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. andrewmcc

    Is it me or are a large portion of atheists the most close-minded, angry hatful people on the planet. You don’t believe in a higher power…. Ok no problem. But is someone believes in god you have to lose your $%$^ and tell them how stupid they are?

    February 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      We're not angry..we're tired of the 2000 year old unchanging story affecting our every day lives. We're tired of it being put in our face constantly; we're tired of christards saying they have evidence but can never back it; we're tired of our children being indoctrinated and brainwashed. Have you looked at the hypocritical, bigoted remarks from the christards here? They are the ones getting angry! We don't use the threat of a non-existent place on them but they think they have the right to do so on us!

      February 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • just sayin

      Like the Canadian National Anthem being a prayer to God. Do you remain seated to protest your extreme minority view, or do you prefer God " not" keep your land? You phony

      February 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Michael from Montreal

      You talk about hate? Hate has only ever come from religion and the people who follow it. Those of us who choose not to believe in fairy tales and fiction from thousands of years ago do not hate those who do believe, but feel bad that humanity is being held back from it's true potential. Not hate, just pity.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Steve the Atheist

      "Close-minded", haha. Atheists do not have a problem with new evidence, that is religion that won't accept reason.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  2. Scott


    QUESTION TO A MORMON: 4 Years ago when Mitt Romney ran for President I did some research and found that a specific tenant of Mormonism is to: "Strive to become a God"...This causes a little concern for me,specifically that the President of the United States would be using his elected office to become "A God; Consider this.....If George Bush had been a Mormon and he went to war in two different countries, how quickly would his critics have accused him of living out his faith? Would a Mormon please respond to this?

    February 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Paul

      Scott, you are absolutely right about the principle of an LDS person to become a God, it is in God's plan. But let me tell you that this plan is for the after life, not here in earth. If you need more information let me know and I will be happy to help you out. Thank you.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • karenjay

      I don't know how to even answer your question. It appears you have been reading the senasationalized propaganda against Mormons. Go to lds.org and actually read up on what we believe from the source.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • kc

      I am a Mormon and it is part of our religion to be Gods in the next life. We also will follow the leader of our church as he speaks to the Lord.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • jacob

      The goal of the church is to help you become more like god. Not to become God while here on earth. Like a child though we have the ability to one day after we have passed to become like god. But if you think about it. What are some godly attributes that we would all like to have but we all fail on atleast once in our lifetime. Love for all mankind not for their choices but because they are people. Charity or the willingness to give of you time and resources willingly to help someone out in a time of need. But god can be tough on us when we are doing things that are wrong. In the nine how many times were the Jews punished for not listening or doing things they knew were wrong. He will not let us justify our sins for to long without sending a punishment of some sort. This is usually meant as a lesson though to help us get back on track and not to scold us for being selfish. Would you not like someone with god like attributes and striving to be a better person each day making decisions in this country?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • IamCorrect


      It is true that one of the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ is to strive to become like God. Afterall, the Bible specifically instructs christians to "be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The church, however, does not actually expect anyone to achieve perfection in this life, but rather, it teaches that by striving to improve, we become more like God and closer to Him. And yes, the church teaches that a person, or rather, a couple, can become Gods. Doesn't every parent desire to give good things to their children and to see them achieve their full potential as accomplished and successful adults and parents? If God is truly a "Father", why would He be so different? Why wouldn't He want to give his children everything He has? The Bible is clear that "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." So, just like my son will grow up and become a parent and inherit anything I have for him, logic would seem to indicate, that if God really is our "Father", that He likewise would desire to grant his children "all that he has". And just because my son will grow up and become a parent himself doesn't mean that I won't still be his father. Similarly, just because mere mortals have the potential to become "Gods" (or heavenly parents) doesn't mean that God will cease to be our God. The whole purpose of earth life is to prepare us for us entering the role of Father and Mother and creators ourselves. What do you think? that all the billions of observable universes just "happened" and that there isn't a divine Creator or Creators? Come on! Mormonism is a very thoughtful and logical and a rather deep undertaking and is not for the faint of heart or for the small-minded. Most people are content to limit Godhood to one solitary being and to limit God's creative power to only one earth. But why? If God is truly all-powerful, why can He not create whatever and how ever many things that He wants? And why can't He choose to give to His children anything that He wants, including a throne at His side and the ability to create earths of their own and to people those earths? Can you just imagine how completely awesome that would be? Honestly. (SimCity and Ancient Empires III don't hold a candle to what the real deal of "creation" will be like.) It might be new and different and odd to outsiders, but really it is an amazing and wonderful thing that Mormons believe, if a person can allow themselves the freedom to let God be far greater than they ever imagined or were ever taught in their own religion.

