Review: The Book of Mormon Girl

March 15, 2012 | 79 comments
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Joanna Brooks is the Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. She is the author of several books, most recently The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith (2012). The book is available at Amazon and at the author’s website. A short couple of hundred pages, the book is at various turns both enjoyable and troubling, as the author recounts growing up LDS in Southern California, informally leaving the LDS Church then returning to activity, then rather suddenly emerging as a leading voice of what might be termed the progressive Mormon agenda which takes issue with traditional Mormon positions on race and gender. As such, she is on her way to becoming controversial (not generally a compliment in Mormon circles), so I need to start out with a couple of disclaimers.

Preliminaries

First, this is a book review, not an endorsement of the author’s life or views. If it turns out I say some nice things about the book, that doesn’t mean I think students who go to BYU should, upon graduation, return their diplomas, go inactive, and wander off to California to get a PhD. If it turns out I don’t devote a paragraph to loudly rejecting Brooks’ progressive political views, that doesn’t mean I endorse them. The book isn’t about about life paths for college students or political statements, it is primarily about the author’s complicated and, for most LDS readers, rather interesting relationship with Mormonism. This has led to her becoming, within just the last year or so, a widely quoted public voice on LDS current affairs, informed and in general sympathetic, yet critical of the prevailing LDS position on some issues. That’s why the book is so interesting — if Brooks was just another professor you had never heard of, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to read her book.

Second, this is a memoir, not a biography. Biographies are comprehensive reports of a person’s life, with commentary about the subject’s character, achievements, and influence. Memoirs are self-authored selective surveys of a person’s life with wide-ranging reflections on events and issues related to that life. Here’s the key difference: while memoirs recount some of the events of the writer’s life, they are actually about something else. So William Manchester wrote a biography of Douglas MacArthur, and he also wrote a memoir of his own experience as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II, Goodbye Darkness. The biography was about MacArthur, but the memoir was not really about Manchester. It was about the gritty life of a soldier in combat, about the ordeal of toughing it out on Guadalcanal and what that does to a man, about the gut-wrenching moment of killing another human being. LDS writing offers both biographies and memoirs. If you’re David O. McKay, you get a biography. If you’re Leonard Arrington, you write Adventures of a Church Historian, a memoir in which Arrington recounts his attempt (ultimately successful) to professionalize the production of LDS history.

There are some things missing in The Book of Mormon Girl that I would like to have read about. For example, there’s almost nothing about the impact that literature and writing (and all the other stuff English majors do to get a PhD) had on Brooks. English profs don’t just punch the time card at five o’clock and go home to watch television — for them, books and the ideas they convey are the focus of their life. There is almost no discussion of what role her reading or study had in forming her beliefs or modifying her view of Mormonism. That’s something I would really like to know about. But this is a memoir, not a biography, so not covering those details (and others you or I might like to know about) is not a fair criticism of the book. The author gets to pick and choose what events from her life to recount as she sidles up to the real issues of the book.

So if the book is not about Joanna Brooks, what is it about? Two topics, I think. First, why would a person who has largely put Mormonism behind her decide to return to activity and raise her daughters as Latter-day Saints? Second, why would someone who chooses to be or remain actively Mormon nevertheless energetically pursue a progressive political agenda that puts her at odds with most other Mormons and possibly with LDS leadership?

Growing Up Mormon

Before addressing those two issues in the second half of the book, Brooks recounts in the first half of the book her experience growing up Mormon in the California of the 70s and the 80s. Some readers will identify with Brooks’ experience more than others, of course. Most readers will relate to large bins of food storage wheat that parents stashed in the basement (Chapter 3, Signs of the Times) and conversations with high school classmates who think that as a Mormon you are part of Satan’s clever plan to deceive the elect (Chapter 5, Mormons vs. Born-Agains). The experience of growing up Mormon seems to leave an indelible psychic mark, like a near-death experience or going through boot camp. Whether you later view that mark as a gift or a curse, it’s there nonetheless. So if you grew up Mormon, Brooks’ story of growing up is in some sense your story.

It’s not my story. I joined the Church when I was almost sixteen. Like any bright and curious teenager, I sought out additional information about the Mormons while taking the missionary discussions: I went to the public library and checked out Kingdom of the Cults. I read it carefully and concluded it was largely trash. I suppose that experience “immunized” me against most writing critical of the Church. I was an Internet Mormon before there was an Internet. For me, reading Brooks’ account of growing up Mormon is a window on what I, as a teenage convert, never really experienced.

Leaving the Church and Coming Back

The narrative gets serious when Brooks enrolls at BYU, moving into Helaman Halls as a freshman. The highlight of orientation week was a presentation to her group by Eugene England, who showed them that not all BYU profs wear suits and ties, then wrote on the board:

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.

That passage may yet redeem us, but the wave of feminism that swept through BYU during Brooks’ time there showed there are still deep fault lines in the LDS psyche. Brooks recounts the events of the mid-90s — now typically glossed by catch-phrases like the September Six, the Mormon Alliance, and the Strengthening Church Members Committee (“SCMC”) — and the lasting effect they had on her. She writes, thinking of her own SCMC file no doubt tucked away in some LDS bureaucrat’s filing cabinet or server:

I think of the minor exposés and navel-gazing essays I published in the underground student newspaper at Brigham Young University, and the raw feminist poetry that leaked from me in my college years. I think of the speech I gave when I returned my diploma at a press conference after Cecelia’s [Cecelia Konchar Farr] firing in May 1993. I don’t think I have a transcript, but that’s okay: it’s probably there in my file.

So she went back to California and lived the life of a graduate student while largely avoiding mainstream Mormonism but lingering on the fringes: reading LDS journals, writing a piece here or there, sneaking into the back of LDS meetings now and then. She ended up with a PhD, a happy marriage, two daughters, and little or no contact with the Church. Then, as they say, something happened that the Ring did not expect: she returned to activity in the Church and brought her daughters with her. Why?

I’m not sure the narrative gives a complete answer to that question. Does any person really fully understand why he or she joins, rejoins, or leaves the Church? Brooks’ writing suggests that she, as a sensitive but alienated Mormon, still had a deep, if hidden, connection to the Church, probably deeper than most active, churchgoing Mormons do. She writes movingly of the women who are her LDS ancestors; she writes of bringing her daughters back to church so they, too, can feel that connection and be part of that ongoing generational story. There is no suggestion that any concern with immediate family caused her to return; it is obviously not LDS doctrine or politics that she missed. “LDS culture” or even “LDS heritage” doesn’t seem to capture what drew her back. Toward the end of the book, she explains, “I went back to church so that my daughters could know the same loving, kind, and powerful God I was raised to believe in.” Or, as she recalls explaining years ago to a friend who was puzzled by the odd persistence of her Mormon-ness, “it is my first language, my mother tongue, my family, my people, my home; it is my heart.”

Well, if that’s how you talk about your sort-of ex-church, you’ll probably head back too at some point. Whatever the reason, I count her return as a small victory. Given the increasing numbers of young Mormons leaving the Church and the amount of bad press we’ve been getting lately, we should all be grateful for such small victories. Yet there are people out there saying there’s no room in the LDS Church for people like Brooks, describing her position favoring gay marriage as “irreconcilable with the church,” and generally trying to make Brooks and others like her feel unwelcome (although still “want[ing] her to remain Mormon”).

There’s a phrase that describes this smaller-is-better view of the ideal church: The Church of Jesus Christ of People Just Like Me. This view seems to flourish inside the Provo bubble, where everyone you meet might actually be just like you, a place where people like Professor Bott (another supporter of the Church of People Just Like Me) can flourish for decades. The people who embrace this sort of thinking and the rash public statements they make if given access to the media are more of a danger to the Church than those who dream progressive dreams, give speeches to a few dozen sympathizers, and write essays and poetry in journals that few Mormons even know exist. In the unjust calculus of public relations, one dumb statement by an LDS official or employee does much more harm than a dozen speeches, essays, or poems by folks like Brooks. I wish the SCMC had a dumb statements file, but I doubt the committee is paying any attention to that danger.

