Comments about ‘Book review: Confessions of Joanna, or towards a Mormonism Lite’

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Published: Thursday, April 5 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

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Hum
Salt Lake City, UT

As a progressive feminist Mormon, here is why Joanna still doesn't sit well with me: In her book and in the media, Joanna treats Mormonism as primarily a ethnicity/cultural tradition, but not a religion. If you implement a strategy positioning yourself as a national voice of all things mormon while not also claiming (at minimum) a belief of the resurrection and atonement of Christ and that President Monson is a prophet, seer & revelator , you get to call yourself a disaffected mormon who embraces and has come to terms with her mormon upbringing. You can be a good person person, you just don't get to hold yourself out to the public as "Mormon Girl". With respect to her strategy to target the church in the guise of a faithful, yet not quite conforming insider, I have heard her and her cohort at Open Stories Foundation aka Mormon Stories referred to as a faux Mormon(FoMo). I think, in her case, that pretty much sums it up. I seriously question her motives for anything she does while promoting her public personae and targeting the church in her subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

New Yorker
Pleasant Grove, UT

Ralph C. Hancock wrote this whole article without one mention of Jesus Christ and/or discipleship to Jesus Christ. I heard Joanna on an NPR interview and the story is the same. They're supposed to be talking about and relating their thinking to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I can find no connection at all in this to discipleship of Jesus Christ. There is enough real pain and suffering in the world to keep us all busy serving for the rest of mortal lives. Let's all just put our shoulder to the wheel, Joanna, and the all rest will work itself out as it always has. If you keep focusing on yourself, your own needs, your own disappointments, you'll go through life and miss the train--the real reason you've been sent here.

Anti's always want to disassemble but never offer a better path. What we have is working--not perfect--but working. Perfection is for the Celestial Kingdom, not this earth.

Grant Hardy
Asheville, NC

Why would Deseret News publish a review that is merely a shortened version of something that has already appeared in Meridian Magazine? And that earlier article itself was derived from ideas in Hancock’s personal blog. Professor Hancock’s vendetta against Professor Brooks, and his fear that there might be a Latter-day Saint somewhere who may not yet have heard his warnings against what perceives as her dangerous theology, seems embarrassingly obsessive. As a respected BYU professor, wouldn’t his time be better spent making positive contributions to Political Science rather than attacking a fellow Latter-day Saint over and over, in every platform he can think of? What’s next, another version of this same essay in the FARMS Review?

Pennsylvania
Narberth, PA

Despite his references to Rousseau and Saint Augustine, I'm afraid Ralph Hancock doesn't really understand the genre of the spiritual autobiography. Either that, or he doesn't think Mormons can be allowed to write them and still qualify as Mormons.

It's clear that Hancock believes Joanna Brooks should have written a different book: an apology for the faith. That genre has as its working rules that any deviation a given believer might take from official orthodoxy must be corrected. Personal experience can only affirm existing orthodoxy, or else it will condemn the believer as a false believer -- an apostate. (Hancock avoids such a harsh word, but his "Mormonism Lite" carries the same meaning, especially when he attaches such dire warnings to it.)

Apologies have their place, but it's manifestly not the book Brooks wrote. In a spiritual autobiography, you get to express and explore doubts, struggles and tensions -- and it still gets to count as authentic spiritual meaning, not proof positive of absence of the proper spirit. But Hancock stands ready to pounce on any Mormon who won't write the correct kind of book. More's the shame for Hancock, and for the Mormon community.

Redhair
Alpine, UT

Disappointing review of a beautiful, touching and very real book! I highly recommend The Book of Mormon Girl as a great read for those with an open heart and mind!

Hum
Salt Lake City, UT

Prof Hardy, Joanna holds herself out as a professional "Mormon Girl" and obviously wants to position herself as the media "go to" on LDS topics. As such, she opens herself up to scrutiny about whether she believes in the LDS faith or is instead a disaffected who merely identifies as a mormon for her own gain. Does she believe in the basic doctrine of the Atonement and does she sustain the leaders of our Church? No. Ms. Brooks has publicly stated, at an Affirmation Conference, that "Mormonism" is different than the LDS Church and its leadership: "And we can't direct the actions of the LDS Church. Only the leadership of the LDS Church directs the actions of the LDS Church. But Mormonism is a different story: Mormonism is a family of religious and social movements that includes all of the religious groups that descended from this place and this moment, a culture, a tradition;something shaped by all of the people who have ever belonged." Joanna claims the tradition, just not the faith. Her "theology" is secular humanism. It is not dangerous, it just isn't Mormonism.

