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. alfranken

    Based on how he lived in the from of a man It's what Christ wants and lived. Our critics live like the man who crucified him. Some people will never get it because it isn't in their character.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  2. Mike M.

    The girls ARE NOT Jewish! Judaism passes through the mother, not the father!

    February 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • xmxm

      Ah, then no one is Jewish. Humans have existed 100,000 years before Jewish started and applying your absurd logic (read rigid views) the first Jewish person was not Jewish either.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • xmxm

      Ah, then no one is Jewish. Humans have existed 100,000 years before Judaism started and applying your absurd logic (read rigid views) the first Jewish person was not Jewish either.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  3. ColoradoMike

    NO MO BO IN 2012.

    How long did it take CNN to dig her up? Like this woman is representative of any typical Mormon group.....

    NO MO BO IN 2012!

    February 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  4. ballbarian

    I wonder how well it would go over in the 21st century if a known pathological liar decided to create his own religion. For grins, let's allow the pathological liar to be perverted and allow multiple wives with his religion. The pathological liar then decides to announce he found some golden plates in the woods. This reasoning still doesn't pass the smell test. Yet, some people wonder why the word 'Cult' is uses synonymously with the word 'Mormonism'.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • ColoradoMike

      I take it you are an Obama supporter, but for hecks sake – WHY?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • ballbarian

      Nope, mormonism nor Obamaism will be getting my vote.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  5. Bemyown

    Let see....the CNN go to person on all things Mormon is.............someone who does not have a clue. Par for the course.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  6. kate

    OBAMA 2012!

    February 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  7. JJ

    Just what the country needs, more loose people.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  8. Eddiejay

    OMG – This story smacks of the same odd curiosity of religion that surrounded JFK and Catholicism when he was running for President. It's IRRELEVANT! Now, with that said, Mormonism is the most verifiable farce of a "religion" currently available to mankind. Not a single event, person, community described in the Book of Mormon has ever been even partially verified by archaelogy or any other science. Joseph Smith wrote a book describing men riding horses more than a thousand years before Europeans introduced them to North America – but Joseph Smith was unaware of that scientific fact. His book also indicated that the Israelites who settled in North America were the ancestors of the American Indians. However, there is archaelogical proof that pre-Colombian civilizations existed in North America several thousand years before that could have occurred. Oh, and DNA proves that most American Indians descended from Asians – supporting the theory that North and South America were populated by our prehistoric ancestors who crossed the land bridge that existed between Asian and Alaska many thousands of years ago. Joseph Smith was a scam artist. He was a convicted criminal prior to writing his farce of a religious book, and only the gullible in search of something fell victim to his schemes. He is no different than P.T. Barnum, who lured people in with false expectations, except that P.T. Barnum didn't try to scam them for life.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Battsman

      I suspect if you took a critical eye to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, you might note a few logical inconsistencies there too. Or to put it another way, Mormonism is just a newer monotheistic cult than the other three – and if you are going to poke holes in the Church of LDS be prepared for some uncomfortable facts regarding most other organized religions.

      Besides, as everyone knows, the FSM's noodley appendages control all.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • roger

      all true, but in the book of mormon joeseph smith was supposedly given some gold tablets by the angel moroni who told him not to allow anyone see the tablets....then there are like 21 witnesses in the front of the book of mormon who swear they saw them. So Joseph smith disobeyed the angel

      February 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • joe

      Ummm. . .there are many archeological proofs. Even the Book of Mormon has many Hebrewisms in it, things that Joseph Smith could have never known being an uneducated young person from the frontier. And horses were indeed found to have been in the Americas. Go talk to a DNA archeologist and you will find all kinds of holes in the DNA theory–you can't trace a DNA line to one man who lived 600 years BC, whose culture was mixed over and over again with other populations.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Eddiejay

      To Battsman – we're not talking a few inconsistencies here. We're talking about 100% inconsistency with the archaelogical/independent scienticic record. In the Bible, was there a Jerusalem? Yup! Did/Does Jerusalem actually exist? Yup! Was there A Sea of Galilee and a River Hordan? Yup! Do those exist? Yup! Name ONE civilization in North America in the Book of Mormon for which there is ANY independent evidence.....waiting....waiting...The Book of Mormon describes God's dealings with three heavily populated, literate, and advanced[1] civilizations in the Americas over the course of several hundred years. The Book of Mormon mentions several animals, plants, and technologies that are not substantiated by the archaeological record between 3100 BC to 400 AD in America,including the ass,cattle, horses, oxen, domesticated sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheat, barley, silk, steel, swords, scimitars, chariots and other elements. Most of these things were not even introduced to the Americas until Columbus and beyond. The wheel was unknown in the Americas before Columbus arrived – so chariots?? Finally, even though I could go on and on...Joseph Smith (showing his ignorance of history) mentions glass windows as having been in vogue way back a few thousand years ago, despite the scientific prof that transparent windows did not even exist until the 11th century AD. There is a general consensus among non-Mormon archaeologists (and even some Mormon archaeologists) that the archaeological record does not substantiate the Book of Mormon account, and in some ways directly contradicts it. This is NOT the case with the Bible.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Eddiejay

