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Keeping the faith, daring to be different
February 5th, 2012
05:33 PM ET

Crossing the plains and kicking up dirt, a new Mormon pioneer

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

San Diego (CNN) – At a 1950s-style house nestled in a peaceful neighborhood nicknamed “Hanukkah Hill,” a smiling Buddha on the porch greets visitors – his arms raised as if to say all are welcome.

Affixed to the doorpost is a mezuzah, a decorative case holding blessings for a Jewish home. Inside, on the family’s refrigerator, hangs a magnet from the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog that says, “Jesus loves us. Who cares what you think?”

In the kitchen stands Joanna Brooks, an accidental, unofficial and admittedly unauthorized source for all things Mormon. She’s making “funeral potatoes,” a classic Mormon casserole, and heaped on the counter are the ingredients: a not-so-healthy dose of cheese, butter, sour cream, hash browns and chicken soup. Her Jewish husband strolls by, takes a look at what’s cooking, and grimaces. Bespectacled and freckled 6-year-old Rosa, standing atop a chair, proudly announces, “I’m Jewish and Mormon!”

The home and life Brooks has created is the product of a complicated journey.

She cannot separate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from her identity any more than she can leave cheese out of funeral potatoes. But like her persecuted ancestors who braved the unforgiving plains to reach the promised land of what is now Utah, Brooks, 40, fights for her faith.

The battle has, at times, left her feeling beaten.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

As a young feminist activist, she saw her beloved church excommunicate her intellectual heroes. She’s felt outrage and soul-crushing grief while watching her church mobilize against same-sex marriages. For about 10 years, she walked away.

But today a vintage postcard of a Mormon missionary boarding a plane sits on her desk to inspire. It reads, in part, “Dare to be different.”

She believes there’s room in the LDS Church for loving criticism and candid talk, that Latter-day Saints like her can not just belong but also serve – without fear of being cast out into the wilderness.

She’s staking her claim to Mormonism, writing about it for Religion Dispatches, debunking myths in national papers, speaking up on podcasts, radio shows and from stages, and offering advice in her column and blog, Ask Mormon Girl. She recently self-published her memoir, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith” and writes regularly for Feminist Mormon Housewives. Politico has named her, or specifically her Twitter account, one of the “50 Politicos to Watch.” All this while being an award-winning scholar, a published poet and, oh yeah, a department chair and professor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University.

Click the audio player for a Q&A with Joanna Brooks from CNN Radio's John Lisk
Amid Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign and the smash-hit Broadway musical “Book of Mormon,”  this Obama supporter has emerged as a refreshing voice for media, hungry for frank discussion about her faith.

Her goal? To be her authentic self and humanize a tradition and people she couldn't love more.

“I just refuse to be ashamed of being Mormon,” she says. “Don’t talk about us like we’re not in the room.”

Embracing her difference

Growing up in California's Orange County, she often was the only Mormon in a room.  She was, she likes to say, “a root beer among the Cokes,” a reference to the caffeine-free drink that her faith permits.

She fantasized about her ancestors on the other side of the veil. Her father, a longtime LDS Church bishop – a volunteer pastor – said they knew her name and that her spirit would join them when she died.

She sang pioneer hymns in church on Sundays with other root beers. She kneeled and prayed to God each night before bed. By the time she was baptized at 8, she’d read cover-to-cover the Book of Mormon, the sacred text Latter-day Saints view as “another testament of Jesus Christ” and study in addition to the Bible.

Brooks, center, and her sisters learned early to be proud of and show off their Mormon pioneer heritage.

She learned to relish being different, even when born-again classmates, taught by their pastors to believe she was in a cult, scrawled warnings in her yearbook. When Marie Osmond, a visible Mormon to the non-Mormon world, winked into the TV camera on Friday nights, Brooks was sure the gesture was meant for her.

Along the way, there were glimpses of the woman she would become. Asked one year in grade school to write two term papers, she chose as her subjects the Equal Rights Amendment and Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church.

“I’m not making this up,” she says, laughing at what some may see as irony. “This is who I am.”

But in her traditional - what she calls “orthodox” - Mormon home, she was only exposed to pamphlets on women’s rights penned by Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative stalwart who railed against the ERA push.

At LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, the only college she ever considered attending, Brooks imagined the warm embrace of being among her people. Looking at those around her, at first she worried she was too different. But during orientation, an English professor quoted a verse from the Book of Mormon that she'd carry with her.

He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

“I felt the knot of panic in my belly loosen and disappear,” she writes in her memoir. “Deep inside my chest, a door opened. Light and oxygen flooded the room.”

