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. Gramajane

    There is room for all
    And we all do best when we follow our own consciences !
    May God bless us, everyone with what we need most! Gramajane

    February 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • plucky

      These are nice words and all...but how do they add to the conversation here?
      And that last line:
      "May God bless us, everyone with what we need most!"
      Well, we all know that what one person needs most can directly conflict with what someone else needs most. You are just repeating a catch-phrase that you probably grew up with. As an atheist, any time I hear "May God bless us" it translates to "I hope things will work out for you by luck and if it doesn't, must be because God doesn't favor you."

      February 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  2. The one

    First of all, Feminism is evil. It exists at the expense of children and men. Its disguised as equality, but its true purpose is the subjugation of men and the murder of innocent children, so that a misandrist can live as she chooses.

    Feminism; responsible for the decline of the family unit, along with abortions, the Child Support Industrial Complex, Planned Parent Hood, Welfare, Beyonce, Liberals and Obama 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.

    Now I'm not Mormon, but I have no use for a self righteous Atheist – they are what it is wrong with this world.

    Oh and to the imposter who is trolling this site: I am flattered, I must be doing something right for you to want my persona 😉

    February 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  3. Mormon Think

    Best resource for momonism out there: http://www.mormonthink.com

    February 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • just sayin

      best leave mormonism alone it is a cult founded by a convicted con man. Seek Truth seek God.

      February 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Think Again

      Actually, the best resource is to go to the source. Go to Mormon.org or LDS.org
      You will never find the best resources if you go somewhere outside the source.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  4. Barrett

    Show me a person surprised to read about an overeduacted mormon "intellectual" blathering on about how unique their "faith journey" is and I'll show you a person who doesn't know any mormons.

    February 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  5. Compare & Contrast

    The only thing that makes the LDS church seem normal is scientology.

    February 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • OT III

      A subpoena has been issued.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Will it bear the mark of Xenu himself? I can't wait.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  6. Prior

    "Those who reject the path to enlightenment, must be destroyed."

    "Hallowed are the children of the Ori."

    February 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  7. Wendilynn

    This was a very well done article. I appreciate Joanna and how the spotlight is on the fact that we as Mormons as a whole are not the cookie cutter, stepford wives that people tend to think of. Some of us don't have the fairy tale LDS lives and we're still strong members of our faith. People like to think that our leaders dictate to us our every thought and they don't realize that they give us a broad outline that we live with. It allows us to grow and stretch and find who we are as we experience all that life throws at us. I'm currently a single parent in this church and it comes with its own challenges that strengthen me even as I struggle with being single and a parent. Each person in this church is an individual, some are narrow minded about things, some are more compassionate and that is all part of the makeup of dealing with people, in or out of the church. Sometimes its not easy, but there is room for us all.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      As a struggling single mother, if faced with the choice of paying your rent/mortgage or paying your ti/the, which would you chose?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • i'm not a doctor but i play one on tv

      I'd choose moving to Canada so I could hear those kinds of smart ass comments all the time.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I'm also interested in how the LDS handles divorces...
      (contrary to "i;m not a doctor's comment, I'm not being a smart-@$$ – I'm actually curious)
      As I understand it, a Church marriage is separate from whatever civil marriage one may have and that Temple marriages, or "sealings" bind you to that person for all eternity.
      I also have been told that men can be "sealed" to as many women as they like, but women are allowed only one partner unless she files the proper peti.tions to have her sealing cancelled.
      How difficult is it for a woman to gain her Bshop's (and teh 1st Presidency's) permission for a sealing cancellation?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Abinadi

      @Doc. Sorry, I've never been divorced so I can't answer. I believe it depends heavily on the situation. My sister-in-law, I believe, got a temple divorce and married her new husband in the temple, so it is not impossible. Does any one else want to swing at this one?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Abinadi

      About the ti thing question. I have always paid my ti thing first and everything always worked out fine. There were some months in our early marriage that our entire take home check was $300 for a month, but I never defaulted on any loan payments or financial obligations in my life. I know with out doubt that the Lord lives and answers prayers!

      February 7, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Bizarre

      Well, here's what one Mormon on a discussion board thinks (different subject, same mindset)

      "If your Bishop says differently, you just have to ask around until you find one that agrees."


      February 7, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • loretta

      Very well said, there is allot of room for all of us.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • blinded

      I don't know about you, but like with all religions, I just can't get past the problem that it is all made up.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Jo

      I have always said that religion and politics do not mix well. Religion was meant to inspire man into the better man; it makes them happy, it makes others happy, so who is to argue? Besides, arguing, especially about religion, just makes people feel worse about themselves. You can bet Jesus would not want arguing.

