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. Raf

    How can anyone take people who believe in this stuff seriously? Talking snakes, magic underwear, and all the rest. I still can't believe people think 1000+ year old folk stories are the same as historical fact! Just boggles my mind!

    February 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • momoya

      Cultural norms and separatist ideology (brain-washing)

      February 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Yuliq Muhdiq

      @Raf: I don't believe you exist. I think you're a figment of other people's imagination. You obviously aren't real.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  2. Ed

    Oh...and enough of the First Person perspective, it's a very weak way to try to infer tension and depth

    February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • saopaco

      The article is in third person, what do you mean?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  3. VoiceFrmLeft

    Respectfully, I walked away from the LDS church some time ago, and while that was a good choice for me, I don't hold a grudge or question the motives of people who remain with the church. Most Mormons are good people and they go out of their way to show that. The rigid nature of the church itself was a problem for me, as well as the extreme beliefs that are interpreted from the Book of Mormon and even the Bible in some cases. Don't get me wrong, there are many MANY evangelicals who contort and confuse the Bible just as much, but those are more often individuals, rather than an entire massive church. The historical context of how and when the Book of Mormon was written, and the errors included within about Native Americans clad in European armor, amongst others, were enough to make me research on my own and find my own path that is more realistic. I'm now agnostic, and happily so. I do more religious study than ever, but have a firm belief that most, if not all, religions are flawed. I enjoyed the story and happy to see a member of the LDS church, raising such a diverse family, in support of Obama.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  4. Crystal

    I am Mormon. I have lots of questions about my church, its history and who Joseph Smith really was. But I still attend church. I love so much about my church. I also loved this article because it teaches us it is OK to be open minded. My husband was raised by a Jewish father and Catholic mother and he grew up tp become a Mormon. We are all different but all love God!!!

    February 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • bff

      What do you love so much about your church?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Yuliq Muhdiq

      Actually, it's not okay to be open minded. It's open mindedness that's absolutely destroying our country.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  5. Greenie

    By bankrolling Prop H8 in California to the tune of over $30 million , the mormon church has absolutely destroyed any chance of gaining respect from me. They are a hate cult, now and forever.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  6. Ed

    Interesting that CNN has never posted a story this long on Romney himself. And of course they wold find a 'refreshing' voice from the liberal point of view....ugg pathetic...

    February 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  7. Isn't this America

    sorry i must live some where were freedom of religion doesn't mean anything.
    if the gays want to be married so bad let them make their own religion. Apparently its not that hard to do according to some. As for me i will stick by my religion and although we don't agree we can still live in the same country because the government doesn't rule every aspect of our lives (yet) and because this is The United States with the freedom of religion.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • bff

      I don't think "the gays" need a religion to get married. They need laws that allow it.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  8. tid7034

    Congratulations to CNN on it's novel ability to bash Romney and conservatives with a non Mormon MOrmon. She's no more faithful than I am and is irrelevant. I'm glad such an idiot is voting for Obama; he needs kooks like her when he's back on a street corner in Chicago " organizing the Community" to r
    cheer for him,

    February 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Anit

      Yeah and you aren't an idiot? I really hope that you are not Mormon. You make the rest of us look bad. Oh and take Romney with you.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  9. howlyn

    Disgusting. What you have here is a person who is picking-up the baton that Hitler dropped. She is not Jewish and her children are not Jewish and her nebish husband is the assimilation enabler.

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

      I invoke Godwin's Law. Your argument is invalid.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  10. Jeff

    I have to admit, CNN's "Belief Blog" is consistently the most anti-Christian blog on the internet. Do you really think people don't see how transparently hostile to Christianity CNN is?

    February 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Or maybe because there is something inherently wrong with Christianity?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • VoiceFrmLeft

      Christianity doesn't hold a monopoly on religion, and even within Christianity itself, the views and beliefs of its followers are widely varied. Rather than hearing from a wide range of people, you sound like you're demanding one view point, and that is pretty hostile. There are plenty of websites out there that will cater to your individual views, so try to take it less personally that people written about here don't view the world the way you do.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  11. NursesRGr8t

    SLOW day in the news room?? CNN just trying to stir the political pot?

