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Ben Park’s Open Letter to the Deseret News about Joanna Brooks and Ralph Hancock

Disappointed in the Deseret News’s recent decision to reprint Ralph Hancock’s condescending review of Joanna Brooks’s memoir Book of Mormon Girl, Ben Park notes the dichotomy between this act and the loving words that LDS leaders spoke in General Conference just days before.

Here is a protest letter he sent to the newspaper after it ran the review--a letter that the newspaper has not run. (I imagine and hope that it received too many letters like this to print them all.) And if you'd like to read a thoughtful, balanced response to Dr. Hancock's review, check out this one at Zelophehad's Daughters.

As a footnote to this story, I'd like to point out how Dr. Brooks has responded to a review that twists her memoir out of context, dismisses her as an angry feminist, and insists on calling her patronizingly by her first name in a fashion that tries to be avuncular but comes across as demeaning to both its subject and its reviewer. Not only has she not responded in kind, but she has decided to devote all of the royalties for book sales for the month of April to the Feminist Mormon Housewives scholarship fund, which gives assistance to single moms going back to school.

Way to take the high ground.

So if you are interested in reading an honest, searching memoir of a Mormon who was found and lost and found again, now's the time to buy it. You can enjoy a good read and the knowledge that your purchase is helping people who need it and making the world a better place. --JKR

By Benjamin Park

After the spiritual high of General Conference, where I was invigorated by messages of love and tolerance (ably covered by Deseret News and Mormon Times), I was shocked back into the world of reality by Ralph Hancock's condescending, didactic, and judgmental book review of Joanna Brooks's Book of Mormon Girl.

The review accuses Brooks of brandishing a "reform" Mormonism that possesses a "political agenda," an ideology whose only virtue is the opportunity to clarify "a choice we must all face" between "'unorthodox' Mormonism Lite" and "the clearly marked path" of the restored gospel, an "ascending secular ethic" versus the "eternal" truths of the Church. Such a dichotomy dominates the entire article. Brooks's convictions stem from nothing other than "a progressive-liberal-feminist political project," a worldview the perverts the simple and beautiful truths that her parents taught her--and which, we can assume, Hancock also believes.

It is Brooks, Hancock tells us, whose mind is closed to correction due to her "unshakable faith in 'liberalism' and 'feminism,'" as well as the "radical understood by her generation." Brooks's words and actions "abominates" the work of the Church, and can be dismissed as merely "bluster." Brooks is never given the benefit of the doubt, and Hancock is always assumed to be in the position of gospel knowledge. In the end, Hancock could only condescendingly hope that Brooks will live long enough to realize her wayward ways and return to the true fold--his fold, of course.

Surely people can disagree with someone else's views and ideas, but we can also do so without being disagreeable. While judgmental and hateful rhetoric sadly dominates today's discourse, especially in the political arena, but it is still disappointing to find that damaging rhetoric appear on the same pages that also carry the merciful words of LDS leaders and serve as the vehicle for the gospel message. There must certainly be a better approach.

This last weekend, Elder Jeffrey Holland powerfully and poignantly urged us "not to be hurt" when others come upon "good fortune." We are all "in the race against sin," he continued, and an important lesson to remember is that "coveting, pouting, or tearing others down does not elevate your standing, nor does demeaning someone else improve your self-image. So be is a happy way to live."

President Dieter Uchtdorf compellingly added:

When it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another's heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness become we feel that, in our case we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt. . . . When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!

I hope we can all better following this prophetic counsel, summed up in the powerful nine-word sermon offered by President Uchtdorf: "don't judge me because I sin differently than you."

Benjamin Park
Cambridge, UK

Benjamin Park is a PhD student in history at the University of Cambridge and a contributor to Peculiar People: Mormonism Through the World; the World through Mormonism.

Tags: ben park, book of mormon girl, dieter uchtdorf tolerance, jana riess, jeffery r. holland tolerance, joanna brooks, ralph hancock, zelophehad's daughters


  1. Personally I think Hancock’s review was no more pejorative of Professor Brook’s memoir than Professor Brooks was of a number of statements or actions taken by LDS Church leaders.  Like all of us, Professor Hancock and Professor Brooks are all imperfect individuals who are to be commended for having their own thoughts, and deserve to be cut some slack because our ability to express what we believe to be true is always imperfect in an imperfect language.  I doubtbthat either Brooks or Hancock would assert that they had reached such an enlightened state that angelsnwere knocking on their office doir insisting they come out so they can be carried off to join the City of Enoch.  Certainly the Brethren who lead the LDS Church come in for their full measure of criticism both from Mormons and non-Mormons.  For instance, Jana took them to task for approving the City Creek Center redevelopment if blocks next to Temple Square because she thought all those assets shpuld be sold off to some wholly materialist investors and the proceeds given to the poor.  Perhaps she coyld clarify for us the way to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate modes of critique other than “I’m OK, you should try to be like me.”

  2. sounds to me like the same kind of dialogues that happen between evangelicals who are conservatives or progressives.  (I dont really like the word progressive because it sounds like progressive is superior or better.)  There are fundamental differences i think that motivate someone who is concerned or anxious about the fundamental faith being threatened and then others who want to experience a faith which is more sensitive to contextual issues. 
    Interesting richard rohr has some interesting ideas on emergent faith across denomination lines.  That is a faith which reflects the respect and open listening posture that Ben and Jana are describing, while still being deeply jesus centered.

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