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. Andrew

    I find it so interesting that everyone posting here seems to be offended by a completely different aspect of the article. it confirms my theory that people in general love, more than almost anything else, to be offended. they're hungry for it, and go looking for opportunities to get offended over something.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • A Random Californian

      I don't know that people are so offended, Andrew. I certainly wasn't. The article was well written. And I know about 10 Joanna Brookses, just in my own local congregation, so for me it was old hat. But I know from a member's point of view, that we do often wonder why reporters can't simply look up the local LDS congregation, walk in one Sunday, and observe for themselves. Just watch the church work. Watch the average member. So simple, and yet, never done, it seems. Reporters always want an outlier, it seems. It makes for better copy, I suppose. But yeah, any board about religion is going to get wild. More people like you should sound the horn for things to stay civil. That can only enhance the dialogue.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  2. Tony

    Another article abut mormonism, completely devoid of any mention of their sci-fi esque beliefs. Kind of like most mormons portray themselves..."I'm a mormon...but lets not talk about all that crazy stuff".

    February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Do you think every article about Catholicism should also reference cannibalism?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  3. A Random Californian

    It's fascinating, but I think basically what you have here is a very liberal media trying to figure out how to like the LDS church, and perhaps come to grips with the possibility of an LDS president. It seems as if the news networks are so uneasy with so many of the church's teachings and standards that the only way they can often feel even remotely comfortable with the church's existence is to find a more liberal member and run a piece about how she potentially represents some fresh wave, avant-guard brand of parishioner. "Look," says CNN, "Mormons aren't so bad," all the while oozing a subtext of "but yes they are so bad; look at how they've exiled this poor, thoughtful woman." Never mind that when a person leaves the church, he or she does so largely at his or her own behest. Call it self-exile if you will.

    Joanna Brooks is the kid who showed up to the Patriots/Giants game in a Seahawks jersey and then complained about why no one was cheering for the right team. I'll admit that hers is an interesting story, for story's sake, but in a way, it does the readers a disservice; it fails to represent what the church is really about. As a lifelong member of the church, I've always been far more impressed by members who have left their old ways and reconciled to the teachings of the church, rather than those who struggle to reconcile the church teachings to their own beliefs. (Remember, LDS members make a very bold claim: that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is literally directed by Christ himself, that it is his true church on the earth.) So if the church is the true church of Christ, as its members believe, then adapting to God's culture is of the utmost importance, I'd think. And no, I'm not talking about Mormon culture; I'm talking about adapting to the doctrine, which comes through the prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern. On the flip side, if the church is not true, then who really cares? Crank up the Public Enemy.

    Furthermore, as an aside, I find it highly unfortunate that Mitt Romney and John Huntsman have been, over the last six months, America's only windows into the LDS faith. I think that many members of the church know that Mitt and John are Mormon milquetoasts, lukewarm members publicly at best. This may sound harsh and judgmental, but I think it's largely true. Mitt lost me in 2008, when he came to my California university for a campaign stop. On a Sunday. I was confused, to say the least. Sunday, after all, is a very holy day for members of the Church, set apart for worship, not work. Previously excited about an LDS candidacy, I realized that day that Mitt was probably just another politician. In fact, that the issue of "flip-flopping" kept coming up also seemed to speak volumes about the man. I didn't see how the fundamental issue of honesty should have ever be an issue for a former Stake President in the Church. But sadly, go down the list of LDS political elite, and you'll find more of the same. Harry Reid, our beloved LDS minority leader in Congress? Potential ties to the Blagojevich scandal as well as gaming scandals in Vegas. Orrin Hatch, senator from Utah? A shady bit by which his charities received cash donations from pharmaceutical companies he helped passed legislation for. The mere thought makes me shake my head. I suppose politics is the ultimate mark of a man. You either keep your spine or you don't.

