Julienna Viegas-Haws has a fascinating story. Her mother is from the Belgian Congo. She was raised in Belgium. Her mother converted to the LDS Church when Julienna was a child, and credits the LDS church with saving her life. Julienna was raised a highly devout Mormon girl in Belgium, and served a mission on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.
After a life of full devotion to the LDS Church, Julienna began to experience cracks in her orthodoxy testimony when her husband began questioning/doubting the LDS Church’s truth claims.
While Julienna remains committed to LDS Church activity, she recently penned an article with the Salt Lake Tribune entitled “What do progressive Mormons want? A dialogue about change.”
In this two-part episode for Mormon Stories Podcast Julienna tells her story, and discusses possible changes that the LDS Church can make to become a healthier organization for its members.
I did want to point out that Ms. Viegas-Haws views and experiences are very much her own and not representative of the experience of so many women of color in the church.
There are so many issues with this approach (i.e. her person of color experiences being taken as the representative view of so many women of color who have expressed different views such as Gina Colvin, Xandra Varnes, Tamu Smith, Kalani Tonga, Mica Nichole, Janan Russell and so many others who have been raising concerns, having conversations and have been published), and while I admire all that Ms. Viegas-Haws has accomplished (and am thankful that she has not experienced racism) she in no way is representative of the experience of so many others who have been working tirelessly to bring stateside and world wide issues that are largely ignored by progressive Mormon circles and the LDS church in general.
Let us be careful in our approach, and not use this singular experience to silence the voices and experiences of so very many women who have been speaking, pleading and working for change within the church, and who have experienced overt racism and microagressions within these spaces.
Agreed. This is Julienna’s story. I hope that no one is claiming otherwise. Thanks Azul!
I don’t recall Julienna ever claiming she spoke for anyone other than herself. She simply told her own, personal story, never claiming to speak for all people of color, women, or anyone else.
Thank you, Julienna, for sharing your very powerful and profound personal experience with us.
Well, this episode of the podcast is titled “What Progressive Mormons Want”. It seemed very broad, and I did feel the need to clarify.
I think I stated clearly that I wasn’t trying to define what a “Progressive Mormon” was in the interview because it is too broad a label. In the Op-ed the definition is very loose. The ten points I mention are straight from a survey to a couple hundred people who more or less define themselves as liberal/unorthodox/progressive Mormons. So again, not just my opinion about what should change in the Church. I do share my opinion on each point and that is my opinion alone.
At no point in the interview I try to represent the views of “women of color” I am done “representing”. Also it would be very inappropriate for me to try and pretend I had the same experience as an African-American woman since it is not my story. My story is the only perspective from which I can speak. No one has to agree with me or feel like I am “mis-representing” her since that is far from what I am trying to do.
I agree that at no time have I found Julienna claiming to speak for anyone but herself [though my suspicions are that there are many who strongly agree with her]. I myself find her to be a wise and thought provoking individual from whom I think we can glean much wisdom [instead of harping on the fact that she does not speak for everyone]!
What a beautiful and thoughtful woman you are. Thank you for taking the time to share your story. You addressed quite a few topics but I would like to comment on just a few. First: because I hear this recurring in so many people’s stories, the goodness one finds in their Church relationships is not because of the “Church.” It is the light of Christ within each of us that close activity with others allows us to experience. Second:, your open heart in trusting that the Church leaders will consider the Progressive Mormons questions is precious but sadly also a very old story. As long as the Church as been in existence shocking and un Christ like behavior has been questioned. This is about power. The last thing on the list is to empower members. Theocratic institutions do not maintain control by encouraging personal power or transparency in their actions. Third: From the time of Joseph Smith and the very beginnings of Mormonism historical documentation demonstrates manipulating the truth to gain whatever the objective at the time be it sexual, financial, political or social.
I applaud you speaking your truth. Your questions and desires seem honest and come from the heart. Unfortunately you seek to align them with an institution that has knowingly deceived its members from the time of birth or conversion. May your heart find peace and joy on your journey.
