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.
There are few of us liberal Mormons out there, but there is definitely a place of us in the church. Just because I do not agree with the political stance of Thomas S. Monson concerning gay marriage does not mean that I do not think that he is the prophet, seer, and revelator for the entire world. I believe in the separation of church and state as much as the next liberal, I just also happen to be a devout Mormon. God gave us the gift of choice. Let's allow everyone to use it.
To Naminamia –
You wrote: "Just because I do not agree with the political stance of Thomas S. Monson concerning gay marriage does not mean that I do not think that he is the prophet, seer, and revelator for the entire world."
Now, for you to call someone as the prophet, seer and revelator for the entire world, and then say you disagree with him....well, that means one of you is stupid...take your pick.
I don't understand all these "I'm ____" but don't believe what my Church teaches about ____ type of people. Your religion and it's doctrines are either correct or they're not. In this case, while I don't care about the issue, real Mormons (not just "in-name-only" ones) are required to believe that gay marriage is frowned upon by God.
I have the name of a new religion for you it is called "I like to have my cake and eat it too!"
@Eddie, street, Really
Or maybe, and I know this might be a bit out there for you, she just enjoys having her own opinions. *GASP* How insane.
Having you own opinions is fine, but calling yourself Mormon when you disagree with so much of the dogma, well that's just dishonest. You can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts.
Most Mormons are extremely ignorant of Mormon history outside the trimmed-down version presented by the church. When they finally read it from credible, unbiased sources, they sometimes feel betrayed and lied to by the organization. Unfortunately, this happens late in life for many people. Mormons need to get acquainted with the scholarly history of the church, and then make an educated decision about whether or not they want to be a part of the organization.
I've seen where you posted that you consider yourself agnostic, but at the same time your posts are highly defensive of mormon doctrin.
What's up with this? Are you still struggling to get totally free?
You are right. I was given a book once and it was called "The Kingdom of the Cults" It had many different religions in it. Discussed at length how they came about, who founded it, etc... it also made comparisons with other religions. Unfortunately, as you said many people do not even know what their faith actually teaches and what is behind the fascade. People really do need to know what they believe. Mormonism is one of the many in the book that points to a cult.
@streetsmt: I just think it's important for people to try to understand one another's point of view.
Streetsmt, I'm also agnostic. A big fat fence sitter for all time. I also defend Mormons when necessary, and sometimes Mormonism itself. The same way that I will occasionally defend Christianity, Islam, Paganism, Confucianism, and everything else, whenever I see someone say something incorrect or unjust about something I know more about, having taken the time to study it.
These types of comments always crack me up. I am LDS and I may not know everything in Mormon history, but for someone to call out an entire church for not knowing their history is so ridiculous, and to be frank, dangerous. I love that people outside of the Mormon faith seem to always portray themselves as enlightened to history, and to have all of the facts. How many times has history been re-written? How many times has one point of view of historical event been proven to be just that, a point of view. People see the world differently. They can come to their own conclusions as to what is real and what isn't, and unfortunately the same can be said about history. History is a fluid and changing thing.
Balle, I suggest you check out "Rough Stone Rolling", a biography of Joseph Smith by faithful Mormon historian Richard Bushman (and sold at your local Deseret Book). No need to remain ignorant.
I have found that most Mormons are more familiar with their history than those who post on websites and criticize them. There is an abundant amount of information about Mormon History from inside and outside the Church. I have read much of it and found that from inside the Church to be much less biased and less driven by agenda and ideology.
If people believed im themselves and each other instead of any number of gods, the world would be a much better place. Religion, in all shapes and beliefs and forms, has caused more human suffering, death and destruction than anything else in "civilized" history. Good for this woman for acting on what she believes, rather than blindly following. Too bad everyone doesn't have a mind and will of their own; if they did, they'd realize they don't need religion to be happy.
You know, an entire country tried what you're describing. Perhaps you'd like to go back to the USSR. I'm not even going to bother looking up stats for you. Just google it to find out the happiness you're seeking.