    But yes, the media has missed the mark. Over. And over. And they will continue to miss the mark until they realize that the stalwart, active membership of the church, will not change for them. We coexist peacefully, as we should. We reach out when needed, as we should. But we just don't believe the same things. And folks? This is coming from an LDS California resident who's been working in the arts for the last 15 years. Everyone I work with is liberal. My state is mostly liberal. But I'm not. And that's okay. I don't have a finger in both pies. And people shouldn't think that an active member of the church in good standing, who has worked very hard to change his or her life does either. That's what makes us unique. That's what truly makes our faith interesting.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Red

      Church members need to get used to liberal Mormonism because it's not going away anytime soon. In fact, the movement is growing in leaps and bounds and is garnering a large amount of support from the younger generation of Mormons.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • A Random Californian

      Except, Red, that there is no such thing as liberal Mormonism. You've created an oxymoron. Lukewarm members who have a hard time living the doctrine? Sure, we all go through bouts of that. But liberal Mormonism? The two terms contradict each other. Yes, we're commanded to be liberal with our time, money, talents, love...etc. But the platform of political liberalism in its largest part does not mesh with Church doctrine. Any well-informed member being honest with him or herself knows that. And as far as things growing by leaps and bounds, being embraced by younger generations? That means little to me. Nor should it to you. We're taught to be men and women unswayed by trends.

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

      A Random Californian:
      Ask the Judaism about the splintering of beliefs (Christianity). Ask Catholicism about the splintering of beliefs (Protestants). I think you'll find it is inevitable after all. Wait, I'm sure God will lead everyone to the same belief structure any time now.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • A Random Californian

      Battsman, I agree completely with you. And our church history is rife with splintering. But I think the reasons behind it need to be pointed out. It's not good enough for a reporter who's an outsider to basically say, "oh, look at this woman, this is the nouveau Mormonism, and it's mainstream." Because frankly, it's not.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Red

      Church history is replete with examples where the church was forced to adjust doctrines and teachings to be more in line with modern thinking. That's the whole point of modern revelation, right? Polygamy went from a requirement for exaltation to an eagerly discarded embarrassment. Black people were once supposed to be refused the priesthood until the end of the Millennium, but ended up receiving it in 1978. The temple ceremony as perfectly revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith has gone through so many revisions that it is barely recognizable in its original form. Mormonism today bears little resemblance to early Mormonism, and without continuous adjustments to meet the demands of this thinking, information-saturated generation, the movement will continue to lose momentum.

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

    Christian, Mormon, Muslim, or any sect in between. The problem isn't the religion, it's the way people pervert it to suit their own vanities and prejudices. My belief is better than yours, and your going to rot after death, while I go to everlasting heaven.

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

      "your going to rot after death, while I go to everlasting heaven."
      I don't think this came from people's perversion of the religion. There are bible verses that back this up.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Battsman

      BFF – and because there are bible verses to that effect, that makes it an absolute truth. (I mean of course it is an absolute truth because there is nothing contradictory between "versions" of the bible or even WITHIN ONE VERSION of the bible.)

      The whole argument of "truth" in religion is subjective by the definition of "belief."

      February 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  5. far327

    HOLY COW!! BLAH BLAH BLAH, this is the longest CNN article I've ever seen! And it was all about some girl we should feel sorry for because she grew up in a cult that brain washed her and now she struggles to be a normal thinking individual? WOW!! Sorry but I don't feel bad... I just PRAY that we don't allow Mitt in the white house. I can only imagine what a president would do with a background such as his. LDS church wish for control so badly. Take it from an ex-mormon. Control over America is not only something they believe is prophecy but it's only one step of a much larger agenda.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Ryan in Miami

      I'm a Mormon, and I have no idea where you got that load of crap. There is no way you were ever LDS, and if you were, you have become so disaffected and so anti-Mormon that you have lost all objectivity.