      And it doesn't diminish God to allow His children to become like Him, it actually exalts Him. His overall plan is that of creating earths, peopling them, redeeming them and then exalting His children (human beings like Himself) and giving them the same status that He holds. And why not? Think of the possibilities, if you can allow your mind to be stretched just a little bit. I don't mean that condescendingly, I just mean that, to understand the LDS church, one must be willing to accept that the world does NOT hold a corner on the market on God's revealed word and that the world does not have the power or authority to limit God's greatness and wonders, except in their own individual minds.

      And regarding your equating Godhood with the power to go to war. That is silly. In the first place, it is a comment or idea based on the assumption that God causes war, which is false. A person can be angry at God if they choose (if they believe in Him at all) but they cannot rightfully blame Him for the choices and stupidity of human beings. His whole purpose in giving us His revealed word is so that we might avoid such things, if only we would (collectively) listen.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  3. Michael from Montreal

    When humanity finally rids itself of the bonds of religion, then, and only then, will true and meaningful progress take place. Abiding by words and rules written thousands of years ago is simply foolish and keep us ignorant and small-minded.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • captain america

      another butt in Canadian.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Ben

      If the last 30 years of rapid movement toward secularism in society are any sign of things to come, you have destroyed us.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • BRC

      How so?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Ben: But yet the 1000 years behind we are is not the fault of the church?? Pot meet kettle!! We are slowly coming up in the ranks, be prepared...we will not be silenced-laws protect us now unlike in the day when the buybull was written & up until the 60's.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Ah

      That explains why we've seen no meaningful progress so far. Thanks for clarifying.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  4. Ben

    With all due respect to this woman, if you disagree with the fundamental beliefs of a religion, you are not of that religion and should not pass yourself off as one. And, CNN would never try to foist someone on us as a "Muslim" if their beliefs ran counter to Islam and would inflame Muslioms. Guess you get treated differently if you are polite rather than blowing yourself up.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  5. quit trying to change them

    ...so you left because you thought Mormons were hypocrites.

    Then you went back, tried again, and found they were hypocrites.

    Then you left again.

    Then you went back and they are still hypocrites.

    guess what? They always will be.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  6. Hank Zmith

    Obama Backer, Feminist, Gay Rights Advocate.
    Top Story for CNN.
    Is there ANYONE at CNN even remotely concerned as to why their Ratings dredge the bottom of the Tank?

    February 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Tom

      Funny how the Christians on here think somehow that they have the patent on GOD and the US government. You are so blind to believe that only your way is the only way to connect to spirit. You people are the problem with society not the solution as long as you remain obsessed about other peoples sins. No wonder so many of children are on drugs, alcohol, and commit suicide – because the are being let to believe things that are not truly in the Spirit. Anyone who really knows the Bible knows that all kinds of things in the past brought the death penalty according to "Gods Law" for "sin". If you want nothing more than to glority your own dominance and superiority over mankind then bring back the death penalty for divorce, for theft, for lying, and all the other 10 commandments like it used to be and when your children are beheaded don't cry foul – know that it is "Gods will". Let's be fair and just about it OK? The truth is that Christianity just makes up whatever it wants in any century as if the world was flat and then persecutes anyone who objects. That's not the kind of spirituality I expect from a divine source.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  7. Chad

    This isn't so amazing. With a huge percentage of new members to the Mormon faith all of the time, there is bound to be a diversity of opinions on various social subjects and some, like the lady featured in the article may take a long time to understand God's heart and mind in spite of her own.

