Last month, I watched as a picture Lindsey Stirling posted on Instagram was flooded with dozens of negative, shaming comments. One read, “You’re so talented and smart. Why would you dumb yourself down with religion?” Another: “Go crawl back to your little church and beg for your faerie tale god to forgive you for being the very thing you think he created, little slave.”
It was a picture of the Savior with her testimony.
This week, I watched as another picture Lindsey Stirling posted on Instagram was flooded with dozens of negative, shaming comments. One read: “You were a role model until you publicly shamed your religion. Sad to see you go.” Another: “I found her appearance on the red carpet appalling.”
It was a picture of Lindsay smiling in front of the cameras before the Billboard Music Awards in a sheer-lined, cutout dress. The comments were from Latter-Day Saints.
If I were to set last month’s picture next to this week’s, I would see an obvious difference in the comments. Her picture of the Savior was filled with ridiculing, venomous voices that insulted her talent and her intelligence because of her religious beliefs. Most of the negative comments on her Billboards photo didn’t go beyond expressing severe disappointment. But as I consider these two photos and the reactions they prompted, I’m reminded of an alarming trend that both members of the church and nonmembers alike get caught up in.
When it comes to the people who represent us (our interests, our relationships, or our beliefs), we are all or nothing. The minute they slip up, whether they really do or we just think they do, we abandon them without mercy, as if they were never an imperfect human being to begin with and we can’t stand that they are.
That’s what I have a problem with.
I won’t express my opinion on Lindsey’s outfit. I won’t analyze whether or not her garments could be worn underneath her dress, and, in extension, whether or not she is keeping her covenants. That’s not my responsibility. At all. It’s between her and the Lord, and frankly, the only covenants that are any of my business in the first place are my own. But when I see my fellow brothers and sisters unforgivingly calling out another member in public for one choice they have made, expressing their disappointment with “I’m not judging, but…,” when I notice how it shifts the tone in public forums from “I love her” to “wow, I didn’t realize Mormons were so judgemental,” I mourn at the loss of an opportunity we too frequently destroy: the opportunity to love rather than to criticize. The opportunity to reinforce the truth that members of the church are imperfect, but that’s what makes the Gospel so precious and good, because everyone belongs in it. I believe that it is our efforts in our imperfections that make us true followers of Christ, not our perfections, and if the standard we set for ourselves is not as high as the standard we set for others, if we aren’t looking first and foremost at ourselves, we have an issue.
Whether or not we think Lindsey’s dress was modest, or that she’s completely destroyed her example as a role model, we’re overlooking how many times that beautiful girl has publicly expressed her love for the Savior in a forum of over 3.2 million followers, many of which ridicule her for it. We’re choosing, by making her dress an issue, to look on the outward appearance instead of on the heart, to hold a person’s wardrobe choice against them as if that is what defines them and the church, and it misses the mark. “We forget that teaching modesty does not have to include shaming or nitpicking other people” We forget that teaching modesty does not have to include shaming or nitpicking other people, and quite honestly, when we do that, we often aren’t very unassuming and modest in our censure. We could argue all day long about the ifs, ands, or buts about modesty and tell people how we think they should dress or look, but often, the cost of doing that is love and our own self-improvement.
Probably the most heartbreaking example of this that I’ve seen is when Al Fox, one of the most inspirational and beautiful people I know, was featured on the cover of LDS Living magazine last year. In the next issue, there was a letter to the editor by a member who condemned Al as a bad example of a covenant-keeping Mormon. In essence, it stated that LDS Living should be ashamed of featuring a Latter-Day Saint with tattoos because she set a terrible example for the youth. As a girl who looks up to Al for her amazing love of the Gospel and testimony, that letter horrified me. It horrifies me even more to think that there are other members of the church who are just as merciless toward other members and are very proud to cast the stones they throw.
The truth is that Lindsey Stirling’s dress and Al Fox’s tattoos — in extension, the way our brothers and sisters look or dress — matter far less than we act like they do. I know that we are human, and our first reaction is to make a judgement. Our first reaction is often to think about the example someone sets, how other people would react to what an individual says, does, or looks like. But in all our judgments, we might remember that we are asked to be Christlike, not Christ. What He thinks, not even necessarily of the outfit, but of the person inside is far more important than what other people think. For Pete’s sake, teach your children about covenants and modesty. Make sure that they understand why those things are important. But don’t do it in a way that would cause them to look down on or needlessly hurt another person.
Some of my best examples have been people who, like me, are utterly imperfect, people who live differently than I do and think differently and, yes, even dress differently. The common denominator is the Atonement and their love for the Savior. So, she wore a dress that a lot of people are analyzing for the sake of modesty right now. So what? Lindsey’s courageous effort to defend her beliefs against the ridicule of others is a much greater example to me than the clothes she wears.