Janice, I think your entry is right on. I am afraid my previous entry was poorly done and did not totally reflect what I meant to convey. In reality, while I think Julienna made some very good points, I also think there is a much broader spectrum to be aware of and other ways to deal with these problems – and they are certainly not all faith promoting. I also want to make it clear that I agree with both of Azul Uribe’s statements and that some clarification is certainly warranted.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hear you. I guess as long as I am in I will point to the things that bother me. I know many people in the Church with great hearts and great intentions. I am still attached to it for the time being so come what may and I will deal with it.
What a fantastic spiritual journey you are on. Look up the 5 Stages of Moral Development and take a look at them, you will surprised at the level of moral development the institution is on, as well as yourself.
I was you in several ways 40 years ago. You and the young people who now have the audacity to come up with the 10 points are magnificent. How dare you!!!!!!
I look forward to following your story. You are right; each person’s story is theirs. This journey, the spiritual journey is individual. I have confidence your story is far from told.
Thanks, John, this was a great interview.
Thank you for listening!
I am Julienna’s husband. We both openly acknowledge that our experience with racism and being a biracial couple and family and parenting biracial children is our experience alone. We do not deny the problems of racism that may exist within the organization. But for us to speak of racism is disingenuous as it simply is not our experience. Yes, racism exist within Mormonism, as with most aspects of American society, but there is also a large majority of Mormons who are not racist. And we have been lucky enough to associate ourselves with these people. But that is our experience and just as valid and real as those who experience something else.
That said, it is indeed our experience alone. Not everyone’s.
Much of what you say hits home for me. For me, the historical issues–which I discovered quite innocently on my own–several years ago–is but a small part of what challenges my relationship with the church institution. The larger part is their involvement in the despicable Prop 8 campaign and fight against SSM.
To sum it up, we have leaders who are concerned about minutae–skirt lengths and shirt colors–yet they appeared to give little attention to information that was presented as fact, (but was untrue) to adherents. We’ve been told we will never be misled by our leaders, and above all we should never criticize. We are taught the steps of repentance, but told church leaders don’t offer apologies or acknowledge mistakes.
I believe Jesus met people where they were. How can a shepherd lead his flock if he doesn’t know his flock? (I, too wondered why no leaders simply met with Kate Kelly to hear her out).
Though for the most part I believe the leaders are well-meaning, there seems to a leadership “bubble” surrounding them accompanied by a certain lack of humility. When they are walled off from the personal stories and experiences of those who struggle–such as our brothers and sisters who are LGBT–they lack the appropriate framing and perspective they need to communicate and make decisions.
The end result for me is a certain level of mistrust of leadership and faith in the church as an institution.
I hear you. Thank you for listening!
LOVE the new music!! On so many levels….Great choice!
I understand from the podcast and the comments here, that Julienna feels that she did not experience racism within the church. When she was discussing her time at BYU, however, she noted how she was treated as special by her fellow students. I got the impression that her special treatment was (at least partially) because of her skin color. Is this not racism? I understand that there was no harm done in this so it might not be viewed as racism. I’m glad she didn’t have a negative experience, and had nothing but good things to say about her time at BYU. I just wonder if it wasn’t underlying subconscious racism on the part of others that caused them to overcompensate and treat her differently.
Thank you both for a great podcast! I have thoroughly enjoyed listening.
If people around me “overcompensate” on their kindness towards me because I am a minority, I accept it gladly ;-)
Julienna, I appreciate your thoughts and trying to represent a group that is anything but easy to define. It’s courageous to try and be collaborative with a church that historically hasn’t been. The reality is, the church is led by a little group of stubborn, ultra-conservative, self-righteous men. They would die before agreeing to any of the things you’re asking on your op-ed. Somewhere along the way, the church became this tbm-making (I try not to say robot-making) machine that can financially sustain the organization. They create a subtle stance of “like it or leave it”. The reality is, they represent those members that would rather have you gone than within their ranks. They don’t want you disagreeing with them in Sunday School or opposing/questioning anything GAs have to say.
I think we’re asking the liar to be truthful. No different than asking an apple from an olive tree.