A Progressive Mormon

A second issue raised by the narrative is why someone who chooses to reactivate themselves or remain Mormon would nevertheless actively pursue a progressive Mormon agenda, which generally creates a certain degree of conflict with one’s fellow Mormons and with LDS leaders. On the one hand, this isn’t 1993. The Church has apparently learned that pursuing discipline against Latter-day Saints who make public statements that are out of harmony with Church norms is generally counterproductive. On the other hand, those SCMC files have not been boxed up and shipped off to the archives. There are anecdotal stories of Mormons in California being called in for disciplinary chats over their political activity opposing Proposition 8. No Mormon who publicly advocates the progressive Mormon agenda does so without some awareness of potential consequences. The decision to speak is not taken lightly. So why speak?

The short answer was supplied by Brooks’ father, who upon reading the text of a speech she wrote opposing Prop 8 said, “You have wanted a more just and loving world since you were a little girl.” And Brooks wants it enough to actually do something about it. Personally, I like to think that political views are opinions on which reasonable people can differ, but that may be a minority view these days. I don’t get the sense that Brooks sees political opinions that differ from hers as potentially reasonable. There are certainly plenty of Mormon conservatives who reciprocate. Would reading the chapter on Prop 8 in Brooks’ book detailing how that experience looked and felt to her change their mind? No, but it might help them inch toward my view that there is room for reasonable disagreement in politics. The alternative, magnifying political disagreements into religious disagreements, is poison to the Church. Doesn’t really matter what brand the poison is.

After taking a break from church during the Prop 8 campaign and its aftermath, Brooks went back to church. The first Relief Society lesson she attended started off in standard form, but quickly moved to Prop 8 themes. When you fight that hard, it’s hard to let go. Brooks’ conclusion: “The campaign has taken a toll on every one of us.” Yes, I think so. On those who voted yes, those who voted no, and those who didn’t vote. On those who spoke, on those who didn’t.

Conclusion

To paraphrase William Faulkner, the Mormon past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past. Prop 8 is still with us. The events of 1993 are still with us. Mormon Doctrine is still with us. Polygamy, Mormon pioneers crossing the plains, Joseph and Hyrum in jail at Carthage, it’s all still with us, the collective analogue to how the family stories of six generations of LDS women are still with Joanna Brooks. Since we can’t erase or escape our Mormon history, we’d better at least understand it. The Book of Mormon Girl is a window into contemporary Mormon history, told from the minority view, what I’ve termed “progressive Mormonism.” Progress or not, it is helpful to understand that view, so this is a book worth reading whether you agree with the author’s views or not.

By discussing the main issues, I’ve probably overstated conflict and disagreement. There are positive reflections in the book as well, which is certainly to be expected given how often Brooks publicly objects to mischaracterizations of LDS beliefs and unfair criticism of LDS views. Consider this short conclusion to a discussion of LDS genealogy work that supports proxy baptisms in LDS temples:

What is to stop a people who have sized up the infinite forest of human souls tangled and uprooted by the avalanche of time, and said, cheerfully, yes, we will sort it all out and have it stacked as neatly as cordwood by sundown.

What is to stop such a people?

Recall the subtitle to the book, “Stories From an American Faith.” That’s a pleasantly inclusive subtitle for a book recounting so much anxiety and distress over differences and disagreements. It brings to mind Jefferson’s political statement of the American faith, that all men are created equal, and the Book of Mormon’s religious statement of the American faith quoted earlier, that all are alike unto God, black and white, bond and free, male and female. A fitting note to end on.

79 Responses to Review: The Book of Mormon Girl

  1. Unknown on March 15, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I think the central question raised by Professor Brooks’ memoir is whether one can “be” thoroughly Mormon without “believing” all that the Mormon church teaches. She clearly answers the question with a resounding, “Yes!” I don’t feel that her memoir adequately addresses the doctrinal implications of such a path, however. For example, does Professor Brooks contend that salvation as Mormons would define it (i.e. admittance to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom) is available to those who do not live in accordance with all of the laws, ordinances and teachings of the gosepl, including attending the temple and “following the brethren” etc.? If so, what does she believe is essential for salvation? If not, then what is the point of living a Mormon lifestyle. There are easier ways to live.

  2. Mark B. on March 15, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    If Prof. Brooks’s story is in “some sense [my] story” I’ll have to confess that I had a hard time recognizing it–either in my own family or my wife’s or in any of my friends’ families, or my parents’ friends’ families either. (And that was Utah County in the 60s and early 70s.) Well, there was that one family up on the hill at the other end of the ward, and maybe they were the right-wing survivalists in polyester suits that seem to populate her ward in Orange County–maybe their story is her story too, but not mine.

    And I wonder where you derive your conclusions about Provo–I’ll admit that it’s been 35 years since I left, and I have no more desire to go back to live there than to move to the Orange County that Prof. Brooks describes, but the Provo Bubble populated by a bunch of people who belong to the church of “People Like Me”–or like Randy Bott–is a figment of your imagination.

  3. Quickmere Graham on March 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    For example, does Professor Brooks contend that salvation as Mormons would define it (i.e. admittance to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom) is available to those who do not live in accordance with all of the laws, ordinances and teachings of the gosepl, including attending the temple and “following the brethren” etc.? If so, what does she believe is essential for salvation? If not, then what is the point of living a Mormon lifestyle. There are easier ways to live.

    In the LDS economy of salvation, opportunity to partake in the fulness of God’s blessings is eminently available. It is unnecessary to conclude that one who fails to become baptized or endowed during their brief mortal life although they hypothetically could have done so is thereby eternally banned from such opportunity. In fact, the LDS system includes post-mortal repentance, learning, growth, and the ability to receive such ordinances by proxy. I submit, “Unknown,” that you, and not Professor Brooks, are the one misunderstanding the rich possibilities God has extended to all of His children. You appear to buy into a typical Protestant/Catholic notion of eternal judgement at the moment of death. But Mormonism explicitly rejects that schema. I submit that, like Alvin Smith and other wonderful people, Joanna Brooks can be a fit candidate for the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom regardless of whether she personally partakes of each ordinance during mortality or not. In fact, even if you are currently an endowed member of the Church there are further requirements you have yet to meet, and almost certainly will not meet before your mortal death.

    I caution you with the Matthew 7:2 rule, which states: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

  4. Adam G. on March 15, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I’m a lot less interested in Joanna Brooks than she is.

  5. Quickmere Graham on March 15, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Yet you took the time to say so. . .

  6. anon on March 15, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    I confess I expected more from the book–a discussion of faith–some statement of belief. Does she believe? Has she been to the temple and made covenants? How did she end up being a church spokeswoman anyway?

  7. Unknown on March 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    #3 – Your comment proves my larger point. If one doesn’t want to accept the principles of established Mormon doctrine, then they don’t need to live the Mormon lifestyle. If the “LDS system” really does “includes post-mortal repentance, learning, growth, and the ability to receive such ordinances by proxy” for those who became members in this life but chose not to partake of those blessings, as you assert, then it certaintly would extend to those who consciously choose not to live the Mormon lifestyle, despite having been taught to do so. Thus, according to your conception of LDS doctrine, there absolutely no reason for anyone to become a Mormon or live LDS principles as taught by LDS prophets. God’s going to let everyone in anyway.

    This is the problem that I see with your logic and one that Professor Brooks does not explain or address, although she often touches on it.

    In my opinion LDS doctrine is clear, however, that “this life is the day of men’s probation” for those that have a change to hear the gosepl and receive the ordinances. The Prophets and Apostles have clearly taught that those who do not take advantage of certain blessings in the life, such as temple ordinances, if they had the opportunity to receive them, will not have a chance in the next life.

    You do not have to agree with this, but this is clearly what the Brethren have consistently taught.

    I also fail to see what “further requirements [I] have yet to meet, and almost certainly will not meet before your mortal death.” What are these requirements and how do you know that I have not met them?

    You also do not need to resort to ad hominem attacks by insinuating that I am judgmental. We ought to be able to have a respectful intellectual conversation without name calling.