She gravitated to professors who shined the light on possibilities, devouring the words of Mormon poets and feminist historians.

All are alike unto God.

In the Student Review, an alternative and unofficial school paper, Brooks poked fun at university policies, interviewed polygamists, wrote about gay issues and simply didn’t shy away from matters most people were afraid to talk about.

While getting ready for church on Sundays, she blared Public Enemy.

Outside her circle of like-minded friends were people like John Dehlin, a staunchly conservative Mormon student who watched her from afar. Whether it was hot-button issues in the paper, pro-choice demonstrations at the state Capitol or night vigils and marches for rape victims, he says, Brooks was always involved.

“She didn't know me, but I knew her. I was torn between being uncomfortable and seeing her as dangerous, and respecting her for her courage and convictions.”

Brooks was riding an optimistic wave of change at BYU, when the tide suddenly shifted.

The early 1990s brought a LDS Church crackdown on intellectuals, feminists and activists who were perceived as being threats.

Professors at BYU lost their jobs. Others walked away in solidarity. In September 1993, six prominent Mormon scholars were excommunicated or disfellowshipped – stripped of certain religious rights, including access to LDS Church temples.

The day Brooks received her diploma, she handed it back in protest.

Wrestling with God

The still-warm funeral potatoes take their place on a picnic table crowded with treats in a La Jolla  park. Milling about are those who've gathered for a monthly meeting, a support group of sorts, under the auspices of an organization called Mormon Stories.

Some, like Brooks, are faithful churchgoing members. Others no longer attend services but long for cultural connections. For at least two of these Californians (one says she is a distant relative of Mitt Romney's), the day church leaders called on Mormons to support Proposition 8 – a 2008 ballot measure to prevent same-sex marriages – was the last time they sat in the pews. One first-time visitor shows up, her crisis of faith new and raw.

“I believed everything until two weeks ago,” she says, her expression one-part grief, the other anger.

Brooks understands those in painful transition. God knows she's been there.

After graduating from BYU, Brooks headed to Los Angeles to get her doctorate in English at UCLA. For about five years, she says she regularly went to church but was still reeling from “the purge” of so many mentors.

She wrestled internally. Each time the LDS Church galvanized its members behind the Defense of Marriage Act or supported initiatives that predated Prop 8, she felt like a cinderblock had been dropped on her heart. If her bishop asked how she was doing, she burst into tears.

“Whenever I went to church, I'd just cry,” she says. “So I just stopped. It was my way of saying 'uncle.' It was too much. I clearly needed time.”

Brooks retreated not just from church, but also from her liberal Mormon peers. She guarded her tongue and emotions around family.

Meantime, her life moved forward in other beautiful ways. She'd fallen hard for David Kamper, then a doctoral student in anthropology, “a sweet and soulful Jewish man from my California hometown: a man who saw no enmity in me, a man who would never put me on trial, a man who would never audit my heart for heresy,” she says in her memoir.

They met at a union party for teaching assistants. About two months into their relationship, she turned to him and said, “You know we're going to get married.”

When they did, some years later, she couldn't have a temple marriage, which allows two Mormons to be sealed for eternity in a sacred ceremony – a rite considered necessary to reach the highest level in heaven. Instead, their unconventional wedding blended their religious backgrounds.

When Kamper stomped on a glass, which marks the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, Brooks knew she was in some way breaking her parents' hearts.

The oldest of four siblings, all dedicated Mormons, she still attended family events in the LDS Church during those years in self-imposed exile. Each visit made her ache with longing. She tried other Christian denominations, but none felt like home.

It was the birth of her daughters Ella and Rosa, now 8 and 6, that would eventually help bring her back. When she rocked them to sleep, she mindlessly sang a Mormon pioneer hymn, a reminder of those who walked before her.

Her faith journey was shaped, in part, by the birth of daughters Ella -- walking ahead with the family dog -- and Rosa.

She realized she had to be true to her spiritual needs and her legacy, not just for herself, but for her little girls. She began writing the book that would become her memoir, to help her heal and so they would someday understand their mother.

“I am an unorthodox Mormon woman with a fierce and hungry faith,” she writes. “Sometimes even in my own tradition I feel a long way from home. But I will keep on crossing as many plains as this life puts in front of me. I drag along my Jewish husband, my two daughters, and a trunk of difficult questions.”

Finding her way home

Slowly, in 2008, she dipped her cold feet back in the LDS Church waters.

Three months later, like a tsunami, came the push for Proposition 8.

“So I took another few months off. To shake my fist at God,” she wrote in a recent Ask Mormon Girl column. “That's what I did until the vote was over. And then I went back. Again.”

