Congratulations 2011 X-Mormon of the Year: Joanna Brooks!!

One more time with the disclaimer: For the purpose of this award, the “X” is a variable standing for any category of exceptional Mormon — it does not imply the nominee (or winner in this case) has left the church. Sorry to be a broken record on this point, folks, but I’m sure we’ll have new readers arriving at Main Street Plaza on this post, and I don’t want them to mistakenly think we’re calling Professor Brooks an “ex-Mormon”.

Joanna Brooks made a huge splash in 2011 as a positive spokesperson for Mormonism with her popular column in Religion Dispatches and her Ask Mormon Girl blog, not to mention writing for the Washington Post (which had a few questionable points, but was cool overall).

Brooks has done a great job of demonstrating that Mormons aren’t just a bunch of weirdos, but are a diverse bunch of people who are capable of thinking and speaking for themselves! A far better job than the ?-million-dollar “I’m a Mormon” publicity campaign (which, despite showcasing diversity, on a meta-level gives kind of a culty vibe). So, has the CoJCoL-dS thanked her for it, or given her any kind of positive recognition for her efforts? Well, not exactly. So, we here at the Mormon Alumni Association are picking up the slack. 😉

Congratulations Joanna — “X”-Mormon of the year 2011!!!

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chanson

C. L. Hanson is the friendly American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! See "letters from a broad" and the novel ExMormon for further adventures!!

73 thoughts on “Congratulations 2011 X-Mormon of the Year: Joanna Brooks!!

  1. Walt Kirn was always already hip to the exmo Weltanschauung and Monica’s exmo mood probably still remains the closest to my own, but Joanna is in a class of her own and deserves singular respect from thinking/thoughtful Mos and Ex-Mos alike. Kudos!

  2. Listen to her “On Being” interview with Krista Tippetts, in which she proves that she is a tremendously conflicted, confused individual who is trying to sell something that she herself will never fully buy into. She invites others to walk a path that she can only walk because she is protected by her relative “fame” and media prominence. *That* garners an award? I am tremendously embarrassed for MSP.

  3. @3 — I haven’t heard that interview, but what’s wrong with being confused and conflicted? We all have a mixture of strong positive and strong negative feelings about our various/respective upbringings. So she wants to put a positive face on Mormonism even though she doesn’t agree 100% with the hierarchy of the CoJCoL-dS…? I don’t see anything particularly strange or messed-up about that.

    She invites others to walk a path that she can only walk because she is protected by her relative fame and media prominence.

    I think her media prominence kinda cuts both ways. It protects her in the sense that the CoJCoL-dS can’t excommunicate her without digging itself yet another PR fiasco, OTOH, if she weren’t in the press all the time, the CoJCoLd-S wouldn’t even want to discipline her. Her fame (speaking publicly as a Mormon without letting a committee in the Church Office Building edit everything she says) is her only real offense.

  4. She invites others to walk a path that she can only walk because she is protected by her relative fame and media prominence.

    I disagree with this statement entirely. If anything, Brooks has to temper what she says because of her fame. She has to perform her Mormonness and pass in ways the average Mormon doesn’t. Sometimes she doesn’t pass: she receives consistent backlash from fellow Mormons. I haven’t heard anything about the Church itself moving to discipline her; the membership tries to discipline her enough as it is. I don’t see how constantly being lambasted by fellow Mormons equals “protection by fame.” I assume/hope her local ward is supportive of her because I can’t imagine her still wanting to be an active Mormon without actual IRL Mormons welcoming her at church.

    My sense is that imagining the Church going after Brooks is just a flashback to the September Six that doesn’t really overlay onto the Church’s way of handling stuff 20 years later. Brooks’ commentary is like 1/10 as “damaging” to the Church as what anyone can read on Wikipedia, anyway… and 1/20 as damaging as that BYU professor of religion who spouted racist “folklore” as “theology.”

  5. I think JB ought to be allowed to promote her aspirational vision of Mormonism without exmos worrying that she’s “recruiting” … Seriously, why complain about someone who seems to be all about imagining a non-toxic version of the church we’re all grappling with here? Anyway, the voting was light this year but the result was a no-brainer. Like my friend Fred Karger, JB is someone who’s up to the task of busting ass to change a culture, even when the “reward” tends to be attracting a bunch of lazy loud-mouthed detractors.

