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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.