  8. Blake on March 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    I sure hope that there is room in the Church for people like Joanna Brooks. I disagree with her political stance on several issues — but that doesn’t make me a better Latter-day Saint. She has a well-reasoned and even-handed approach to issues of faith that “outsiders” can relate to and trust. Heck, they even ask her what Mormon men feel about Mormon women rather than asking a Mormon man. That says a lot about the trust levels (though not much about being able to discern who is able to answer such questions because of inherent gender differences).

    There is room for doubt in the church. There is also room for knowing without doubt. I’ve seen both castigated.

    What I admire most about Brooks is her intelligent statement of the Church’s position and placing it into a balanced context even when she disagrees with the Church’s views. The Church has expressly recognized that members can disagree with its stance on Prop. 8 and remain in good standing. That means that it is not an issue on which someone’s exaltation depends. Admittedly disagrees with the Lord’s prophet at his or her own peril, but that same prophet has not stated that disagreeing on this issue is cause for sanctions.

    I don’t like a lot of what feminism has produced – the absolutely unforgivable blindness to the fact that 62% of all undergraduates are now female for a reason (massively greater scholarship opportunities and biased admissions practices). I suspect that such facts have a lot to do with the radical feminist push to favor females in education in the name of redressing historical imbalances. So while I have some issues with radical feminism, there is a lot we have to learn from being challenged to see their concerns more clearly as well.

  9. Mathew on March 15, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Unknown,

    Joseph Smith taught and other modern-day prophets have reiterated that “the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant sevice int he Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or in the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tred a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God”

    This quote has approvingly been read across the pulpit many times during recent general conferences–Packer (May 1992), Hales (May 1999, May 2004), Faust (May 2003), and Winkel (May 2006)–and it currently appears in numerous church publications including teaching manuals. You might want to include this in the list of items you consider when thinking about what the brethren have consistently taught when thinking about the limitations of God’s grace.

  10. Mathew on March 15, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Or as the late, great J.B.S. Haldane put it: “It is my supposition that the Universe in not only queerer than we imagine, is queerer than we can imagine.”

  11. Brad on March 15, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    There is definitely room for Joanna in the church. After all the church claims to be apolitical and does not take action against someone for their political beliefs. So it won’t take action against someone who supports the legalization of gay marriage. It may, however, take action against those who openly and directly criticize the brethren for their involvement in Prop 8.

    Joanna Brooks is also an open testament to a growing reality in the LDS church: cultural Mormons. These are those people who are affiliated with the church and its society primarily for cultural reasons more than doctrinal or moral reasons. Many like the environment that the Mormon church provides but privately hold beliefs that are different from the official narrative. Many regularly attend church but support gay marriage or believe that the BOM is a 19th century text. For some attendance is voluntary, out of genuine support for Mormon heritage and culture. For others attendance is out of fear of the consequences of being ostracized for expressing overt doubt or desire to cease association.

  12. Anon on March 15, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    #7, you frame the question of whether one would choose to be Mormon if God just “let anyone in” with two assumptions: (1) the idea that the only purpose of being Mormon is to gain admittance to some special heaven; and (2) the idea that the essence of “Mormonism” is rooted in membership in the LDS church; or, perhaps more accurately, in acceptance of and adherence to the principles and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of which the LDS church is Christ’s only authorized facilitator. I understand this line of thinking and once embraced it. Then my sweet son was born and I found myself asking a different question about the gospel. Instead of asking if it was true, I began to ask myself if I found it acceptable that God–or something greater than God– required blood atonement for the eternal progression of human beings. The sweetness and perfection I saw in my son soon led me to see similar sweetness and perfection in myself and others, and I soon began to challenge God openly in my prayers, telling him that I found him and his plan needlessly violent and repugnant. I was quite prepared to have him punish me severely for this open rebellion, but to me that wasn’t sufficient reason to withhold what was in my heart. I thought “Isn’t this cowardice? Why should I let fear of some powerful being deter me from calling something I think is disgusting–and make no mistake: I find the idea that we fall down and worship a being who requires the brutal suffering of his children before they can learn from and get past their life experiences utterly disgusting, although it took me becoming a father myself before I discovered this feeling within myself–stop me from telling that being so? When has such cowardice ever helped humanity?”

    At the time I was a full tithe payer, regularly attended the temple, and served in my bishopric. As this experience played out more for me over the next couple of years, I came to a point of crisis and felt my only recourse was to renounce Mormonism and Christianity generally and forsake all of it.

    My wife opened my eyes to new possibilities. She showed me how, for her, Mormonism was centered in the shared family and community she’d experienced her entire life. She always found the doctrinal tenants and religious ceremony of Mormonism quite strange, and for her the Mormon experience was almost entirely one of practical, here-and-now homely matters. She spent no time pondering on the solemnities of eternity. She didn’t much care about any of that, but she did care a great deal about the social aspects, the “tribe” that is Mormonism. Like Joanna, she felt Mormonism was her first language, her mother tongue, her family, her people, her home; it is in her heart.

    I once judged this perspective as unenlightened, faithless, and ultimately meaningless, and today it’s very nearly the polar opposite. Today my Mormonism is entirely made up of the stuff of culture, family, community, and a shared set of experiences, language, and heritage. I often say I’m Mormon in the way Jews are Jewish. The religion and doctrine have nothing to do with it for me now. The Jews as a people have found a way to hold their identity together even as a large part of them have rejected the religion and doctrine.

    I will acknowledge that the church and it’s programs are still largely the hub for Mormon culture and lifestyle, but that is changing. There are many more of us than you might think, and we are finding one another and developing deep bonds that are going to dramatically change the face of Mormonism over the next few decades. Some of us wonder if the church will make room for us, and many of those folks are anxiously engaged in lobbying for that change. Others are ready to shed the church like so much dead skin and create something more akin to the Reform movement in Judaism. I’m not sure where I’m at, but what I do know is change is in the air. The crowds I’ve met aren’t the academic fringe of the church: they are the core, or perhaps what the church hoped would become its core: return missionaries in deeply committed, long-term marriages with beautiful children and thriving careers; they are often serving in high ranking positions of local leadership while simultaneously talking amongst themselves about things I’ve mentioned here. The church has to decide if it wants to include these people or if it wants to continue down its parochial path.

    This is a beautiful thing to me. I love the change. And, much to my joy, I’ve rediscovered God and found he wasn’t at all what Christianity taught me he was. My life is filled with spiritual things and a deep connection with peace, joy, love, etc.

    And I’m still Mormon.

  13. Quickmere Graham on March 15, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Unknown:

    Your comment proves my larger point. If one doesn’t want to accept the principles of established Mormon doctrine, then they don’t need to live the Mormon lifestyle.

    Joanna wants to live the Mormon lifestyle in the way she understands it. Technically, given our emphasis on free agency, we all do that to varying degrees.

    If the “LDS system” really does “includes post-mortal repentance, learning, growth, and the ability to receive such ordinances by proxy” for those who became members in this life but chose not to partake of those blessings, as you assert, then it certaintly would extend to those who consciously choose not to live the Mormon lifestyle, despite having been taught to do so. Thus, according to your conception of LDS doctrine, there absolutely no reason for anyone to become a Mormon or live LDS principles as taught by LDS prophets. God’s going to let everyone in anyway.

    But your understanding of the gospel appears to be one in which we all “keep the commandments” in order to win some sort of prize at the end of the show. I don’t believe this view of Mormonism is necessary, or even particularly fruitful. In fact, I think this conception of the gospel is largely antithetical to the best our faith has to offer. (And I can marshal a variety of quotes from the prophet Joseph Smith to Pres. Thomas S. Monson, in addition to various scriptures, to carry the point, but GA poker gets tiresome and I’m not really an “win the argument by authority” type person).