      February 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "Religion was meant to inspire man into the better man; it makes them happy, it makes others happy, so who is to argue?"
      A noble concept and if that were the case, I doubt there would be much debate. Unfortunately, like most human pursuits it's not that clear cut in either goals or achievements, and that is where argument lies (or the lies argue, whichever.)

      February 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "A religion is a source of happiness and I would not deprive anyone of happiness. But it is a comfort appropriate for the weak, not for the strong–and you are strong. The great trouble with religion–any religion–is that the religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge these propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak uncertainty of reason–but one cannot have both."
      – Robert Heinlein

      February 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Think Again

      If you have questions about LDS Divorce and Sealings, you should go to an official LDS source. There are way too many outside opinions that are not correct. Start with http://www.mormon.org and http://www.lds.org. If you do not find your answers there, you may just want to talk to LDS missionaries. While they will see if you want to join, there is no harm in learning from them and even saying in the end you don't want to join. But at least you may be able to get some correct answers.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  8. mm

    Response to mmi16: "Organized religion is the destroyer of true faith". What the hell is true faith vs. faith? Liberal idiot.

    February 7, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  9. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I hope that her children and husband realize that the children are Mormon and not Jewish. Other than a conversion, these girls will not be accepted in most synagogues.

    February 7, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • t3chsupport

      Then those synagogues would not deserve to have them.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Susan

      According to the Orthodox and Conservative movements, her children are not Jewish because she is not Jewish. Sounds like they are already in Hebrew school and will probably be Bat Mitzvah.

      They are also not covered by the Law of Return and would have major issues if they decided to emigrate to Israel.

      Seems to me that neither will be much of an issue. Rosh haShana and Seders aside, Joanna is clearly more invested in her faith than her husband and that will likely make more of an impression on the girls.

      It was an interesting article, and it's always nice to read about someone who takes their faith seriously and thoughtfully.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  10. midwest

    Good for her! Glad to see that there are female Mormons who are willing and able to think for themselves.

    February 7, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  11. Abinadi

    Why was it necessary for Joseph Smith to restore the true church of Jesus Christ to the earth when the Lord had already established it ? The earth was not ready for the church during the Roman Occupation. The world was a brutal place and began killing the early Christians and the apostles. Paul was a prophet and knew that the true gospel would be lost for a time. In 2 Thessalonians 2 he said, “1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
    2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
    3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;”

    The early apostles also knew, however, that the church would be restored in the latter days and in anticipation of that great day they spoke directly to you and me in Acts 3, "19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
    20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
    21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of rest itution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
    Can a thing be restored that has not been lost? We are indeed greatful to the great reformers for their sacrifices and work to prepare the way for the true gospel of Jesus Christ to be restored to the earth. They were like John the Baptist, who prepared the way for our Lord Jesus Christ. But, just like John the Baptist had to diminish while the Lord increased, so the protestant churches also need to diminish and give place to the true church. They have done their work and must end. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and I know that Thomas S. Monson is a true and living prophet on the earth today. I invite you to visit mormon.org for more information.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • VanHagar

      So God's timing was off?

      February 7, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • just wondering

      Would that be the same Joseph Smith the liar, con man and fraud from upstate New York?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Nonimus

      "I know that Thomas S. Monson is a true and living prophet on the earth today. I invite you to visit mormon.org for more information."
      Just curious... how did you determine this?

      February 7, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • just wondering

      The arrest and conviction records for upstate New York are available to all.

      February 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Prayer changes lives!

    February 7, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Nope

      ~~~~`The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.

      February 7, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • just sayin

      fools study studies
      wise men study God

      February 7, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • rick

      fools declare that the word of man is the word of god

      February 7, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  13. Reality

    Bottom line: Mormonism is a business/employment/investment cult using a taxing i.e. ti-thing "religion" as a front and charitable donations and volunteer work to advertise said business. And the accounting books
    are closed to all but the prophet/"profit" and his all-male hierarchy.

    Tis a great business model i.e. charge your Mormon employees/stock holders a fee/t-ithe and invest it in ranches, insurance companies, canneries, gaudy temples, a great choir and mission-matured BYU football and basketball teams.

    And all going back to one of the great cons of all times i.e. the Moroni revelations to Joseph Smith analogous to mythical Gabriel's revelations to the hallucinating Mohammed !!!

    February 7, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Think Again

      Interesting opinion of the church. Can you name all of the good things that the church is involved in? Other than disagreements people have on the church's opinion of marriage, almost anything you find that is true and negative about the church usually comes from members not getting along with other members and not doctrines that are official.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  14. Dats right

    All religions suck.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  15. mndude

    What about the kid that got ran over by a school bus? did god have a plan for him too?

    February 7, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • Dats right

      There is no god.

      February 7, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Lawrence

      God gave us free will. The boy had free will to step out in front of the bus and free will for the bus driver to leave the parking lot with fogged up windows.

