I’ve been on a journey to find people like me. People who think like me, feel like me, and write like me. People who care like I do and for what I do. It is a new journey, it promises to be a long journey, and so far it has been a rewarding journey.
Some of the stops along the way have been Carol Lynn Pearson’s books, Feminist Mormon Housewives, long conversations with my friend Amy, and a new-found connection with a former colleague Sylvia (who delightfully describes herself as “fringy”). One of the most recent stops in this journey has been reading The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (2012). This may come as a shock to some of you, and to others, you may have already figured it out, but I happen to share that American faith with Joanna Brooks. And I now realize that she, and others like her, share the sometimes unorthodox views that I have of that faith.
Brooks shares her childhood memories of growing up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southern California. She shares both the heartache and the triumphs of belonging to a Mormon family and how she made sense of all of the doctrine, culture, and expectations. (And let me be clear: Mormons do NOT practice polygamy.) As she ages, she struggles with her faith and with her church, and this account could easily be transferred to any faith, to any person who longs to know God and do what is right but cannot make sense of the complexity of the universe and the confusion of life.
The memoir is hilarious. Brooks can laugh at the eccentricities of her people, and she also presents her faith as one of beauty and love. To me, this is what my faith is about: love. I wrote about it in terms of learning to love unconditionally my gay father in Sunstone magazine several years ago. To me, God loves everybody, and to Brooks, this is true also. Yet, some of her experiences with the church have left her feeling cold.
She shares her experience as the student of several Mormon feminists at Brigham Young University (a school I graduated from and a school that I absolutely love). These feminists (both men and women) were excommunicated for speaking on feminist issues and meeting as intellectuals to discuss those issues. I had heard of this occurrence (often referred to as the September Six), but I had never known the details or circumstances. It occurred in the early 1990s, and now that I have read the story from Brooks’s perspective, I am appalled that it happened. I am also surprised that such stringent actions were taken against these women, when, from Brooks’s account, these women were discussing ideas that I often discuss with some of my good friends, issues that I often talk about with my husband, and issues that I feel strongly are connected to a good and loving Heavenly Father.
Brooks also recounts her experiences with being a Mormon against proposition 8 in California a few years ago, when the church and its members did so much to promote it. Her feelings on this issue echo many of my own feelings. But what her experiences really come down to is loneliness and confusion, not politics. She describes herself as an unorthodox Mormon feminist, and although I have never used those words to describe myself, I have decided that I am probably those things, too. We are those things, but so much more.
And that is the purpose of her book, to share that Mormons and feminists and gays and straights and Christians and Jews are all so much more than those labels. Those issues and religions are complicated, but so are the people behind them. She concludes her memoir by describing a large table at which all can gather, males and females, gays and straights, atheists and Christians, people of color and whites, those who believe and those who do not. In short, everybody deserves a place at the table. No matter who they are, what they believe, how they love, or what color they came. She wrote, “Zion is not so much a place on the map as a longing for a place where all who really hunger for truth and goodness—and I mean everyone—can gather and finally rest” (196). These sentiments drive me, and Brooks. I wonder and marvel at the complexity of human life and the varied ways of being that make this world so interesting, full, and complex.
Also touching is the chapter in which she wishes she could speak to her sixteen-year-old self, the one struggling with body issues and sexual realization. Her words are calming, comforting, and wise. They reflect, I suspect, what a lot of us wish we could go back and tell our younger selves. “Things get better. You are perfect the way you are. You will make it. Confusion is part of life. Relax and have fun. You are not an object.” Those are some of the things I wish I could tell my younger self.
So, thank you, Joanna Brooks, for being brave enough to write down your unorthodox feminist Mormon thoughts, even if not everybody will approve or love. You’ve given me the courage to be more comfortable with my own doubts, my own beliefs, and my own sense of equality and justice. We are here and we hear you; you have given voice to our souls.
In the end, Brooks sums up her ideas about her faith, ideas that may be rejected or cause angry or hate-filled reactions. I share them with you, because they speak to me
“All are alike unto God: male and female, black and white, gay and straight. God is a Mother and a Father. Mormon women matter” (140).
These ideas are based on one of Brooks’s favorite scriptures, which is now one of my favorite scriptures. It is in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ in 2 Nephi 26:33: “[A]nd he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
All are alike unto God. Yes, they are.