RELIGIONS TEACH SPIRITUAL EXERCISES WHICH LEAD US CLOSER TO GOD. AS A CATHOLIC I HAVE ALWAYS DEFENDED THE MORMONS. I REMEMBER DRIVING FROM PENNSYLVANIA TO CALIFORNIA. I STOPPED FOR GAS IN BATTLEMOUNTAIN AND THE WOMAN AT THE GAS STATION WAS A MORMON AND SHE GAVE ME THE BOOK OF MORMON. I THANKED HER. I WAS ONLY 21 YEARS OLD. I WELCOME PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS BEING HAPPY THAT WE ALL BELIEVE IN GOD!
RELIGIONS TEACH SPIRITUAL EXERCISES WHICH LEAD US CLOSER TO GOD. AS A CATHOLIC I HAVE ALWAYS DEFENDED THE MORMONS.
Chris – Go ahead and look up the numbers, tell me what you find ... I challenge you. At the core of countless conflicts going back millenia is religion, and it continues to this day. Untold millions have been killed in the name of one religion or another. The USSR was a shortlived political state, no comparison. Judging by your numerous posts it's not hard to see a religious person unopen to any outside point of view. Try going religion-free for awhile; you might be surprised at what you learn.
Denise – Your last sentence says it all; believe in yourself and the nice person that gave you gas ... but you dom't need to believe in a god for that. You do realize that if your parents (or whomever) hadn't taught you their beliefs, that you'd have absolutely no inkling about god? If the world could have one complete generation raised without religion drilled into it's head we'd be halfway to world peace!
There's no need for me to get into an argument over something of which you obviously have a great amount of ignorance. I can bring up other examples. How about another modern example of China? I'm not the one who needs more information on this subject. Religion can be bad and no religion can be bad. The lesson is that people are the problem, not Jesus. He's the solution.
Reading this poor woman's delusional story tells me more about the psychological grip these hard core religions have on peoples psyche; even when what she has educated herself to believe as true and good contradicts the non-negotiable beliefs of a mind controlling religion.This is the saddest part, and the most illuminating aspect of all the strictest religions. Now that she is inculcating her kids on two opposing religons(two chosen people, of course) it will only be this generation that will finally put both religions in their place, which is to say I bet neither religion will ultimatley play a large roll in their adult lives. I think inter-religious marriages would help cure the world of all this continuing pain and strife associated with the results of religious identification.
"Most of all, you've got to hide it from the kids"
I had to laugh out loud when I saw that the little girls were singing "Mrs. Robinson". That's truth for you.
I find her quest for balance between what she knows to be right as an open minded individual and her church's position very interesting and applaud her and her husband's approach to rearing their children and addressing the differences in their faiths. What I find disturbing is this quite acceptance of the "I am Mornon" ads as anything other than church sanction political ads in support of Mitt Romney. The candidate, the LDS church and thousands of its supporters know that for Mr. Romney to be accepted by non-Mormons, he has to be preceived as "normal" by the mainstream voter. I don't have a problem with any religion espousing the vitues of its believes or its followers. What I object to are any organized religion becoming directly involved in the political process. Organized religions are granted tax exempt status under the law. In exchange for that priviledge they are suppose to refrain from direct political activity in order to keep church and state seperate. I can hear the responses now, but these ads aren't meant as political ads but to reach out to non-Mormons. Give me a break.
Tony: You're perceptive but mistaken about the "I'm a Mormon" ads, which have been in research and development for years and which the Church has been careful not to play in primary states. There really is no intended connection between the ads and Romney.
Simple question for LDS folks... before 1978, could african americans hold the priesthood? If not, why? Can you not see how this would be perceived as racism by most rational people? I think it's true that Mitt Romney has a bit of a mormon problem. From my experience, LDS folks are outwardly pleasant and nice but extremely cliquish.
Early Mormons were racist just the same as most other Americans, but modern Mormons are moving past that. Unfortunately, the church was slow to correct the blatant racism. There were actually efforts among the upper leadership to revoke the priesthood ban earlier, but in the end, they had to wait for some of its more extreme supporters (e.g. Harold B. Lee) to die off.
Women have more discrimination against them in every religion than African-Americans, by a long shot.