Grant Hardy
Asheville, NC

Hum, I understood that line of argument the first time Prof. Hancock made it. I just wonder why he is not content to make his points as persuasively as possible and then move on, without endlessly recycling the same criticisms in different venues (all of which continue to be readily available online). It's a little weird when someone is so fixated with a particular individual. In a similar fashion, a few critics of Mormonism seem to be obsessed with Dan Peterson, and that's not healthy either.

Martin Blank
Salt Lake City, UT

As someone who was at BYU at the same time Dr. Brooks was, who ran in some of the same circles and took the same classes from many of the same professors (though only one class with Joanna), I'd like to think I have an idea of where she's coming from. There are some choices she made that I didn't or wouldn't, but there are some choices I made that she wouldn't have, either. As we were recently reminded, we shouldn't judge another because they're sinning differently than we are.
Dr. Hancock's review here very carefully reminds us that Dr. Brooks's memoir has a political or religio-political agenda. He's also very careful to not let us know that his review also has a religio-political agenda. Joanna may be trying to describe a Mormonism that is open to her beliefs, but he's trying just as hard to 1) exclude her from Mormonism and 2) describe a Mormonism that is only open to the political conservatism to which he subscribes. I would hope that Mormonism is open to all who come seeking solace from Christ.

GV
SALT LAKE CITY, UT

"But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous, and our judgement as reliable and only appropriate." Deiter F Uchtdorf. Just sayin'

Aged Observer
maricopa, AZ

Like others, I'm curious about several things contained in this "book review".

First, although Ralph Hancock seems to think that all follow an exactly prescribed recipe to faith (and his political interpretation thereof), it's obvious that there are many paths, and the timing of the journey is as varied as there are individuals who trod (or trudge) along.

For one, I applaud the efforts of Joanna Brooks. Her path to faith is instructional. As Jeffrey R. Holland discussed in the recent general conference, it's not when we start, it's the fact that we finish together that's most important and that everyone who finishes receives the same compensation.

I'm most disturbed by individuals who are so narrow-minded as to think that their experience is the experience that everyone must have. Let's be broad enough in our understanding to recognize that the atonement of Jesus Christ is an individual atonement for each one of God's children.

perhaps
Salt Lake City, UT

GV: perhaps you remember this other thing President Uchdorf said at conference, "It is proposed that we sustain Thomas Spencer Monson as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . ." Someone who publicly criticizes the leaders and doctrines of a church really can't complain when members of that church ask him or her to stop pretending to be a spokesperson for their faith. If Rush Limbaugh began to start every sentence with the phrase "As a Democrat" people would ask him to stop it. That is a very rough analogy but it is the best one I am capable of right now. Sorry.

Martin: You are right. Members of the Church should be open to everyone who wants to be a disciple to Christ. That does not mean that we should be quiet when people publicly distort what we believe. Disagreement does not have to be uncivil or unkind. We all ought to pray for people we disagree with and pray for the humility to recognize that sometimes we are wrong.

Martin Blank
Salt Lake City, UT

Dear "perhaps,"

I also believe that we should not "be quiet when people publicly distort what we believe." I find it difficult, however, when some of those people assume that because they share a political belief with a majority of our leaders, that means that whatever they believe politically is also in line with what the leaders believe, and what by default the Church teaches. I know--because I read comment boards--that there are many more well-meaning "conservative" Saints who have no compunction about throwing the General Authorities under a proverbial bus because they disagree with the Church's stance, on say, immigration, than there are "liberal" Saints like Dr. Brooks who publicly disagree with the Church's stance on Proposition 8 in California. Are both stances harmful to the Church and its reputation? Yes. But the point of the "sinning differently" talk was that we all sin, and need repentance.
I find it difficult to countenance the kind of politically-driven agenda that Ralph Hancock has here: He's deliberately trying to exclude someone who's trying to work her way back into activity, only because she's politically different from him. That's wrong.

Aspen1713
SALT LAKE CITY, UT

"Of course there would seem to be an obvious problem in reconciling a feminism that understands equality between men and women with sameness."

