Welcome to the interview series Ms. Jerilyn Hassell Pool. You are famous in some circles and others haven’t ever heard of you. Can you give our readers a quick thumbnail of how you came to be LDS (your short family history) and how that affected where you are now?
I was born to a Mormon father and a former Catholic mother who converted to Mormonism a couple of years before I was born. I’m the oldest of 8 kids. I was baptized at the age of 8. My father was a CES employee until his retirement a couple of years ago, so my family has alway been very deeply committed to the Mormon church. I grew up with a nuanced view of the church, I believe. My father, being a CES man, knew a lot of the church history that people now find so troubling, and so I grew up knowing a lot of it, which I think has helped me remain a believing, active member.
I did, however, marry a convert who has always been sort of a hellion and who breaks every Mormon male norm possible. We did not get married in the temple, and that was scandalous to a lot of people. From that point on, I gained a growing understood what it was like to be marginalized in the Mormon church and since then, I have worked to raise awareness to many of the issues that marginalize people in the church. Oh, and that hellion I married? We just celebrated 25 years of marriage.
Tell us about your recent projects that have involved you in the Bloggernacle and other areas.
After the terrific work of Stephanie Lauritzen, I took over Wear Pants to Church Day with Nancy Ross, so every December, I start bugging every Mormon I know to wear pants to church as a sign of inclusion for marginalized people.
I’m a sometimes blogger for Feminist Mormon Housewives and Rational Faiths. I moderate the Facebook groups for FMH and for The Mormon Hub. I do comedy presentations for Sunstone (Mormon Food and the upcoming Mormon Internet Habits).
Most recently, I planned and executed a family Christmas retreat for LGBTQ Mormons and I am currently working on more than 400 care packages for even more.
I am devoted to learning about what I can do to eliminate systems of oppression and sometimes I post things online that make a lot of white, straight cishet people cry their white, straight cishet tears. No regrets.
How did those projects grab your attention?
I have a brother who is gay, and who has also recently resigned from the church. A lot of what I do now is the kinds of things I wish had been done for him many years ago. I don’t fault him for leaving the church, especially after the Exclusion Policy announcement, but I wonder what his relationship with the church would look like now if he had found affirming Mormons who wished for his health and well-being instead of a commitment to extreme celibacy.
As my circle of friends widens, I have become increasingly aware of the intersections between the oppression of women, the oppression of the LGBTQ community and the oppression of people of color and those have informed my course of study and activism.
In another interview [link] you mention your testimony of the gospel and Joseph Smith. Could you share that with our readers?
I am one of those weirdo Progressive Mormons who loves Joseph Smith. I don’t think he was perfect—I actually revel in his imperfections. If I believe he was a prophet of God (and I do) then I also love hearing about all the weird things he did, because I am also greatly flawed. If God could work with someone who was as flawed as Joseph, then there is hope for me, too. I’m not saying I aspire to be a Prophet, but I am prayerful about the kind of activism with which I get involved and I believe God uses my willingness to serve marginalized people as a conduit for His/Her love.
I love the plain truths of the gospel. I try to stick to the basics and avoid all of the things we can’t possibly know. Fiona Givens once told me that instead of thinking of putting things on a shelf that can be broken, put them on a target. Determine what is at the center of your target (which for me is Jesus Christ) and then as other things come to my attention, I can move them closer and farther away from my target. However, one day, God and Jesus and Joseph Smith and I will have a chat and I’ll ask them to explain a lot of stuff on my target.
I also love the scriptures. They’re so weird and fun and angry and dramatic. I love reading about all the times God chastised the prophets for their mistakes. I work hard to love those 15 white dudes in Salt Lake City, and I really want to believe are doing the best they can. I think they miss the mark sometimes, but even the disciples who legit hung out with Jesus himself made some mistakes. I wish we had a record of the current leadership having a Come to Jesus Meeting with, uh, Jesus.
What is the question that you wish interviewers would ask that you haven’t been asked yet?
My address, so they can send me money and Cheetos.
What is next for you?
I have over 400 care packages to send to LGBTQ Mormons. One hundred of them are needed immediately. There is so much triage that has to be done. There is more info on how to sign up to get a care package and how to donate to the cause on the website I hastily built, www.safeSpaces.us. It is my hope to expand what we're doing to include a safeXmas 2.0, a safeReunion for anyone who wants an old-fashioned yet affirming family reunion this summer, and also materials for people who are wiling to take to their bishops/stake presidents that works to create safeSpaces in our wards and stakes.
I can’t make the Exclusion Policy go away, but I can put all of my effort into making sure there are pockets and spaces in Mormonism where LGBTQ Mormons who wish to remain involved can feel loved and supported just as they are.