The LDS Church actually extended the Priesthood to some black men when Joseph Smith was still alive, only afterwards did it become a "ban." The unofficial Church doctrine became that blacks were cursed, due to misunderstood scripture and national bias. None of this excuses LDS leaders from Brigham Young on who incorporated and enforced the ban. It also doesn't excuse countless other denominations who are just as guilty of the same prejudices during the same time period and longer.
@John As well... NEVER ONCE DOES IT SAY THAT STEPHEN SAW "GOD THE FATHER". Oh you know... they guy above Jesus? See you're as well a flip-flopper... you might not know what you're talking about.
Thank you for this article. Thank you thank you thank you.
I'm agnostic, but I've done my time in a variety of religions, Mormonism included, but it was before I could really understand the whole religion thing.
Growing up, I'd have Mormon friends, and I absolutely loved them. Wonderful people who were candid, accepting, strong families with happy, well rounded children.
When prop 8 came about, I really didn't know what to think. My friends had been accepting of everyone, gay, straight, white, black, green, Muslim, Zoroastrian, whatever. They weren't judgmental, all love and acceptance. Then when I see what looks like the whole church rising up, I have such a hard time condemning them. Because I know that my friends weren't like that. They weren't a part of this hateful mob. I'd defend them when I had to, but it was hard in the face of Prop H8.
Thank you for this article. More people need to see this. I don't care what people believe, they're all just as likely and ridiculous as the last. But I'm glad to see that I wasn't wrong, and that there are still good, great Mormons out there. Not only that, but they can raise fantastic children who are the next step to the solution – breeding out our discrimination be educating the next generation.
I miss the community that came with attending church, but I do not miss the judgement, and I do not miss the brainwashing. It keeps me from taking my own child to any church, because I don't want to force him into a religion, but it's hard to otherwise get some decent spiritual guidance without also getting the 'you're going to hell if you do X Y or Z!'.
Excellent, excellent post!
Interesting article, and not being a very religious man myself I feel I can leave an unbiased comment. I think she is coping in an ever changing world with an open mind, and an open mind has an open heart and she is a testament to that. Good on you Joanna Brooks and I wish more people followed your example of life.
agreed. open minds, open hearts may just lead to more open dialogue between forward looking people, hopeful for a more aware and awake experience as humans.
That whole article and this entire woman's life all to marry a Jewish man, and go *back* to the goofy tradition that is modern Religion. Either she's really confused, or God is playing a really bad joke on her. Either way, I'm amused. Hah!!
Dear Joanna Brooks,
Some help in joining the 21st century:
Putting the final kibosh on religion to include Mormonism
• There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.
• There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.
• There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.
• There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.
• There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.
• Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.
• Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.
Added details are available upon request.
I think you're missing the point here buddy. Joanna Brooks sees Mormonism as an inspiring myth filled with positive metaphors.
Not defending Mormons here, but I think someone gets too much spiritual guidance from Wikipedia.
I love it up the ass. Will someone offer?
Just because you say so? Your post makes no sense because you have not proof about the existence or non-exixtance of things you mention.
origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.
New Torah For Modern Minds
“Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.
Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.
The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."
So you've mastered Google and quoted some Jews who have long since lost their way in Biblical interpretation. :-p Nice.
faith. it's cowardice.
More like gullibility
More like both.
Do you require scientific proof?
We should all learn to question our faith . I still haven't gone back to Catholic church, since 2008 , when they supported Bush in the elections . I was so angry , in the sixties, Catholic priests always supported the homeless , working people and the poor . Instead they helped put in place policies that are still hurting people , in their desperate effort to end abortion ( something i believe is moral and not political ) If Republicans were serious about ending abortion , they would encourage contraception and the morning after pill ( not abortion pill ) .
Belinda, those things you describe ARE abortive products.
I agree with you, though, that churches should not endorse candidates. Speaking out on issues is great, but endorsing candidates crosses the line.
I just paged through the comments, and the amount of comments bashing Mormonism, religion in general, or even telling Joanna she needs to see a psychiatrist are far too overwhelming and completely out of context from what this article was trying to accomplish.
