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. carl

    Pretty typical Mormon girl, not enough sense to pour pi$$ out of a boot.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  2. CamNYC

    Does every post have to become a forum for slamming strangers' beliefs and spewing hate and disrespect? The world has enough pain and negativity. No need to add to it.

    I attend (Christian) church every day, and I'll be the first to admit I find certain elements of LDS beliefs confusing. I flat-out disagree with other facets. Still, I've never met a Mormon who wasn't exceptionally kind and honorable, and I certainly can't say that about my own religion – so they must be doing something right.

    Ms. Brooks sounds like an extraordinary woman, and I wish her all success.

    February 20, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  3. HabTheory

    Thank heavens I am not alone. A Mormon since the age of 18 I moved out of Utah last year m(Age 63) because I could not stand the bigotry and ignorance. I know the Church is true – I'm just disillusioned with the intolerance LDS have for others. I was one of the original members of "Mormons for ERA" back in the 70's (Still have my card!) and risked excommunication for marching for women's rights. Just a few years ago one of the other teachers at my Utah school sent me an email explaining why I should not for for Proposition 8 on gay marriage. I didn't have the heart to tell her that Prop 8 was in California – not Utah. Evidently she was so ignorant she didn't know. Wow!. I will watch with great interest Johanna Brooks' journey. Maybe more of us should join her and speak up!. We can become the liberal Porter Rockwells of the Church!

    February 20, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  4. Say what?

    Since we are in the age of re-defining words (i.e. g ays want to redefine "marriage"), this lady is trying to redefine herself as a Mormon, when she goes against most of the core beliefs of that faith.
    Renaming the word "skunk" to "rose" would not eliminate the smell.
    She is really insulting the good Mormons by calling herself one.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • HabTheory

      Thank you Mr. Authority. However if you go back a few years you'll find that the CHurch changed its stand on Black men holding priesthood. Does that make them a rose by any other name?? One of the reasons she has taken this direction is because of the narrow minded bigots like you dominating the Mormon scene – you, Glen Beack, Mitt Romney etc. I applaud her direction and plan to join her. I am still a Mormon – just not an ignorant bigot like you..

      February 22, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  5. Kyle

    I don't care about her daily routine. I just wanna know what she believes and why. She keeps saying "I know who I am" but seems very reluctant to convey that information. She claims to have a strong commitment to her faith but how devout can you be if you're married to someone with such fundamentally different beliefs? Maybe she has never suggested he convert but are you really gonna tell me that she never secretly hopes he'll change his mind someday? This article was very long and very disappointing.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  6. Joseph (not a jew) Smith

    Mormons are at an extreme disadvantage since their founding fathers were turds.

    February 19, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  7. SHOUT

    God Loves You!

    The Bible says, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life"

    The problem is that . . .

    2 All of us have done, said or thought things that are wrong. This is called sin, and our sins have separated us from God.

    The Bible says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God is perfect and holy, and our sins separate us from God forever. The Bible says “The wages of sin is death.”

    The good news is that, about 2,000 years ago,

    3 God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins.

    Jesus is the Son of God. He lived a sinless life and then died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. “God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

    Jesus rose from the dead and now He lives in heaven with God His Father. He offers us the gift of eternal life - of living forever with Him in heaven if we accept Him as our Lord and Savior. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me."

    God reaches out in love to you and wants you to be His child. "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name." You can choose to ask Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and come in to your life as your Lord and Savior.

    4 If you want to accept Christ as your Savior and turn from your sins, you can ask Him to be your Savior and Lord by praying a prayer like this:

    "Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Please forgive my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. I ask you in to my life and heart to be my Lord and Savior. I want to serve you always."

    Did you pray this prayer?

    February 19, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Evan

      The "pie in the sky when you die" message spread by purportedly christian churches these days is apostate to His deeds and teachings. Jesus wasn't executed so he could die for our sins; he was executed as an enemy of the Roman republic, an enemy because he postulated the two most radical ideas in the history of human thought: to love your neighbor as you love yourself, more so, even to love your enemy; and the idea of a universal church, that is one not defined by ethnicity, or later, nationality. Live these two ideas and you will dwell in His kingdom.