I did notice certain parallels between Gina Colvins experience in the New Zealand side of the Church and Julienna’s experience. It may well be that the community is NOT as tightly interwoven as Utah’s. John’s [Dehlin] experiences growing up are also different. I can rightly say that my best experiences as a young person were in the Church. I married into the Church and my kids do go to Church. But even back then in the 70’s there were black clouds forming in the horizon. I married in 79′. There was an ulterior reason for that. I’m of Chinese, Middle Eastern and Mexican heritage and physically back then I was quite dark, curly hair, the works. My Mother in law plainly asked me if I had a black person in my family when she met me, to which I said I didn’t know but if my Father was the norm I said plainly that maybe I had. So for everybody’s sanity I waited until the shoe was dropped. I know my Mother in law meant nothing personally, she was worried for her daughter. During those years of Seminary and Institute we were told about polygamy. My second source about Mormon polygamy was the Colonia Juarez, Dublan [Old Casas Grandes] in Chihuahua. I had visited the area and was mystified with the 2 white tribes in the area: The Mormons and the Mennonites out in Cuahutemoc. I happened to hear the story from the other side of the fence: the neighbors around the 2 communities. The stories were always positive about the 2 communities. So I knew that polygamy had been practiced to some extent and had caused the Saints quite a bit of trouble. The general area where the Saints located their colonies was and still is a dynamically changing area. From Apache raids to highway robbery [Casas Grandes is part of the Camino Real] to Revolution to drug highway it is still a though place to live. I’m glad that Julienna brings a breath of fresh air and a different narrative to what, from a distance, looks like a building that needs a fresh coat of paint and perhaps a little ventilation. In her European environment certain things are not red line markers in the same vein that polygamy is not unheard of in Mexico, albeit not for religious reasons.
Merci ma soeur!
I have asked my husband to listen to this because you verbalize my sentiments exactly.
Thank you for listening!
Thank you for sharing your experience!
Salut Julienna! Merci tout!!
My wife is French born and raised – We thank you for your kind interview.
Thank you for listening!
I also served on Temple Square and Oregen Portland mission. It was a few years after you. Its nice to hear about your experiences. I have left the church now, but I am so grateful for what you are trying to achieve. I still attend every other Sunday to support my husband and feel my role is to show others that you can leave the Church and still have a blessed and happy life. I wish you all the best!
Thank you for listening to my story!
I wonder if Dallin Oaks knows about the lesson in the Nursery Manual, “I will say I’m sorry.” Here is a link. https://www.lds.org/manual/behold-your-little-ones-nursery-manual/lesson-16-i-will-say-im-sorry?lang=eng If I thought it would get to him I would send it.
I have just finished listening to Julienna for a second time in an attempt to insure I fully listened to and understood where she was coming from….and I must say, I was even more impressed with her wisdom and genuine concern for where the church seems to be heading with my second listening. I wish you well Julienna, in your future writings and other endeavors, which I look forward to.
Now, two additional items I would like to touch on.
First, when Julienna talked about the church doing more to help people such as those being forced out of the polygamous community it reminded me of my own father who passed away several years ago. He spent the last several months [after we could no longer meet his needs at home adequately] in a rest home provided by the Seventh Day Adventists… because his [and my] LDS church has no such facilities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they did build such facilities, providing more help for the living, instead of building so many temples in which we mostly do work for the dead. Just a thought!
Second, John, I think so highly of you and your podcasts but when you become silly with your “just kiddings” as you did at least twice in the second segment it detracts substantially from the effectiveness of the discussion! I stongly advise against it! You are a great moderator, but no comedian!
Great suggestion about resting homes for the elderly the church could built.
I think it’s ok for John D to joke a little to keep it a little lighter ;-).
Julienna, Thank you for your reply. I’m glad you were ok with John’s joking. As I stated, I thought it was ineffective, but I too can accept criticism and that perhaps I made too much of it….therefore I accept your suggestion that I lighten up!
Just think of how much good could have been done with $3 billion instead of building a fancy shopping mall!
You are indeed, a pioneer.
Where do you get these beautiful, articulate, highly intelligent, sensitive females? WOW.
I do think women would do a better job leading, organizing and doing the administrative activities of the church. Research shows women are better CEOs. Men simply wouldn’t be needed.
But you would still need to give the men, off in one corner, some kind of hierarchy so they could play their roles, their game and do the male thing. (Just daydreaming, of course.)