    As an aside, let’s be honest about how the world works. As an exmormon, CNN will never quote me. “Ex” anything is already too confrontational for most articles. To their credit, most US news outlets are wary of anything that smacks of anti-Mormon bigotry.

  6. By the way, re an “apology” that’s making its way around the Mormon Stories crowd:

    For a “community” that relies so heavily on migr narratives, forgetting that most of our moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain, while resorting to a weird credentialism to enforce ad hoc “community norms” seems like a woefully willful effort to efface the liminality of the target demographic. As far as quotable movie lines go, Fletch never did much for me. I’veseen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and c-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate, and feel no need to apologize for whatever mayhem ensues when I make my way back to Earth to “return and report”… I prefer the old Ainsworth who also made a nuisance of himself over at r/exmormon but never without his own reasons.

  7. Chino, I think the “lazy, loud-mouth detractor” comment was just so out of line. Whether you agree with the comment by cut or not, it raised some perfectly legitimate points and expressed a considered opinion without attacking anybody else. Chanson admittedly (and I presume you?) have not listened to the Tippets interview. I think there are some good questions raised there. She cops to not marrying a mormon because it was important to her that her relationship be “safe.” Shabada-wa? She’s promoting (and apologizing for) a culture that she herself has decided is unsafe in its orthodox form. How about she unpack THAT statement? I think all the panty-bunching in reaction to the comment at #3 is bizarre.

    I totally sympathize with the viewpoint expressed by cut. If you want to have an award for “Most Appealing Apologist” then go for it. But to change the Ex-Mormon of the year award (The WILLIAM LAW award, no less–or have you dropped that?) to “X for Exceptional” (insert Jazz Hands here) and then give it to Brooks–apparently because she is the Mormon It-Girl of the moment, is a bit of a bait and switch, if you ask me.

  8. Although “a bunch of lazy loud-mouthed detractors” is out of line for this blog, it’s officially been the “X- not Ex-” award for the last three years, so a) being the Mormon It-Girl of the moment is a good qualification and 2) it certainly seems not to have occurred to some people that many of us might have voted for Brooks because of her conflicts and confusion rather than despite them. Many of us had our fill of black-and-white thinking when we were LDS, and we don’t need any more thanks very much.

  9. “Black-and-white thinking” is a rather simplistic take on the whole thing as well. You think there might not be some honest, legitimate *alternate* views to your own that aren’t black and white.

    You voted for her, GREAT. More power to ya. But that doesn’t mean that others can’t disagree for perfectly well-considered reasons that are just as complex and layered as yours. Please. If you’re going to cast about veiled references to “mormonish” thinking as insults, you might want to climb down off your high horse. Because many of us had our fill of that particular behavior when we were LDS as well. And we don’t need any more thanks very much.

  10. Although I don’t find “She’s not a proper ex-Mormon” to be a very “complex and layered” reason, especially for an award that is explicitly not limited to ex-Mormons, “black-and-white thinking” wasn’t actually meant as a reference to your thinking. It was meant as a reference to the way that Brooks doesn’t think. Curious that you would take it as a personal insult.

  11. So, let me get this straight, bel… our latest WILLIAM LAW X-MO OF THE YEAR winner had the nerve to go on record admitting that she feels “safer” married to a nice Jewish boy and somehow that makes her suspect in these parts? I don’t need to unpack that admission. I’m perfectly happy to accept it as a telling description rather than characterize it as a sneaky attempt at pulling the wool over the eyes of a (presumably, to use your word) uninformed audience.

    I’ll see your Tippets interview (the one we apparently both listened to) and raise you a half-dozen Mormon Matters podcasts in which JB left me wondering how the hell she squares her highly-informed social/political views with the geriatric trainwreck that is institutional Mormonism.

    Thing is, this conundrum is not unique to Mormonism, and it’s why my comparison to Beinart was not just a throwaway line. Whatever chance we have of rescuing Israel from a Zionist project that’s gone off its rails depends on fostering diversity of thought in Israel. Ditto for the GOP. And double-ditto for the LDS church. Caterwauling that the world simply hasn’t kept up with our own enlightened views on any of those institutions has its place but is not the same as actually doing something to effect change.