    February 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  12. mikey

    CNN found a mormon who's voting for Obama. Now that's newsworthy.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  13. Sue

    Interesting article, seems like the lady is more into the 'ethnicity' and tradition of being Mormon, than the actual religion itself.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  14. Scott

    I could care less what religion a presidentual candidate is..... the main effort of thought should be can this person lead this country and I think he can.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Sorry but when you wear special underwear because you think it gives you God's blessings, I might be a little less inclined to think you are a sane man.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  15. Burbank

    I am not a Mormon myself, have no desire to become one, but have had a lot of Mormons in my life. Have had Mormon friends, was married to a non practicing Mormon, had one for a landlady for many years, have worked for a Mormon owned company. Overall, most of them are very nice people. Even though I plan to vote for Obama for environmental reasons, if Romney wins the election I won't be all that upset. I like him too.

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

      Sigh...Voting for Obama for environmental purposes. Hopefully you'll find a more substantial reason to vote for a candidate, but I doubt it.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  16. Maximillius

    If you really wish to find the truth about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, visit LDS.org or Mormon.org. What wisdom is there to be found when you are hearing it from the mouths of those who seek to invalidate religion? The L.D.S. church is amongst the most beautiful, edifying, and constructive religions the world has ever seen. Judge not an entire religion by the errors of some of its members. Please, educate yourselves, and do not let yourselves be misled by those who know what they know from reading an anti-mormon blog on google. Instead, read of those who have spent years studying church doctrine. There is true beauty in this church, and only those who truly seek it will find it.

    February 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      Far better to grasp the universe as it truly is, than to persist in delusion however satisfying or reassuring – C. Sagan

      February 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Zelph

      wrong. if you want to really know about mormonism go to mormonthink.com

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

      Actually, if you want to find out about the real history of the LDS church, you should read "Under the Banner of Heaven", as well as a number of other interesting texts. See, the sites you're talking about give you a wonderful overview of everything bright and fuzzy about the church. They neglect to include the actual history.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • bff

      I wouldn't expect to get a truely objective viewpoint from mormons "who have spent years studying church doctrine".

      February 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      here's some "truth" for you. The founder, Joseph Smith, though he wrote the Book of Mormon in the 19th Century, he used 17th Century English – he was a charlatan and a liar. And of course, Jesus returns to the US to split the mount of olives in two. Let me know when his flight gets in. BY the way, where are those new commandments? Are they still lost in the woods? Convenient, huh?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      here's some "truth" for the deluted. The founder, Joseph Smith, though he wrote the Book of Mormon in the 19th Century, he used 17th Century English – he was a charlatan and a liar. And of course, Jesus returns to the US to split the mount of olives in two. Let me know when his flight gets in. BY the way, where are those new commandments? Are they still lost in the woods? Convenient, huh?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • c

      Like a lot of churches; the Mormans have spent millions of dollars promoting numerous political agenda's. With all due respect; I think you're very naive Any church which engages in the political arena should be scrutinized. Also any student of American history or religion or even an athiest should question any church which claims that it is the ONE TRUE Church (got this off directly from the official LDS web site. This of course makes Mormans no different from other religions; but this should bother you regardless of the image they project.

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

      10 truths (FAILS) about mormonism:
      1. Not a single piece of archeological evidence has ever been found to substantiate Joseph Smith’s claims of civilizations detailed in the book of mormon. FAIL!!!
      2. Joseph Smith was a convicted criminal, scam artist, etc. His “martyrdom” occurred as he was trying to escape a jail after shooting a man in the face with a six-barreled pistol that had been smuggled to him. FAIL!!!
      3. Many animals mentioned in the book of mormon did not even exist in the Americas when Joseph Smith said they did. Things like sheep, cattle, horses, elephants. FAIL!!!
      4. Glass windows mentioned in the book of mormon did not exist until the 11th century AD. FAIL!!!
      5. Many plants mentioned in the book of mormon did not even exist in the Americas when Joseph Smith said they did. Thinks like wheat, barley, etc. FAIL!!!
      6. Joseph Smith’s book mentions chariots. The WHEEL didn’t even exist for transportation in the Americas until Columbus. And not a single shard of pottery or cave painting or mural, or whatever shows any existence of chariots in the Americas. FAIL!!!
      7. Joseph’s book says the Israelites were the ancestors of American Indians. DNA evidence proves they came from Asia, and there are archaeological remains of pre-Columbian humans pre-dating the so –called settlement of the Israelites. FAIL!!!
      8. The so –called written language described as some form of Egyptian has been laughed at by linguists well-versed in Egyptian and other old-world writing as nothing more than ridiculous doodling. FAIL!!
      9. Joseph Smith’s book was written in language common to the 16th century…and the original text very very closely resembles language used in the Bibles of that time, which were carried into the 19th century and conveniently available for reference by Mr. Smith. FAIL!!!
      10. 100 other tings too numerous to include here. FAIL!!!

