“Not a Fan of the Undergarments”: A Mormon Mother Blogs

What would you say about a devout young Mormon mother in Utah who supports Proposition 8 and same-sex civil unions, admits to an overnight conversion from Al Gore-basher to born-again environmentalist, worries that the obligations of LDS membership promote spiritual laziness, and isn’t afraid to change her mind?

At the very least, Brandy Roth will challenge your assumptions about Mormons and Mormonism, and that’s what she sets out to do on her otherwise ordinary Mormon mommy blog (yes, it’s a genre), The Mysterious Mrs. B. Roth.

Daily posts tell stories from Roth’s Mormon household in Layton, Utah, where she wrangles an amusing brood including two young sons, an infant daughter, her live-in mother, and her husband Greg, 29—who is by all accounts sage and sane and works as a software developer for a video game company.

In a roundabout way, which seems to be Brandy’s style, her 6-year-old son Crichton was named (sort of) for the author Michael, nine-month-old daughter Sagan (kind of) for the scientist Carl, and three-year-old son Canon (partly) after the theological implication of the word. It is the same approach with which she guilelessly takes up art, science, and religious dogma in her entries, along with the imponderables of potty training, projectile vomiting, and her annual, personal political crusade against daylight savings time.

“The reasons behind the law are pure irrelevant fallacy. Besides, it makes it harder to put my kids to bed in the summer,” she explains. “It’s a safe fight because no lives hang in the balance in case I’m wrong.”

She doesn’t always pick safe fights. A self-professed “undecided liberal conservative, leaning,” she wandered the ideological wilderness before reaching enlightenment on global warming, for instance.

“I think global warming is neither fixable nor a problem,” she wrote self-assuredly before taking one reader’s advice and watching An Inconvenient Truth. A few days after she and her husband watched “all of it, even the special features, some parts twice,” she issued a mea culpa. “I can honestly, if hesitantly, say that I might have voted for the wrong man in 2000. I’m thinking about firing myself as a voter.” Instead, she supported Obama in the most recent presidential election.

In another turnabout, she recently revisited her thinking in favor of gay marriage and caused a bloggy dust-up by supporting her church’s stand on California’s Proposition 8, albeit after the election.

“I am fully in favor of a legal civil union to protect gay couples and grant them equal legal status. I see both sides and wish we could talk to each other less emotionally,” she says. “I never feel obligated to take a stand and stay there.”

The Mysterious Mrs. B. Roth has about 2,000 visitors a month, “just enough to keep me going,” she says. Those who drop by may find her flailing against the boundaries of law or exploring the unpredictability of the heart, but always coming to rest on the foundations of her faith. It’s a mommy blog, but it’s also genuine interfaith dialogue: kitchen talk, over endless diapers and dishes. I asked her more about the touchy subjects she engages:

Are most of your readers Mormon?

I don’t think so. Most of my regular commenters are not. There are several ladies in my ward, or local congregation, who are regular readers. I’m more aware of the non-LDS readers; I try to explain LDS idiosyncrasies if I think they might be confusing. When I get churchy, I worry that my other-faith readers will be insulted or take it as proselytizing. And when I am doubtful or rebellious, I worry that my LDS friends and family will think less of me. I wish I could say I don’t care what people think or whom I offend, but that would be a lie. I don’t want to give anyone a negative view of the church. It is a challenging religion and I whine about it, but I love it and think it has given my life deep purpose and direction.

Is there really a Mormon Mommy ideal, or is that just a stereotype?

The more perfect a Mormon mom seems, the more likely she is on antidepressants, or at least that’s the way it usually turns out. We struggle so much with meeting our own and others’ expectations. Once I gave up defining perfect as “without mistakes,” I felt better. But there is so much for us to do—multiple church callings, or assignments, for both spouses; family meals; prayers and scripture study for individuals, couples, and families; once a week family home evening; temple visits and interviews; three hours of church—it’s often overwhelming. Mormon women tend to interpret the tools for service as obligations. One more damn thing! And we’re supposed to do it all without stimulants (coffee) or relaxants (wine). It never surprises me when they report that Utah has the highest per capita rate of antidepressant prescriptions. To be fair, the church authorities tell women over and over not to be so hard on themselves. It’s tricky to find the balance, but that’s true of every woman on earth.

How has blogging affected your faith?

Not a lot of people take the time to analyze their dogma, let alone write out their personal interpretations. Most of us only discuss religion with like-minded people. I have some very respectful readers who don’t express their faith the same way I do, yet are interested without becoming abusive. I think my faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has grown and become clearer through personal analysis on my blog, although sometimes I worry that I am overly critical of my fellow Mormons.

Do you feel your viewpoint as a woman is recognized and respected by your church?

Beyond recognized and respected. I would go so far as to say LDS women are treated better than the men. I suspected unfairness before I was married, before I took out my endowments, or oaths, in the temple, before I held a leadership role. But it was a concern based solely on preconceived ideas, not experience.

I feel free to examine my faith publicly, to tactfully question issues and analyze doctrines. You might have expected otherwise. Maybe you think I can’t see the misogyny and sexism within my church, but I can see it in most organized, patriarchal religions.

In the LDS church, each ward has a ward council, where all the auxiliary leaders come together. The voices and needs of women are carefully heard, considered and met. In a family, yes, women are advised to respect the wishes of their husbands, to obey him as he obeys God. Every family works in its own unique way. In mine, if my husband and I can’t agree on a change, none is made. If it’s not something I feel strongly about, I defer to my husband, and he does the same for me.

Does blogging ever get you in trouble at church or home?

At church, not yet. At home, frequently. My husband is a good sport. However, I’ve crossed his line a few times resulting in a big, long, terrible reassessment of priorities (a.k.a.: a fight).

What topics are taboo?

If it were just me here, you’d get everything, but Greg pulls me back. He prefers that his grandma not read about his sex life. I try to pretend my blog is a journal, but there’s a lot I don’t say. I see a lot of women giving up their blog for family peace. Not me, I want it all.

What kind of church issues have you taken on?

I am a fan of modesty, but I am not a big fan of the (under)garments, for instance.

Seriously, sometimes I question the dichotomy between the simplicity of the gospel, which can be summed up as Love God and Love One Another and the complexity of the ritual, ceremony, and over-the-top organization of the LDS church.

Take our Visiting Teaching program. Each woman is paired with another “sister” and they are assigned to make a monthly visit to three or four other sisters, discussing a gospel principle and providing any additional service those sisters might require. Ideally, we wouldn’t need assignments; we’d just take care of each other. Being told whom to go with, whom to visit, and what to say? I think it makes us spiritually lazy. Then I realize that we don’t all know how to love one another, do we? We focus so intently on ourselves and our families that we ignore and neglect our neighbors. So the program is a first step in learning to love one another. It’s not about the cookies.

Finally, I asked Brandy about the mystery in The Mysterious Mrs. B. Roth. She replied, true to form, in a roundabout way:

“The final mystery is oneself.” –Oscar Wilde

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” –Albert Einstein

“It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting!” –Agatha Christie