      Granted, the Mormon's scriptures are ridiculous. (Harris would have done well to have lost all of Smith's translations) But insofar as they live the two tenants of Jesus' teachings they do better than all the "pie in the sky..." caricature of Jesus' universal church.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:44 am |


    February 19, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  9. Bob

    This story drives me crazy, as a Active member of the Mormon (LDS) faith, because as "hip" and "modern" and this woman is, she is NOT a good representative of the church and is NOT a true faithful member. How is it that one could truly believe that President Monson is a prophet of God who recieves direct revelation but is just somehow "wrong" about Prop 8 and gay marriage? If she truly believes the Church's doctrine then she would also believe that her family cannot be together forever in the Celestial Kingdom because they are not sealed and her husbands faith is WRONG. Call me bigoted or naive, the point is she is not a true Mormon.

    February 19, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Bill

      As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints...your a bigot and naive

      February 19, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  10. JC


    mor(m)ons are funny

    February 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  11. JC

    "Wait, he read what in the hat?"

    Seriously people, L.Ron Hubbard is the only true God as we know it. Ask Tom Cruise. Now stop messing with the silly Jesus stuff – they're just thetans placed there by Lord Xenu!

    February 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Lew

      L Ron Hubbard is a Murderer.

      February 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  12. Dave McAn

    We need more interesting, smart, authentic people in America like Joanna, David, Ella and Rosa.
    Dave, Atheist, Michigander

    February 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  13. bdl1978

    Wait, there are colleges that teach material that has not evidence to support any of it? And people pay money to learn it ? seriously? why?

    February 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Like creationism and that some god created just the earth in 6 days, about 6,000 years ago, including hiding dinosaur bones so that his people can find them and be puzzled by "his mysteries".

      February 20, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  14. Leucadia Bob


    February 19, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  15. Rochelle

    Dear Joanna,

    You are an amazing woman, mother & mormon. Thank you for the work you do and the example you are. I love you!


    Rochelle, former member & mother of 3 wonderful mormonism-loving kiddos

    February 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  16. ron

    So the Hateful Christian Bigots afraid of a MORMON who may become President...

    The Anybody but Romney -Mormon Hating Bigots many of whom are Evangelicals who claim to be so PIOUS and Righteous....they are the ones who put forth stories like this one to discredit Mitt Romney. They would rather have a Serial Adulterer....Barabas.... in South Carolina than a man who is faithful to his wife of 42 years. They hold a SECRET meeting of Evangelical Leaders in Texas with ONE PURPOSE....TO DERAIL THE MORMON. This Anti-Mormon Bigotry is Pathetic. It is UN-American. It is hateful and very Anti-Christian.

    Get over your Bigotry America.Mitt Romney according to Jack Welch former CEO of General Electric "Is the Most Qualified Person In MY LIFETIME to Run for President". Jack Welch is NOT Mormon.

    We are $16 Trillion in debt. That is 16 THOUSAND BILLION!

    We need Mitt Romney to help turn our Economy around and deal with our Debt!

    Stop being a Bigot and Be and AMERICAN.

    February 18, 2012 at 1:28 am |
    • Chuck

      I'm not a christian but, I'm afraid of Romney. Anyone who can read the book of mormon and buy into that BS...

      February 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Somebody said

      It's not bigotry, ron. It's genuine concern that the man who could lead this country has been fooled and deceived and believes the delusions of a nut-job whose claims of angels visits, secret plates and decoder rocks are beyond ridiculous. Do a little unbiased research–as I did–into Joseph Smith and see if you don't agree. No way do I want a President who buys into all that. Qualified doesn't mean he'll do a good job. It means we "think" he has the potential to do a good job. But since Romney would be seeking guidance from a false god, thanks, but no thanks.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • AGuest9

      @Somebody said, and, you feel that much better with it being run by people who believe the nonsense written in the bible?

      February 20, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  17. Chris

    She handed back her degree but then it says she graduated from BYU and headed to LA--I'm confused--did she graduate without a degree, or have a degree without graduating. I feel sorry for anyone who believes in the church and yet struggles with the church--you are in or you are not--her confusion must be love of money or trying to be all things to all people. The number one reason people leave faith, is he/she doesn't believe in the New Testament, or love complex university theories and/or money and/or fame more than simple New Testament spirit, faith, and community.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  18. The MagusNYC.

    Just do not fail to distinguish between the Mormon brand of "restored Christianity" with that practiced by Protestants and Catholics. The terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit used by the former have nothing in common with those employed by the latter, with each sect claiming truth for oneself, and blasphemy for the other. To equivocate such terms is deceptive, leading only to confusion, distrust and prejudice.

    February 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  19. J Mann

    Why not believe in truth, in science, in what can be proven, and live in wonder at the mystery of life. Pretty sure if hell was under the earth somewhere or heaven was in the sky, we would have seen them by now. Oh, what's that you say, you have an explanation for that? Let me light some candles, you go get the priest – surely that stainless man of God knows more than any rational man on earth. When religion dies, mankind will advance, peace will be possible. But it's gonna be a couple more centuries, if we last that long.

