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. FairAndBalanced

    Where are the main headline stories on CNN about Jeremiah Wright and his teachings?

    February 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • newb2011

      Why is this story even on CNN to begin with?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • sam

      Old news, boring

      February 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  2. GrandmaWI

    What dies she think of O ba ma ignoring the separation of church and state and forcing his Obamacare on all Catholic hospitals?

    February 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  3. newb2011

    Does this lady have nothing better to do?

    February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  4. iamdeadlyserious

    While this woman's beliefs are admirable, they are also not Mormon beliefs. You cannot belong to a church that makes hatred and bigotry part of its fundamental belief system, and say that you are against those things. Either change the church, or start a different one. But don't stay in this weird limbo young, liberal Mormons seem to be hanging out in these days.

    The LDS leadership is fundamentally flawed and horrifically outmoded. If you belong to the church, even if you want to speak out against their policies, you are tacitly supporting what they do in the name of your church.

    Also, could we please drop the "poor, persecuted Mormons driving across the plains" myth? Joseph Smith deliberately antagonized the hell out of the locals in Missouri. And by "antagonized," I mean "threatened and bullied". They were driven out, yes, but it was not just a case of mean ol' Protestants getting testy.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • grg

      Governer Boggs issued an extermination order for mormons in missouri – I'd call that persecution.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Eddiejay

      Governor Boggs' order was to response to open lawlessness. He wrote that because the Mormons had engaged in "...open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State ... the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description." I don't call that persecution. I call that retribution. Mormons were a farce in the 1830's. Nothing has changed, except that they are now a modern farce.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Mormon

      My ancestors died on those plains seeking a place where they would not be harassed.

      You bet it was religious persecution! Also, did you know it was legal to kill in Mormon in Missouri until just recently? Think about that... Who do you think was persecuted in Missouri then?

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


      Please look up the actual history of events in Missouri. Smith and his followers didn't come and quietly settle down. He preached bloodshed and lawlessness in order to establish their New Zion at any cost. Were they treated well by the locals? No. But there was a reason for that.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  5. RedLetterChristian

    As a "prior" mormon, I have absolute respect for this woman and her efforts. God loves everyone (except those filled with hate)

    February 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      It's not very Mormon to say that your god hates all the leaders of the church...

      February 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  6. Tom

    LOL everything I disagree with is obviously the agenda of someone or some group I dislike.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  7. lester

    This poor woman is so-o-o conflicted! Living in Utah as a non-Mormon for more than 3 decades has provided me many insights into Mormon culture and the Mormon religion. "Under the Banner of Heaven" should be a must read for all journalists covering the presidential campaign in order to better understand the legacy of the Mormon religion. However, to really understand the Mormon culture, spend some time in rural Utah or Provo, Utah, home of BYU. The author seems to be yearning for the cultural experiences and memories associated with her faith. Unfortunately, she cannot square her faith's rejection and threat of excommunication with her personal beliefs. She is living a lie, pretending she can have it both ways with her attempts at religious adherence. She can't, and her tears reveal the painfull truth, which she refuses to accept.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  8. liveimpact

    Mormons would not allow Black People in their church until very recently. They look down on Knowledge and Science just like we did in mid evil times. They use the power of excommunication on anyone who does not see their way. They have many wacky ideas and give "power" to people who do not know how to handle it. I know many good Mormons, but the religion is a CULT.
    Just like many religions – if you make a lot of money – and give to the "church" – they will look the other way. I am sure that she is a good person and the fact that she has a mind and actually thinks will spell troubles for her in this CULT called Mormon.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • abinadi

      You must be from another planet. You have no idea, whatsoever, what you are talking about!

      February 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • johnbiggscr

      So what exactly was wrong with the post abinadi?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  9. yaakov sullivan

    When Mormons speak of "God's plan for us" they mean something very specific which applies to all mankind, or those who accept Mormon doctrine in this life or the next through proxy baptism. They mean that those spirit children out there who are awaiting to receive human flesh will be given an opportunity to become gods themselves by following the doctrines and covenants of the LDS Church. After your celestial marriage for all time and eternity you begin on your path of godhead when you and your family will become gods with your own planet. This is God's plan for all of us if we accept it and for Mormons, unlike Christians, this is their greatest honour. Mormons do not believe, as Christians do, that the Sacrament of Marriage is "until death do us part". Rather it is for all time and eternity and you too can become a god.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  10. mike hunt

    "Y'know, you're right. If she doesn't hate gays and blacks and reserves any loyalty for America, or if she thinks women should be equal to men, she can't really call herself a Mormon."
    you obviously get your ideas of mormonism from the left. because none of what you just said is mormon.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • dogs2?

      That's because it's "According to CNN" and it's concepts of everything... which is left.

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

      Would you care to tell us what the "tolerant" Mormon stances are on minorities, gays and women?

