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. Jim Ryan

    Does Mitt believe that the Garden of Eden used to be in Missouri? And it will be again after Jesus of Nazareth and splits the mount of olives in two. Aren't these crackpot ideas, let alone delusional?

    February 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |

      i am a mormon and have no idea what your talking about !

      February 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      Jim Ryan, take it easy bro! It's going to be o.k., let's not have a heart attack! You sound mad!

      February 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Scott

      Isn't the idea of a "Garden of Eden" a crackpot idea, let alone the actual location of such a mythical place?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Tom

      Actually, Scott, many scholars believe that the garden of Eden actually describes a location within the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Not mythical, despite your own bias.

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

      Funny comment, TODD LEWIS!

      February 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Sean

      Todd: You need to re-read or read The Book of Mormon. What I find very offensive is, Mormons going to Jewish cemeteries converted their dead to Mormonism by using after death baptism. Actually, Mitt did that with his father-in-law after he died. The Jewish community has repeatedly asked the LDS church for 20 years to stop it. They did it with hundreds of thousands of Holocaust victims! This is far from any mainstream Christian theology.

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


      I know that the Jews are insulted by these after-death baptisms... but, really, do they think that this magical, imaginary, mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus voodoo actually *does* anything?!

      February 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Sean

      Commenter: No, point well taken but this article is only trying to make the LDS church more mainstream. I've studied religion for a very long time and though I'm considered by most an Agnostic, there's still a reason in this election cycle this story is being circulated. The Presidents faith and birthplace has been questioned by the right wing, so I want them to know more about who they're trying to replace him with. The Romneys converted Mitt’s Dead Atheist Father-in-Law to Mormonism. Edward Davies, Mitt Romney's militantly atheist father-in-law, was indeed posthumously converted to Mormonism by his family, despite the fact that when he was alive he regarded all religions as "hogwash." Ann Romney's Welsh-born father (who Mitt mentioned in a debate to shore up his pro-immigrant bona fides) was an engineer, inventor, and resolute atheist who disdained all organized religion and raised his children accordingly. The Mormon church has repeatedly been criticized for its practice of trawling for dead souls to convert to the faith. Catholic and Jewish organizations have expressed outrage when the names of dead popes and Holocaust victims have turned up on Mormon lists of the baptized. In 1995, the church pledged to "discontinue any future baptisms of deceased Jews". But, it still continues till today!

      February 6, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  2. sonnysteacher

    i enjoyed this article. i am a mormon, and i appreciate what joanna brooks does. i think more mormon's are open to a lot of her ideas than we know.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      So how do you fell about the Mormon Church was an officially racist organization until 1979, when Mitt was an adult member? Were you a member then?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • vapeanut

      Amen! I am one of them! :o)

      February 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm |

      just more lies from JIM.........., ask any african american member of the LDS Church to explain the true story

      February 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      There is a lot of misinformation about the Mormon church in this blog. Go to the source: http://www.mormon.org

      February 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  3. Jim Ryan

    Does Mitt believe that the Garden of Eden used to be in Missouri? And it will be again after Jesus of Nazareth and splits the mount of olives in two. Aren't these crackpot ideas, let alone delusional? Most importantly, the Mormon Church was an officially racist organization until 1979, when Mitt was an adult member.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  4. Mike

    More drivel.....

    February 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  5. hemo

    the mormons will destroy us all with their preaching of hate and foolishness

    February 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • the one

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

      February 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  6. Tom

    Interesting that the mainstream media seems to give Mormons a bye when it comes to questioning the origins of their faith. I refer to Joseph Smith's fascination with "seeing stones" that allowed him to see visions when he put a hat over his face, visits from the angel Moroni, the gold plates supposedly inscribed with the book of Mormon and buried on Smith's farm (and now conveniently missing), and Moroni's supposed death in a battle between two pre-Columbian civilizations for which no evidence has ever been found.

    Mormon's founder, Joseph Smith, himself got in trouble with the law and was charged with criminal fraud. He had a reputation as a scam artist and a womanizer. There seems to be no other materials that substantiate what Joseph Smith claimed. Perhaps this is why it has been labeled a cult.

    I've had Mormon friends and they've been good people. They perform good works. But I have no idea whether their personal belief extends to "seeing stones" and missing gold plates. There is, however, no doubt in my mind that Joseph Smith's delusions have been swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the upper echelon leaders of LDS. This makes me question the mental processes of its adherents.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Ryan

      How about that one wacko Moses who received revelation from God written on stone tablets? It's also crazy that they say he parted the Red Sea. Jesus got in trouble with the law too–he must be a wack.