That wasn’t all she did, though. Once, during this hiatus from church, she returned to her childhood congregation for a new nephew’s naming and blessing. She squirmed in her seat as each talk and prayer mentioned the need to protect marriage, she recalls in her memoir.

Using Rosa, then 2, as an excuse, she went for a walk. On a hallway table she spotted clipboards holding data for “Yes on 8” voters, canvassing materials culled through hours and hours of work.

“My heart pounds. I look around. The hallways are clear,” she writes. Brooks snatched those papers and shoved them in her flowered diaper bag. She rushed outside, her heels clicking on pavement. Shielded by cars and with Rosa on her hip, she forced the papers down a metal sidewalk grate. “Still, I feel the weight of the cinderblock on my heart.”

When she could guard her tongue no longer, she decided to speak publicly at a rally opposing Prop 8. She held her breath as she sent her speech to her parents.

The next morning, she opened her e-mail to see this from her father: “ ‘We want you to know we love you. You have wanted a more just and loving world since you were a little girl,’ ” she recounts in her memoir. She then describes her reaction: “Tears drop on my keyboard. My chest heaves.”

Now her father is dying of ALS, an experience that’s made their differences irrelevant.

“My parents are very devoted Mormons, and they didn’t always know what to do with me,” she says. “But there’s nothing like a terminal illness to put things in perspective.”

In late 2009, she began writing about her Mormonism for others. Her first published piece was about raising interfaith children.

Brooks hopes that through her writing and speaking out she can help humanize Mormons, who are often misunderstood.

Perhaps no one was more relieved to see her name than John Dehlin, the BYU student who'd once watched her from afar.

He'd gone through his own faith crisis years after they graduated, and searched online for Brooks. He couldn't find her anywhere. When he saw her byline, he reached out immediately.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “We need you. We've always needed you.”

Dehlin created Mormon Stories in 2005, first as a podcast offering open conversations for those grasping for reasons to stay in the LDS Church, which he has. Now the group also runs conferences and online communities, as well as support groups, which are sprouting up across the globe.

Brooks didn't need Mormon Stories to get back to church. She'd worked through her struggle in her own way and own time. But realizing there were others like her out there – even if they weren't sitting next to her in church – gave her comfort. There's a kinship among those who want and need to speak freely.

The way Mormons show up for one another, she says, is part of what she loves most about her faith tradition. And while her “calling” may not be conventional or church-sanctioned, she's fulfilling a mandate to serve.

By being there for folks who are lost and looking to be found or are desperate to say things they don't feel safe uttering at church or to their families, she attends to those in need.

“Is there space for difference? People are feeling it out,” she says. “No one wants to start a new church. No one wants a schism.”

Some of her friends, especially those not in the LDS Church, have wondered why she didn't just walk away.

That might have been easier, and it's what most of her BYU friends did do. But she's shed tears and worked so hard to maintain her identity, faith and community because, like those who came before her, that's what Mormon pioneers do.

“I know who I am”

Scampering out of the garage, Mosi leads the way. The family dog - her name means "cat" in Navajo – tugs Brooks through the neighborhood on a walk that doubles as thinking time for this busy mother, professor and author.

On this afternoon, she talks about how carefully she must toe a line - one that allows her to be faithful, respectful and gently critical. She's emboldened knowing she doesn't walk alone. There are dozens and dozens like her who - thanks to blogs and social media - are also weighing in.

Brooks speaks on stages and radio programs. She also has been interviewed for documentaries, including one about Mormons in politics.

Not afraid to discuss touchy issues of race, polygamy, or same-sex marriages, Brooks says she's gotten plenty of mail from LDS Church members begging her to stop. They say she's not a spokesperson for the church, and she agrees – she isn't. She's not trying to be.

She believes this cautiousness of fellow Latter-day Saints, this fear of individually speaking up, isn't serving Mormons well. Instead of relying on church officials to read from scripts that sound likes scripts, she says, “People need to see us as human beings.”

The sacrifices of Mormons who’ve spoken out before her also help prod Brooks along. She has to trust that times are changing – that what happened to women like feminist Margaret Toscano won’t happen to her.

Toscano, 62, was excommunicated in 2000 – seven years after her husband. She recalls how the late 1970s Mormon supporters of the ERA were driven underground. She was among those who re-emerged in the late 1980s, only to face a slapdown. She says she personally knows hundreds who’ve walked away from the church over women’s issues.

She watches Brooks and others like her with hope, but not complete optimism. The ability of activists to do what they do while in the church, Toscano says, comes and goes at the whim of whoever is in charge.

