July 20th, 2011 by admin

20 Comments

As Sistas In Zion

As Sistas In Zion

Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel

At A Glance

Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel started their blog, As Sistas in Zion, as a way to keep in touch with each other and express their sense of humor. But because they invite others to laugh with them about what it means to be Mormon, and specifically, what it means to be an African-American Mormon, their blog has grown. It’s not all fun and games with these two though: They speak honestly about the loneliness and misunderstandings they’ve faced as a cultural minority in the Church and how humor, friendship, and faith keep them going.

How did you come up with the concept for “As Sistas in Zion”?

Sista Beehive: Sista Laurel was moving away and I’m not the best at keeping in contact with people after they’re gone. The blog was something we wanted to do to have fun together and really just stay connected. We do think that we’re funny and we do think that there are things that happen within our church organization that are really funny and we wanted to be able to highlight that.

There are so many paths within the LDS Church and some of the things that might be serious to some people might be funny to me. For example, a friend and I were once joking about buying temple recommends in the back of the Marriott Center, but another person got highly offended that we would even joke like that. I want to be able to talk about things and not have Mormon people attack us because they look at us and assume we’re not Mormon.

Do people ever get upset by things you say on the blog?

Sista Laurel: When we say things in real life to someone as African Americans who don’t look or sound like what someone perceives an LDS person to be, that person doesn’t necessarily know we’re LDS, so when we make a joke like buying temple recommends they might get offended cause they don’t know we’re laughing from within the religion. On our blog, everyone knows that we’re LDS, so I think that they feel that we’re laughing with them, not laughing at them. And we are; we’re finding humor in ourselves and in our own experiences. So for the most part we don’t find that LDS people are offended by what we say.

We keep it light. We’re not a doctrinal blog. It’s clearly just our opinions. I think the funny overtone of the blog keeps people in a light mood. If we were a Mormon doctrine blog and didn’t have the element of humor people would disagree with us more forcefully, but because we’re being light it would seem out of place for someone to have a harsh and direct disagreement with us.

What makes your blog different from other Mormon women’s blogs?

Sista Beehive: Our readers like to be entertained and they like to laugh at things they might not ordinarily have the opportunity to laugh at in a group setting. But they also want to know that we’re human, we’re individuals, and we have feelings. I don’t think we started this to be different from other Mormon women, but we wanted to be included in the Mormon women blogs. I don’t think all Mormon women are alike, nor are their blogs alike, and so we wanted to be included in the conversation of Mormon women. We often focus on humor, but sometimes we discuss serious matters and life experiences. I do find it very interesting that a lot of times, when we’re writing about more serious topics, we get people who say “that was really refreshing to see this side of you.”

Who do you see as your target audience?

Sista Beehive: It started off that we wanted to be able to laugh amongst ourselves. But some of the first responses we got were from nonmembers who said things like, “My daughter is black and joined your church but I don’t feel like I can ask her things.” I get comments from people saying that this is the first time they’ve ever really been able to get a glimpse of the lighter side of Mormonism because we are so serious and we Mormons can be standoffish about things.

The way we shield our sacredness is so secretive that it’s a turnoff to many outside the Church. For example, we have a reader who asked members, “What happens in your temples?” and the members told her, “Well, it’s sacred, we don’t talk about it.” And when she came to me with the question she said it was the first time she had ever heard anyone explain the temple to her in a way she could understand. She told me it was usually such a turnoff dealing with Mormons because we never talk about the things she wants to know about.

I may not be Mormon like Sister Jones is Mormon, but I’m definitely Mormon. I may not be Christian like Sister Jones is a Christian, but I’m definitely a Christian. And we just wanted to highlight those things and bring in the Christian and the non-Christian community and the Mormon and the non-Mormon community.

I may not be Mormon like Sister Jones is Mormon, but I’m definitely Mormon. I may not be Christian like Sister Jones is a Christian, but I’m definitely a Christian.