  12. Well, this is where we part ways. I wouldn’t be sad to see the current Israel die and something different and less brutal emerge in its place. I would be delighted to see the Republican party self-destruct and go away forever. The people and ideas that drive it would not disappear–they would find new outlets and ways of working together. And double-ditto for the LDS Church. Let it shatter and be reborn, or not. That happening would not deprive any of us of our pioneer ancestors and heritage, or for many of us of a certain age, of the imprint of a better, more humane institution that simply doesn’t exist any more.

    I simply see disagreement, not whining and caterwauling. I fully accept that many see and celebrate Brooks as trying to effect change from within, while others, myself included, see that approach as Quixotic at best. Sometimes you have to get the courage to take your seat at the front of the bus, or boycott that transit line altogether, rather than hoping to gently persuade the driver that it is just wrong to make you sit in the back.

    I get that many of you will celebrate the prominence of an unorthodox Mormon — and I am sincerely sorry to have rained on the parade, and brought my unpleasant perspective to the table, which is that approach is ultimately a distraction that prolongs unhappiness and misery.

  13. Not so much disagreement coming from my side as defensiveness. I’m gonna cool it but words like “embarrassed” and “bait-and-switch” push my buttons.

  14. Brooks and Dehlin might think they are building bridges and mending fences, but as surely as Joseph Smith raped and married a lot of young girls and the Book of Abraham is a load of horseshit, Joanna and John are not going to jump into the same very serious abyss that those fired professors and excommunicated intellectuals did. They aren’t going to argue about a mother in heaven, or why women can’t hold the priesthood, or the fact that this church practices and encourages sanctified discrimination in so many forms. No, they aren’t getting that deep. What they are doing is glossing over those issues. I find their methods self-serving and abusive. They are saying sure it’s okay to question – just not too much.

  15. cut @14:

    The Church isn’t like a bus where the driver has all the control. It’s more like one of those vehicles from the Flintstones (1960s cartoon), where everyone has to put their feet on the ground to move the thing. The leadership is at the mercy of the membership as much as the membership is at the mercy of the leadership. It might not seem that way, but that’s because there’s generally correspondence. Otherwise, things would fall apart.

    This is why I don’t see Brooks as “protected” by her fame, considering all the flack she gets from the membership. If she can change the views of the Mormons who comment on her site and articles, then she doesn’t have to worry about the leadership. Personally, I don’t see this as quixotic so much as realistic.

    Reminds me of the difference between white gay politics and queer of color politics. For white gays, there’s often this idea that if your home doesn’t accept you, you create a new home elsewhere. For queers of color, you shape your home to accept you, because what’s the point of giving up one’s home?

    Also reminds me of how that working-class revolution that Marx promised was naturally in the cards of capitalism simply didn’t happen. The real world is piecemeal.

  16. @alan #17

    LOL — we obviously have very different views of how the church works. On a day-to-day level, Flintstone car it is! However, to torture the comparison a bit more, when push comes to shove and things start to look difficult, there is somebody back at the head office telling the driver to enforce who gets to sit where. Even Brooks herself admitted that she frets about being called in for “discipline” and rehearses what she might say in her own defense.

    The real world is piecemeal in some cases, and wham-bam in others. (Arab Spring, anyone?) I have no beef personally with J.B. — I’ve not doubt she is highly intelligent, accomplished, and has the very best intentions. But given the institution she is working with (and representing, however unofficially — “Ask Mormon Girl”), in my view, the approach she is taking will provide some temporary relief but end up doing lasting harm.

  17. Alan at #6: “My sense is that imagining the Church going after Brooks is just a flashback to the September Six that doesnt really overlay onto the Churchs way of handling stuff 20 years later.”