Others who watch Brooks may be concerned about the company she keeps.

She knows there are those who fear her association with “apostates,” but she shrugs this off. “It’s not a concern for me. I know who I am.”

Who she is and what she believes rankles Ralph Hancock, a political science professor at BYU who’s taken her on in an LDS blog review called The Bulwark. Simply put, he says in an e-mail, “Joanna thinks or assumes that Mormonism is compatible with (or intrinsically drawn toward?) a contemporary liberal-progressive agenda – and I think not.”

But not all conservatives are bothered by her work.

At the helm of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR), an organization that defends the LDS Church from detractors, is president Scott Gordon. He may not agree with many of her positions, but he’s glad she’s out there.

She shows the “plurality of thought within Mormonism,” he says, and has taken on characterizations of Mormons in the press in a way that’s made him want to cheer.

LDS Church officials have never contacted Brooks directly, she says. And they wouldn’t comment directly on her or her work for this story.

While Brooks will speak openly about the church she loves, warts and all, she has limits. She refuses to feed the uninformed, broad-brush sensationalism so many use to paint her often misunderstood faith. That's why she graciously turned down a recent request from a History Channel producer who, among other things, hoped Brooks could show how she uses a “seer stone” – a prophetic tool used by LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.

“Are you kidding me!” Brooks says, remembering what went through her head but never came out of her mouth. “That's like asking David [her Jewish husband] if he knows how to sacrifice animals.”

Back from the walk, she rounds up the family to head out to dinner.

Over pizzas at a long table in the Blind Lady Ale House, her husband joins friends in sharing tastes of microbrews. Brooks didn't always follow the Mormon rules to abstain from coffee, tea and alcohol. But with her renewed commitment to the church, she does now.

Among her friends here are two women with whom she leads a Girl Scout troop. Giggling at the far end of the table are their daughters, members of what they like to call “the rogue Brownie troop.”

More important to them than competitive cookie peddling are missions these moms can get behind: a tour of an organic farm, an environmental cleanup activity and a food drive for AIDS patients.

Leaving the other adults to their beers, Brooks heads outside with the four girls. Soon the little ones are marching up and down the sidewalk, arms linked, shouting something that leaves passersby smiling.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”

Brooks has spontaneously taught them the intro to the television classic “Laverne & Shirley.”

She hooks her arms with them as they scream, “Again! Again!” She coaches their footwork and matches their youthful enthusiasm. She wonders, as an afterthought, if she’s got that “hasenpfeffer” word right.

Reaching into a pocket, Brooks pulls out her smartphone and says with a sheepish grin, “Let me check my seer stone.”

On white people, lipstick and the sacrament

It's a Sunday morning, and the family is getting ready for church. Kamper serves up pancakes before racing off to change. Ella and Rosa look over their visitor to make sure she's dressed appropriately. Modest skirt and sleeves? Check.

“Church is a good place,” Rosa says. She bounds past a globe of the world and a child-sized drum set to grab a book from the playroom shelf.

“Read this,” she orders, handing over “How Does the Holy Ghost Make Me Feel?” “This'll teach you about church.”

Rosa shows off their food storage, recommended by the LDS Church in case of disasters.

In the kitchen, Brooks holds up the New York Times Sunday Review and rails against Lee Siegel's Mitt Romney-related opinion piece, “What's Race Got to Do With It?

“ 'Mormonism is still imagined by its adherents as a religion founded by whites, for whites, rooted in a millenarian vision of an America destined to fulfill a white God's plan for earth,' ” she reads aloud. And then, swatting the paper with the back of her hand, she asks, “Is there fact checking involved?”

She knows of the millions of LDS Church members dotting the globe in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And the Japanese-American, Filipino-American, black and Hispanic members in her own ward, or congregation. Later that night, she'll write her response. In this moment, Ella turns her attention to the diversity of American Girl dolls.

Scattered across a sofa are Rebecca, a Russian-Jewish girl from New York; Kaya, a Native American from the Nez Perce tribe; and Kirsten, who wears a bonnet.

“Mommy,” Ella screams, racing out of the room, “Did you know Kirsten's a pioneer girl?”

With her daughters loaded in the Prius, Brooks takes the wheel and tunes in Bob Marley. The girls start rifling through her purse in the backseat. They gob on her lipstick.

“Great,” she says, peering in the rearview mirror. “They're getting tarted up for church.”

Lipstick wiped off, they stroll inside. Brooks takes a seat in the back, and the girls dart up the aisle to sit with friends.

Who Brooks is outside of church is of no consequence. If anyone does follow her work, she says, “No one is up in my grill.” When she's here, she's here for spiritual sustenance – to pray, take the sacrament, and connect with and serve her community.