I think that you guys do a really good job of both explaining things for people who might not know the lingo or the routine. As I’ve been reading the blog over the last few days, I was really impressed by the way that you give a little bit of background information but not so much that it seems that someone who is Mormon would feel “this isn’t for me.” I think you do a great job striking that balance.

Sista Beehive: Once we knew there were a lot of non-LDS readers it became really important for us to make it a place where no one felt uncomfortable. It’s not a conversion blog, so if you’re already LDS you don’t say, “This is a missionary blog so I don’t need to be here.” If you’re not LDS you aren’t constantly having to email us and say, “What do Mormons mean when they say ‘sweet spirit?’” We learned quickly that it would be best to give a little bit of explanation.

We do the same thing with what we might term “urban vernacular.” We don’t want anyone to feel out of the loop so we like to explain our urban vernacular to our less-traveled readers, too.

One thing I’ve noticed is that your blog is funny but also has a very distinctive voice. It doesn’t sound exactly the way, now that I’m talking to you, that you guys talk, but I think you are using more of the urban vernacular and being a little more causal in your word choice on the blog. Is that a conscious decision or is it something that naturally happened as you talked with each other?

Sista Laurel: Honestly, when we talk as girlfriends we talk completely different than we are right now. We write a lot of the posts over the phone with one another and they come across exactly how we talk to each other as girlfriends. I will call Sister Beehive and say, “Girl, did you know that Mormons are doing this?” or “Did you hear about that ‘Book of Mormon’ musical?” And we’re just talking as girlfriends and that becomes the blog post.

Sista Beehive: We felt it was important for us to stay true to who we are and to ourselves. We hope that the voice of the blog allows our readers to feel like they are a part of our inner circle, as if we are chillin’ with our girlfriends and kickin’ it with our boys.

Can you think of any examples, stories that you’ve talked about on the blog that you think are just hilarious?

Sista Laurel: I always tell Sista Beehive that people don’t understand how funny Mormons are. The speakers in General Conference, the General Authorities, are really humorous people. I mean, of course Conference talks are serious, but the General Authorities have great senses of humor and they share it and they show it to us all the time. President Monson is hilarious. In this last Conference Elder Holland used the phrase “Bedlamites,” and that whole talk was a very serious talk but he infused it with humor. It was funny, and on our blog we talked about how when we looked up the word “Bedlamites” it actually means a crazy person in an insane asylum, and we’re pretty sure he knows what that means. He’s using it to describe our kids, which is great.

Sista Beehive: He called kids “Bedlamites” and everybody just laughed. Nobody got up and walked away offended. The TV stayed on.

One of our first posts was about how we dress at General Conference. I don’t think that Mormons would ever survive at a Pentecostal conference or a Baptist conference. We would have to become way more fashion savvy. When we stop and look at what we do and what we say and how we behave at times, it’s comical, and not in a disrespectful way.

Sista Beehive

What are some of the challenges and blessings that come with being African American and Mormon?

Sista Laurel: I’ve lived in places where I’ve been a minority, not by race, but by being Mormon. And that’s something that has made me open about my faith. Then on the flip side, when I moved to Utah in high school I thought that it would be the best of both worlds: there would be a lot of LDS people around me, so there wouldn’t be that awkwardness about my faith, but I had no idea that Utah was so lacking in ethnic diversity. No one told me that. They just let us get off the plane and we looked around and we were like, “Oh my gosh, what is going on here?” I had never lived in such an un-diverse place. That was really shocking to me.

In addition to that, I think there are so many dynamics that come with being Mormon in Utah, which I was not used to. There were so many variations among the Mormons. When you live outside of Utah, there’s just one type of Mormon: you’re it.

But when I moved to Utah, I felt like “Whoa, there are so many kinds of Mormons.” It was the first time I heard the phrase “Jack Mormon.” I had no idea what a Jack Mormon was. I would go to school with kids and they would swear and then they would pass and take the sacrament on Sunday. There are different variations and different levels and different ways people choose to interact with the faith.