    In my view, we follow the gospel to the best of our ability, not only to shore up eternal rewards, but to change the present world and to have a rich lifetime, receiving and giving blessings. It isn’t simply a matter of checking everything off of a list in order to “qualify” for some heavenly reward. Christ’s gospel is about changing the world in the present. He said His kingdom is not only coming in the future tense, but that it is already among us and available in the present. Christians, Muslims, and Latter-day Saints all have been criticized for promising heavenly rewards at the expense of present needs such as feeding the poor. We can rebut: “but heavenly rewards come only if we feed the poor, visit the sick, etc.” Or we can recognize that we feed the poor and visit the sick not merely because a future reward awaits, but because we actually love the people we’re serving, because we want to make life better for folks, because life in the here-and-now matters as much as the there-and-then.

    In my opinion LDS doctrine is clear, however, that “this life is the day of men’s probation” for those that have a change to hear the gosepl and receive the ordinances. The Prophets and Apostles have clearly taught that those who do not take advantage of certain blessings in the life, such as temple ordinances, if they had the opportunity to receive them, will not have a chance in the next life.

    Actually, the prophets have taught a plan of salvation which includes post-mortal opportunities, even for people who had knowledge of the gospel prior to death. The scripture in the Book of Mormon to which you refer, this life is a “probation,” is a very interesting verse. You’ll notice that the Book of Mormon was written prior to 1830, prior to the restoration, prior to the “dispensation of the fulness of times” when things hidden from the foundation of the earth would be revealed to humankind. The BoM verses cannot be used in isolation apart from other revelations Joseph Smith received which clearly expand on the heaven/hell dichotomy presented in the Book of Mormon. You act as though our church leaders have been completely consistent on this matter from the 1830s to the present, but that simply isn’t the case. You don’t have to agree with this, but this is clearly what the Brethren have taught.

    I also fail to see what “further requirements [I] have yet to meet, and almost certainly will not meet before your mortal death.” What are these requirements and how do you know that I have not met them?

    The fact that you even have to ask is sufficient to demonstrate that you haven’t received everything. For propriety’s sake I’m not going to discuss this particular matter further.

    You also do not need to resort to ad hominem attacks by insinuating that I am judgmental. We ought to be able to have a respectful intellectual conversation without name calling.

    This is somewhat beside the point, and I’d prefer you stick to my response above, but for the sake of fun here goes nothing:

    I’ve noticed it has become fashionable to complain about “ad hominem attacks” in Internet discussions. I’m not sure you understand what would constitute an “ad hominem attack.” By your operative definition, you have “ad hominem attacked” me by complaining about my so-called “ad-hominem attack.” But an ad hominem attack would be more like this:

    “Unknown smells like a foot, so Unknown’s argument about physics is invalid or otherwise stupid.”

    Notice your scent has nothing to do with the cogency of your argument about physics and I’ve deflected from the real issue.

  14. Brad on March 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Unknown (#1)

    The mission of the church is not to launch an inquisition into peoples’ beliefs, but it is to help them live good and moral lives and always invite them back into the fold. It certainly encourages people to accept certain beliefs, but it does not require them to do so. You’re not required to bear your testimony every fast Sunday to be a member. You’re not even required to accept a calling. These things are all by invitation. If someone falls away, would most leaders say ‘good riddance?’ Absolutely not. They would try to reactivate them and get them attending church as much as possible. Since the church is so open and welcoming to all to enter its doors, there are bound to be a certain number of people who come for reasons other than conviction towards its doctrine. Joanna Brooks associates herself with the Mormon church because it is her heritage and culture.

    But there is a darker side. It is especially difficult for those who have been in for a long time, but then want to disaffect for whatever reason (most often because they lose conviction in the church’s doctrinal and historical narratives). It is not that easy for them to just up and leave. By leaving many of them face incurring painful social fallout, such as loss of friends, damaged relationships with spouse and kids, or even divorce from their spouse (sometimes even encouraged by bishoprics although highly discouraged by the brethren) and ostracism from their immediate community. Many members of the LDS community take great offense towards someone leaving. This is especially ironic since it is a common belief in the LDS community that those who disaffect do so because of ‘being offended.’

  15. Dave on March 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Unknown (#7), I’m not sure we’re really talking about Mormon doctrine or the requirements of salvation as laid out in Mormon doctrine, and certainly not whether Joanna Brooks (or anyone else individually) seems to qualify. That’s not the sort of conversation I really want to have on the blog. The LDS view is that God is the ultimate judge of our salvation, and LDS local leaders deal (privately) with questions of membership status. So I view it as improper to hold a discussion bearing on either of those topics here. Salvation is another topic for another post. I’d rather we focus on the book in this post.

    Blake (#8), I like what you’re thinking.

    Mathew (#9), thanks for the quote.

    Brad (#11), there is of course a discussion to be had about what a “cultural Mormon” is and what it means. And what is the opposite of a cultural Mormon? An uncultural Mormon? An active Mormon? A believing Mormon? While some depict cultural Mormons as sheep in wolves clothing, the truth of the matter is that in the our congregations active cultural Mormons are generally termed “active Mormons,” while inactive believing Mormons are generally held to be “inactive Mormons.” In other words, “cultural Mormon” is not a category we actually apply to the real people we interact with in our LDS congregations, where you’re either active, less active, or inactive. It’s all about activity. That is the relevant category.

  16. Quickmere Graham on March 15, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Looks like my comment got stuck in moderation…

  17. Dave on March 15, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Quickmere, I released your comment from moderation. The filter picked up your reference to a game of chance (five letters, starts with p) that generates a lot of spam comments. Any comment with that word gets put into moderation.

  18. Quickmere Graham on March 15, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Thank you. Excellent review. I particularly liked your coining of the “Church of Jesus Christ of People Just Like Me,” in addition to dealing responsibly with Brooks’s work.

  19. Guenevere on March 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    There are many of us in much more orthodox situations who see the treatment of public figures like Joanna personally, i.e. if she is not welcome, then neither am I.

  20. Julie M. Smith on March 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    “What I admire most about Brooks is her intelligent statement of the Church’s position and placing it into a balanced context even when she disagrees with the Church’s views.”

    Amen. I don’t need to agree with everything Brooks does in her role as advocate to think that we are really lucky that she–and not antis or ignoramuses–is one of the media’s go-to people on LDS issues.

    P.S. to Blake and sorry to everyone else for the tangent, but . . . one of the things that you learn from homeschooling three boys for a decade is that one of the reasons that girls do so well in school isn’t ideology but environment . . . most public schools are very girl-friendly and boy-hostile places.

  21. dave on March 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    @2; mark, since you havent lived in provo for 35 years, you dont really know anything about provo, do you?? the author’s description NOT a figment of his imagination; it is, rather, almost canonical fact.

  22. eliza on March 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    I think Joanna Brooks is smart, witty, and beautiful. At first, I couldn’t get enough of her, but I’m so sick of hearing her write and talk about Mitt Romney and the election. She seems like a wonderful person and I can understand how she still feels deeply connected to the church, but sometimes she just feels like an opportunist to me. And can the media really find no other interesting Mormons besides her to offer alternate viewpoints about the church? Sorry for hating; I’m proud to count Joanna as part of my tribe. Right now, she just feels like she’s one of those 5 people in my ward that always manages to find the spotlight. I just wanted to hear from someone new.

  23. Trevor Price on March 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Great review, Dave!

  24. unknown on March 15, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Dave – None of my comments passed on anyone’s spiritual state in either this life or the next, including Professor Brooks’. To the extent they can be read that way, let me be clear that was not my intent. I have followed Professor Brooks for some time now, and find her to be smart, articulate and kind.

    However, I do think that the dichotomy I raised between being a Mormon and believing what Mormon’s believe is central to Brooks’ narrative. Aside from her very public role as an ambassador for LDS people to the U.S. culture at large, which may or may not end at some point in the future, I think that her most lasting impact might be to normalize the idea of those that identify as Mormons without actually believing what the LDS church teaches. This raises questions as to the purpose of the Church, who’s mission is ostensibly to save manking, and what it means to be saved. Thus, I think these issues are directly implicated by her book and your review thereof.