Bags crowding her feet hold the coffee cake she'll take to the Sunday school class she'll teach later, the Jeopardy-style game she's devised for today's lesson, and reading materials and toys to keep kids occupied.

The LDS Church's children's magazine features a story about Mormons in Tonga. Brooks spots her visitor reading it and whispers, “See how focused we are on white people?”

A little boy scoots a toy car along the floor. Stacked on a chair above him, next to hymnals, are “Curious George” books in Spanish.

Her husband sits down beside her, his arm around her shoulder. Kamper shows up because who she is, what she needs for herself and their kids, matters to him. Her acceptance of his Judaism, the fact that she's never suggested he convert, has helped him get over what the couple jokingly refer to as his “Jesus allergy.” He doesn't take the sacrament when it's offered and admits he sometimes passes on saying “amen” to church prayers.

“They don't know what the hell to make of me,” he says. But ever since he fell in love with Brooks, this trained ethnographer has been a close observer of Mormons. He feels embraced by her parents now, but that took time. Her father once challenged Kamper to read the Book of Mormon and accept the missionary lessons, visits from LDS teachers. Kamper figured it was the least he could do, but it didn't lead him into a baptismal font.

Unable to play an official role during Mormon family ceremonies, like baby namings, he accepts his job as the designated microphone holder. Someday he'll tell his nephews, “If you get busted and go to jail, call Uncle David.”

Here in church, his role is supportive husband. Kamper strokes Brooks' back when she weeps. Tears fall when her eyes close in prayer.

In a small classroom afterward, she meets with four high school students, three of whom are heading to BYU in the fall. When she meets with them, she says she sees herself at their age.

The Book of Mormon, the introduction of an additional scripture, “was a bold claim,” she tells them. “I think that's why Mormons are bold. We're OK being different.”

Trusting God’s plan

The girls plop down at the kitchen table, feasting on leftover funeral potatoes. They start humming the “Muppet Show” theme song and then, after rattling off some of their favorite Simon and Garfunkel titles, bust into the chorus of “Mrs. Robinson.”

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know,
Wo, wo, wo.
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.

Each night at dinner, the girls lead the family in prayer. Sometimes their words are inspired by their Mormonism; other times they honor the Jewish side of themselves.

They're being raised to be part of both religious traditions. They celebrate Christmas, Easter and Pioneer Day, which marks the day in 1847 when Mormon pioneers first entered now-Utah. The family also observes Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover. Because Kamper likes to host a big Passover seder each year, Brooks decided the family would also host a Mormon seder on Pioneer Day, featuring her favorite recipes, including her “Green Goddess” Jell-o salad.

One month the girls attend Sunday school at church; the next they can be found in Hebrew school.

“It can be challenging because I have to learn one thing and then another thing,” Ella says. “But it can be fun, too, because I know I'm special.”

Brooks doesn't worry about their kids. All she can do is be responsible for her own choices and give them a rich spiritual life, she says. They'll be free to decide what path they want to travel. “God has a plan for everyone, and everything is going to work out,” she says. “I'm not afraid for them.”

Nor is Kamper, though he admits he's starting to realize some rabbis might balk if the girls want bat mitzvahs.

Ella describes how she feels in church.

“I feel comfortable because I'm in God's house. And I also feel comfortable because I know lots of people love me,” she says.

Her parents smile at each other. They want to know if she feels like she's in God's house at synagogue.

“No, but I feel like God's watching over me,” she answers.

Ella then offers to share a typical prayer she and Rosa might recite.

“We fold our arms and close our eyes,” she instructs. “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this food and this family. Please bless those who are sick... And if I was going to sleep,” she decides to add, “Please help me so I won't have nightmares. And if I do, send the Holy Ghost down to comfort me. I say these things in Jesus' name. Amen.”

Seconds later, she and her younger sister switch gears.

“Shema, Yisrael. Adonai Eloheinu. Adonai echad,” they sing, the translation being, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

Across the kitchen, their mother’s voice rises in perfect Hebrew, too.

It's a Jewish prayer sung by a faithful Mormon who believes “all are alike unto God.” And she sings it with every bit of her pioneer spirit.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Judaism • Mormonism • Politics • Same-sex marriage • Women

soundoff (1,778 Responses)
  1. Tom

    Apparently their are Mormons who are not simply "sheep." My problem with Mitt Romney is I don't know wether he's good or baaaaaa-d.