Plus, there was this whole “black Mormon” thing. I moved there when I was in high school. I thought it was going to be this really cool EFY experience and it was just going to be a whole bunch of people who have the same faith and the same standards, which would make life easier because you’re not always the person saying “No, I don’t want to do that.” I assumed that everyone was just going to be like “No, I don’t watch rated-R movies.” So for me it was a little bit shocking that it wasn’t like that. And then there was this huge dynamic of me being the first black person many of my friends had ever interacted with.

I had a high school history teacher who, when we got to the section on slavery, told me I could leave because she felt uncomfortable teaching it in front of me. As a teenager, I wasn’t prepared to be the person that introduced others to an entire culture.

As a teenager, I wasn’t prepared to be the person that introduced others to an entire culture.

I think that was part of what shaped the person I am today. It’s part of why I’m such an open person. But I guess either I could get offended and walk away (which I did plenty of times) or I could answer people’s questions to the best of my ability, so it really made me an open person.

Sista Beehive: Much like Sista Laurel, I think that growing up outside of Utah, you have to be the representative for what Mormonism is. I joined the Church at age eleven and for a long time went to both the Mormon and the Pentecostal churches. The ward I grew up wasn’t perfect, but I was so sheltered and protected by my ward family. When I left to go to a Church school, I was treated worse than in any of the other places I’d lived. I went from having to defend my religion to having to defend my race.

Some of the things that LDS people in the predominantly LDS community said to me were mean, and some of their reactions to who I was and what I looked like made me feel terrible. If I didn’t have a testimony of the gospel, I would have left the Church because the other LDS people didn’t treat me like I was their sister, another child of God.

Sista Laurel

What were things that helped along the way? Did you feel you had to rely on faith?

Sista Beehive: I felt that I relied on faith a lot. I think that if you don’t know what you have is true, no matter what, other people won’t keep you in the Church. You’re not going to stay in this gospel just because you have great friends. Meeting great people certainly helps, but it’s not enough.

You’re not going to stay in this gospel just because you have great friends.

I was always told that when I went to a Church school that that’s where all the black people would be. I was the only black person in the Church in the region where I grew up and I was so excited to go to a Church school. And when I got there, there were 20 black people.

But if I had never gone through those experiences I may not have been prompted to and had the desire to research the history of early black pioneers. Learning of the history, struggles, sacrifices and faith of black Mormon pioneers such as Jane Manning James, Elijah Abel, Green Flake and others has blessed me immensely in my life.

So what’s next for the Sistas?

We’ve been pleasing overwhelmed that people actually care about what we have to say. Everyone has been so supportive and we are definitely finding our place in the Mormon and faith-based conversation. We’ll keep writing, doing firesides and speaking and hopefully people will keep reading, listening and not asking us to shut up. Until next time, hallelujah holla back!

At A Glance

Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel


Location:
Zion

Age:
How old do we look?

Marital status:
What’s with all these questions?

Children:
We’re not claiming any.

Occupation:
The Boss.

Schools Attended:
Seminary

Languages Spoken at Home:
Ebonics

Favorite Hymn:
“As SIstas in Zion” (it’s a remix)

Current Calling:
Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

On The Web:
www.sistasinzion.com

Interview by Shelah Miner. Photos used with permission.

20 Comments

  1. Shelah Miner
    12:05 pm on July 20th, 2011

    From the Interview Producer: When I met up with Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel for our interview, I’d never met either of them. I had a whole bunch of tentative questions to start out the interview, and both of the Sistas jumped right in. It was very evident that they were comfortable both with each other and with talking about their experiences as African American women in the church. By the end of the interview, I’d added their blog to my Google Reader and wanted to seek out more opportunities to spend time with them. Their humor is infectious and they both have a lot of insights on why they stay in an institution where people haven’t always been welcoming to them.