  25. Brad on March 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    eliza (22)
    +1

  26. Ardis E. Parshall on March 16, 2012 at 2:15 am

    dave (#21): Although Mark B. hasn’t had his birthday cards delivered to a Provo address for quite a few years, neither is he the typical BYU grad who thinks himself an expert on the Provo “bubble” because he spent a few years in his callow youth “studying” international relations and playing dodgeball with the girls in his assigned student family home evening group. It’s you who don’t (note the apostrophe; here’s an extra one: ‘ for you to insert in your “havent” as well. You’re on the own to address your other illiteracies) know a thing about Mark B.’s biography.

  27. Aaron on March 16, 2012 at 7:47 am

    If one has to believe everything to be a “true” Mormon, many of us won’t make the grade. In saying that, I betray a bias toward people who don’t profess to know or believe or understand everything but who are constantly searching, trying to believe, trying to understand. They do more for my soul than all the contented believers.

  28. Left Field on March 16, 2012 at 7:50 am

    The content of the book is an improvement over the title and cover. Even knowing that the title is a play on “Ask Mormon Girl” and the Book of Mormon, I still find it confusing. I don’t think the play on words is clever or relevant enough to speak to the content of the book. And I’m sure that for people who’ve never heard of “Mormon Girl” (that would be most of the potential readership), the title is just baffling.

    Clearly the cover photograph is supposed to suggest a snapshot, and obviously *is* a snapshot. The idea is okay, but the photograph is just not very good. Actually, it’s really bad. Nothing is close to being in focus, the lighting is awful, the color balance is off, and the composition leaves much to be desired. I get that it’s supposed to be a snapshot, not a professional image, but if I couldn’t find a *good* snapshot, I would certainly have gone a different direction with the cover design. The content of the book is engaging and well-written, but the cover is perplexing and shoddy. We all know we can’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do. The title and cover are where you want to put your best possible foot forward, but that’s where Joanna really stumbled.

  29. Dave on March 16, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Left (#28), perhaps the subtitle, “Stories From an American Faith,” helps guide puzzled potential readers toward the content of the book. Taken together, the primary title and subtitle convey the direct claim that Mormonism is an American faith, just the sort of positive message Brooks tries to share in many of her posts and interviews. But by putting a personal snapshot on the cover and by giving the book a cute rather than direct title, it is less likely to turn off potential readers who might take offense at the direct claim. So, personally, I think the full title and the cover work nicely together.

  30. Julie M. Smith on March 16, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Left Field, I think an obviously imperfect photo is the perfect photo for the cover of this particular book.

  31. Mark B. on March 16, 2012 at 8:59 am

    Having been so ably defended by Ardis, I scarcely need to pile it on to dave (not to be confused with Dave), but I’ll do it anyway since piling on is so much fun.

    There are few things that are easier to disprove than sweeping generalizations of the sort that Dave made in his review–that everyone is the same as everyone else in Provo, and that it’s that sameness that allows the Randy Botts of the world to flourish without hindrance. And I know hundreds of people in Provo who disprove that silly generalization and your even sillier suggestion that its truth is nearly canonical.

    The only place that homogeneity exists is in the shallow minds of people looking for an easy target. Of course the easiest of easy targets are the ones we set up ourselves so we can knock them down.

  32. Left Field on March 16, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Julie, an obviously imperfect photo is what I had in mind when I acknowledged the merit of a snapshot instead of a professional-quality photograph. But there’s a difference between art that is subtly imperfect to make a point, and art that is just bad. My opinion is that the photograph on the cover crosses the boundary from “obviously imperfect” into “really bad” territory. But I will acknowledge that some might regard me as something of a photography snob. Bad composition and poor lighting would have been sufficient to make it obviously imperfect. But focus that far off is going to drive me nuts unless I can see a really clear artistic purpose.

  33. Dave on March 16, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Thanks for the comments, and for noting the distinction between Dave (me, the author of this post) and dave (a welcome commenter but not me).

    The sort of cultural homogeneity one finds in Provo makes it easy to think there is something wrong with anyone who isn’t Just Like Us, even to think that one has license to ridicule people who aren’t Just Like Us. A fine illustration of this:

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=8801

  34. Mark B. on March 16, 2012 at 9:54 am

    The sort of cultural homogeneity one finds in Provo makes it easy [for Ralph Hancock] to think there is something wrong with anyone who isn’t Just Like Us, even to think that one [even Ralph Hancock] has license to ridicule people who aren’t Just Like Us.

    But of course you don’t know whether Ralph Hancock really thinks that way about anyone who isn’t just like him, or if he just thinks that way about Joanna Brooks, who, admittedly, isn’t much like him.

    I live in a place where there’s anything but cultural homogeneity–both in and out of the church–and I’m nonetheless inclined to think that Joanna Brooks’s caricature of Mormonism shouldn’t be taken seriously. Or that one should generalize from her experience to any broader truths about the Mormon experience.

  35. Brad on March 16, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Mark B., it seems to me that you are living in denial of the diversity of identity and experience that is emerging in the church membership. You and your pal Ralph Hancock only seem to recognize a certain kind of Mormon experience as valid. When in reality there are all kinds of Mormon experiences that exist, but are mostly untold. I think Joanna Brooks’ version is daring and greatly welcome. The notion that she is distorting or misrepresenting Mormonism is shortsighted and blind to the realities of who the Mormon people actually are.

  36. Peter LLC on March 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

    But focus that far off is going to drive me nuts unless I can see a really clear artistic purpose.

    As someone who likes to pixel peep as much as the next snob, my first thought was that Dr. Brooks selected a real, honest to goodness snapshot of herself for the cover of the book. I have no idea if that’s the case, but lately I’ve been going through family photos from the last fifty years or so and that’s pretty much what they all look like, if not worse.

  37. European Saint on March 16, 2012 at 11:33 am

    As one who knows Ralph Hancock personally, I can tell you that he is far less limited in both his breadth of life experiences and his openness to opposing viewpoints than many here would like to think. I enjoy reading T&S from time to time to see what current themes of interest are being discussed; however, I have noticed as of late that, while (a majority?) of the T&S crowd readily attacks the notion of creating straw men arguments and subsequently tearing them down, this seems to be the very phenomenon we are witnessing in regards to Hancock and his review of Brook’s book. Is Hancock’s object to ridicule Brooks with his review? Does he really want to see her leave the Church, as some have implied (or stated outright)? In my (albeit simple, non-PhD blessed) mind, Hancock’s main thrust–as opposed to what Banack would have you believe–is that what increasingly passes for compassion/outreach/diversity is in reality an unwillingness to “Stand For Something” (Hinckley)… something like temple ordinances, for example. The term Christ-like to me certainly entails boundless charity–but what are the implications of boundless charity? Not speaking up when your heart tells you something isn’t right? The Brooks defenders here are praising the Book of Mormon girl for the very thing they are lambasting Hancock: speaking up for what that person believes in, even when doing so is unpopular. It is interesting to note that Brooks is portrayed as the brave soul in all this for daring to speak up; Hancock is dismissed as a snarky, misogynistic, homophobic, condemned-to-a-homogeneous-Provo-mentality soul who is conducting personal attacks on a poor, helpless sister in Zion who is trying her best. Last time I checked, Brooks has all sorts of support for her (new?), “progressive” way of being Mormon; Hancock, on the other hand, has very few who appear willing to support him publicly in his condemnation of a limitless, unchecked “openness” of ideas within the Church’s ranks (do a Google search on the two professors if you are skeptical). Let’s attempt to respond to Hancock’s argument rather than trying to paint him as a witch hunter, which I can assure you he is not. “The Church of Jesus Christ of People Just Like Me” = more and more the vibe I am getting from many T&S folks these days… much more so than from the likes of Hancock.

  38. Mark B. on March 16, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Brad, you’re completely misreading my comments. And I’ll ignore your “your pal Ralph Hancock” as the juvenile snark that it was.

    My point was precisely the opposite of what you have made of it. Like any caricature, Ms. Brooks’s memoir is based, I presume, on reality. And like a caricature, it emphasizes some characteristics and ignores others. What is shortsighted and blind is to infer from her story that all or most Mormons experience the church the way she has. I didn’t suggest that her experience was not “valid”–whatever that means. But I would contend that her experience is far from general to the church as a whole, or even to the church in the western United States in the late 20th Century.

