aspects of church history, but I feel I have found answers and made peace with a lot of it.) After all, does not the culmination of the highest blessings of the priesthood require both a man and a woman kneeling together across a sacred altar in the holy temple of God? For Latter-Day Saints at least, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
That said, I have a lot of empathy for those women in the church who have not had this same experience. I think it is a tragedy, to be perfectly honest. Because certainly if there is one thing we can learn from our Savior, it is of His love and compassion for all men and women. Reading through the New Testament, I cannot help but be impressed by His treatment of women in particular: His first miracle, performed as a service for His mother (John 2); His treatment of the woman taken in adultery (John 8); the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48); the sinful woman who washed and annointed His feet (Luke 7:36-50). And this is only scratching the surface. Elder James E. Talmage perhaps said it best, “The world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.” (see Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. (1916), 475)
This week, there is quite a buzz here in Utah over certain Mormon feminists rallying to wear pants to church on Sunday as a sign of solidarity. Honestly, not having grown up in the culture here in Utah, I had no idea that wearing something other than a skirt to church was something so very scandalous. All that really mattered in my home ward was that you wore your “Sunday best” as a sign of respect to God, whatever that might be. One of my high school English teachers was baptized into our faith in the mid-90’s, and she would often wear very nice pant suits to church. It never made me bat an eye. Maybe that was just me, though. I loved it! And I will never believe that a lovely tailored suit is somehow less respectful than the casual denim skirts we often wore as young women just because the fabric involved seams on both sides of each leg.
The outcry over this “event” (on both sides) has really startled me, however. I mean, really? We’re getting all bent out of shape over pants? Whatever happened to “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart”? (1 Samuel 16:7)
Where are our hearts? I think that’s the real issue here. What does the Gospel teach us? The real, true, core doctine of Christ. Not the varying quirks of our culture. Where are we coming from? A place of love and a desire to further understanding, or anger and contention? It goes both ways, for both sides of the coin.
Personally, I will be wearing a skirt to church on Sunday, but that’s simply because I want to. Not because I feel any sort of pressure from the culture. I actually like skirts. (Plus, I’m not sure I can squeeze my postpartum body into any of my formal pants, but that’s another post entirely!) But let me tell you, if I see any of my Relief Society sisters wearing trousers in the chapel this or any other Sunday, I will happily greet them with a warm smile and hug– just as I would do any other day of the week.
Kelsey over at Empowering LDS Women wrote a fantastic post last night about this current issue, and I highly recommend it. A small snippet:
We are meant to create “Zion” together, and we certainly can’t achieve that by discrediting each others’ concerns, or by assuming that if someone struggles, it’s because they haven’t worked hard enough on their issues. I believe increased understanding and empathy will in turn lead to improved church culture, inspire Zion-like policies, and improve our adherence to the doctrines of Christ– tolerance, kindness, love, compassion. And then, when we’re prepared, “greater light and knowledge” will surely come to us.
When it is all said and done, we are all brothers and sisters working our way through this mortal journey together. We all come from varied backgrounds and life experiences that shape the way we view the world around us. Despite this, God has asked us not to judge each other but to come together in love and unity.
Love and unity.
That seems a pretty good place to start.