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

      LOL. Like Obama's attempt to turn our great country into a socialist, welfare state is somehow better? NOT.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • A Random Californian

      I'm an LDS church member, but I certainly don't think that being Mormon makes you more capable of being president. Having said that, I don't think it makes you less capable either, as you insinuate. After reading this article about President Kennedy this morning, I have a hard time believing you'd see this type of scandal from a Romney. http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/inside_my_teen_affair_with_jfk_FGF4aS7OdoQozP4tyySsmK/0 And JFK was considered to be a fine president. So I don't know; I don't think that Mitt would be so much worse than so many of our "great ones." Having said that, I plan on voting for someone else in the primaries.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • far327

      I'm sure I come off as Anti-Mormon. Any person who disagrees with your faith can be labeled as such. My personal belief regarding the LDS church prophecy for power over America and eventually the world is simple. Any religion believes they have the facts. There way is the right way or the only way and any religions end goal is to try to get everyone to believe what they believe. BUT, the LDS church are fanatical about this. They take it a step higher. They are organized like a corporation. They run the church as if it were a business and the be a member is like joining a club with special benefits. I was denied serving my mission because I disagreed with many of the ways the LDS church goes about advertising and selling their religion. I didn't firmly believe the LDS church was the one that had all the answers and was the one and only true church. I mean, what does that say about every other religion in the ENTIRE WORLD? That they are idiots? C'mon guys, religion was created to make money and control people. Not that hard to figure out.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  6. Hugo Fuego

    Question: What is "magic underwear"? Many devout Mormons who have made what they feel to be sacred covenants with God wear "special" underwear as constant reminder of their covenant and believe that they will be blessed for keeping such covenants. It is not the underwear which is magic it is their faith that they will be blessed for keeping covenants which they find as a protection – the underwear is a symbol of this protection. Similarly the wedding ring is a symbol of a promise made to a spouse. And may be looked at as a constant reminder of this promise and therefor may protect them from making huge moral mistakes which will jeopardize their marriage.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  7. andy

    religion is opium for the masses... let the masses have their drugs

    February 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      hope you're not quoting because that's not what was written by Marx

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

      @ andy: when people quote Marx like this, I wonder if they understand HIS agenda. He was claiming socialism / communism would be the answer. Are you really advocating socialism / communism as a better society? Would you prefer that to a democracy?

      For lack of a better way of extending the metaphor: what are *you* smoking?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  8. redtapehater111

    Hahaha CNN of course headlining with another PRO-Obama article! The most biased news organization of all time and central to the media's strangle-hold on America and it's policies!

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

      Most slanted media source ever? I'd say that's a huge stretch. Every watched MSNBC? Followed by Fox News.

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


      February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  9. GT66

    The only thing even remotely interesting in this long winded "You go girl!" article was the picture with the old Ford Ranchero in it. For the rest of this I'll just quote: "Jesus loves us. Who cares what you think?”

    February 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  10. christ jones

    They are all CULTS and any that say otherwise are proselytizing in order to convert you.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  11. Rod C. Venger

    I understand her confusion, but the bottom line is that she cannot serve "God and Mammon" both. She wants the kingdom of heaven but is so entrenched in "The World" that she cannot make the choice. I understand conscience...do you understand what God commands of us, asks of us? You're confusing God's justice with social justice and not understanding why they aren't alike. Why should they be? God did not put us here for our glorification. While you're worrying about gays, God is asking, "What about me?" Choose a side.

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

      You seem to know. Why did god put us here?

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

      God didn't put us in this world so that we can pray to him all day. If you actually read about the teachings of Jesus (which is what Christianity is all about), you would know that God wants us to worry about the "gays". He wants us to worry about everybody in this world, because each person represents God in one way or another. Jesus was the example. The only way to serve God is to serve others.

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

      Ever wonder why God chose to ignore all those evil heathens in SE Asia, the Americas, Australia, etc. for so long? Must all be decendents of Cain or something right? I'm sure that isn't as petulant as it sounds.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  12. Stephen

    Woo! The writer is Jewish, liberal, a feminist, and graduated from Berkley! This article is GOLD for CNN. It has a nice liberal slant and it shines Obama's shoes at the same time. I threw up in my mouth after reading the first paragraph. Bleh...

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

      How does this article "shine Obama's shoes"?