      February 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  17. Jim Ryan

    @Todd Lewis – lies? You need to be educated. Please tell me the following is not truth. That a Black could not be a deacon or an elder of the church until 1979? (and then embarrass yourself)

    February 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Hugo Fuego

      Jim, did you know that at certain periods in Old Testament times that the Priesthood was not only limited to one race but one blood line?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Carl

      And women STILL can't.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Carl

      Hugo Fuego:
      Are you seriously trying to use the old testament to justify something?

      February 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  18. ATLmatt

    I think the mormon church should lose its non-profit status. It was one of the largest contributors against gay marriage in CA with prop 8. I think its fine if they want to contribute to a political cause as they did but once they become political then they should pay taxes.

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

      By this thought than the christian churches should lose theirs as well. I don't disagree just saying.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • RapidOne

      Right on.

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

      So any non-profit that actively opposed Prop 8 should lose their tax free status as well, right? Idiot.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • C-Jean

      The Mormon Church didn't contribute to the Prop 8 in CA. The Mormon members did. The Mormon Church did not make members do it, they chose too! I for one chose to contribute! A non-profit status is granted to all churches...Guess you feel the Catholic, Baptist, Protestants, and other religious organizations that encourage their membership to donated monies for Yes on 8 should lose their statuses too? Intolerance at its worst by you and all that want to limit our liberties when they don't match your own.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • JasonJackson

      The mormon church did not contribute much of anything. Individual citizen s contributed a lot.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Jeff

      Why are all of you only singling out those that actively supported Prop 8? What about churches and organizations that opposed it? They should lose theirs too. Oh, that's right...you people know whose freedom of speech should be allowed and whose shouldn't because you're all so much damn smarter than all those ignorant christians.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Carl

      Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism of your speech, and it does not mean tax exemption not afforded to free speech on other subjects.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  19. RKER321

    I never thought one way or another about Mormons, to me, it was just another religion. Until now, After I read the differences between Christians and Mormons, I can not reconcile myself and think about them as Christians.
    Our basic beliefs are much too different. They Jesus Christ is totally different than ours, our God the Father is not their God or Father, sorry, to much to want to change. Sorry, I don't know what they are, but Christians they are not.

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

      But if they are right and you are wrong, why wouldn't you change? Because it is too much?

      February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Jim Ryan

      what's the difference? Delusion is delusion. Some are just slightly funnier, that's all

      February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Christian Mormon

      Okay... the next question is... where did you get your 'differences'? From an anti-mormon website? Probably...

      Come on people! If you really want to know what a mormon believes, ask an actual one! They will tell you that we believe in God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. We believe that Christ died on the cross for all mankind and that he was resurrected, and we can be resurrected too.

      Our main difference is that we believe that the "God head" is three separate beings, God and Christ both having bodies of flesh and bones. Any Christian who reads the New Testament closely enough will come to the same conclusion.

      Not Christian enough for you? Well, then I guess you don't understand 1st century Christianity before the Nicene Creed...

      February 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Carl


      But you both have beliefs based on credulous adoption of the claims of uneducated preachers, so you aren't really all that different.

      February 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  20. the one

    First of all, Feminism is evil. It exists at the expense of children and men. Feminism, responsible for the decline of the family unit, along with abortions need to be snuffed out of this society, if we are to move on as decent people.

    Secondly, 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 4:29 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      You're going to make some lucky girl very... happy?... one day.

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

      So..um...any woman who thinks she's equal should be "snuffed out"? Wowsers! You are one sick puppy.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Because it isn't self-absorbed in the least to think that you can have daily conversations with the creator of the universe. It's much more self-absorbed to think of oneself as comsmically insignificant. Right.

      I have no response to the first part because I'm stunned speechless.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Sue

      You are pretty much 100% incorrect.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • momoya

      People who think like you do are evil; it's the feminist atheists who are right. There's your sign.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • pflatman

      You're funny! Comedic genius!

      February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • urafkntool

      the one is absolutely correct in every way. If women had been kept in their place, we wouldn't have Obongo around to make us realize our race is going to be destroyed by race mixing. Because it wouldn't exist. Because women would have to do what they're told, not what enters their evil, temptress minds.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:52 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.