  39. Blake on March 16, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Brad: I think that you’re being less charitable with Mark B. than he deserves — and certainly less accepting than the good Saints in Provo deserve. The temptation to make a Procrustean bed for others so that we can chip off their feet when they don’t fit is universal and it plagues so-called “progressives” as much as the most humble Saint.

  40. Robert Ricks on March 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful review, Dave. I haven’t read the book, so I’m basing my response on your description, but Joanna’s “growing up Mormon” experience seems quite different from my own. It is, no doubt, an authentic experience that deserves telling. I agree with Mark B., though, that it ought not to be generalized to represent the archetypical Mormon experience. Joanna herself probably makes no such claims; others may not be so careful.

    Mark B. is also correct that the stereotype of a homogeneous Provo, the epicenter of church conformity, is a half-truth at best and a straw man at worst. The reality is more complicated and diverse.

    Jan Shipps has written about the “DNA” Mormons of a generation or two ago who did not necessarily assent to the doctrine but who felt tied to a Mormon tribal/ethnic identity. My assumption was that as the formative pioneer period faded beyond living memory, the strength of these tribal ties would dissipate. Joanna’s work suggests that perhaps these ties remain robust. I, for one, hope we can make space for “cultural” Mormons who may not embrace every point of doctrine but who nonetheless want to add their good to the community.

  41. Robert Ricks on March 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I second #37 re Hancock. Anyone who knows him knows that the caricature of him that has circulated recently (including at T&S), besides being uncharitable, is a shabby simulacrum of the real thing. He has as little interest in creating the Church of People Just Like Me as do the rest of us.

  42. Sam Brunson on March 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Robert and European Saint, the problem I see is that most of us do not know Hancock; I have no doubt that the picture being painted is incomplete and unfair, but it’s the picture you see when you read what he writes in public fora. It’s an unfortunate tic, and one that I’ve seen in the FARMS Review of Books. But his rhetorical approach—one that is mocking and almost entirely devoid of nuance (at least in the public blogging capacity)—is one that seems to subscribe to an insider/outsider approach, where only insiders belong.

  43. Peter LLC on March 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    the T&S crowd…The Brooks defenders…many T&S folks

    Dear European Saint,

    How many of the aforementioned do you know personally? Then what’s the deal caricatures like “‘The Church of Jesus Christ of People Just Like Me’ = more and more the vibe I am getting from many T&S folks these days…”?

    Sincerely,

    A Saint in Europe

  44. Jonathan Green on March 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Dave, I think your comments about Provo are a distraction from your review, and that they won’t stand up to scrutiny. To give only the most obvious reason, the presence of BYU and UVSU nearby means that Utah Valley will have many more people from outside Utah and outside the U.S. than would otherwise be the case. The Mormons who end up there as students and faculty will be much more likely to have seen many different ways of living Mormonism than other people in the state.

  45. Mikhail on March 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I have read the book. This review is fair and captures much of my thoughts while I read the book and after. I have read Ralph Hancock’s review also. I also find it to be fair.

    I especially agreed with the second paragraph just preceding the “conclusion.” I felt that that was a great summary of the core to Ms. Brooks’ book.

    My heart broke as I read “unknown’s” comments about his understanding of the teachings of the Church. I know that it is difficult to understand why there are so many trying things in life, but I have personally found that the plan of salvation was designed by a God who loves me personally and who is compassionate and caring in even a better way than “unknown” can even conceive.

  46. Julie M. Smith on March 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    “Dave, I think your comments about Provo are a distraction from your review, and that they won’t stand up to scrutiny. To give only the most obvious reason, the presence of BYU and UVSU nearby means that Utah Valley will have many more people from outside Utah and outside the U.S. than would otherwise be the case. The Mormons who end up there as students and faculty will be much more likely to have seen many different ways of living Mormonism than other people in the state.”

    The second reason would be that they are so darn young–reconstitute BYU with 45-50 year olds as the cultural driver for the region and see what happens to the stereotype . . .

  47. Dave on March 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. It’s fair to comment on what other people have written, as many are doing, but please avoid personal insults, even if you think they are justifiable. Justifiable insults are as unwelcome as gratuitous insults.

    Eurosaint (#37), it’s nice to hear Hancock’s writing style is not representative of his in-person style and demeanor. My post, of course, was not an attempt to respond to Hancock’s arguments or a review of his review. I simply linked to an article in which he was quoted, and I believe I accurately summarized the statements he was quoted as making in that article.

    I should point out that Ralph Hancock guest posted here at Times and Seasons in 2010.

  48. Christian J on March 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    As to why Brooks gets so much attention, I think Blake sums it up well.

    What I admire most about Brooks is her intelligent statement of the Church’s position and placing it into a balanced context even when she disagrees with the Church’s views.

    The popular discourse in this country is so polarized, its refreshing to hear a voice that can both claim (wholeheartedly) and critique a community in the same shoes. She’s like a walking talking refutation of anyone claiming that Mormons are single-minded or blind. Its ironic that anyone would abhor her liberal politics while also resenting the popular caricatures that plague us. To boot – Who else has taken Hitchens, Dowd and Bloom to task? We’re fortunate to count her among us.

  49. Lucy on March 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    “Progress or not, it is helpful to understand that view”

    Well, which is it? Is it progress or not? Why?

  50. Lucy on March 16, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Respectfully, these are not simply “political” or “religious” disagreements, but moral ones. Brooks styles herself as a Mormon pioneer, but if her pioneering is toward a limitless sense of equality and a relativism that includes defending homosexuality and feminism, where does that lead? Popularity, whether in the praise of the world or of the bloggosphere, is seldom, if never, a good measure for truth.

  51. Sonny on March 16, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Lucy,

    Popularity, whether in the praise of the world or of the bloggosphere, is seldom, if never, a good measure for truth

    Is popularity what you think Brooks is after?

  52. Adam G. on March 16, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    So apparently Professor Hancock thinks Joanna Brooks has some ideas that are Bad Ideas and Wrong. Therefore we know that Professor Hancock’s ideas are Bad Ideas and Wrong, because only someone with ideas that were Bad Ideas and Wrong would ever think that someone else’s ideas were Bad Ideas and Wrong.

    Also, Professor Hancock has Bad Ideas and Wrong because another professor at BYU has ideas that are Bad Ideas and Wrong.

    Also Professor Hancock has Bad Ideas and Wrong because Provo is a Bad Idea and Wrong.

  53. Thomas Parkin on March 16, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    If anything, Mormonism is about becoming, rather than about being. Righteousness is, by definition, not static. (see: the man with one talent.)It is the direction we are headed rather than the position we currently occupy that is essential. It is this that makes it vital that people of many kinds and dispositions are welcome in the vicinity of the ordinances that can bring in the Holy Spirit, which transforms the work. Even people in Provo can be changed, but not while their desire is to remain, or their belief is that it is righteous to remain, in a proto-Provo of the mind.

  54. Dave on March 16, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Lucy (#49), some people see the political views I have described as “progressive Mormonism” as progress, others do not. I should probably have written, “Whether you see these proposals as progress or not, …”

    Adam (#52), I’ll bet if you really tried you could say what you really mean.

  55. Ray on March 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks for the review, Dave. I plan on reading the book, but I’ve planned on reading a lot of books that I didn’t end up reading, so . . .

    As to whether or not there is a place in the LDS Church for heterodox members, my various callings over the years would be a testimony for it – as would the callings and activity of literally hundreds of other members I know. One question – a very sincere question:

    If we all, unanimously, without even thought of exception, welcome non-members to worship with us and think of themselves as “dry Mormons” (hoping, of course, they will join someday but never thinking of questioning their attendance with us), why in the world would we be remotely desirous that those who have been baptized but simply have different viewpoints and perspectives leave us and go somewhere else – especially those who hold temple recommends and serve willingly in callings?

