not in Primary anymore

an interview with joanna brooks

This interview was conducted in September of 2012 by Rachael Rose and is now being published here. You can read more from Joanna here and here.

I wondered about some of the key periods or experiences in your life that formed your feminist thought?

Well, I think my Mormon faith fed my feminism from a very young age. And I think I was sort of born this way- with questions and dispositions, progressive leanings. My mom writes in her journal a story of when I was six years old and I was talking to her about the second coming, and I said “Mom, you mean when Jesus comes back, the pollution is going to be gone and people aren’t going to be mean to each other any more?” And she said yes, and I just cried and was so happy. So I think from a young age I’ve always hungered for a kinder world, a better world, and my faith has fueled that hunger.

The first time I remember being consciously aware of gender issues-feminism- was when I was in fourth grade, and the equal rights amendment was up for ratification and the church was very opposed to it. And I wanted to write my fourth grade term paper on the equal rights amendment. I was very interested.  So I think all of these issues have been part of what is important to me since I was really young. I’ve just had sort of a hunger for knowledge and a hunger for progressive causes.

And my Mormonism, I do think, nourished all that hunger in me. And I did experience Mormonism growing up as a place where, as a young girl, I was taught that my spirit mattered- my mind mattered. That the glory of God was intelligence, that I should pray for answers, that I was entitled to receive answers if I lived faithfully and asked humbly. And Mormonism was a haven from a world that taught that women mattered because of their appearance.

And then, like so many other Mormon women, as I grew up I encountered more conservative dimensions of the faith and wrestled with them. But looking back, I think that is just part of a normal coming of age process. We all have questions, as we mature, about our faith and why it matters.

Feminism and LGBT issues were obviously important enough to you to cause you to temporarily part with your faith, or to feel like the church left you. Why those specific issues?

I really can’t explain it. I know that when I was twenty-one and a number of Mormon feminists were excommunicated, and I considered myself a Mormon feminist, I just felt really, really sad. It’s that simple. I felt a lot of sadness. I felt that the church that was my home, that made me, was closing out people like me. And I didn’t want to be closed out; I felt deeply, deeply sad. And that did lead to a period where I did step away from church activity for a while. I never stopped calling myself Mormon and I never left the church, I just stopped going because it was too painful. And I know there are people who have been through the same- times where you feel that you can’t go for whatever reason. But there came a point when I decided it was important to come back and try- try and pass down to my daughters the faith that I loved so much. So I found my courage, and I came back.

And with gay issues too…it’s just a deeply seated emotional, spiritual impulse in me that God loves everyone- that everyone must be treated with dignity, compassion. That’s how I understand God to work. So…during years when people I love who are Mormon have been very involved in anti-LGBT equality efforts, it’s been…painful. You know, it made me sad. But, you know, I still value my faith, the faith that binds us together across disagreements and differences.

When you did start going back to church, was there a mental reconciliation with feminism with the church- an intellectual component- or was it more of an emotional process?

I think… both. Emotionally, it felt really good to be able to come back. And there are a lot of people who make it work, even with questions and doubts.

But I also think a lot about history- about the history of our church, and the history of all religions. In every faith there is a history in which people who love the faith have asked hard questions, and had disagreements, and wrestled with things. I just see myself as belonging to a long Mormon story. There is a long Mormon story that’s unfolding over the years and in the chapter I appear in, there have been hard things that have happened, but I really believe the story is headed good places.

How do you reconcile your vision for the future of a more accepting church, with the belief that the leaders speak for God’s will now?

I am just a member of this church. I’m just a regular rank-and-file Mormon, so you know, for me that means that I sustain the leaders of the church, and at the same time I may feel differently about certain political issues. So I am a proud Mormon, I’m a supporting member of this church, but at the same time I feel obliged, because of my beliefs, to support equality in the civil sphere in the state where I live for people who happen to be gay. So that’s how I reconcile it.

What would you say to students who are going through the sort of ‘loss of innocence’ phase who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their feminism, or their faith with whatever it may be?

Get as much education as you can. Learn about Mormon history. Learn about Mormon history- learn about other great debates in the history of Mormonism, and how the people who came before us handled disagreements.

You know, it means something to be a part of the Mormon story. It’s a really beautiful and unique faith tradition. There is so much to be proud of, and everyone has a role in building the future of Mormonism.

So be patient with yourself if you have seasons of doubt, questioning. Be authentic to yourself, and know that as long as you’re searching for truth, good things will come.

You talk in one of your blog posts about wanting to see more visible female leadership in the church without necessarily changing any doctrine. Why should women be leaders? Why should we be visible in the church?

Why not? (laughs)

For the doubter, for the skeptic.

Well, I’ll say it this way. I think there are really great things ahead with the change in missionary age- with people who are not Mormon getting used to seeing young Mormon women as representatives of the faith. I think it’s going to have long-term effects.

There is a misperception in the world that Mormon women are subjugated; that we’re not capable of independent thought; that we’ve been duped into believing what we believe. And that’s not true. There are so many strong, intelligent, committed, powerful Mormon women, that when the only face of the faith that non-Mormons see is non-female, it doesn’t reflect who we actually are.

So I am so excited that more young women are going to get to serve missions, and that the outside world will get used to seeing women as a public face of our faith.