      I'll give you a hint, they just barely tolerate the first set, they hate the second, and they treat the third as servants.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • johnbiggscr

      Can women be leaders in the mormon church or not? are they expected to obey their husbands or not? do they have the same standing as men in the church or not?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  11. Thinkforyourself

    Religion as a whole is silly in my opinion. People from one religion making fun of another religion for their beliefs. Every religion seems ridiculous in their own way. I for one am an atheist. I believe in Evolution. I believe in science. However, I also believe everyone has the right to believe in what they want to believe in as long as it doesn't cause pain and suffering to others. I do not need to believe in Jesus Christ to be a good person. It's called humanity.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Media bias

      Evolution taught you to be good? What is good? Who decides what is good? What is good for me may not be good for you. Without God there is no good/bad...no morality and no humanity. We would just be animals...survival of the fittest...

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

      My butthole is also silly. It's constantly wanting a new cramming. Anyone want to?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • bff

      Almost every religion states bad consequences for the "outsider". Believing in these religions makes you an enabler for these more extreme fringes, which ultimately can have some very harmful effects (i.e. gay suicides).

      It is very similar to the casual weed user that helps fund narco terrorism in central america. You think you are not harming anyone by paying a few dollars for a joint,, but guess where that money ends up?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Stephen

      I'm digging your post haha. First you call religion 'silly' and 'ridiculous,' and then you argue that religious people shouldn't ridicule one another or "hurt" others. You then superimpose your beliefs into the post. I find that quite ironic. Sometimes atheists are just as bad as religious nuts.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Thinkforyourself

      I do not believe in Jesus Christ, or the bible, etc. I do not use that as a meter for "good". I do not kill. Not because Jesus tells me not too, or I think I'll go to hell. I do not kill because I am a civilized human being who cares for the lives of others. I do not steal, for the same reasons above. You're point is moot. Religion has no bearing on what is "good or bad". Different religions have different feelings as to what is acceptable and what isn't. It's simple. We are a civilized society (Sometimes I'm skeptical) therefore I act accordingly.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • AmericanSam

      What's good is innate. We already know it. We just get it confused with stuff like religion.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • johnbiggscr

      "Without God there is no good/bad...no morality and no humanity."

      well god doesnt exist and there are those things. I think you mean without a slavish following of the idea of god writing commands down in a book there would be no condemning of what is good/bad/ immoral or inhuman according to religions.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Science

      If you believe in science you should be agnostic, not atheist.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  12. BJJSchecter

    I would have read but it's too f'ing long and gave up.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  13. Anchorite

    Lotta angry Mormons on here bent out of shape that a single voice who doesn't have unquestioning faith and worship of the elders' viewpoints would be seen on CNN.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • bobg

      Yeah, it is something to see that occasionally a person will feel strongly about his/her faith.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  14. evensteven

    The Jews KNOW they're the Chosen People. The Mormons KNOW they're the Chosen People.

    The kids have themselves covered.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  15. clark Burdine

    Good story. As AN LDS convert for over 40 yrs and never having fit in, I was glad to read this. It is hard to be part of any organization &not fit. Bravo young woman! Well done ... and keep the faith.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  16. urafkntool

    at least she didn't marry a n-i-g-g-e-r. A Jew is almost as bad, but not quite as disgusting.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • yaakov sullivan

      but neither is as bad as a racist idiot. That's your category and thank god she smelt your kind from far off. Hopefully, others do as well.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • pink haze

      You are an arrogant pig. I think people like you should be sent to a deserted island and left to fend for yourself. NOBODY cares what you have to say.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • urafkntool

      both of you: See my name.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • urafkntool

      @Pink haze: Gotta ask.. if you don't care about truth, why respond to it?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • .....!

      This poster suffers from low self esteem issues, they have been told they need professional help.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • urafkntool

      Actually, I don't have self esteem issues at all. The issue I have is that I look out my front door, and at first I think I'm in Ni-ger-ia or something, because there's no white faces to be found. For miles. If I wanted to live in A-fri-ca, I'd move to Afr-ica.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  17. Bob

    Sounds like a great lady despite being unable to make the final cut away from her insane religion, not because of it.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  18. Deez

    I'm a "pioneer" for Atheism.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • momoya

      Me too, but I wish that I wasn't. If I would have known how my friends and family would treat me I would have done very similar to what this lady does, only I would know that it's all bs.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  19. Stephen

    I'll tell you, CNN is slobbing some Obama knob. They've written a HUGE piece on some obscure liberal with VERY loose Mormon beliefs who happens to be an Obama supporter.

    This looks like an article written by a shill. It looks like nothing more than a piece written to encourage religious nuts to think outside of the box and vote for Obama. Is this news?? This article is trash and was written with political motivations. Bleh...

    February 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • dogs2?

      I would have to agree, but consider the source. CNN, which like most all of the media – elected Obama by saturating the airwaves with his crap and still does.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • johnbiggscr

      A person writing that mormons arent really bad is campaigning for Obama huh? ok then.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Jimmy C

      *head hitting forehead* ...there's just too much wrong with you to even try...

      February 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  20. peick

    It was too long, so I only got through half of it. People can believe what they want, and that is what's great about our country (for now). But do we even care about whether something is true or false? I don't think we do. Americans seem to get all misty-eyed at the person who stands up for what s/he believes in against the terrible mean Establishment. But do we ever do the hard work of trying to answer the claims each faith makes with the evidence available to us? Does it matter, or is it all about how one "feels" and one's "independence?"

    February 6, 2012 at 3:33 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.