      To Joe – You are correct about the horse comment. There WERE horses in the Americas before the so-called settlement of the Israelites a few thousand years ago. However, they had become extinct in the Americas LONG before the Israelites supposedly settled there....like about 8,000 years before – at least! They did not re-appear until the Spaniards arrived in the 1500's. Now, try to explain the elephants, etc. to me. Oh, and DNA?? Don't even bring up an argument about something you know zero about....waiting.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  9. Greg

    Who cares?
    Her beliefs are her beliefs, mine are mine, yours are yours, Obama's are his, Romney's are his, to each his own.
    None are any better nor any worse than any other.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Eddiejay

      None are any worse that the others? WRONG! Suppose I believe in human sacrifice. What say you then?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "Suppose I believe in human sacrifice."

      Do you Eddie? Or are you just going for the extreme?

      Let's say you do....you fiend. Then I would have to point out that our govt here in the US wouldn't allow you to continue because it would hinder another person's rights, such as life.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • rick

      eddiejay: i would say have at it, but don't complain when your a$$ is thrown in jail

      February 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Eddiejay

      To Uncouth Swain and Rick – You are missing the point. The man said all beliefs are as good as the next. I used an extreme to prove his statement incorrect. Let's not go off on a tangent that I might actually believe in the exercise of human sacrifice. Let's keep the discussion a bit more intelligent, shall we? Thanks....

      February 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @Eddie- but going to the extreme isn't intelligent. Especially when none of the religions that have been mentioned does anything you have implied.

      February 7, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  10. bcinwi

    Show me one scientific fact about religion.......oh yeah you cant, so what makes one better then the other?.....nothing....religion is there to keep peoples minds off whats really going on in the world. Aka a huge waste of time.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Scientific fact about religions...they exist. Duh.
      Try and be a little bit more specific with your rants that you think are well thought out.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • bcinwi

      If there was a solid fact everyone would be the same religion.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • bcinwi

      If there was a solid fact everyone would be the same religion. Science can't prove 2 things.....extra terrestrial life and religion.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "Science can't prove 2 things.....extra terrestrial life and religion."

      Ok...I do believe that scientists are working on the first one..especially NASA. Personally I wish they could land on Europa and get through that ice and down to the liquid water below. Anyway..

      As for religion, depending on what you are rambling on about....there are anthropologists and archaeologists that are working to prove aspects of religions to be true. But I digress, you are probably talking specifically about theological topics more than the very very broad term of religion.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  11. Stephen


    Jessica Ravitz is Jewish, liberal, a feminist, and graduated from Berkeley. Now this story is beginning to make sense! The only thing I'm wondering is why the heck this is a featured story. It's ultimately an irrelevant story, but it shines Obama's shoes so CNN loves it!

    February 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • tati

      you said it

      February 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  12. Mark

    Long and boring.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  13. Educate yourself


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

      Reality is to believe and obey only one God. Every time humanity deviated from this path, God sent down His of prophets (Noah, Ibrahim, Mosses Jesus and Mohammed were among thousands) who carried this single message to the whole humanity (And they all had the highest moral standards). That is the message of Islam.

      God speaks to the whole humanity through His book Quran..

      “Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

      “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

      “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

      “…anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people....." Qur'an [5:32]

      Most exalted is the One in whose hands is all kingship, and He is Omnipotent.The One who created death and life for the purpose of distinguishing those among you who would do better. Quran [67.2]

      Subsequent to them, we sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the previous scripture, the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, containing guidance and light, and confirming the previous scriptures, the Torah, and augmenting its guidance and light, and to enlighten the righteous. Quran [5:46]

      O people of the scripture, do not transgress the limits of your religion, and do not say about GOD except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was a messenger of GOD, and His word that He had sent to Mary, and a revelation from Him. Therefore, you shall believe in GOD and His messengers. You shall not say, "Trinity." You shall refrain from this for your own good. GOD is only one god. Be He glorified; He is much too glorious to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. GOD suffices as Lord and Master. Quran [4:171]

      Thanks for taking time to read my post more on whyIslam org website.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Kami

      ...almost but not quite. Try lds.org or mormon.org.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Phil

      So, if you wanted to learn about Judaism in the late 1930s, what do you think would have been the best way to go about doing that? Should you a) consult with a local rabbi or b) turn to the propaganda movies that the Nazis were producing in Germany? Hmmmmm...

      February 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Dean

      This is not indicative of LDS beliefs. It was created by those antagonistic to the church.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • joe

      That movie is so full of falsehoods and perversions of fact that mormons just laugh at it, or shake their heads in disgust. It's just an anti-mormon hate tool.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  14. Chuck

    Joanna Brooks is NOT a "faithful mormon" as the story states. She appears to be a wonderful person with great personal faith who has gone through the same painful separation from the mormon church that many true-believers undergo, which generally requires separation from your family, your education, your friends, your social status, your community, etc. Despite the fact that she has returned to the pews and reconnected with her (now ill) parents and her "community", she is in no way a faithful mormon according to the standards of the church and the congregation. To suggest that her views and actions are in line with church doctrine, accepted by church leadership, or even tolerated by the faithful in the congregation is false. The article implies that the LDS church if far more inclusive and understanding than it really is, both in doctrine and in actions toward inactive members.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "Joanna Brooks is NOT a "faithful mormon" as the story states."