    February 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  2. evensteven

    Being a Mormon for 30 years, I ran into the same kind of challenges Joanna describes. My solution was to leave the faith, primarily because it no longer fed me and frankly, I was bored stiff. But I've concluded that there are many beautiful ideas in Mormonism that are worth preserving—I've thrown out the bath water and kept the baby.

    So I have found it to be the case with all religions. There are beautiful things worth appreciating in every faith, but I do not feel it is an "all or nothing" proposition. I pick and choose what works for me.

    Everyone has a sense of the sacred worth respecting. It is largely language which keeps us from seeing this commonality in all people.

    February 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  3. steve

    Dr Zoid. keep your twisted and mean thoughts to yourself. you are headed south. You must be employed by cnn

    February 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • the one

      Steven, I agree. God does not want him to go to Hell, but only he can keep himself from going there. All we can do is pray for fools such as him.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • the one

      Steven, we are both sanctimonious idiots.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • the one

      "The One" above is an imposter, a lying snake who seeks our destruction, a servant of the Devil. Shun him as his words are venomous, worthless to anyone.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  4. Jessy the Gnostic

    Some of things people say around here are pretty disgusting. Some act so judgmental towards other people's beliefs (especially if they don't conform to the mainstream) that they curse at them and claim those people are doomed. All this while those same judgmental people act contrary to their beliefs by lying to others, persecuting non-conformists, and starting wars in the name of a demiruge thinking they are saving people while in fact they are killing or suppressing them.

    I will not tell you what God is for doing so will only limit God's fullest extent. Therefore, it is far easier for me to describe what God is not.

    God is not judgmental. Doing so would mean God would have to judge itself.
    God is not vengeful. Doing so would mean God would have to hurt itself.
    God is not one to concern about what religion you choose. Doing so is a mere distraction.
    God is not hateful. Doing so would mean God would have to hate itself.

    Throw stones at me if you disagree. I will gladly take them.

    February 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • evensteven

      Bingo.

      I do not see the God of the Old and New Testaments as being the Supreme Intelligence—he's just plain egotistical. I do however, believe in a Supreme Intelligence. It is in my mind however, not represented in the texts of the Abrahamic religions.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Jessy the Gnostic

      It actually is represented in the same bible as the Orthodox Christians read. The difference is interpretation. The Orthodox would have us believe that Jehovah (old testament god) is the true and original god and that he is to be feared and lorded over us.

      Gnostics on the other hand say otherwise that Jehovah is not the original god, but is a demiurge (architect, creator god) and that he emanated from the original godhead who is detached from human affairs and only wishes to help mortals reawaken the divine spirit of the pleroma (wholeness, oneness) within them.

      It is a very heretical point of view as per the Orthodox, which is why Gnostics were persecuted by them during the first two centuries after Yeshua (Jesus) was crucified once the Orthodox gain control of the Roman Empire. Gnostics share the same pain that Mormons had to endure when it comes to religious persecution. For this reason alone, we Gnostics learn to keep to ourselves on certain issues. But when confronted, we Gnostics are not afraid to show who we know we are.

      February 7, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  5. the one

    First of all, Feminism is evil. It exists at the expense of children and men. Its disguised as equality, but its true purpose is the subjugation of men and the murder of innocent children, that a misandrist can live as she chooses.

    Feminism; responsible for the decline of the family unit, along with abortions need to be snuffed out of this society, if we are to move on as decent people.

    Secondly, Atheism is the most self absorbed religion known to man. Where the atheist is their own God, and they preach hate against anybody who opposes their own self absorbed religion. They believe as they think, and therefore do as they please.

    Now I'm not Mormon, but I have no use for a self righteous Atheist – they are what it is wrong with this world.

    February 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Nonimus

      LOL! ... thanks for the laugh.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • the one

      I am a sanctimonious, self righteous joke.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  6. Rae

    The only common ground that Mormans and Christians may have are morals. Except for drinking caffeine, my morals are very similar to Mormans. A person can focus all he/she wants on the Book of Morman, but to get to the crux of the problem you need to focus on how Mormans and Christians define God. Mormans define God as someone who at one time was a man (see Morman doctrine book "Pearl of Great Price"). Christians define God as a Spirit ,who never was a man, who has always been, and is the Creator of all. As long as Mormans define God as having been a man, they will never be able to claim to be Christian or believe in the same God. The same goes for Christians who claim they believe in the same God as Mormans. Mormans and Christians may use similar words and phrases, but when an in depth study of the word or phrase is done from a Morman or Christian perspective, a person discovers that the two beliefs have completely different definitions. We may hear the same words, but the same language is not being spoken.