Joanna: I really admire what you're doing. I admire you for staying true to yourself and how you feel to the best of your ability. We are all, like you said, just trying to figure things out. You're a great, caring, loving person and has touched more lives than she is willing to admit. Thanks CNN for sharing her story. She's an interesting gem of a person :)
She is not a Mormon period. She doesn't believe the same things as her church so whether she realizes it or not she is a very confused person. It is like saying I think all the tenants of Hinduism are nonsense but since it is my heritage is Indian I am a Hindu. Its actually complete nonsense. What has happened to people's common sense these days.
I assume she went to college and realized that the world isn't as black and white as you appear to think it is.
BKS: whether she is or not is a decision for her and her congregation, possibly the church elders. If they have not seen fit to excommunicate or banish her, then she IS a mormon.
This woman was explaining how she as a person related to disagrements with the church of her faith. She has a mind of her own and cannot be dictated by anyone else. This is a strugglt between her and God. We should all be as brave as she is and always question things whether it is politics or religion.
IS IT MORMON OR MORAN
Someone on the previous page said tjose that question don't belong in the LDS.
Absolutely correct! Well said.
What's a "MORAN" Dave? If you are referring to "MORON", then you are one.
As a Jew who was brought up in a kosher home, I consider myself Conservative rather than Orthodox. My daughter is married to a Gentile and her children are being brought up as Jews, which is the custom, at least in Judaism, the children are the religion of the mother. However, many of their Aunts, Uncles and Cousins are Catholic. For the Jewish holidays, Passover, Hanukkah my daughter has a Seder and all the relatives come. She has about 24 for each of the Seders. Of course we observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in temple, and out of respect for her husbands family they also attend and participate Christmas Services. The children attend Hebrew school and my oldest grandson is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. It's amazing when all people can respect one another's religious beliefs.
How do they reconsile them? The christian half believes the Jewish is going to hell because they are not baptised.
Do they just ignore this at family gatherings (or do they all deep down just throw away the bad stuff and decide they are in it for the social gatherings)?
Your description of respect here is puzzling. For any Christian to sit idly by and not tell the truth about Jesus Christ is sad. I suspect that these families are only peripherally involved in their religion, though. That would explain the tolerance. When one fully grasps that we are all separated from God and going to hell without forgiveness through Jesus Christ, there's no other choice but to be compelled to live that out and share it. The respect and tolerance you describe is sad because it ends up with people missing Heaven.
Was not Christ a Jew? Do Christens not believe in Abraham? Get real any religion that teaches his G-d is better then you're G-d is defiling the Commandments, which by the way were granted to the world by Moses, a Jew!
See Mr. Edward?
It is people like Chris above that make the position your family "enjoys" untenable. Religions presuppose the truth, and it is theirs. Therefore I happen to agree with Chris in that you and both sides of your family are may be somewhat religious, but you value your family cohesiviness and social gatherings way more.
I bet you'd even let in an atheist :-)
"Get real any religion that teaches his G-d is better then you're G-d is defiling the Commandments"
You're going to have to explain that one, because you lost me there.
Jesus Christ is the way to Heaven. No other way is open to me, you, or anyone. You may not believe that, but a Catholic certainly should. So to understand the gospel and believe it is to believe that Jews who die without Jesus as their Savior will die apart from God for eternity. There's no way that a Christian who is taking God seriously could just look at a Jewish relative and say "it's all good".
Respect is the cornerstone of a successful world, whether it is multi-religious or not.
I could agree with that comment depending on the way you use the word "respect". Not telling someone the truth about Jesus is not "respect" though. If I know you're about to fall off a cliff and don't tell you, my "respect" for your right to fall isn't very kind.
Torah clearly states intermarriage is wrong.
Great, your child's family gets along. However, those children will never understand religion as anymore than a social club. They'll believe in yashke even though Rambam brings out in the Principles of Faith that one cannot do so.
If there are roughly 5 million Morons in the US and even 20% of them have stockpiled the recommended amount of food, how much food could be sent to starving U.S. families or others around the world? At least be honest, the LDS doesn't really care about others just the preservation of its own. Now, where was that verse in the Bible ...
And the winner is...: Funny you should mention sending food to others. The LDS Church (Mormons is the way to spell it, FYI) have sent food to other in & outside of the LDS Church for decades. Like, after WW2 to Europe. Or, to Africa in the 1980's & 90's. There's tons of ongoing work in the humanitarian sphere. Look up LDS Philanthropies on the web. Yes, find that verse in the Bible, the LDS strive to live it.