    You’re as much of a Pollyanna as Brooks is. This comment shows that you are either ignorant of how the LDS church continues to operate or you are aware of how they continue to discipline members for speaking the truth and acting outside the strict boundaries defined by the correlacracy. Here are some names you ought to be familiar with that put the lie to the statement I quoted: Peter and Mary Danzig; Chad Hardy; Simon Southerton; Thomas Murphy; Grant Palmer; Jeffrey Nielsen. If your suggestion is that the church has adopted a “hands-off,” “let the members speak their minds freely” approach, I have seen no evidence of it. If you are suggesting that the church has become more circumspect about disciplining high-profile members because the church fears the PR backlash that might result, that I can agree with. But all that means is that the church has looked at Brooks (and Dehlin), performed a basic cost-benefit PR analysis, and determined that–at this time–disciplining them would do more harm than letting them speak semi-freely (Dehlin has repeatedly been called to account by church authorities, though has avoided a court of love).

  18. k8 @ 16:

    They are saying sure its okay to question just not too much.

    If you can find me an instance of them saying this, I’ll believe you. Otherwise, my sense is that people like Brooks (I know less about Dehlin) are in conversation with people like the members of the September Six (figuratively and literally). It’s just a different strategy of approaching the “monster.”

    I guess it’d be nice, though, if some Mormons had the guts to start up a Mormon Alliance thing again, where people could write in about ecclesiastical abuses. The theological issues, though, you really do have to go about it piecemeal or risk losing your audience.

  19. #16 is just making it up as she goes along. This bit is so uninformed it’s almost funny:

    They arent going to argue about a mother in heaven, or why women cant hold the priesthood, or the fact that this church practices and encourages sanctified discrimination in so many forms.

    Good grief, JB and friends organize endless conferences where they never stop talking about that stuff. Not my cup of tea, but if you wanted to hear Toscano talking about her excommunication, Brooks was on the same panel, and Dehlin organized the shindig.

  20. By the way, wouldn’t this have been an interesting discussion to have before the poll closed? More brilliant timing from bitter exmos pissed off that somebody else got the ribbon this time.

  21. @ kuri– it was clearly meant as a personal insult. Nuthin’ curious about it. And Chino, can you refrain from the ad hominem for even a second?

  22. Generally when someone misunderstands my intent, I apologize for communicating poorly. Don’t think I will this time, though.

  23. @25 kuri:
    I don’t think your words are misunderstood, nor were you communicating your intent poorly. I’m certain whatever dig you attempted by verbally withholding your apology is not felt by any of the peeps you directed your comment toward, but nice try.

    Cut says at 14:
    “Sometimes you have to get the courage to take your seat at the front of the bus, or boycott that transit line altogether, rather than hoping to gently persuade the driver that it is just wrong to make you sit in the back.”

    I love this. To me it’s clear that the Quorum of the Twelve have no interest in making changes except perhaps to shove women back into the box they were in in the 50s (see Julie Beck’s “Mothers Who Know” general conference talk, see the entire “overhauled” YW program that clearly still gears all girls toward finding a husband). Joanna Brooks clearly sees the harm for women in the church when she admits she married outside the faith because it was a safer choice for her, yet she continues to be a spokesperson for the religion with her writing. She continues to identify as Mormon and clearly values the church still.

    The truth is, if she did decide to step off the bus and quit the religion, would the Q12 really care? No. The value system in place has a woman married to a non-member very near the bottom, below twelve year old boys. (On a personal note, I’d be curious to know if Joanna Brooks had to get her husband’s written permission to attend the temple like I did, and whether he granted said permission or not). And since she clearly isn’t trying to sway people against paying their tithing or attending the church, she is no threat at all to them and is unlikely to face disciplinary action.

  24. Hmm . . . making it up as I go along am I? I must admit that is a practice long taught as truthiness in the doctrine of the mormons. So then, tell me Ricco Suave, and more importantly, point me in the right direction. School me on where they do take on these issues, including, but not limited to:

    – Polygamy. Alive and well into the eternities? But long dead and buried in our past?
    – Mountain Meadows. What truly happened?
    – Convenient revelations. What did SWK know and when did he know it? Politically timed revelations seem to be the most inspired, no? I especially like the one that made Utah a state.
    – Homosexual persecution. If that is not sanctified discrimination, what is it?

    The bottom line for those such as JB and JD is they are pandering to their audiences. It’s quite popular these days. Tell your audience what they want to hear – you could be elected the next president of the united states, or prophet.

