Robin joined the Church after September 11, 2001, when she reasoned that “if there could be such a force of organized darkness in the world then there has to be an equal opposite force of organized good.” That same year, at age 22, she married a member of the Church and cemented her life to the Gospel. Since attending law school, Robin has worked in energy regulation in Washington D.C. while passionate about resource and environmental issues.
How did you first encounter the Church? What factors led to your conversion?
I grew up in a small town in California called Bishop, which is a big skiing, fishing town and then I went to school in Los Angeles at Pomona College. I moved to San Francisco right after that. But along the way I had two friends who served missions for the Church and I wrote to them both while they were gone. So, that is probably where the seeds were planted of the Church as an institution that was of interest to me. I got these letters from my friends and I could feel their sincerity, but the last sentence of the letters would always be like, “I know that the Atonement is real and the Church is restored” and I would be like “I have no idea what you are talking about!” The language was so unfamiliar to me! I am sure, knowing what I know now, that for my friends this was the most important part of the entire letter. But I just thought, “That makes no sense. I don’t know what the ‘atonement’ is.” But there was just a spirit that was conveyed with that testimony.
What did you do after college?
I moved to San Francisco to take a job up there. One of the missionaries I had been writing was from the Bay Area and he came back from his mission right at the same time as I was moving up there and against the warning of my other friends who were members of the Church, I saw him almost immediately after getting home. He was just so strange! But there was a sort of thing inside of me percolating about the Gospel and the Spirit. I studied philosophy as an undergrad and a lot of continental theory and I was attracted to the existential questions. I had a strong sense that there was a God and there was something more to the world than just what existed, but I was skeptical about any sort of organized religion. But my missionary friends had planted a seed in my mind, so I started going to a couple of churches in my neighborhood in San Francisco and every time I would go, I would just feel that hollowness, like, “This is silly.” I felt closer to God on my own, like walking on the beach, or reading. But that was in 2001 and September 11 was sort of a breaking point in my thought process about the way the world works.
I do not know how conscious it was at the time, but it occurred to me that if there could be such a force of organized darkness in the world, like we saw on September 11, then maybe there would have to be an equal opposite force of organized good. The World Trade Center attacks were a Tuesday and that next Sunday, I went to the Latter-day Saint chapel three blocks from my apartment. I was looking for solace and comfort in the midst of all that chaos and heartache and uncertainty. I walked in to the chapel for the first time and literally the second I stepped into the building I felt the same spirit that I had felt in my most personal connected moments to God.
So I was like, “Oh man…” and I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I rejoiced that this most intimate fear could be something that is shared with other people. But at the same time it was this horrifying cliff. I thought, “What does this mean for my life? This is not what I was planning.” I called the missionaries and had them meet me in Golden Gate Park and I had the first lessons there.
Would you say that the most powerful force in your conversion was the personal witness of the Spirit in your life, more than social aspects or doctrinal aspects of the Church?
Yes, I think that that is accurate. I do not think it would have happened otherwise. But it is kind of hard to separate them, right? It was a combination of recognizing the Spirit in my own life and then experiencing it through these faithful members of the Church. It is hard to separate one from the other, but I think that the Spirit ultimately is the only thing that can really convert anyone.
How did you feel your life changed at that point?
That was a crazy year, because I joined the Church — I started the discussions in September and then joined the Church in January, 2002 — and then I met my husband Scott right after that and then we were married that October. My poor parents!
I think there was sort of an increased honesty in my life. Just really wanting to have my being be whole and to be on that journey of progression which the Gospel teaches us is possible from this moment throughout eternity. It wasn’t just, “What am I going to do in my life?” but more like, “Who am I going to be as a person?”
If I was going to make such a big shift in my life, it had to be for all the right reasons, and I needed to be committed with every essence of my being. So I finished the discussions and met Scott right at the same time, and the timing made a great courtship, because I had no façade. There was no room for that: if I was going to take this path it needed to be forever.
What were the greatest challenges for you initially after joining the Church?
The big challenge was my family… feeling like I was separating myself from them and making a decision that they did not agree with and did not share with me. My sister told me, “I had this dream that we were out riding our bikes and you took a different path than I did.”
So it was heartbreaking to feel disapproval from them when I was making the very best decision of my life. They were the people who I had trusted to help me, to reassure me of my decisions. When I married Scott my dad literally said, “This means you will never leave that church.” That was part of the point, yes!
Your parents got divorced a few years ago. Do you think your faith allowed you to be a help to them during that time? Or did it remained a roadblock in your relationship with them as they were going through that struggle?
I had perspective that my sisters did not: I had already gone through that process of saying,“Your identity is not my identity. I have made a decision to join the Church and let it define who I am,” and that created a separation in my relationship with them. That made their divorce less painful to me because it was less shattering, although still really hard. The Gospel helped me tremendously as I went through that trauma.