      If you're really saying Joseph Smith is crazy, the only way you're not a hypocrite is if you're atheist.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      Have you read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. ?
      It sounds like you're repeating what someone else has said – someone looking for what's "wrong" or different.
      By their works ye shall know them – you said so in your article.
      Take care.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • zzubzzub

      You need to read the Book of Mormon to get your facts straight.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • zzubzzub

      BTW, for everyone who misunderstands ... Joseph Smith DID NOT found The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - Jesus Christ did. Smith just agreed to do as Jesus Christ said. It is NOT Smith's church - it is Jesus' church.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      zzub, great comment – The Church of Jesus Christ...

      February 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Tom

      Actually, Ryan, I said Smith was a con artist, not crazy. And Jesus didn't get in trouble with the law, he got in trouble with the religious establishment. The Roman law could find no fault with him.

      Mr. Tumnus, you ask many questions but you fail to address the main point, i.e., what evidence exists, outside of Smith's so-called revelations, to support the origins of this religion? If you strive to be like Jesus, then what was wrong with mainstream Christianity that drove you to accept the teachings of a known scam artist and conjurer instead?

      Zub, given Smith's shady background I have no desire to read his account. There may be parts of it which are identical and repeat established tenets of Christianity. And other parts which do not. Historically, Smith does not sound like a character with whom I would choose to associate, and I don't see anything to be gained from parsing through his ramblings.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Credenza

      zzudzzud – Tell me, when did you arrive here from the planet Zog????? Seriously?
      Boy do you have a vivid imagination. What you don't know – make up!

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

      @tom...you are welcome to not believe whatever you want. But as for evidence of the book of mormon etc... there is plenty. There are 11 eye witnesses to the golden plates. (should you ever wind up in court I would hope 11 witnesses is sufficient for your defense). Many of the old arguments have been proven wrong (elephants and horses in ancient america etc..) but there are always creative excuses being drummed up by opponents of mormonism.

      Regarding your comments about Joseph Smith's character. It is no secret that some people did not like him. But the reports of his being a womanizer, con artist etc... are contradicted by those who knew him best and by numerous sources who were not members of the church who knew him for other reasons. Most of the claims come from disaffected members but I am certain he rubbed some people the wrong way and could easily have offended them. By the way....since you brought up the criminal charges against Smith I suggest you also reference the charges that he was convicted of. You might be disappointed.

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

      Correct. The entire basis is quicksand.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Commenter

      David, "There are 11 eye witnesses to the golden plates."

      You need to investigate the real deal about these 'witnesses' other than from Mormon propaganda. None of them actually saw or touched the plates - they 'saw' them in a 'spiritual' way (the alleged plates were always covered by Joseph Smith with cloth, or in a box) at the urging of Smith - "If you have true 'faith', you will 'see' them."

      February 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  7. Jim Ryan

    Up until 1979, you couldn't Black and be a deacon or an elder of the Mormon church. Isn't that basically the definition of a racist organization? Now, Mitt Romney was a grown man in 1979. So should he not be asked. "What was it like being a member of an officially racist organization?" In what way are you glad that has changed, if you are glad? Why doesn't someone ask these questions?

    February 6, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Timothy

      Mitty's Mormon Church is still very racist to this day.

      The First Presidency – all White Males.

      The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles – all White Males.

      It is not until you look for the "tokens," the "crumbs" in the Seventy that you see ONE BLACK.

      In thirty four years, Mitty's church as NOT had even one qualified African American for top leadership?

      I guess behind the their temple doors they don their hoods and capes and burn the cross.

      The policy seems to be: If we give them the priesthood, they will go away. They aren't smart enough to know that we consider NON WHITE just not good enough to really belong to our church.


      February 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      Guess what one of the fastest growing religions in Western Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, etc.) is?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  8. Nice Guys Finish Last

    Great, feminist, left-wing religious nuts. Just what we need. Please go away.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Bob

      Yeah, you just want to keep your chauvanist right wing religious nuts.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  9. Mr Tumnus

    I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). I'm not perfect, but I'm trying to be like Jesus. It pains me to read comments from people who either don't know anything about my church or beliefs, or are just mad because they've been offended in some way or another. I'm sorry you were offended. The thing is, you can't generalize one bad incident with a Mormon (or many) to the whole Church. It's like saying "so and so" did this bad thing, therefore everyone who believes like so and so is like that! Please be kind, be honest, and show more respect. We are all human beings, hopefully trying to be better and improve our lives. Thanks for listening.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Timothy

      NO – we look at the Elite White Boy Only Club that is ruling from Salt Lake City and are the ones that control Mitty Flipper Romney.

      First Presidency – all white males.

      Quorum of Twelve Apostles – all white males.

      Seventy – opps, I see him down at the bottom, a token Black Man.

      In thirty four years, you only have ONE black Man, qualified to be down in the bottom of the bus?

      If it smells like a duck, farts like a duck, it is a duck.

      Not so say, did I keep saying white MALE.

