Sonia’s legacy

The story of Sonia Johnson’s journey, From Housewife to Heretic, is a cautionary tale for young Mormon feminists. Through the story of Johnson we are warned against the dangers of too much ‘liberal’ education and too much female empowerment.

In her (in)famous speech–the one that most likely caused her excommunication–she wrote:

The political implications of this mass renunciation of individual conscience under direction from “God” are not clearly enough understood in this country. The Mormons, a tiny minority, are dedicated to imposing the Prophet’s moral directives upon all Americans, and they may succeed if Americans do not become aware of their methods and goals. Because the organization of the Church is marvelously tight, and the obedience of the members marvelously thoroughgoing, potentially thousands of people can be mobilized in a very short time to do–conscientiously–whatever they are told, without more explanation that “the Prophet has spoken…”

Members are cautioned not to reveal that they are Mormons or organized by the Church when they lobby, write letters, donate money and pass out anti-ERA[political] brochures door-to-door through whole states. Instead, they are directed to say they are concerned citizens following the dictates of their individual consciences. Since they are, in fact, following the very dictates of the Prophet’s conscience and would revise their own overnight if he were to revise his, nothing could be further from the truth.

I include Sonia Johnson in my pantheon of Mormon foremothers–as someone whose actions have influenced my own stance towards politics and the LDS church.  And I find her words even more salient (and perhaps, even more frightening) in a post-Prop8 world with a Mormon candidate vying for the highest political office in the United States.
5 fav LDS women's books

3 thoughts on “Sonia’s legacy

  1. Vajra

    Years ago my book group read one of Sonia’s books. Although at that time I was reading at least 50 books a year, I did not read the book. Looking back, I don’t know why—travel, workload, home life? Everyone in the group were Feminist and we had read Mary Daly and others as well, so the critique of the system of oppression was well known and discussed. However, I think it’s time to dust off some of those books, whose contents I apparently knew so well I had no need to actually read them. Particularly, given the misogynistic, religiously driven jihad which women are now facing. Thank you for reminding me.

  2. Melanie

    The continued relevance of Sonia makes me so sad. I remember many people in my LDS days- including former mission presidents- who were holding out wistfully for the day when the church treated women, gays, and singles better. As a historian who has such infinite faith in change over time (and isn’t that how the atonement is supposed to work, too?) it’s frustrating to me that so little has changed, that so many people with progressive views are isolated in the church. People shouldn’t have to be scared silent by the threat of excommunication. I don’t think I’ll ever stop grieving for the church.

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