    February 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • The MagusNYC.

      Faith traditions can be instructive, if not inspiring. You seem to confuse the value of inspired writings with the actions of people who have merely flown the flags to rally their troops.

      February 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • melvinslizard

      Take Philosophy 101, please. You only have 5 senses with which to absorb information from this world that "science" offers to explain, and at some point all 5 of those senses have FAILED you. If you have ever misinterpreted any sensory input, then you cannot be 100% confident of the information that you are absorbing thru this sensory input. Thus, you don't "know" anything. Science doesn't "know" anything. It's all theories. At least Christians call it "faith" as opposed to "law."

      February 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • RJ

      @Melvinslizard: Take Sensory Perception 101 please. Your senses fail you constantly. We perceive not what is there but the mental virtual reality that develops in our infancy as we learn to interact with obstacles and stimuli in our immediate environment. This virtual reality is limited by our senses in every way. Yes science is amazing, and it has led us to additional understaning of the universe by helping us expand our senses (expanding our ability to perceive electromagnetic radiation expanded our universe, for example). But we are still entirely limited to the senses. You may choose to believe only what your senses show you, but please be respectful of others. You may not accept the idea of spiritual senses so I will respectfully spare you the argument, as not having sensed it, you would see it as ludicrous.

      February 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  20. Vanka

    Mormonism is a grand, money-making snipe hunt!

    This poor woman has been hunting the Mormon snipe her entire life.

    Consider the absurdity of Mormon's practice of baptizing for the dead. The funny thing about baptisms for the dead is that Mormon doctrine itself makes the practice meaningless!

    In Mormon theology, "salvation" is a muddled concept. In its most basic sense, salvation simply means "resurrection", and every single person who has ever lived will be resurrected, no matter what they do. You do not have to believe in Jesus, or repent, or be baptized or "confirmed", or do good works to be resurrected. All people will be "saved" from death, according to Mormonism.

    But saved from sin? That is different. According to Mormonism, ONLY those who repent will be saved from sin. Repenting is a "change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world... a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined."

    But here is the rub. Mormons preach that "you must not procrastinate the day of your repentance"..."this life is the time to prepare to meet God...for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that he go out of this life ...will have power to possess your body in that eternal world" (Alma 34: 32-34). Mormons teach that human life was "prolonged...that they might repent while in the flesh" (2 Nephi 2:21).

    In other words, the dead cannot Repent in the "night of darkness" called death (see John 9:4).

    Changing your mind and heart toward God in such a way as to "accept" a proxy Mormon baptism certainly counts as "repenting".

    Even the great Mormon "scholar", Hugh Nibley cited ancient texts and Mormon scripture to support this idea that "the dead cannot repent".

    In short, Mormons baptize for the dead, who are incapable of "repenting" and "accepting" those worthless baptisms anyway!

    Mormons' notions of "salvation" are all over the map. Without scriptural support for doing so, they distinguish between "salvation" (resurrection) and "exaltation" (a "continuation of the seeds forever and ever"; see D&C 132. Of course, you need multiple wives as brood mares if you are going to achieve your "exaltation"!)

    But baptism is NOT required for salvation (resurrection)! Neither is Mormon "confirmation, nor the temple "endowment", which are also rituals Mormons do "for the dead!" Mormons are not only baptizing for dead people, they are "confirming" them members of the Mormon Church and "endowing" them with Mormon "priesthood blessings"!

    So, again, to paraphrase Paul, What the heck are Mormons baptizing for the dead, if the dead not only cannot repent, but also baptism does NOT SAVE? Why are they then baptizing for the dead?

    If you ask a Mormon these questions, prepare yourself for a blubbering, nonsensical, obfuscation followed by a passionate "testimony"... and maybe an offer of some funeral potatoes.

    February 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • The MagusNYC.

      Thanks for illuminating this issue, and do not be discouraged by the panels of responders who may try to obfuscate the very real distinctions between their "restored Christianity" and what we commonly understand as Christianity, which they reject.

      February 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • jad

      Hi Vanka,

      I appreciate how deeply you've thought about this. As a Mormon, I thought I'd respond in a way that is hopefully something more than a 'blubbering nonsensical obfuscation." Unfortunately, I have no funeral potatoes to offer. 🙂

      Suppose someone had "repented" meaning that they had embraced God and wished to covenant to follow him, which is what we believe baptism does. Imagine they were to die before being able to be baptized. (Maybe they were in a car accident on the way to church.) In such a case, they would have done all the "repenting" they could in this life, but were unable to participate in the baptismal ordinance. In such a case "Repentance in the 'night of darkness'" isn't necessary – just the ordinance that affirms that repentance.