      February 7, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Nonimus

      Seriously? What about the 6 month old child that dies of Influenza? or SIDS? or leukemia? or any of the fatal diseases out there?

      February 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • The one

      If it wasn't for the of love of God, more terrible things would happen. It is God's grace that has kept humanity alive this long. If left to the foolish wisdom of men, then we would all be dead.

      Praise be to God that these things don't happen to us all, including you, the blind who are lost.

      February 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Jo

      Maybe God was with the kid who got run over. Accidents happen all the time, but is it not God's nature to know about these things out of time?

      February 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  16. Lorie

    Just read this. its not a jab just interesting reading.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  17. maqrk pritchett

    THE CHURCH OF = the Jewish hat! The mormon Church is true, i almost became Jewish.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:00 am |
    • Lawrence

      You're just brain washed. Mormon's belong to a Christian Cult.

      February 7, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  18. mmi16

    Organized religion is the destroyer of faith.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • Jorge

      Amen, all the pandering-salesmanship, revisionist, religious drivel that I've heard since I was a child almost killed my spirit. The near-death blow came when I moved to Augusta, Georgia, the historical heart of the Baptist Bible-Belt, at a time when I needed spiritual edification the most. I have since developed a seething hatred of the mendacity and hypocritical public manipulation that most clergymen spew. I now get more spiritual restoration reading about near-death experiences, mingling with my children/grandchildren and sitting out alone on clear nights than I ever did.

      February 7, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Wendilynn

      depends on how the religion is handled. Church should be a vehicle that allows you to practice service to others , a place of learning, and where skills can be learned and grown. THAT is the function of LDS churches. Its not about some insecure God who needs millions of people singing to him every week to feel better. Its about the service we give to each other. Which is why there is no paid clergy in the LDS church. Everyone volunteers so they can practice our faith.

      February 7, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  19. stonemtn

    Cool article. A little over dramatized by the writer but I agree that we all have our struggles with things. Mormon all my life and I'm pretty sure I was attending BYU at the same time she was. Glad to know that I wasn't the only person there listening to Public Enemy in Provo. I was, however, the only person of color in my business program there and I understand some of the weirdness of it all. I am flabbergasted at how an article like this draws so many haters of Mormons and people with faith. If Romney wins you guys are gonna go ballistic! Exiting times.

    February 7, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Eddiejay

      to stonemtn – I may even VOTE for Romney...but that does not dismiss that the Mormon religion was built on the lies and self-serving dishonesty of someone who was not a prophet, but a convicted scam artist who kept trying and got enough intellectual derelicts to believe him...or want so hard to that they actually thought they did.

      February 7, 2012 at 1:32 am |
    • The one


      I am non-denominational Christian, two of my kids are Mormon – that's ok with me – At least they aren't one of the atheist on here, spewing hate speech. That would be a shame. I'm also anti-establishment, I hope Ron Paul wins!!

      February 7, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • barrilete

      Eddie, Joseph Smith and the early Mormons got screwed over so many times, he could have disappeared at any time if he was a 'scam artist'. He was either sincere or he was insane, there's no other explanation. He wouldn't have gotten himself shot and professed his religion to his dying breath if he was in it for money or fame.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • Alpa Chino

      Hang in there dude!

      February 7, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • Paul

      Barrilette – He was an insane scam artist! The teachings of Joseph Smith all go against the teaching of the Bible. We are warned against a different gospel in Galatians, which Mormonism is. There was no other gospel needed after Jesus did His work. He said it was finished!

      Galatians 1:6-9
      6 I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ.[c] You are following a DIFFERENT WAY THAT PRETENDS to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

      8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. 9 I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.

      I am not a hater of Mormons, but a lover of the Truth. So many are mislead! Just remember where "good intentions" leads to!

      February 7, 2012 at 4:42 am |
    • Wendilynn

      Paul, as one who has gained her testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God from her study of the Bible, I'm going to have to disagree with you on that it goes against the bible. I sat in too many bible study classes of various denominations and heard them ignore this verse or that verse because it didn't hold to their particular philosophy. Only in the LDS faith is there an explanation and understanding of it as a whole.

      February 7, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Nonimus

      I think there are many examples in history of people willingly accepting persecution and even death for something that most people would consider obviously false. For example, Heaven's Gate, Jim Jones' church, Branch Davidians, just to name a few.

      @Paul and @Wendilynn,
      Doesn't every sect or faith make these claims, e.g. 'we are the only ones that have it correct'. What makes you any difference that everyone else?

      February 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  20. Tim

    Joanna Brooks I love you! Thank you for doing all you do. I am LDS, have been my whole life and feel you do represent a lot of LDS members/ex LDS members. You hit on a chord only those that have been in you shoes will understand and appreciate your voice. I appreciate your voice, your love and your honest heart.

    February 7, 2012 at 1:25 am |
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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.