I think Hancock read a different book than I did. Brooks didn't argue for the "sameness" of men and women at any point in her memoir, she argued that they are equal in the sight of God, something I hope isn't debatable in 2012. When will people learn the difference between the word "same" and "equal"? Apparently Hancock hasn't grasped it yet.

perhaps
Salt Lake City, UT

Martin: I don't think Hancock is saying Brooks should be excluded from Church membership. He is simply letting a lot of LDS people know that her book is one they won't enjoy. That may hurt her book sales. It may help. Time will tell.

Hancock also appears to be attempting to give voice to people who are tired of seeing Brooks comment about their church in major media outlets. If the media repeatedly went to Glenn Beck for commentary on stories about the church some of the same people would find that to be annoying as well. Public figures are magnets for criticism. Joanna has succeeded in becoming a public figure which clearly was one of her primary goals in creating the Mormon Girl blog and book.

Hopefully she will also continue her journey back into the Church and realize that whatever happened in 1993 is not what is happening now. The church has changed and she, presumably, has changed as well. As someone who left around the same time and have come back myself I can testify that it is possible.

HappyManJK
Highland, UT

I have read Dr. Brook's nice work and have recently met her and heard her speak. It is refreshing to hear another view of what it means to be a Mormon. We Mormons seem to have lost a sense of humor about life and the unique experience that it is to be Mormon in today's world. Professor Hancock's view is so stilted that it makes me glad I do not have to suffer through any of his classes at BYU. I have represented the Church officially on more than one occasion and personally by living, working, and traveling in some 25 countries. I find living as a Mormon in modern world exciting and refreshing with so much to contribute besides just the sad-faced approach to the Gospel that Hancock seems to profess. If someone doesn't meet his criteria for being a Mormon, then they must not be one. Such a restricted and harmful view of this marvelous Restored Gospel. Lighten up Hancock and enjoy the refreshingly sweet life as a devoted Mormon.

redhat
Fairfax Station, VA

Professor Hancock: "Judging others-Stop It" Elder Uchtdorf GC april 2012

GV
SALT LAKE CITY, UT

sustain
verb (used with object)
1.to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure.
2.to bear (a burden, charge, etc.).
3.to undergo, experience, or suffer (injury, loss, etc.); endure without giving way or yielding.
4.to keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from giving way, as under trial or affliction.
5.to keep up or keep going, as an action or process: to sustain a conversation.

Didn't see anything there about 'agree with completely' or 'follow unquestioningly'. But maybe I missed something. If I recall correctly, Jacob's name was changed to Israel because he was willing to go toe to toe with the messenger of God. Perhaps an apt analogy?

Dan Maloy
Enid, OK

Article quote: "According to her own self-description, "Joanna Brooks is a national voice on Mormon life......"

Key phrase there: "self-description"

My point is that Joanna Brooks THINKS she is a "national voice" on Mormon life, ie, that she accurately represents the unified/combined voice of Mormonism, however, I've read enough of her posts to have no problem say she does NOT speak for me and millions of other Latter-day Saints.

Ms. Brooks constantly, incessantly apologizes for the LDS church's "awful" treatment of homosexuals in her many public criticisms of the Church's involvement in the Prop 8 fight, our "racist" treatment of blacks over the Priesthood, our "repressive" attitudes towards women and on and on it goes.

She no more "honestly" sustains the Prophet and the Apostles than I am the Catholic Pope.

Now, if many members of the Church say "we got it wrong" and want to leave, have at it. Heber C. Kimball warned of mass apostasy in today's world, just as Joseph Smith warned against it to the Saints in the days of Kirtland.

No thanks.

hopefully
Salt Lake City, UT

As a Progressive Mormon the big question I have is why Professor Brooks focuses so much energy on issues where she is at odds with the leadership of our Church. Progressive Catholics and Evangelicals spend their time working on issues like immigration reform, the environment, poverty and peace. They do so because they realize they will engage more members of their own faith community if they focus on the strengths of that community rather than on what outsiders see as its weaknesses. There is plenty of work to do. Put your shoulder to the wheel!

EW
HENRIETTA, NY

For those in the audience who are NOT Mormon, I add that Joanna is not an authorized spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the best information about Mormons, go to the source. Any LDS Church site would be a good resource. I would point you to some of them but Deseret News online won't publish any links and denied my comment when I tried.

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