    February 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Aloisae

      Christians believe that God is a Spirit that was never a man? I think you need to rethink that statement given that the defining aspect of Christians (versus non-Christian mono-theists) is that they believe that the man that walked the earth as Jesus is God.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • David

      Where does the "Christian" def of God come from anyway? And why do you all feel like you need to bad mouth the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints? Remember it is "The Church of Jesus Christ"

      February 6, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Kandi

      @Red

      A Christian is one who believes in Christ–that Jesus is the Savior.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Rae

      What I'm saying is that Christians believe that God is Creator and was not created, has always been, always is, and will always be. A man did not become God. God did dwell in His fullness in a man who we know as Jesus.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Rae

      The Christian definition of God comes from the testimony of God's faithful people as recorded in the Bible.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  7. goulsby

    Hah, "Feminist Mormon Housewives" blog. That made me laugh.

    Want some info, read Under the Banner of Heaven

    February 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Pepek the Assassin

      Oh you people. Seriously!

      February 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  8. SammyD

    Ms. Brooks' journey is like so many others who attemt to reconcile their strict and rigid religious upbringing with their need for a more progressive faith community – one predicate on love and compassion. Sounds like she is more suited to the Unite Church of Christ or Unitarian faith communities. Working for change from within is admirable, and I wish her luck.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  9. Aloisae

    While I realize the home page teaser is probably written by somebody unrelated to the writing of the story, it is very difficult to take seriously anything being said by a 40 year old woman who is referred to as "the nation's 'it' Mormon girl". I also am concerned about the moral authority of somebody who thinks she was right to commit theft from a church, thereby subverting right to express themselves during a political campaign of those who don't agree with her stand on the issue being voted on. Obviously, her term paper on the Bill of Rights resulted in her having a very selective valuation of those rights... ie. only the rights of those who agree with her deserve respect otherwise she can break the law and destroy their property to ensure that they can't fully exercise their rights. (Please note that I agreed with her on Proposition 8.. just not with her decision to break the law.. or her being able to get away with publicly bragging about theft and destruction of property especially when she was campaigning on the other side of the issue.)

    February 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Nonimus

      About the "girl" part. It's a reference to the her web site, http://askmormongirl.com/

      February 6, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Aloisae

      Then I'm back to having trouble taking seriously a 40 year old woman, especially one that represents herself as a feminist, who chooses to refer to herself as a "girl" in the public sphere. Not that women don't refer to themselves as "girls" but normally it is jokingly with friends/family and not publicly and definitely not in a situation where they wish their input to be taken seriously by other adults.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  10. Alan

    Unfortunately, what has happened to all LDS women who have done this before will happen to her: the all-male gerontocracy in SLC will assassinate her character and then excommunicate her.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  11. lucy2

    An interesting read. Her story seems to be one of personal faith/spirituality vs. the confines of organized religion. I can't imagine it's easy for her, but I think everyone has the right to follow their own path, whether that involves faith or not.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  12. Don

    Joanna- America is a land of freedom. As Americans we all have a right to follow God to the dictates of our own conscieous. Choose wisely your decisions, because the results we can not choose. You should know the Lord has always used the principle of authority via priesthood such as with the Levites in the OT. Jesus ignored the woman from Canaan (Matthew 15) because she was not Hebrew, though he eventually heeded her requests. We do not know the details many times why the Lord operates as he does; his ways are NOT our ways. Have faith and not question every position. God bless you sister.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Joe T.

      I guess if we are going by old Jewish laws, shouldn't we stone people who kill flies on Sunday? It was considered hunting which was a no-no.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  13. Dr Zoidberg

    the fact she believes in a fairy tale shows her to be dumb as a wall

    February 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • momoya

      No, it doesn't. There are a lot of folks who are very intelligent and cling to some myth-cult. It's a phenomenon of culture and brainwashing.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • sarahfalin

      No kidding.
      These people dance around the core issue of their beliefs...stupid fairy tales invented by some strange man.
      This ridiculous notion that one must profess belief in the magic-man-the-sky to be a moral family loving person is complete nonsense. Go away!

      February 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Meg

      Isn't all religion a fairy tale? Funny how we can criticize a couple who are a shining example of how we can achieve world peace. She is an amazing woman. Take off your cynical glasses and read the article for what it is ...

      February 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • the one

      Atheism is the most self absorbed religion known to man. Where the atheist is their own God, and they preach hate against anybody who opposes their own self absorbed religion. They believe as they think, and therefore do as they please.