    The truth is subjective Chico. The mormon truth is in direct contradiction to fact. As Dehlin writes in some of his propaganda “A ‘Just the facts’ approach will be taken wherever possible.” And there’s the rub – rarely do mormons and facts co-exist.

  25. Ooh look, another random person on the internet who doesn’t know me and has never even interacted with me before, but knows my intentions perfectly!

  26. Ah, Chino. I’m an admin on Main Street Plaza too, not the troll you’re trying to paint me. Thanks, guys, for making this place an easy place to ignore (with your award to Joanna and with your comments). Carry on.

  27. “Is that where theyre from? Jesus. Theyre worse than RfM.”

    And in the words of the immortal Roger Daltrey “who the fuck are you?” Seriously, you have nothing better to do than cast aspersions on people you don’t know because they dare to question the fawning adoration of one Joanna Brooks? Really? You gotta be fucking kidding me. Who knew that ex-Mormons had their own little cult of personality operating at MSP, where the Dear Leader Joanna Brooks cannot be questioned or gainsaid. FSM forfend anyone should dare question the wisdom of the powers that be who crowned Joanna Brooks “X-Mo of the Year.” Such actions can only be met with the contumely of comparing said heretics to RFMers. Fuck you in the ass, mouth, and cunt, kuri. And in the eye, and in the other eye. Hasa Diga Eebowai!

  28. Excuse me, “Trolls from FLAK”? You mean the originating board of this site? “Worse than rfm”? For *disagreeing* with you? Dude, I have been on MSP from Day One. I have admin powers on this site myself, though I haven’t been around for quite awhile and don’t even remember my password. But I have posted plenty in the past and have won a Brodie award myself. I am hardly a troll.

    I’ll cop at this point to using some language that was rather loaded (the words, for example, that pressed Chino’s buttons), and might even have been willing to pull back on that. But YOU guys were the ones who dragged it over into ad hominem and personal aspersions. I mean, nobody even did that about JB herself. I don’t pretend to know what motivates her-whether good, evil, or indifferent, but I don’t particularly buy the narrative she’s developing–whether she is, in her heart of hearts, sincere about it or not (which thing I don’t particularly care to judge). I get to disagree about it and about the merits of giving her an award. I don’t care WHEN the discussion got going–before, after, or in-between, it’s completely irrelevant.

    What puts you in charge of deciding what opinions get expressed, when the discussions get to happen and who is a “troll” vs. a legitimate poster on this site with opinions to express that are every bit as legitimate as yours. Jebus, grow up.

    I’m sorry now that I even dared to speak up about something that I have as much right as anybody to speak up about. I’m sorry I bothered to think that I had a right to post on a site that I have been a founding member of–no matter how light my participation has been of late. I’m sorry I pooped in your punch bowl, I’m sorry I offended your delicate sensibilities, I’m sorry I gored your sacred cow, and said mean things about your little friend. Happy?

  29. Excuse me, Trolls from FLAK? You mean the originating board of this site? Worse than rfm? For *disagreeing* with you?

    No, actually, for ignoring a month-long process of open nominations, open comments, and open voting, and then showing up after it’s all over to complain about the results without even bothering to familiarize yourself with the award’s criteria. That’s pretty fucking annoying, no matter what whoever used to be to this website.

  30. belaja:

    I get to disagree about it and about the merits of giving her an award.

    The award was given on the basis of a democratic vote. Anyone could stop by and vote. Did you stop by? It seems a little silly to come here and blame “MSP” for giving the award. At some point down the line was the “ex” was turned into “x?” I’m not sure, but since I’ve been here (the last couple years), this has never been advertised as an ex-Mormon site, but as a site for anyone interested in Mormonism.

  31. I didn’t realize this blog belonged to YOU, Chino Blanco. Perhaps you should put up a disclaimer on the home page that warns people they are entering a “no-disagreeing-with-Chino-Blanco” zone. I didn’t realize MSP was supposed to be an echo chamber. Enjoy your intellectual circle jerk. Sayonara.

  32. Give me a break, Equality. As if anyone is suggesting disagreement is discouraged. I guess it’s too much to ask that you not run this place down in the course of registering that disagreement.