Also, they then were so preoccupied with their own problems that they were not worried about whether or not I was making good decisions in my own life. So in some ways it shifted the attention off of me, which I appreciated.
You went to law school after living in San Francisco. When did your interest in environmental law first become apparent to you?
I am not exactly sure. I have always been interested in being outside and the beauty of the earth and traveling and understanding those things. But my interest is more in resources than it is in traditional environmental law such as pollution. My interest was initially in water. I grew up in a small town and the town has stayed small in part because the city of Los Angeles owns most of the land and monopolizes its water supply.
That combination of resources and the development of community and society is something that is intriguing to me. There is a book called Cadillac Desert and it is one of the pre-eminent books about water and how water shaped the Western part of the United States. The book begins with the author flying over Salt Lake City and discussing how the Mormon pioneers and how they created a lush landscape out of an uninhabitable place through the use of local resources. That idea was intriguing to me.
Can you describe what do you do professionally in your current job?
I am the assistant general counsel for an association here in Washington D.C. that represents state utility commissioners. They are the people who regulate essential services like water and electricity, natural gas, and sometimes transportation and I work in the energy sector. So I work on electricity, gas and other resources that are regulated.
Do you feel there is a connection between environmental consciousness in our personal, home lives and what the Gospel teaches us about being stewards of the earth?
We have been told to “till and take care” of the earth, but too often we just till it. There is a Welsh song that talks about how God gave us responsibility for all of the creatures on the earth because He loves us most. With all of our divine attributes, we have the opportunity to learn how to take care of the earth, to utilize our resources in a way that will not deplete them for future generations and really create an opportunity for future generation to thrive.
But we are in consumptive mode. I am too. I think of all the ways that I waste things. It is much easier to use a paper towel and throw it away than to use a towel and then wash it. For me, not wasting is a spiritual principle. I do not think in the Millennium the Savior is going to come and just fix everything. I think He is going to say to us, Okay what should we do? It will be more like the Brother of Jared [a character in the Book of Mormon]. And we will have to figure out how to make the earth full again.
I feel strongly that as we come to know the earth better, we will be better stewards of it. I’ve started a project called Engaging Earth to help promote this idea. One day I was chopping celery in the kitchen for a soup and I thought, I have no idea how this grows. I would not be able to identify and pick a celery plant out of a field. If I have a better sense of how food comes to us, then may be I would be get more pleasure from the food I eat. I would think more carefully about how it is grown and who was involved in growing it. I would get engaged in the community that contributed to my being able to sustain myself through eating.
How do you feel your identity is shaped today — eight years after joining the Church — by being a professional Mormon woman?
I feel that my work is important. My spiritual goals and my professional endeavors need to be married because I am spending so much time at work and I want to be doing something that really matters to me. When I am in the working world, I am often there as an emissary for the Church, especially because I went to Brigham Young University for law school. The first thing they know about me is that I’m Mormon. I thought about that when I decided to go to BYU because I was hesitant about having that be the headline of my professional identity.
But it actually offers really interesting opportunities. For example, I was recently at a professional conference and was introduced to a woman who had also attended BYU. The moment we were left alone, she proceeded to tell me her life story and her struggles with the Church and that she had recently divorced and that she struggled with the culture of the Gospel and that she felt isolated and she knew it was true but was not sure it fit into her identity and I just was… shocked. Because here I am in a new job as an attorney in a world apart from my spiritual life, but I have the chance to say to this woman, “I’m so sorry you’re struggling. You know, the Church really is a very diverse place. You should come to our ward in D.C.!” and she and I genuinely connect as sisters.
But the other thing is I want to have a family, right? So my professional pursuits are tempered by my desire to have kids and my knowledge that that is an eternal principle and much more valuable than any memo or brief I will ever write.
Being a Mormon woman is fabulous. And I know what it’s like to be a woman outside of Mormonism. It’s not so great. There’s a lack of identity. Not being chaste hurts any woman but you don’t realize it and so then it creates this weird confusion and complexity that is unnecessary.
I’ve been thinking recently about how Moroni buried the plates, and how that is a little absurd. I mean, it’s impossible to imagine in our modern days something like burying plates. But my husband said, “If you had records and you wanted to preserve them for the future, wouldn’t you bury them?” And I guess I would. And for me, so much of the Gospel is that way: It is much simpler and profound than we make it out to be. I think that is true also of our gender. We make womanhood way too perplexing. Our gender is inherently part of who we are and we’re going to continue to progress throughout eternity. It’s that simple.
At A Glance
Location: Washington D.C.
Marital status: Married 7 years
Children: Due with first in May 2010
Convert to Church: 2002
Schools Attended: Pomona College, Brigham Young University Law School
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Interview by Neylan McBaine. Photos by Scott Lunt.