  2. Beth Allen
    1:19 pm on July 20th, 2011

    Thank you for your nice comment! I loved reading about your blog, you ladies are amazing. I was laughing so hard. But your testimonies really touched me. I am excited to read more at your blog.

    xo

  3. Jocelyn
    1:28 pm on July 20th, 2011

    That was a great interview…I appreciate the further insights into “The Sistas”. I love your honesty and testimony. I agree with a lot of what you said about…just everything in this post. (sorry I’m not feeling eloquent right now!) but great job, Sistas Laurel and Beehive!

  4. Marintha Miles
    1:31 pm on July 20th, 2011

    I love the Sistas blog and am so happy to finally find out more about them on MWP. Great work!

  5. Debbie
    2:01 pm on July 20th, 2011

    I know Sista Beehive, and really think she’s lots of fun. I respect people who can voice their opinions and at the same time take other’s into consideration. I grew up Mormon, but not in Utah. I remember “Utah” missionaries who would talk about Zion, and couldn’t wait to get back to Zion. I moved to Utah when I first got married, and had such a religious shock. These missionaries would make you think you were coming to this perfect Mormon Society, and thank goodness I had a testimony, because if I had based it on what I heard and saw I would have left the church. People are watching us here in Utah. So, “Utah” missionaries, if you are going to talk of Utah as Zion, then you’d better live that way. I went to a High School in another state where being a Mormon was not the normal. But, my H.S. had many good Christian students, and I really never remember hearing swearing or taking the Lord’s name in vain. But, when I came to Utah, I heard those words all the time. People need to know they are being watched. No, I’m not perfect, and I don’t mean to judge others by the way they speak, but there are such a thing as first impressions. We set an example, and people coming to visit Utah are expecting something kind of special. I have tried to teach my daughters how to be kind to everyone, no matter what their religion, and be careful what they say and do in others presence. I do love Utah, but I know there are other places besides Utah that could be like Zion. I am happy to be able to share a viewpoint on this sight and enjoy reading others as well.

  6. Alice Gold
    2:18 pm on July 20th, 2011

    I love you sistahs in zion…def one of my Top 5 on the web. And WOW you guys are gorgeous. You guys make me wish I could be black. White people are so boring. :) You guys are NEVER EVER boring and always funny.

  7. Becca
    2:20 pm on July 20th, 2011

    Hi, Sistas! I love this interview – you know I love you girls. You bring back my childhood to me (only we were a black/white duo :) )

    For the record, you guys do a GREAT job of making me feel like I’m kickin’ it with you. Seriously, every time I read your blog it’s like I’m sittin around the living room with my bestie and her family and my family and all of us are joking and laughing – Those were such good times.

  8. Angi
    3:31 pm on July 20th, 2011

    Sista Laurel, Sista Beehive, I just about laughed til I cried, you are so funny! It’s nice to know it wasn’t just my family…I really enjoyed the interview, and I wish you’d come visit my area…headed way west any time soon?

  9. StillConfused
    3:45 pm on July 20th, 2011

    Thanks for the great post ladies. As a Virginian who moved to Utah, I can relate to much of what you say (although I am white). I still use the standard Christian vernacular for things — like Ladies Group instead of Relief Society. I routinely get snotty comments like “What religion are you?” because I speak in Southern Baptist terms. My daughter lives in DC and I love to go to Church with her because there she is in the ethnic minority.

  10. christine
    6:23 pm on July 20th, 2011

    Fantastic interview! I’m in love with their blog.

  11. Allison Kimball
    12:49 am on July 21st, 2011

    The Sista’s blog is a favorite. I share it with my children and friends. Thanks for the added glimpse into your lives, especially the difficult and painful. It adds depth and beauty.