      You can see how this would naturally extend to any who had repented and followed God to the best of their ability in this life, without having the knowledge and/or ability to be baptized.

      Of course, you may still not believe that baptism is required for salvation, or have other criticisms. I am simply pointing out that repentance and baptism are by no means equivalent in Mormon doctrine.

      February 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • The MagusNYC.

      Thanks Jad, all clarifications are illuminating, and this is a grand opportunity to demystify Mormonism so that today's Protestants and Catholics understand that they went astray at Nicea in the third century, and that Joseph Smith played a role similar to Mohammad in attempting to set them right. I understand also, that the priestly right of giving baptism died out with the deaths of the original apostles, who then, as angels, visited Joseph Smith to restore that priesthood, which explains why Christian, as commonly understood, baptisms are considered invalid. Please do continue to publicize where we respectfully differ as we admire people of all faiths.

      February 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • jad

      Hi MagusNYC,

      As you point out, we believe that the authority from God to perform an ordinance like baptism is essential, and that it was lost, along with fundamental truths, when the original apostles died. The authority to baptize was restored to Joseph Smith, as you indicated.

      This is not a criticism of the many good people of many religions who in good faith receive Christ and God the Father in various ways, including through baptism in their churches. We do invite all in those faiths to learn about the restoration of the gospel and authority of God, as taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They can decide for themselves if what Joseph Smith experienced was from God, and if they would be blessed by embracing it.

      February 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Laura

      WOW. I think this is the third time I've read this EXACT response from you, (save the "funeral potatoes" comment-quite a clever add-in for this specific story), only the first two times were in response to the article on Baptisms for the Dead! Glad you've mastered the copy/paste feature on your computer. And even MORE glad that you have the time to read so much about Mormanism. Keep reading!

      February 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Randall

      Vanka, I respect your beliefs including your choice to ardently dismiss what you see as conundrums of LDS doctrine. I am happy to be a Mormon and glad to answer your post for anyone who has thoughtfully considered it.

      It is very clear from the Book of Mormon and other LDS teachings that those who die in this life without receiving an opportunity to accept and follow Jesus Christ are saved by His mercy. This includes infants and children who die before they are old enough to know right from wrong. 2 Nephi 9:24 states: "where there is no law given... the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them."

      It is also taught that "this life is the time to repent." but this applies to those who know the commandments. Again, those who die without receiving the law are saved through the mercy of Christ and during a preparatory period before the final judgment will have equal opportunity to accept Christ and follow Him.

      So why are we baptized at all? Is baptism necessary for salvation for the living or the dead? Yes, because Jesus Christ asks it of us as a token of our faith in Him. It is following Him and having faith in Him that matters most. As the definition of repentance you quoted shows, repentance is an aligning of one's will with Christ's, trusting Him enough to let go of sin and follow His path.

      So then ALL of what Mormons believe is necessary for salvation (salvation from spiritual death), including faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, and enduring to the end, are simply part of having faith in Jesus Christ.

      TheMagnusNYC, thank you for representing your views on the LDS respectfully. Although the implications of LDS assertions of restored Christianity seem offensive to you, please know the great respect I have, and that I observe in most LDS I have known, for servants of Christ in all churches and denominations. I have noted a steady increase in appreciative references by LDS leaders to William Tyndale, Martin Luther, St. Francis of Assisi and others, We believe that God does not neglect any of His children because they belong to "wrong" a church or religion, but expects that they follow the light He gives them and must add to it as they feel He is directing them. We believe that ultimately those who truly seek Him will acknowledge the same commonality of truth He teaches, but that is not an excuse for us to look down on others who believe differently. I am NOT trying to soften the impact of LDS doctrinal affirmations (they are bold), but to affirm respect that Christians show one another, even those they view as non-Christian. I see you as Christian. Possibly you do not see me as Christian. Ultimately I think you and I try equally to behave as Christ taught us, to show love and respect to those loved equally by the God we both try to serve.

      February 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • mrrp25

      MMMM funeral fries..Don't all religions bless the dead to speed their acceptance in heaven??I don't see a huge difference here.One practice is much more common than the other.Both are a reach.Lots of atheists are prayed over in the end,just for show.It's all BS..IMHO.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:14 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.