      This is a "No True Scotsman Fallacy" isn't it?

      February 6, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • turnerbroadcast

      The article does not deal with the subject matter of whom is to be officially considered Mormon. I honestly find that kind of article tedious. Instead, it simply deals with the faith and struggles of one fairly open minded member of the LDS church. The concept that all members of the Church are monotonous is false. I'm on the edge of converting, myself – and to be perfectly honest – they're accepting me pretty much as I am. I happen to be a surfer, and yea, sure, I don't drink or smoke or anything like that – but I am very open minded and also very independent and so far I have felt right at home.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Zrex808

      Seems God forgives but not Mormons?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  15. Steve the Atheist

    I like these people complaining that atheists are too concerned with religion. We all should be very concerned when people that believe such nonsense (insert any religion here) are running for the highest office in the country. I'll admit there are degrees to this as well, the rest of the country is nowhere near supporting an atheist for Pres so we just have to pick people whose imaginary friends don't start wars.

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

      Extremely well said. Kudos.

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

      Atheism isn't such a bad faith. But it is a faith. You're putting your trust into the tiny, cellular covering of a very minor planet who just so happened to find itself inside the triple point. Your trust is safer in God. But that doesn't mean you have an invisible being upon which you can blame all your problems. And it's not an excuse. It's a faith, and that's deeply personal and doesn't interfere with anything – as best as I can tell. At least from whom I have met. Freedom at point zero.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  16. SD73

    Aside from all the political/religious crap in this article... that photo essay makes this family look like they are MISERABLE... kids should be having fun, right? Not caught in their parents messes... sheesh

    February 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  17. Callie

    I'm still not sold on this religion. Sorry. Parading a cute "Mormon" family around isn't going to change the fact that these people believe in spirit children. Don't know what that is? Go google it. They also believe in a bunch of other out there ideas.

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

      I'm mormon, and the thing with spirit children is:
      you know how most christian religions believe that we have spirits? or souls? We beleive that we are spirit childeren of our Heavenly Father, meaning our spirits are children of God.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • tpfd

      Here's an idea: why don't you actually go to mormon.org to see what they actually teach. I'm an active mormon and have no idea as to what you're talking about.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Randy

      These people are also not considered Christians by any other Christian denomination (or even non-denominationals).

      This is a cult that took bits and pieces from the Bible and put it to their use, and ignored other pieces. The same thing that Muslim extremists and the Westboro "church" have done (and numerous other organized religions).

      February 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  18. Greenpa

    How inspiring! Once again; proof that Faith can ALWAYS triumph over reason!

    February 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  19. mary

    Mormons are different.. Family first.. Congregation fiirst..
    They are clannish and outsiders are not really treated charitable..
    If the whole country had problems you would find the mormons living in guarded compounds.Hoarding and not sharing..
    Cause they believe they look out for each other first.
    The religion sucks..

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

      To put it more bluntly they are "mean" to outsiders.. But think they are righteous in doing so.
      they are cool , aloof , unwelcoming..
      If you have them for a next door neighbor.. They will be the meanest people on the block..

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

      Huh. You don't live in my neighborhood.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • joe

      Huh. You obviously don't live in my neighborhood.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Trevor

      Really? There are always people who are going to be rude, religious or not, but don't apply your experience to everyone in a religion of 13 million people. That's just as rude as you're purporting Mormons to be.

      To say that Mormons just take care of themselves is completely false: http://mormon.org/service/

      February 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  20. Aiquoy

    I'm glad she's standing up for her faith and that she's not as judgemental as most mormons tend to be. Having lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, I've experienced their prejudice first hand. They can be really nice, helpful, supportive...but ONLY if you're a member of the church. Members are told not to interact with outside groups. Even when I was asked to visit a sermon, I was singled out and admonished for having my shirt untucked and not wearing a tie by an individual who felt compelled to go up to the pulpit and stare at me while giving his speech, casting the whole congregation's eyes on me. I do not like the Mormon religion for one other factor though; Even in the realm of relgious intangibilities, it is even more intangible. Imagin if I came to you today and told you I found an ancient clay pot from Africa that was buried by nomadic individuals that traveled the U.S. Southwest millenia ago that had all the rules on how we should live life written on it. However only I could read it, but only if I have my divinely-gifted Chicago Bulls hat on, and no other individual, regardles of education level, could interpret it, would you belive me? That's summarily the entire foundation their religion was built on. It has as much religious tangiblity as a comic-book super-hero. I'm gonna create the Church of Super-man, who's with me?

    February 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
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.