  12. Bryony
    1:25 am on July 21st, 2011

    So glad to see the Sistas on here. I pretty much grew up in the church, but out in Maryland, so I understand being weirded out by the Zion mentality and lack of diversity in Utah. As for diversity in the church, I live in the UK now and it’s not much more diverse than Utah is! (The church, that is, not the general population.) Mostly I’m just glad to see Mormon women blogging who aren’t necessarily white stay-at-home moms in Utah or Arizona with perfect hair, but who still have beautiful testimonies of what this church is and what it can be. As a mixed race sista myself, I really appreciate the Sistas for showing that our church has many different (and beautiful and relevant) faces, even in the States.

  13. Mike H.
    1:46 pm on July 21st, 2011

    I just recently found the Sistas, and I’ve enjoy their comments. Having served a mission in Georgia, I understand a little more of the terms used by other churches.

    When I lived in So. California, a couple moved into our Ward, where the husband is black, and his wife is white. They had met each other in Roller Derby, and later got married and joined the Church soon after the 1978 Revelation. They’re a darling family, and also faced things with humor as well.

    Here is San Jose, members of the Church are also getting more racially diverse.

    FYI, I think that’s the same Shelah I met at the Carol Lynn Person snacker in Walnut Creek CA last year.

  14. Michelle
    11:57 pm on July 21st, 2011

    I hope this doesn’t take away from the interview, but my favorite part of it may actually be the responses at the very end. e.g., Marital Status: “What’s with all these questions?,” etc. Chuckled out loud….

  15. Yolande B
    8:49 am on July 22nd, 2011

    I’ve laughed with them, cried with them, and prayed with them. I love my Sistas in Zion.

  16. As Sistas in Zion
    9:48 am on July 25th, 2011

    Thank you for all the kind comments, we truly appreciate them. We have had a wonderful experience working with MWP and we look forward to continuing to read about our wonderful sisters in the gospel.

  17. deborah gaebler
    6:50 pm on July 25th, 2011

    What a terrific example of turning a number of offensive situations into a positive reaction. I think that they are powerful examples of persevering, not unlike the original pioneers who settled Utah. The sistas are pioneers in their own right.
    I also hope that you have met many Mormons who are loving, encouraging, and accepting.
    Also, a book recommendation: Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon
    by Keith Hamilton- It is an excellent book!

  18. Mary Dash
    10:26 pm on July 26th, 2011

    I totally enjoyed getting to know you gals! You Sista’s ROCK! I know Sista Beehive, well actually I know Keith Hamilton… and I’ve met Sista Beehive :O.

    @Deborah, I would be shocked if these sistas’ didn’t have the Last Laborer… Maybe you should check out the play, “I Am Jane” Sista Beehive and (I think) Sista Laurel, know people and are well known. Just thought you should that they have more tools and people looking out for them then most, and they should!

    Sista’s be blessed and please keep writing! I will be praying for you!

    Ms. Mary Dash

  19. Jeanie Verner
    7:37 am on March 27th, 2012

    I have so much respect for black members of the church. I, too, am a pioneer within my own family and relate on some levels. I’m not a minority but joined the church qt 15 years old in a ward where all the kids had grown up together in a family church without any family! At 15 years old, that is hard!! I made a couple good friends from neighboring towns but felt pretty alone at school as a new member. My friends from before were either into partying, etc., or of other faiths. I am STILL the only member of my family although married a member (inactive at the time we met) and our kids are now strong in the church. They went to BYU-I, though, and found husbands from out west. We live in Georgia. So once again – feeling kind of lonely! Anyway, I know especially in the south its difficult for African-Americans. We only have a few of you in our ward. We are friends with the Gill family from the video (I can’t think of the name of) about what its like being black in the church. I’m very sympathetic to what is must be like for you. My husband played on the Midnight Special (as the guitarist for Skylark) ages ago when Gladys Knight was on and then met her officially when she sang here in Atlanta = ) I’m kinda rambling, but you’re not alone!!! Love you!!

  20. Getting to Know the Sistas | Sistas in Zion
    4:58 am on January 5th, 2014

    [...] We had a wonderful time participating in The Mormon Women Project. Check out our interview here. [...]

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