      So anti-feminist.

      Keep the barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Is the Mitty's upbringing?


      February 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Mr. Tummus...which Jesus are you referring to? The Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of the book of Mormon? They are the not the same.

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

      Timothy, go to blacklds.org and see for yourself what mormon blacks think, as well as the wealth of black leadership within the church.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      There is only one Jesus Christ. I'm not sure what you're trying to say. Have you read the Book of Mormon? You can get one at your local library, or it's online at http://mormon.org/book-of-mormon/

      February 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Mr. Tumnus...nice non-answer. What city was Jesus born in? What is Jesus' relationship to Satan?

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

      Mr. Tumnus...following up, is the following true: "The Doctrine and Covenants, one of the four sacred books of Mormonism states, "'Christ, the Firstborn, was the mightiest of all the spirit children of the Father.'"? If true, how do you reconcile this with the Bible, in which Jesus claims to be God ("My Father and I are one in the same") and Jesus' claim to be the Alpha and Omega? If Christ is God, how is he a "first born" (Who were the other born? I.e. See my question about Satan.)

      February 6, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • VanHagar

      My questions above are for any LDS member–care to comment?

      February 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  10. MikeMazzla

    For one religion to ridicule or bad mouth another when they are all pretty much just fake stories about non-existent gods is fascinating

    February 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Robert Knihnicki

      No, you believe in the "Big Bang" theory. I am an agnostic, but the "religion of science" and its lying high priests who purport to actually know what we are and where we came from is every bit as silly as any other theory. I don't know. Problem is that scientists are dangerous. They think they do know, and they don't know squat about the beginning of the universe and what put us here.

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

      Scientists follow the scientific method. Theories are postulated and scientists go about testing them. There is no motive behind it other than discovering more and more.

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

      Non-religious people shouldn't talk so loud with respect to this. A materialist (atheist) world view inevitably leads to nihilism. Yet almost no atheists are nihilists. They pretty much all believe in "good", "bad", "justice", "free will", etc. even though in a purely material world those things do not exist.
      How do they do that? Easy, they just make it up. Just like religious people may make up "god".
      And it gets even more ironic than that. Religious people at least have a chance of being right – there could actually be a god. Atheists are guarenteed to be wrong given that we know for a fact the things they believe in don't exist in a purely material world.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Credenza

      bff -This interview did take place – –

      Scientist interviewed about the difference between faith and science: --
      "Belief in gravity and dark matter is not faith. We can see its effects; measure it repeatedly; understand the way it works even if we don't understand its underlying mechanisms"

      "But you have faith in your belief?"

      Scientist :- "Absolutely"

      I believe in God. I see nature in all its forms; Seasons; miracles of birth; individual DNA and fingerprints for every human being,healing that can be measured but not explained scientifically
      I don't understand the underlying mechanisms but I have faith in the God that made it possible.

      Science is less credible than our belief. Peace

      February 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  11. kate

    Wow! What a film...........

    February 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  12. MikeMazzla

    While I can appreciate her openness about her religion, others, gays etc, the concept of religion and the parts that are related to some all knowing invisible being in teh sky, no matter what you call him is still so ridiculous. Its hilarious how one religion has the gall to criticize the other. Hearing Christians somehow ridicule Mormonism, Islamd or whatever is insane because there religion is just as insane. I see religious people ridicule scientology,, why ? because it is full of stories that are unbelievable? You are praying to a God that cant possibly exist? That is the case with any religion

    February 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Tom

      And you're so far in the dark you don't know what light is. You've positioned yourself as the possessor of all knowledge. No one could possibly know more than you. You alone possess the wisdom to pronounce there is no God. And we should all believe you because......why? Because you have an opinion? Wow. I'll bet you also have other body parts that make you special.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Stevie7


      Why do you dismiss all other gods except your own version? Athiests just do the same thing that you're doing, but they do it to your god as well.

      As Carl Sagan aid, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Yet the evidence for a deity is non-existent. The only logical position, then, is that there is no deity. Unless you also think it perfectly logical to believe in mermaids just because some people think they saw some. Skepticism is healthy.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Bob

      You have the right to not believe..... but why is it "impossible" for God to exist?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  13. Bruce Griffin

    Speaking from personal experience...Mormonism is a CULT that masquerades as a mainstream religion. I spent 5 years of my life in this cult, and it became obvious to me that Joeseph Smith was hardly what anyone in their right mind would classify as a prophet of God.
    A more sobering view would offer up that Joseph Smith was a delusional half-wit with a wild imagination and way too much time on his hands. The result was a fictional account known as the Book of Mormon.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • other religions

      And this differs from other religions how?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • looking for truth