    Ironically, as feminists, or gay rights persons, or other politically motivated activists come to really understand God and become one with His truths, they realize that His way is a more loving approach than they themselves would know how to seek for themselves or others. I feel sorry for all the people out there who are misdirected by their own carnal sensibilities and think anyone who doesn't accept sinful practices is excluding others from God, when in reality it's the opposite; helping others to depart from un-Godly actions and practices is the way that the people of God are extending a hand to include others who would otherwise exclude themselves.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Turp Griswald

      The problem with 'His' word is that it is left to much interpretation (since 'he' doesn't seem to be able to materialize and do interviews for CNN). Hence, 'his' word is managed by various handlers (Ministers, Rabbis, Imams, etcetera), and nobody really has a clear idea as to what 'he' wants for 'his people'. As for the young lady, she risks excommunication for her beliefs by a church that has pretty tight controls on what 'their people' are allowed to believe/share.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  8. Tom Carter

    it's a cult.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  9. J. Morales

    To each their own. I couldn't be in a church where I had such vivid disagreements with the leadership. I don't agree 100% with every little view of my pastor, but certainly on the biggies we are in sync.

    Personally, I'm Protestant, but am glad that so many Mormons have been a help when it comes to issues like Prop 8. We don't agree theologically, but I think we need to come together politically as a force for positive change in the future. That's why I have no problem supporting Mitt Romney for President.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  10. gorn by any other name

    God save us from religious people.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  11. Out West

    If more Mormons were like Joanna Brooks Utah would be a better place to live (and I live here). Unfortunately even she doesn't live here.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  12. norelegion

    Relegion is an insult to human dignity.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  13. Rosa is NOT Jewish - she would need to convert

    A Jewish father and non-Jewish mother == child isn't Jewish ... unless she goes through year+ long conversion process later in her life. Just sayin' this is how the religion works. It is not passed down by the father. Sorry Rosa... but you can believe in aliens that colonized earth (mormanism) !!

    February 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Rosa is NOT Jewish - she would need to convert

      oops i think i confused scientology with mormanism. Well... almost the same thing.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Hal of California

      In the Reform movement of Judaism, it matters not which parent is Jewish, so long as the child is raised in the Jewish faith and, once she is old enough to decide for herself, considers herself to be a Jew.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • quit trying to change them

      I think you are confusing Scientology with Mormonism (which you can't even spell correctly)

      February 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Gershon

      Hal of California, according to Reform Judaism, belief in a Creator and Torah and all the other ESSENTIALS that comprise a religion are "non-essential". Reform Judaism is just lazy agnosticism or rebellion by immature adults who don't like to be told "No" and that they must control themselves.

      February 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  14. arthur

    Very Sloppy Journalism only hoping to elicit a negative response..

    It is absolutely horrific to read some of the comments here. Is this country not based on religious freedom? Slandering a religion without understanding what it IS simply highlights the ignorance and hatred of others.

    You want to understand what mormons believe? go to lds.org !! do some REAL research.

    rather than highlight a single dissident whose whitness of the church is innaccurate. I have found mormons to be kind trustworthy people, focusing on Good family values and Integrity. Attacking the religion of a President is ridiculous. Understand and explore his policies... do they protect out freedom?? Will they stimulate the economy??
    Base your decisons on THAT- rather than made-up-facts and IGNORANCE.

    It is the ignorance and blind hatred of this country that will lead to its ruin.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • NotaMomo

      More defense of stupididy. "People slander Mormons without knowing what they really ARE"? It is you who have lost your sight in the dark. Is it not your religion that discourages any writing that tries to disprove the Book of Mormon? So, here's the truth about your "well researched" religion. If the Book of Mormon is said to be a direct translation of Nephite writing. Funny how it translates into 16th century old english? FRAUD! The Book of Mormon talks about chariots and horses and elephants and swords and steel, none of which ever existed in the cultures he claims of the time and region. FRAUD. Joseph needed magic glasses to translate the plates, sometimes when the plates weren't even present. FRAUD. Joseph Smith was warned by the government to stop his ways, including his making of his own money with his own face on it. Hundreds gave him all they had believing his currency was valid. FRAUD. Brigham Young said that blacks were put in America to represent the devil, and any intermingling of the races deserved penalty of death. Mountain Meadows Massacre was orchestrated by Mormons. Joseph Smith shot three guards while he was in jail. The list of fraud and criminality is long and distinguised in the Mormon faith. They're only brain washed away from it. Change history to mold around your prophet... what a wise gesture of progress. Seems you have your own research to do. I've never met a missionary that can explain against the evidence at hand. All you have to go by is a false book written by a false prophet. Hence, it's easy to dispute it validity. God help us if we have such an ignorant millionaire Mormon for a president. Back alley abortions here we come!