    Fwiw, I posted the following on my own blog this morning, before reading this post:

    “Dealing with Members Who Let Us Down” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2012/03/dealing-with-members-who-let-us-down.html)

  56. Brad on March 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    I wouldn’t be too charitable with Ralph Hancock especially after this bit that he published in Meridian Magazine on Joanna Brooks’ book the other day: http://ldsmag.com/component/zine/article/9497?ac=1

    A notable quotable:

    “I have been describing Brooks’ account of her understanding of the gospel as a child and an adolescent. Still, I attribute this understanding to the mature author of The Book of Mormon Girl, since nowhere in her book does she suggest that her youthful understanding of LDS teaching might have been incomplete, not to say distorted. The reader familiar with a richer Mormon teaching is left to conclude that the thin, even caricatural understanding of doctrine presented here, the dangerous mixture of pure selflessness and pure self-discipline she will soon rebel against, remains the author’s understanding of “mainstream” or un-“reformed” Mormonism still today, as Joanna Brooks steps forward in this “Mormon moment” as a kind of media celebrity and self-styled “national voice” for Mormonism.”

    Hancock intends to write more as well:

    “(Coming soon, Joanna’s participation in conflict over radical feminism and other controversies at BYU, her complete alienation from the Church over Proposition 8 in California, and her recent return – on her own terms – and ascent as a national representative of a new “Reform” Mormonism.)”

    It seems that Hancock just can’t accept Brooks’ Mormonism as valid.

  57. Brad on March 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    “I should point out that Ralph Hancock guest posted here at Times and Seasons in 2010.”

    Yes I remember. He didn’t seem to fit here.

  58. Chadwick on March 16, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Eurosaint:

    Of course we should stand something. But there is a time and a place. Did you serve a mission? My experience was that it was much easier to get people to repent and change if I built a relationship first and then stood for something second. Street corner preaching hardly ever, make that never, worked.

    So. Does Hancock have such a relationship with Brooks? Does he? If not, it doesn’t seem right to drag out a soap box and publicly criticize her, a stranger, the way he did. If he truly cared about helping Brooks, don’t you think he would maybe find a way to discuss his disagreement with her in a more discrete way? Or does standing for something mean calling it like we see it, and be damned with the consequences or feelings of others? I prefer the former, personally, even if it is a much more awkward way to effect change.

    In contrast, Brooks is standing for something by challenging ideas, and not the people associated with those ideas. She’s not making it personal.

    Food for thought.

  59. Anon on March 16, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Wow. 54 comments and what I wrote hasn’t been acknowledged once. I don’t know what to make of it.

  60. Sonny on March 16, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Anon,

    Speaking only for myself, I chose to ignore your questions because they have *nothing* to do with this post about a book review.

  61. Ardis E. Parshall on March 16, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Chadwick, I doubt that by “standing for something” Eurosaint intends to be as narrow as you pretend he means, i.e., calling Joanna Brooks to repentance. He uses that phrase in connection with an unspecified “what increasingly passes for compassion/outreach/diversity.” When you restrict his meaning to that, while allowing Joanna Brooks the full freedom of the equally unspecified “standing for something by challenging ideas, and not the people associated with those ideas,” you do precisely what Ralph Hancock seems to have done.

    I wouldn’t care, really — I’m not especially enamored of Joanna Brooks’ style, but neither am I inclined to drum her out of the regiment — except that I have very strong feelings about “standing for something” where my religion is concerned. I don’t appreciate being relegated by your narrow interpretation of that idea into the Church of Calling Joanna Brooks to Repentance.

  62. dave on March 17, 2012 at 12:06 am

    ardis, you may keep your apostrophes. like ee cummings, i find no use for them except it’s and its. (am i pretentious enough to compare myself to ee cummings? like my friend phineas says, yes, yes i am.) i did neglect an “is” in my haste and upon noticing it thought, do i add a *is to the next entry, but decided against it.

    i will admit the snark in my comment was probably uncalled for, but my fundamental point remains: if one has not lived in place for 35 years, one cannot comment with any authority about said town’s characteristics. having been gone for 35 years, mark knows no more about provo than i do about the town i left 30 years ago…the nature of the town has changed so much as to be completely unrecognizable.

  63. European Saint on March 17, 2012 at 1:41 am

    #42-Sam: Is Hancock’s writing style “mocking”? Or do you just read it as such because you are not in agreement with what he writes? While I find his style to be more often frank than diplomatic, I don’t get rubbed the wrong way by this as you do. In any case, I find it much easier to dismiss an argument by dismissing style than substance. And your claim that Hancock’s approach is an insider/outsider one (where only insiders belong) made me think immediately of comment #57 (“[Hancock] didn’t seem to fit [at T&S]”). So much for openness.

    #43-Peter LLC: I apologize if what I wrote came off as an attack; I sincerely did not mean it to be one. I do know *some* (but not all, of course) T&S’ers personally. I love them. I respect them. What I don’t respect is saying “look at those limited Provo folk” or “look at the conservative types who are so narrow-minded” and the like. I can assure you that both sides of the spectrum are replete with close-minded folk; conversely, I have found that there are the occasional, sincere “I just want to understand why you think the way you think” folk on both sides as well, and for this I am grateful. Being open-minded is a never-ending challenge: I for one have no problem admitting that I am working at being better at it myself.

    #47-Dave: Thank you for your article and for your comments, Dave. I apologize for hastily drafting my initial comment and failing to note that your review was certainly not a review of Hancock’s review (I found myself looking back to a recent post by Kaimi that I found to be particularly “mocking” and “uncharitable”). But your comment about Hancock–“Yet there are people out there saying there’s no room in the LDS Church for people like Brooks”–is not accurate, in my view. I do not see Hancock as attacking “people like Brooks,” but rather political projects like Brooks’. Sometimes I get the sense that “charity” is interpreted as enabling people to say and do whatever they want regardless of the truth or value of their statements or actions. This is not my understanding of the Pure Love of Christ.

    #55-Ray: “why in the world would we be remotely desirous that those who have been baptized but simply have different viewpoints and perspectives leave us and go somewhere else – especially those who hold temple recommends and serve willingly in callings?” We wouldn’t, to be sure! But is the way to keep them in the fold to fuel the fire of their dissidence, or to attempt to gently persuade them–with love–to reconsider certain aspects of their attitudes and beliefs?

    #56-Brad: I fail to see from the Hancock quote why an uncharitable attitude would be merited towards Hancock. I saw nothing in that quote that was written to demean or offend. Could you be more specific about what obviously rubbed you the wrong way?

    #57-Brad: I went back to the old Hancock T&S posts and read a bunch of comments. It appears that, while many T&S’ers (Djinn and Chino Blanco in particular) were rather “anti,” there were also a fair number of T&S’ers who seemed grateful for Hancock’s arguments and willingness to discuss his ideas on T&S. So does “fitting” at T&S entail only unanimous support from commenters? a 60% minimum? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

    #58-Chadwick: Yes, I served a mission. And I see your point re Hancock’s approach to Brooks. I don’t believe he knows her personally, but I do see a different scenario here than the normal, “reach out to someone personally with gentle persuasion” approach. The difference (in my mind) is that Brooks has purposefully projected herself way out into the public sphere. Think about it. She is perhaps the most quoted LDS intellectual in the media as of late–perhaps more than Bushman, Givens, Petersen, Oman, etc. combined. Her views–religious and political–are not something she is shy about. So while one approach would be to attempt to make contact with someone on a personal level, another (equally valid in such a public case, in my opinion) would be to focus on the views presented (vice personal attacks) and the potential fallacies contained therein. In what ways are Brooks’ views/”attacks” more “objective”/less personal than Hancock’s? Sometimes I wonder if it only seems more personal from folks like Hancock because of the leanings of the one reading the content. I can assure you that many who disagree with Brooks will find plenty that feels “personal” in her writings as well.

    #61-Ardis: I concur. I think what’s at stake here, in Hancock’s mind, is much more the influencing of malleable Mormons than one woman’s repentance (although I am sure her repentance is important to her, her family, the Lord, and possibly Hancock as well).

  64. Cameron N. on March 17, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful review.

    As I see it, the media lover her because she is a rebel. This is the reason she gets attention. Not to be political (but since media is I will), the press loves to find religious people that disagree with doctrine/dogma. I am grateful for what so far has been a positive impact on the church thanks to her efforts.