We give millions to help teh starving as well – what do you do? You make fun of us for being prepared? You won't be laughing when there is a major disaster and you don't have anything to eat. We found out after Hurricane Katrina.
Actually, if you looked up anything else about our religion you would know that once a month we fast for two meals and give that money to our bishop. 100% of that money goes to helping the poor.100%. Also, most congregations have a food drive around Christmas. So, thanks for judging us before you know the help that we give to our local communities. I would also like to say that many of the families in our wards have survived off of their food storage when they lost their jobs (yeah, we lost our jobs just like many other Americans). Go ahead and hate us for being prepared in case something bad happens.
I am LDS and was in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit. Within hours of Katrina passing by the LDS church had truck loads of food, clothing, and bedding mobilized. I saw first hand, the LDS church feeding, clothing, and housing THOUSANDS of people – regardless of their religious beliefs. I helped pull trees out of roofs, recover and clean homes for people I didn't know, and sat by and allowed mothers and fathers to cry on my shoulder while we looked at the foundation of their home that no longer existed. Don't tell me Mormons are only out to help themselves. It is our mission to do good for others. I think this article is wonderful. I think there is a lot of people in my religion that are very closed minded. The church needs people like Brooks to help the members of the church. We are all God's children. We all need to start acting like it – those that are Mormons and those that aren't. All of you out there hating a religion, or hating others because of their religion should be ashamed. God loves all. Christ died for all.
You think we stockpile just for ourselves? We will feed our friends and neighbors of all faiths or those without faith as long as our food lasts.
There was a quote from the book 1984 that went something like this (paraphrasing because I can't remember exactly):
"You cannot be free until you question and you cannot question until you are free." It pretty much sums up the whole cult brain-washing that goes on in the LDS church.
Joe: it sounds like you didn't read this article, since clearly Brooke DOES question, or at least did, and she IS a mormon. My guess is that you don't really know anything about the religion - just what a few people told you - and you assume it is as intolerant as your own church.
Unlike many religions, there is a rich heritage of questioning in the LDS Church. There is much written and available to believer and non-believer alike. If you want to see true brainwashing, read some anti-Mormon stuff. If it weren't so sad and ridiculous it would be humorous.
You know what I find hilariously unchallenging? I'll tell you. It's when supporters of mormonism ask the question, "How could an uneducated man like Joseph Smith fabricate a work like the Book of Mormon? Easy answer!!! I say, ONLY an uneducated man like Joseph Smith (possessed of the scam artist mentality, for which he had been convicted) could write such a book replete with errors and fabrications. An EDUCATED man would have done a MUCH better job. I have to give Mr. Smith credit. He fabricated his work during a time when verification of his bogus claims was not possible. And between then and when science HAS been able to disprove him, the "religion" he founded has been allowed to embed itself, much like a tick or some other bloodsucking parasite. Time has been able to provide Mormons with the illusion of legitimacy with regard to their religion. So many of them are like the population of the town in that children's tale who are too afraid/embarrassed to admit that the Emperor has no clothes. Metaphorically, their "religion" is what "has no clothes". Sad, really.
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Real religion is not based on factual accounts or the like. It is a source of faith and comfort - it answers the questions that cannot be otherwise answered. Whether Joseph Smith was divinely inspired or simply a huckster is no matter - the Church of Latter Day Saints is legitimate precisely because it offers comfort and faith, not because its internal stories are factual or make sense.
If factuality were a requirement, no religion could really pass muster - all maintain some pretty ludicrous stories, to be accepted without proof. But the reason religion thrives is that it offers things far more important than accuracy - it offers community, it offers spirituality, and it offers purpose for our lives.
Your claim is ironic because claims against the Book of Mormon does not make sense. How did this ignorant farm boy produce a book full of Hebrew poetry of a type which was not know of in the 1830s for instance? There are numerous issues which support Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. They are spiritually and intellectually sound. I understand that visions and revelations are difficult for the modern sensibility, but dig deeper before you condemn please. For the intellectually honest, there is much to support the Book of Mormon.
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.