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

      Are you serious? LOL! It's an article about a woman branching out from her traditional religious values and has become supporter of Obama. Why else would this be a CNN featured story during the beginning of election season? Is this obscure woman important in any way? No, not at all...

      February 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Stephen


      February 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  13. Jim Ryan

    Mr Tunnis – not at all. I asked a question. Perhaps you'd like to address the subject.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  14. xeno

    She seems like a woman born to fight for what she believes is right, and I respect that. However, what I don't understand is, if you don't like your religion and want to change it, and your religion doesn't really like you, then maybe this isn't your religion.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Homer Gordon

      What ever happin to, "religion and politic's, don't mix"....................Makes no differance what religion you are, the qustion we need to answer is, can he LEAD ?????????

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

      right on. only too logical!

      February 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • JB

      For many of us the question is "Where will he lead us?"

      February 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  15. Jim Ryan

    @tood lewis – what is it you don't understand. Up until 1979, you could not be Black and be a deacon or an elder of the church. Is that not the definition of a racist organization? Yes or no.

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

      Sounds racist to me. Funny that there is a group of evil people in the book of mormon who god turns black so that people can see that they are evil.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • just sayin

      Then you've discredited the majority of religions that formed before the civil rights movement. No?

      February 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  16. Jessica Whitney

    I was Mormon for 2 years. I know all the dirty little secrets and am willing to spill all.

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

      Ha. I've got you beat by 36 years. Born & raised Mormon. Did a mission, temple marriage, etc. saw the light at age 38. Never been back since.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  17. Hugo Fuego

    Question: Can anyone prove there is no God? No. Can anyone prove there is a God? No. Those who have hope that there is a God often times develop Faith that there is a God. Those with Faith often times search for a personal confirmation of some sort that there is a God and proceed to live their life according to their faith.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Hugo Fuego

      Jim Ryan, That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence. Where is your evidence that there is no God? Therefore I dismiss your implied assertion, also without evidence.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  18. Zelph

    Sad to see someone nearly get away from a cult only to become brainwashed again into the cult.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  19. Dread

    Mormonism is a cult, plain and simple.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Battsman

      Absolutely. Just like Judaism, Christiniaty, Islam, etc.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Joe T.

      You are absolutely correct Battsman.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • christ jones

      Hear Here!!

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

      ALL religions are cults. They are all based on B.S.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  20. Come On

    Sorry Joanna, after reading up about you, it's obvious that you're not a mainstream Mormon, and you don't maintain some of the basic beliefs. You can't be a part Mormon and claim to still be a true Mormon. You're treating Mormonism like other religions where you can have your own set of interpretations and ways of living think you're doing fine. That doesn't work. It's all or nothing.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Battsman

      Sounds like the Southern Baptists who told me I was going to hell because I didn't attend their church when I was in High School. The inclusivness of most organized religions is so uplifting isn't it?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Well, the mormon version of god seems to change his mind a LOT, so if a mormon doesn't like something, they should just wait a few years to see if 'god' decides to change his mind again.

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

      I aggree with your statement in that she is trying to change the fundamentals of being a morman. No matter how she tries, it wont' change. She does not beleive in absolutes and Morman scripture is in conflict ot her moral beleif. But here's the funny part. I respect mormanisim, your religion has the family thing down, and like many religions has wonderful people. But the other side of the coin is, your founder took the bible, and added another book to it, that does'nt align with the original, its so changed that most of the other Christian religions don't recognize it as a "christian religion". It's no different than if I said an angel came to me today and i'm starting a new sect that is so different than the Bible. We live in a free country that allows that as long as we don't hurt anyone. However, it does'nt make it christian. And please you atheist stay out of the conversation since this topic is based on if your going to use the bible as a base, why would you add another book thousands of years after the first one, that is so far from allingment. I respect this woman's views, but the real question is "why do you believe in a religion that was made up from a guy back in the 1800's? Keep searching hon, and you may find that the basic concept of the Bible , Jesus died for sinners and we are saved by Grace is enough. No need to add any other book.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:46 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.