What do you hope to see for secular feminism?

I think feminism is about finding a more joyful, truthful life, and that there is so much to celebrate in the accomplishments of feminism- women’s education, women’s self-confidence, women’s social and political empowerment- that I’d like to see that infectious, joyful, celebratory spirit come back a bit. You know, because that is the best message of feminism- and it’s also a Mormon message- that life is about joy and knowledge, and feminism leads to both those things. It’s not all about sadness.

Its like: you will be happier if you understand your body better. You will be healthier. And you will be a better Mormon if you understand your history better, including the history of Mormon women. More knowledge is good; it leads to struggle, but also to joy. It leads to joy.

I think that’s what you live, it seems like, and what you give to a lot of people.

There are hard periods.  But it goes somewhere better. It gets better.

3 Responses to “an interview with joanna brooks”

  1. justinanfinsen

    This was a really cool interview. Thanks for the share!

    I liked her views on reconciling her feminism with the church, it made sense to me.

  2. Horacio

    It’s nice to see this. We only hear on the news “Someone help us!” and end up frustrated we can’t fly out there and do stihoemng. At last, some good news.

  3. Rafael

    , friends pullnig you in only to make you fit their approvals.It is a false face. It is deliberately acting a part, as if life is a play, and you are not yourself but are someone else.God is very concerned that we are ourselves. And speaks hard words about those who are fakers and want others to be fakers with them. He says to the Pharisees that they will go to great lengths to make a convert but will then make them twice the demon of hell as themselves.Fakers are those who disguised themselves as interested in Jesus only to get information to report later.Hypocrites, in other words, are the spies of hell. They move undercover, under shadow, to remain unknown, so they can get the approval or others and snatch others into their way.In contrast, when Paul confronts Peter for playing the wrong part with the Jews in Galatians, he pointed out the issue and Peter better understood. This was not hypocrisy as the Scripture condemns it. It was a growing moment for Peter.I do think the church has many hypocrites. So does the rest of the world. I meet fake people often. You can see it in their eyes, in their talk, the way they divert from the personal questions, the way they want you to think well of them, how cool they are. Some of this is merely insecurity and acting out of wounds of abuse. But this should also sober us to realize that healing from abuse and wounds and insecurity is not a real option. It isn’t just to make us function better. If we aren’t growing out of it, we’re learning to become hypocrites. Very sobering, that.So what can we do about hypocrisy? Our therapist says health breeds health. So we focus on being healthy ourselves, being real, exploring our soul, finding what is in there, our fears and wants and worries and resentments and desires. We will will always find more, but we want to be in the habit of exploring. And these we bring to the light in humility, confessing them to ourselves and God and sharing them with others who are trustworthy so they can give us feedback and encouragement. Then we find out why we have these beliefs, desires, fears, resentments, etc and we speak truth into them. Speaking truth into them doesn’t mean we simply say, Don’t do that! It is finding out what triggers that. For example, when I wake up in the morning worried about finances, I can feel that worry. I stop and I go into it, not to revel in it, but to find it’s source. God, I pray, Help me see what is making me worry. And I ask myself questions, Why do you worry? What are you afraid of? That your funds will dry up? And keep asking questions until you start to get at the heart of it . Because I am afraid of being alone? That I’m afraid you, God, do not care about me? That I can lose it all and people will suffer? That I will have no power? That I will be a nobody? That I will die? And I explore all of this, I bring them to God and often it’s more at the root of not knowing God’s love and care. And, in that care, maybe reevaluating my financial picture and bring it in line with the One who loves me.That’s a simple example. We can do it with our relationships, our futures, our everything else.This is what I have found that has helped me not be a hypocrite to others. It’s my own frailty, knowing myself. And when I meet people, I bring my real self to them, without agenda. I don’t want anyone to be convinced by what I say because I want to feel better about myself. I want them to see what I see and then walk alongside me as their own person. And, in turn, I would hope they would help me in return.Health breeds health. When we are healthy, people around us will be touched and want to be healthy too. If they don’t, we don’t have to spend much time with them. Then we search for those who want to live an honest life.This is the great difficulty, I believe, of dogma. When we push people to believe a certain set of Biblical truths without their growing into them. We can quickly and easily give others the impression that they must follow a set of rules in order to be loved. And then the mess begins. They start play acting too.God built us to walk with him in honesty and humility. And if people want us to be a certain way for their benefit, we can steer clear. If people want us to have all our doctrines perfectly arranged in order to be loved by them, we can steer clear. What we can know is that God loves us and when he loves us he will gently woo us into the truth and into an authentic life.An authentic life is extremely attractive in this world. I think Jesus called it salt and light. It is a life safe in his care and filled with his light (not because we have bible verses but because we’ve tasted and live his life). Most cannot believe it (like the way many poke at Tim Tebow). But they want it. But if we focus not on how others perceive us but on how we are loved by God and walk with him with our true selves, it doesn’t matter what others think much of the time. The right people will come alongside us. Jesus said that giving up our many unhealthy relationships for the sake of God will bring us many more brothers and sisters who want to live the righteous life . and persecutions in this life and the one to come. Healthy breads health. Growing into health for ourselves is the best thing we can do to answer hypocrisy in those around us.


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