      Now I'm not Mormon, but I have no use for a self righteous Atheist – they are what it is wrong with this world.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • mere

      you can love the culture you were reared in and not literally believe in all the historical/doctrinal claims. All religions have some crazy claims

      February 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  14. Willie

    Wow, imagine this. CNN's way of masking a slap at my church by trying to disguise it as a nuteral look at one womans view of the church. Where are the articals on disgruntled Baptists, Methodists, etc, etc. There is no "freedom of Religion" in the U.S. Not really. Sorry I ever opened up CNN. Should have known better..............

    February 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • the one

      I agree Willie, CNN is one skewed/opinion based "news orginization".

      February 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Alan

      Yawn.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • mere

      what is the slap?

      February 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  15. Red

    Like most people, Mormons are generally good people just doing the best they can. While I don't know how comfortable the inst-itutional church is with Joanna Brooks, I think it's great to see people who demonstrate that Mormonism isn't simply a backward-thinking, monolithic religious group. There are many people who manage to break the mold and still contribute positively within the organization. Whether you agree with her or not, we need more fresh voices like Joanna Brooks.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • blinded

      Red,
      Is Mormonism a neighborhood orginazation or a religion? Religions just don't chainge their doctrins overnight because there are some unhappy questioners.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Red

      I'd say the church is more of a real-estate corporation operating on billions in tax-free religious donations. Many of my family members and friends are Mormons though (I grew up Mormon), and I can vouch that they are great people.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • blinded

      OK,
      There are great people in all religions. Nothing new there. So what? Religions are comprised of static dogma. Otherwise they couldn't claim to be the truth (the truth doesn't change). This is why questioners and "maverics" are not tolerated.
      I don't think the leaders of LDS would want any fresh voices like Joanna Brooks.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Red

      Mormonism demonstrates great capacity to change overnight because most members believe that the word of the current prophet trumps anything else that has been said before.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • blinded

      The prophit is dead. How are his words changable? And if they are, what does that say about his original words?

      February 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Red

      It says that the old prophet was wrong and the new prophet is right.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • blinded

      So who is this new prophit? Does he/she have a TV sow or something?

      February 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Red

      Nope, it's just some old dude named Thomas Monson.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Jessy the Gnostic

      As crazy and outlandish Mormonism can be (at least to those who call them crazy), it makes them better people at least. They learn to love and respect others as they wish to be respected themselves, yet American society has grown to persecute them to this day for their beliefs (even if they share the same views on abortion and marriage). Us Gnostic are also no more crazier and outlandish (as our critics like to label us as well) than the Mormans. But that doesn't matter as long as we learn to respect others the same way as we like to be respected ourselves even to our worst enemies.

      Wronging others because of their opinions or beliefs will make us no different than those who have wronged us in the past.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  16. Tom

    Jessica Ravitz: Unless the Church is new to you and all readers – the point of this article is to... what? It can't be a new and illuminating of a piece as I think it comes across.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  17. Voice of Reason

    Bet she is excommunicated or will be in 20 minutes if a mormon would ever get on here

    February 6, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Pepek the Assassin

      Really? I LOVE bei
      ng a Mormon Mormon and I, too, love what she is doing. Carry on!

      February 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  18. Red

    I love what Joanna Brooks is doing!

    February 6, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  19. Douglas Peterson

    Interesting article.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  20. JasonJackson

    This article does not reflect the views of the vast majority of active LDS people. Yes, some leave. yes. there are real issues, which good people of all faiths disagree on. But those who leave or question do not represent the LDS faith.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Red

      I for one can't understand how anyone could leave or question God's one and only true church.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • bff

      Did you just say that those who question do not represent the LDS faith?
      I actually expect that kind of thinking from religious people. It's a good method of keeping the flocks in line. Many religions use it. Powerful stuff.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • JB

      @ Red
      God's one and true faith...Really? Did this God of yours tell you this? You and any other looney toons parading their religions need to step back and ask yourself; does anyone else really care what you think, and then just find one person that REALLY KNOWS firsthand what God is, what it really wants and expects from us, not some stories written by control freaks to keep the masses in line... Until then just consider ranking you self and your cult in a long list of many cults that feel they have the RIGHT answer and Quietly allow and encourage others to do the same.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Pepek the Assassin

      Been active for 72 years, had (and have) some questions. But that doesn't mean I am any less representative of the Church because of it. :D

      February 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Well...

      Based on their books, every religion claims to be the "right" or "only true" one. Surprisingly, Mormons have one of the most correct Biblical views of many doctrines in all Christendom. But then you have to buy that God left the world without the "truth" for over a millenia and that in all the time after Joseph Smith died the prophets have not continued to write Scripture, perform miracles or wander preaching the Gospel and calling people to repentance (not just their followers) at the peril of their own lives.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.