  65. Ray on March 17, 2012 at 9:53 am

    #63 – European Saint, I think we love them for who they are and cherish the bassoons and oboes and kazoos among us. I think we strive to learn to play in harmony with counter-melodies and learn to value the richness of the fuller orchestral sound. I think we learn to respect and appreciate varying perspectives that work for different people and help bring THEM, personally, closer to God.

    As Elder Wirthlin said, God didn’t create this great orchestra only to value the piccolos. I don’t begrudge the piccolos one bit, but the saxophone is my instrument of choice, and I play it joyfully among all the other instruments being played with eyes on the Great Conductor.

  66. Christian J on March 17, 2012 at 10:14 am

    As I see it, the media lover her because she is a rebel. This is the reason she gets attention.

    I disagree. We’re ALL cafeteria Mormons of course. We’re all rebels to the ideal – in word or in deed. Sure, she diverges drastically in some areas, but she’s also willing to go the mat for her faith and her people. That kind of complexity is interesting to people. Go figure.

  67. Dave on March 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Anon (#6, #59), I think I covered that in the main post: While there are some details you or I might like to know, authors of memoirs can pick and choose what they want to relate and comment on. Of course, poor selection might detract from the book (there are, after all, good memoirs and bad ones).

    I think your term “church spokeswoman” is misleading — she doesn’t, to my knowledge, ever claim to speak for the Church. As to why she gets quoted a lot in the media lately, that concerns to whom journalists turn for comments on LDS issues. I think it’s fair to say they look for people who are well informed on the topic and can say something intelligent and interesting in just a sentence or two or three. Brooks seems to be able to do that. There are others as well, of course, and I would not deny that the media has its biases toward progressive politics rather than conservative politics, which also plays some role in her current popularity.

  68. Ardis E. Parshall on March 17, 2012 at 11:48 am

    dave #62: “having been gone for 35 years”

    Mark hasn’t “been gone for 35 years” in the sense you assume, dave, in the same sense you describe having been gone from some town yourself. That’s the point. You don’t know his biography, his continuous connection to Provo despite officially hanging his hat elsewhere. His circumstances make his evaluation of Provo culture valid. Get off his case.

    Not that he needs me to defend him. You’ve been lucky that it’s me, and not him, calling you on your misplaced scorn.

  69. Anon on March 17, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Dave, I’m Anon from #12 & #59, not #6.

    Sonny, maybe I’m breaching some well-established protocol when it comes to commenting on a blog post containing a book review, but I figured what I wrote had “something” to do with the post for at least a couple of reasons: first, as Dave notes, a memoir is about “something,” and I feel my story illustrates on some level one varietal of the “something” Joanna is attempting to articulate in her book; and second, I was speaking to a theme I saw emerging in the comments, one that has to do with how we define Mormonism and whether its essence is or isn’t derivative of activity or membership within the LDS church. I view this discussion as a subtext of Joanna’s book and the larger discussion she and John Dehlin are leading in alternative Mormon communities today.

    But again, maybe I’m making too much of a departure from the “unwritten order” of T&S blog comment section.

  70. Ray on March 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Anon (of #12, #59 and #69), Frankly, you’re being a bit hyper-sensitive, since I’m sure everyone else also thought you were referencing #6 when you said nobody had responded to what you wrote. I certainly did, simply because of the math. (#59 minus “54 comments” equals #6 – roughly. The math pointed to #6, not #12 – and it wasn’t worth responding to #6. Also, fwiw, #59 sounded a bit whiny, and that fit the tone of #6 really well.)

    I’m sure nobody responded to your #12 mostly because it was an excellent comment that pretty much everyone thought didn’t need a response, since it could stand on its own without commentary.

    So, in summary, throw out your emotional reaction to what you thought was people ignoring your comment, forget about the misunderstanding that led to your crack about the “unwritten order” of the comment section here (since the comment you addressed wasn’t intended to be directed at you and your comment in the first place) and, PLEASE, keep commenting here. #12 really was an excellent comment, and, if it is any indication of future comments (other than #59 and #69 – *grin*), I’m sure you’ll be welcome here with open arms.

    Iow, mistakes happen. Please let this one go, and all of us will move forward. (Oh, and it would help if you chose a handle that isn’t as common as a derivative of “anonymous”.)

  71. Sonny on March 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    anon,

    Ray is spot on. I was thinking only of your #6 and completely missed your comment in #12. My comment in #60 was out of character for me and I apologize.

    I read your #6 and just thought it was just intended to start a let’s-talk-smack session on Brooks when I did not think that is what Dave intended the post to be about. And whether she has gone to the temple or not is, IMO, not worthy of speculating on and none of our business.

  72. Ray on March 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Sonny, #6 was written by someone else – two different “anonymous” people. One is capitalized (I just barely realized); one isn’t. (Yeah, I know – confusing.)

  73. Anon on March 17, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Ray, point taken, thanks for the feedback.

    Sonny, I didn’t write #6. I’ll pick a better handle for the future.

  74. Ben Huff on March 22, 2012 at 1:12 am

    Well, Dave, after that elaborate preface about not taking sides, you sure managed to take sides with this comment!—

    “There’s a phrase that describes this smaller-is-better view of the ideal church: The Church of Jesus Christ of People Just Like Me. This view seems to flourish inside the Provo bubble . . .”

  75. Clean Cut on March 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Haven’t read all the comments yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed this review. SO many wonderful insights and observations–and very balanced.

    As for those who make disparaging statements about Joanna Brooks, I’m saddened and hurt for what that represents. I’m of the opinion that diversity–especially within the Church–enhances life. I commend her for following the dictates of her conscience and would that we would actually “allow” that a little more among us.

  76. NateT on March 29, 2012 at 10:33 am

    This is perhaps no revelation to most here, but the most dynamic and beautiful thing about Mormon spirituality is the tension between one’s own following of, connection and adherence to the Spirit’s guidance and the Follow the Prophet/Iron rod aspects of the faith.

    For me it is a kind of persistent doubt (which I hope is humility) that I know God’s will for others and that I could be wrong for myself, coupled with a striving to know and do God’s will as well as strong spiritual experience that keeps that balence for me.

    What the Church says is beyound the pale in terms of excommunication is clear (more or less), other than that, I do not worry about what is authentically Mormon and what is not. Other people’s lives and the views those lives produce are not mine.

    I just welcome the chance to be their brother and hopefully we can learn from each other. If we need to “stand for something” why can’t it be this?

  77. Christian on April 11, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    As a Mormon who could not stay in church because the doctrine said that who I loved was not ok, but deeply missed the culture, and being part of “it” after separation… I appreciate Joanna’s strength and courage.

    I think that too often we overlook both the intent and consequence of ethical dialogue and fail to draw a very important distinction… all statements are not equal. On the surface, it may, as #37 suggests, seem that what some would do by supporting Brooks and tearing down Hancock is hypocritical at best, but only inasmuch as we would deny Hancock the opportunity and space to say what it is he believes. All have a right to opine, but this does not mean all opinions are equal. We cannot fail to determine the merit of the respective arguments. Does one statement align with your humanity? Does it speak to your heart? Then stand there. Quiet the mind of the endless chatter of cognitive process and ask your heart if the statement is in line with your most Christlike loving self.

    I am a firm believer in “standing for something” but also knowing why you are standing. Don’t stand just because… certainly not because you *think* it is the *right* thing to do. Stand for love. Whenever you stand, ask yourself one simple question…am I standing where Christ would stand? Am I standing for love? When it comes down to it… are you on the side of “right” or of “love”? By this shall man know… ye are my disciple… if ye have love, one to another.

  78. Sean on April 18, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    I love the Book of Mormon. Truly a life-changing book.

  79. Adrian Luca on August 10, 2012 at 3:55 am

    Scientology and Mormonism are so similar–both have at their core provably untrue testimonies written by very creative American con artists.

    If only L.Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith could have met and collaborated on a fantasy novel!