  33. I go away for the weekend, and all the fun happens….

    Sorry to repeat points that have been made, here’s my perspective:

    This award has been “X not ex” — intentionally inclusive — from the beginning. The nomination/voting has been completely transparent, and has been going on for about a month. Brooks won fair and square (through the admittedly unscientific method of Internet polling), and, hey, this award is supposed to just be all in good fun anyway.

    It’s kind of intended to be an award for a public figure or celebrity who made a big impact. It’s not like winning the Nobel Prize or something. We can agree that Brooks had a big impact in 2011 without agreeing with everything she says and does or wanting to be just like her or whatevs. And if you want to have a discussion about why you don’t agree with a lot of stuff she says and does, we can do that too. Hell, if you follow the links in the OP, you’ll see my post where I criticized her WaPo piece.

    Also, I’m really glad to see so many old friends from FLAK! Guys, don’t be such strangers! If you would hang out and participate more in constructive discussions, there’d be less danger of mistaking y’all for trolls, which I know you’re not. I’m still working on the whole server thing so that the pages will load faster, making it easier to participate in the discussion.

  34. Wow, is this discussion over already?

    I haven’t had Internet from the time I left work Friday evening until late Sunday evening, when I had just enough time to quickly read this thread and dash off comment #47 while putting the kids in bed. But now that I’ve had time to think about it, I think I see where the misunderstanding is coming from.

    Some of the folks from FLAK don’t think Joanna Brooks should be X-Mormon of the Year because many feel she’s not the most admirable representative of X-Mormonism, she just won because she’s a media darling, and she’s not even an exmo. You’d like to see MSP giving awards to recognize excellent work in the exmo community, awards that you don’t necessarily have to be famous to win. Well, we have that — it’s called The Brodie Awards, and it’s one of our most popular features.

    Now, if you think that the William Law X-Mormon of the Year Award should be only open to proper exmos (who have fully left the CoJCoL-dS), we can certainly discuss that. That’s the sort of input that is more helpful during the nomination phase than after the award has been awarded. Just have a look at the discussion of the nomination guidelines from the first set of (2009) awards:

    I kinda like X-Mormon being left open-ended Did someone from a non-Brighamite Mormon sect make news in 2009? If so, Id say nominate em.

    Open ended is fine as long as we all understand thats whats going on. Were a lot more easy going about group membership than TBM, but if someone were to nominate (purely an example) John Dehlin, would that be out of bounds?

    Id second the nomination of any nominee whose Mormonism comes hyphenated by any letters other than TBM, but thats just me, because Id prefer to see as many candidates on the ballot as possible and let the voting sort them out.

    And if you look at the nominations for the 2009 Brodies, you can see that some things have changed based on reader input, and some things haven’t:

    As in the William Law X-Mormon of the Year (which were still voting on), the X in X-Mormon is a variable that can stand for whatever you like, such as ex, post, former, cultural, New Order, etc.

    Even though it’s too late to change the nomination guidelines for the 2011 WLX-MotY award, I hope to see your suggestions and input for this award at the end of 2012! 😀 I’ll be careful to announce the nomination thread on FLAK, so you won’t miss it.

    As far as whether Joanna Brooks is doing something valuable and brave or whether she’s doing more harm than good (circa somewhere in the middle of the above thread) — it’s an interesting question. Let’s reboot that discussion!

    On the one hand, I think that there are a lot of people (like Joanna Brooks) who are going to stay Mormon for various reasons — no matter how toxic it becomes. OTOH, one can also argue that it has already become so toxic that the only real option is to leave, and that anyone who makes it easier to stay is ultimately not doing people a favor.

    What do you think?

  35. @49, thanks for your, uh, helpful? input…?

    Folks, I admit that when I wrote this post I intentionally left off the “William Law” part because I was sure that some people would arrive on this post as their first taste of MSP and of our WLX-MotY award, and I didn’t want people to mistakenly assume that we’re roasting or lampooning Joanna Brooks.

    But it was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision, and perhaps a mistake. Are people mistaking MSP for a TBM blog? lol Apparently I’ve also managed to even confuse the real trolls. 😉

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