      February 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Cleo

      Ahem. Mitt Romney is NOT the president of the U.S.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  15. andrewmcc

    can someone explaine to me why the article is all about how a women accpects people for who they are yet all the atheists commenting CANT accpet people who belive in god. Holy crap honestly just relax.... someone belive in a higher power... why do you give a damn?

    February 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      For thousands of years, it has been the religious people who could not accept the atheists. Religious people regularly tortured and killed them. Are you really surprised there is blowback, especially since the religious people of the world have tried very hard to assert theocracies in place of democracies, including in America?

      We atheists have the right to be as we are in America, and you should not be even remotely surprised that we will stand up against people like you who try to impose Christian through laws and government.

      If you kept your feculent religion to yourselves, there would not be a problem.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Tom

      Soory nobody is going to believe your garbage that athiests are attacking Christians. It just isn't true. There is not a single athiest group or person I know that tries to have Churches torn down, burned, or their first amendment rights and civil liverties removed by law. When was the last time a group of redneck athiests dragged a Christian to death behind a pickup truck? Sure people of different backgrounds deserve not tohave another religion shoved down their throat in places supported by their taxes. But thats what hatemongers like you want for people. I pay $12000 a year in property taxes alone and school your ignorant brat children and you dare to pass laws that intentionally remove my rights? YOU have arbitrarily decided to attack anything that does not fit your interpretation of God. Last time I checked all tax paying American citizens have rights not just Christians but by your words one wouldn't think so.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Tom

      ...................."If you kept your feculent religion to yourselves, there would not be a problem." I couldn't agree more.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Jeremy

      They have no faith. They don't want to believe that their actions have consequences in the life here after.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  16. Jeff

    I'm a proud Mormon and I'm happy there are people like this woman who are out to talk about their beliefs whether they coinside with the views of the church or not. It is important that people know that we are not all the same in the way we think or believe. Good for her for sharing her story and I'm sad for the people who don't take the time to get to know an actual Mormon before criticizing them or their beliefs without just googling stuff. I'm a Mormon and I believe that the only way I will be saved is through the grace of God and Jesus Christ granted I do my part in repenting and using the Atonement of Christ to cleanse me of my sins. Living the teachings of Christ I have learned at the Mormon church has helped me find more hapiness in my life.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • NotaMomo

      Joseph Smith was an extortionist and a fraud. Nobody ever saw the plates. Sometimes he translated them WHEN THEY WEREN'T EVEN THERE. I'm truly shocked anyone with half an education doesn't see the ridiculousness in it all. He had his friends sneak a gun to him while he was in prison (for making false money) and when three guards came to move him he SHOT them. Bet that's not in your D&C. Maybe YOU should do YOUR research about Mormons!

      February 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  17. Mike

    Just another chapter in CNN's Obama campaign. News would be a refreshing change

    February 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  18. Rsprings

    It is interesting there are so many Mormon experts.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  19. Andyoo

    how can you "keep the faith" while doing everything against the faith?
    That's just bull.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • NotaMomo

      I completely agree. Her ideals are a reason to abandon the church that is attacking her FOR those ideals. The Mormon faith has a set doctrine. What you are allowed to believe is set down for you already, and you do not get to pick and choose from the rules. The Mormon religion does not support gay rights. The Mormon faith does not allow you to be feminist, that is, independent from a mans authority. If you don't agree with these and other fundamentals, it does not make you a progressive Mormon. It makes you a NON-Mormon. You either deify Joseph Smith and his teachings, or you don't. Don't agree with him, and you don't agree with the whole church. She's a vegetarian at a pig roast!

      February 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  20. Rsprings

    You know I don't know why Brooks feels as she does. I can't tell by looking at her if she is gay,straight , Morman, Jewish, Catholic or what ever.. AND I don't care.. Just be a good person.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
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About this blog

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.