My belovèd little baby sister* sent me a message this week about members of her ward in the Dallas area getting political in Church meetings. (She, like me, isn’t particularly political but is definitely left of center; Texas has a well-deserved reputation as a red state.) It indirectly made me think of members who may have an attitude of “well, we wouldn’t want a Democrat in our ward anyway.” That made me think of the idea that many people (myself sometimes included) have of who would make a good member of the Church, and that led me to think of the Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well.
Religious art generally depicts this woman as physically beautiful and generally virtuous-looking (see http://goo.gl/MLfwV, http://goo.gl/JxYM9, and http://goo.gl/EYQUz). She has flawless skin and a rapt, accepting expression. She’s dressed nicely. She probably speaks well, free of jarring regional accent. She looks like a Relief Society president or an innocent young mother.
But is this accurate? Personally, given her history and her remarks during and after her conversation with Jesus, I’m inclined to think she’s one of Those People who some of us wouldn’t want to associate with. In reality, she’s probably poor. After years of hard living she probably has some teeth missing and is dressed in, if not rags, then some cheap imitation of nicer clothes. She may have a loud, braying voice and a grating accent (London’s East End, anyone?). She’s probably not wearing heavy makeup but that’s just because it hadn’t been invented yet.
In short, this woman looks like who she is–a member of not the lower, but probably lowest class. Or, even if she isn’t a member of the lowest class, she probably doesn’t look like a sweet innocent woman (the painting at http://goo.gl/sW15D may be a more accurate reflection of her attitude). When she talks to Jesus, she doesn’t seem particularly respectful. “You don’t even have anything to draw water with, and you think you not only have water, but you’re better than Jacob, the great patriarch?” Her next words could be equally skeptical: “All right, fine. Give me some of this water then.” After her conversation with Jesus, she runs around saying “Come, see this man who told me all about my life.” I can picture this woman on Cops, or leaning over her back fence to gossip with a neighbor, or in a hair salon in a financially strapped Boston suburb. Christ’s disciples “marvelled that he talked with the woman” (it was probably akin to seeing a well-dressed businessperson talking to a homeless person). Is this the kind of person we want showing up at our Sacrament Meeting?
Well, yes. Any missionary can tell you that it’s not generally the “respectable”-looking people who are interested in the Church. Some people may not ever conform to our ideas of respectability after years of Church membership. Some may even be liberals, for heaven’s sake (the horror!). That doesn’t mean we don’t want them around or that we should weed out these “undesirables,” whether consciously through overt criticism or unconsciously through inappropriate political remarks during meetings. All God’s critters got a place in the choir, right?
*This belovèd little baby sister is six inches taller than me and likes to wear high heels.