SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A feminist Mormon group is urging women to ditch their skirts and wear pants to church this weekend in a show of solidarity for women's equality, using a Facebook page that became a forum for vigorous debate Wednesday.
Proponents are lauding the hastily arranged "Wear Pants to Church Day" movement as a way to shed light on what they see as gender inequalities in the church. Critics, however, are deriding the idea as unnecessary and disrespectful.
Women commonly wear dresses or skirts to worship services, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not prohibit them from wearing pants. Mormon leaders did not come out in support or opposition Wednesday.
"Attending church is about worship and learning to be followers of Jesus Christ," said church spokesman Eric Hawkins in a statement.
"Generally, church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the savior, but we don't counsel people beyond that," he said.
One of the organizers, Kimberly Baptista, said the event Sunday is not about being able to wear pants, but about stimulating a discussion over the larger issue of women's roles within the church, which she says are less significant than those of their male counterparts.
"It's a symbol to us of larger gender inequalities in the church," said Baptista, 42, of North Carolina.
Baptista, a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said women lead other women, and they lead children, "but they don't ever lead the whole congregation or the men."
Inclusion of women into church leadership is an ongoing struggle for people of a wide variety of religions from all over the world, said Nancy Ammerman, Boston University Professor of Sociology of Religion. In recent years, some religions such as Lutherans, Presbyterians and some Baptists have begun allowing women into leadership roles. But other religions, such as Mormons, stick to their traditional doctrine.
"For many conservative groups, there is a sense that gender roles are ordained by God, that they shouldn't change," Ammerman said.
The Facebook group, which calls itself All Enlisted, formed a week ago, Baptista said. There is no significance to the call to action being Dec. 16, she said. Members just wanted to put together something that could be done quickly and easily, and just hoped the idea would grab the attention of a few Mormons on Facebook, she said.
"It's been a huge shock to see how much it's caught on," Baptista said.
About 1,200 people said on Facebook they would be participating as of Wednesday afternoon. There were hundreds of comments.
There are about 6 million Mormons in the U.S.
In its mission statement, Baptista's group says that they do not want to eradicate differences between men and women. Their goal is for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to acknowledge the similarities. They say this is only the first act in a movement to advocate for gender equality within the faith.
The organizers are also asking men to show their support by wearing purple, a color historically tied to women's rights.
The Associated Press attempted to contact several people who left critical messages online, but none responded.
Baptista, whose father and brother are bishops, said pushback is coming mainly from the most conservative members of the LDS church who don't want to talk about the issue of women's place in the church.
"We are getting a lot of flak for being uppity and for riling up the other women," she said.
To see the All Enlisted Facebook page and the debate it has created go to: http://on.fb.me/UBSC9I