Julienna, you are so delightful. No, nobody overcompensates for you. you are simply a delightful human being, and to know you is to love you. I think I might share some DNA with your husband. I agree with your list of needed changes. Indeed, to promote the Mother in Heaven might be a Western Civlization first. Male hierarchy and weaponry (like in the Old Testament) wiped her out.
Oh and John, don’t worry about your humor. Julienna should add “sense of humor” to changes needed in the church, especially at the top.
Hey John, where can we find that music you play at the beginning of your podcasts. Especially the songs played at the beginning of previous podcasts. I was raised on the strings (uncles, cousins and siblings all play fiddles, guitars, hammer dulcimer and other string instruments). Don’t feel there was any good music after the fifties. hehehe
Love you Julienna.
Love you John.
Love you all.
Thank you for listening and for thank you for your kind words!
The song is “Brave” Sarah Bareilles.
This was a great interview, and I really appreciate the article that Julienna wrote. After listening to the interview I was very impressed by Julienna’s open mindedness and non judgement this was especially apparent in her reservations toward supporting women’s issues but she mentioned them anyway because they were the result of her research. How many journalists, politicians, even sometimes researchers omit key parts of their findings because they disagree with it. I also enjoyed the journey that Julienna explained in accepted LGBT people and issues surrounding their pain. To completely accept LGBT persons is to include them at all levels of Mormonism. I was pained though that she was hesitant in completely accepting female equality in the church. I have seen this more than I like lately where some people completely accept LGBT temple marriage but not female ordination. I don’t understand this at all–a lesbian couple would be without the priesthood just as single mothers and women married to non members are without the priesthood now (my situation). The LGBT community and allies have done such a great job helping people understand the hate and inequality they are fighting. But poor feminists, like in this interview (and the church now letting 3 women sit in a council meeting and everyone is so happy), women just want inclusion not equality. Why is it so hard to take that last step to equality? Even in open minded, loving people like Julienna feminism is still an “f-word”. Equal opportunity, equal say, equal value is not possible without equal power.
Thank you for your kind words. My husband would agree with you that I could have spoken up stronger for the case of women in the church. I suppose because I personally haven’t had any discriminating experiences I may be weak on the topic. I have decided on several occasions when my callings should end and no one gave me grief for it. I have usually expressed (to the priesthood leaders around me) when I disagreed with something with no backlash, I have held many leadership positions where no priesthood holders gave me grief… BUT I have witnessed other women having a totally different experience and that is why I speak up. My next Op-ed may redeem me a little since it deals with abuse in the Church which for the majority occurs with women…
Enjoyed this interview a lot.
In Part 2, there was a point where Julienna said something along the lines of “truth doesn’t have to be explained with volumes… once you have to justify so much, there are problems”. It reminded me of the Jeremy Runnells interview where he said “Is this really the Gospel, where you need to all kinds of long, contorted explanations?… Didn’t they say at the beginning the Gospel could be easily understood?” Julienna seems to truly believe in the core message of Jesus — to care for those who are lost, to live well and set an example instead of shaming others, etc. It’s not about rules or obeying authority. Again, great job Julienna & John!
Julienna, I am not a woman of color and I am much older than you, nevertheless, I say wholeheartedly that everything you said represented my views and, in many ways, my own journey in the church. I love that you spoke with clarity, peace, AND passion. I was so proud of myself when I posted your article on Facebook. I live in a very small LDS community which I love, so it is a sort-of “coming out” of a type for me. I was delighted to discover a week later that John was interviewing you.
It is a beautiful conversation. Like you, I am trying to find a positive, loving way to stay in the church, but the more open I am about my truth (Bless Brene Brown), the more challenging it becomes. You are a fabulous example of courage.
Thank you for your kind words. I wish you the best in your journey.
John, awesome interview. Thank you.
Thank you for listening!
This was one of those great Mormon Stories Podcasts that my wife can listen to to gain perspective of what it is like to question but remain a member of the church. Thank you.
Thank you for listening to my story!
You sound like a very loving, intelligent down to earth person. I appreciated your courage, voicing your opinions and concerns. I’m sure it’s come at a price but doing what’s right usually does. God bless you and Great job!
