During Jesus’ ministry, He attracted an interesting crowd. He claimed Pharisees and Saducees, harlots and peasants and merchants and centurions and tax collectors as His disciples. Even among His apostles there were men on opposite ends of the political spectrum. One was a man named Simon, called Zelotes. His moniker tells us that he was a Zealot, a rebel against Roman rule. The Zealots led the revolt against the Romans in 66-73 AD that culminated in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the capturing of the Jewish fortress at Masada. Another of Jesus’ apostles, Matthew, was a publican, a man reviled by his fellow Jews because he was employed by the Romans to collect the taxes they levied. The cooperation of men like Matthew made Roman rule both possible and onerous. I have often thought that there must have been some interesting—and heated—discussions around the campfire when the Apostles traveled with Jesus.
But His tent was big enough for both of them. His message of redemption and atoning love was for both of them. His fire gave enough light and warmth for both of them.
And for all of us.
And when they argued, He condemned their contention. And when they disputed who was the greatest, He put a little child in their midst, and told them to serve each other, to wash each other’s feet, to bear each other’s burdens, to love one another the way He had loved them.
By this, all men would know that they were His disciples. By their love, not their manner of dress. By their humility, not their declarations of righteousness. And the sign of discipleship hasn’t changed.
I have been overwhelmed, this past week, by the reactions from other Mormons—from people I call my friends—regarding a proposal that this Sunday, in support of greater gender equality in the LDS church, women should wear dress slacks and pantsuits to church. I saw people question their neighbor’s testimonies and understanding of the gospel, their integrity and loyalty to God. I saw people dismiss out of hand the legitimate concerns and very real pain that their neighbors felt. I saw accusations of apostasy and directives to leave the church. I saw death threats.
I am not accustomed to such vile words hurled by my own people against those whose burdens they’ve covenanted to bear.
I am taken aback to see people who claim to follow a Savior who rejected out of hand the arbitrary standards of the religious leaders of his day, who cling so strongly to modern-day cultural values, who seem so threatened by any deviation from a dress code that had its heyday in the 1950s that they’re willing to denigrate the character of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am saddened by the smug displays of self-righteousness I see from my friends. I don’t mean that condescendingly—it honestly makes me sad. Sad, and worried, and perplexed. I admit I have a hard time understanding what could motivate someone to so flippantly cast aspersions on the characters of others, to claim that their manner of dress or their lack of feminist pain makes them morally superior, more righteous or possessing greater gospel understanding--to declare, essentially, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Luke 18:11).
Or even as this feminist.
I admit I share some of the event organizers’ concerns over gender equality in the church. And still, I love the church. I love its doctrines. I love its prophets. I love its people. I believe this is where God wants me to be. But the pain it causes me is very real. It isn’t because I haven’t prayed as much as you have. It isn’t because I don’t understand the gospel as well as you do. And it definitely isn’t because I want to tear down the church and dance on its smoldering ashes.
Maybe you don’t feel as I do. Maybe it doesn’t bother you that women don’t pray in General Conference, that widows can’t marry their second husbands in the temple, that CES fires its married female teachers when they give birth. Maybe you think this is small potatoes. Maybe you believe that God has divinely ordained the gender roles we see today, and you are perfectly satisfied with that. Maybe you’ve never gone to the temple and felt the sharp stab of pain that seems to pierce your heart as the words you speak go against the deepest yearnings of your soul. Maybe you’ve never gone to God sobbing over the deep inequity you feel in the church you still believe is His.
The bottom line: I suspect there are many of you who are not like me. And there is room enough for all of us in the fold of God. There was room for Simon and Matthew. There is room for you and me.
Friends, I will be wearing a navy pantsuit to church on Sunday. It is the nicest, most professional thing I own, and I believe it is respectful of the house of God and the ordinances of the gospel. I will be wearing it because I long for the day when the talents of God’s daughters will not be constrained by their gender. But mostly I will be wearing it because I long for the day when we will all embrace one another as children of God, as brothers and sisters in Christ, charged with bringing forth His kingdom and building Zion. Because I long for the day when we will cease judging one another by our outward appearance or life circumstance, when we will more fully fulfill our duty to bear one another’s burdens, to lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. And because the level of reaction to this event has convinced me, more than ever, that the church I love needs less judgment and more acceptance, less social pressure to conform and more ministering to the one.
I hope that you’ll love me anyway. I hope that you’ll listen to me, anyway. I hope that you’ll seek to understand me and all those you’re called to love, to bear their burdens instead of invalidating their pain. I hope you’ll sit by the marginalized, and break bread with the different, drawing circles that bring people in rather than shutting them out.
I hope you’ll let me love you, in my own very imperfect way, whether you’re like me or not. Whether you’re single or married or widowed or divorced, Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, feminist or patriarch, I hope you’ll join with me in sacred community. There is room enough for you in the fold of God, and room enough for me, too. If you’ll share your burdens with me, I’ll help you carry them. You and I have a place in the church that bears the name of the God we worship, the God who called all to come unto Him, black and white, bond and free, male and female, the God who declared that He is no respecter of persons—and is certainly no respecter of clothes.