      Hi Bruce. I agree 100%, however maybe not a half wit, but rather a man with bi-polar disorder. I spent years reading every sermon, every conference talk, and every journal entry I could find so as to form my own first hand opinion of Joseph Smith, and from there to evaluate the church's claim that he was a prophet, and his words were from God. I found a man who fits the bill for any bi-polar that I know. Most LDS just don't read the history enough to form an opinion about JS, and instead just believe the Sunday school version of history, which has been filtered by the international curriculum (aka brainwashing) council. I recommend reading "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins". I thought about writing a book on my experiences for posterity, but after reading this book, I found my work was already done.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      I'm sorry to hear that. It would have helped if you had actually read the Book of Mormon and prayed about it. It is true.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • luvmy2k9s

      Shame on you Mr. Griffin. You're heart tells you what is true, and what humility you'll feel when you meet your savior and your doubts are put to rest. Oh ye of little faith....

      February 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  14. Navy Mike

    Reading so many of these comments confirms for me why I don't participate in any organized religion. Everyone believes their way is the "right" way and all others are simply wrong. Unfortunately, there isn't one person that can confirm, or support with fact, that their way is right. So, that's all the proof that I need to just not play the game.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Rob

      That makes life pretty easy, eh? If people disagree then everyone must be wrong. You must have a tough time finding anything that you can hang your hat on if this is your philosophy.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      Give this a try: Read the entire Book of Mormon, and say a prayer asking God if it is true. You have nothing to lose, and so much to gain. If you haven't done the same thing with the New Testament, do that too. Nothing to lose, yet....

      February 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Scott

      Amen and amen. I feel like people are fighting over which is more believable, unicorns or leprechauns. People, Mormonism is no crazier than any other Christian denomination (or non-denomination), buddhism, Islam, etc. It's all based on faith, people! There is no evidence, and all religions are "cults" (since people think that word only applies as some kind of derogatory term for Mormons). All religion is a bunch of people joining together to worship a being whose existence cannot be confirmed by any empirical evidence (i.e., a cult). So quick fighting amongst yourself and use some common sense.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  15. glyder

    this story is supposed to show that we should all be accepting of gay marriage.then polygamy,incest,name it.just a personal choice.more propaganda.more lies.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  16. tim

    Tracie Erickson is ex-Mormon and has things to say about Mitt's religion. If Reverend Wright was fair game then so is Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and whoever is running the show now.

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

      You're talking apples and oranges. Reverend Wright is alive and well and relevant today. By your theory, we would be talking about the Borgia popes in order to discredit Santorum and Gingrich's catholicism.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  17. k

    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 3:59 pm |
    • other religions

      too long. did not read.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  18. partysstink

    Good to see someone opening up and talking about there faith and that they dont have to totaly agree with it. Shes brave to take stands against the belifes of her religion that are wrong.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Navy Mike

      What makes her brave? Are they going to kill her for disagreeing? It's a freaking club that one chooses to enter or not......it's not life and death.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  19. Maxwell Carter

    Enitrely irrelevant. No one cares and no Mormon's will be occupying the Oval Office as a result of this election. Her Dad is a phony and the Obama campaign will wipe the floor in campaigning against him. The GOP simply do not have a credible, viable candidate and the populace is well aware of the fact the the stagnation and polarization of the U.S. government is largely attributable to the GOP's policies both prior to Obama's election in 2008 and as well as being the primary inhibitors of any legislation designed to improve the country put forth by the Democrats and Obama. Unless the people of America vote out all of the current GOP members of congress etc...and give the Democrats a majority in both the house and the senate, things are only going to get worse in the next 4 years – not better.

    February 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • JT

      Interesting Mr. Carter....the Democrats did control both House and Senate and didn't accomplish anything...so a little late to say that things won't be different until this happens again (which it won't)!!!

      February 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Bob

      Yeah JT .... It's the 2 years the Dems had control AFTER the Economy sarting falling.... Not the 12 years the GOP had control right up to the downturn....... Want to guess the only other time the GOP had control of Congress in the last 100 years? ...The 12 years leading up to The Great Depression.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  20. Jim

    Super brainwashed. Lady, you can not have it both ways. Mormanism will not let that happen. I know. I lost my son to 'the church'. He has nothing to do with the rest of his family. How can a group of people convince someone to forsake their family?

    February 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Craig

      The Church doesn't convince anyone of any such thing. Are you sure it's not the family having nothing to do with him?... That's the classic tale. Family member joins church and is then ostracized. If it's how you say, then it's the son who did that on his own, not the Church dictating it.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Mr Tumnus

      Mormon.org people! Get your facts straight as you go to the source. Many comments on this blog are not true, I am a Mormon and know.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Kathy

      Jesus encouraged people to leave their families and friends and follow him. It comes from the whole Christian tradition. I lost my son the say way; and my daughter-in-law – and I've got two grandchildren I will never meet. I simply don't meet their standards, and never will.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:57 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.