Dear Julienna, this podcast helped me so much. I have discovered these same concerns over a period of time. I am sure that I am experiencing a faith crisis, as it concerns the church. I previously listened to John’s podcast at the UU Church, and I posted how devastated I felt about my discoveries. It was the final blow. Your podcast reinstated my hope. I so resonated with you and your journey. Honestly, I think you are brilliant, articulate, and bold. Your podcast put all of my feelings back into a context I can handle. Thank you! You have soothed my broken heart. Perhaps there is a Tao for me…..
While the church’s past and it traditions are rooted in America its future lies outside her borders. The future has arrived in a light-filled, thoughtful woman named Julienna. Just delightful. Blessings to you and your family, Julienna. There came a point in the interview, however, where I thought, “Someone on the SCMC will be putting this woman on a watch list if not an excommunication hit list”. I dare the powers that be to excommunicate a faithful black woman. Do so and remove all doubt that hypocrisy and apostasy are seeping into the institutional church. A terrific interview, John.
Thank you for your kind words Henry! John is one of the best podcasters out there!
For me the reason that the church essays don’t “fix” the lack of honesty I find in the LDS church, is that it feels like a child who is caught stealing something and years later decides to return it by quietly sticking the stolen item back on the shelf. Where is the “making ammends” to parties affected by the lack of honesty? I loved this interview and I’m so grateful for people like John and Julienna for helping my heart heal on this journey.
You have shown a lot of courage to open your mind and search for truth about the church
And then to trust your own heart and mind to decide what sounds believable good and true
I can’t tell you her name but I shared your interview with my daughter who was on a mission with you at Temple Square . You gave such an honest and thoughtful presentation and I know she loves you therefore I thought you might be able to open her heart and mind to some new ideas
I appreciate and understand your struggle especially with finding a The true history of the church– as I have
Your words did affect her deeply but not in the way I hoped — she became defensive and was not open to thinking about these ideas — and was sad for you — and yes it is sad to find out what you thought was true is a lie
Still I appreciate you speaking from the heart I hope she will think back on these things in the future
It has been a very long road for me but it is also been like a house of cards the more I searched the more I knew it wasn’t true
There are many people I have not told because it is so difficult to see their pain and rejection I admire your courage — keep on questioning and trusting your own heart and mind
Thank you for your kind words Emma. I am really sorry that your daughter was upset by my words but I can understand. It is hard to face the reality about our church when we have seen it a certain way our whole life. It takes alot of mental effort to get through this and not everyone is ready for it. I speak up because many can’t and I am fighting against this mentally of subtle oppression members live in. Fear of speaking your true though for fear of disagreeing with the authorities. Group think is dangerous and damaging. I wish you the best in your journey. You can follow me here: https://www.facebook.com/julienna.viegashaws
Thank you Julienna for sharing your story. I really appreciated your testimony and transcribed that portion of interview so I could share it with my wife. Here is the transcription in case anyone else wants to share it:
I love the concept of Taoism, which I came across at BYU in my religions of the world class. Lao Tzu talks about following the way: “The way of love, the way of goodness, the way of acceptance, the way of knowledge, the way of following a course. ”
Here are just a few things that the Tao Te Ching says that really strike me:
The hard and the stiff will be broken.
Because she believes in herself she doesn’t try to convince others. Because he’s content with himself he doesn’t need other’s approval. Because she accepts herself the whole world accepts her.
Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things?
Leading and not trying to control, this is the supreme virtue. Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is wisdom. Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.
She isn’t aware of her greatness, that is why she is truly great. Let your working remain a mystery, just show people the results.
I believe that Jesus was the way because he embodied these virtues. He lived the way of happiness and showed us how we could do the same. However, he did comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We need to break all these inner walls and not let fear, shame, or guilt determine what we will or will not do. We need to learn from the best in and out of the church, then trust our own judgment in the actions we are taking.
I believe that children are the most beautiful people on this planet, I learn a lot from just watching my children, because they are themselves and they have no pretense. When we reach that point of authenticity we become beautiful like them. I believe the light of Christ truly shines in everyone, and we need to strive to connect with that light in everyone. I believe God wants all of his children to be happy and come to him. I believe we need to help each other reach our potential and find our own happiness. I believe that love has no fear.
Thank you Jacob. This section also spoke to me. Getting read to share your transcription as we speak. More comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable.
Anyone interested can find me here:
Great job Julienna, we are proud of you.