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. Randy

    Like all religion, Mormonism is simple fruitcakery.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • MormonChristian

      Try atheism – more people killed by godless communists and fascists than in all the religious wars combined. Most people have so little real curiosity, they have no idea what Mormons believe. It's just fun to poke fun at them.

      So, if your group gets in charge, are you going to start burning our churches and gassing our people? This is the way it starts. It's sad how tolerant people are of mocking Mormons.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • TalkingHead


      I think the keyword for the genocides there was communist, not godless. Being godless had nothing to do with Soviet or Chinese genocides (direct or indirect). It was more the fact they were struggling to keep Communism alive.

      Second, people taunt Mormons because it's so easy. Besides from having quirky beliefs, your prophet and book are very recent and thus easy to debunk. Like, you don't even have to struggle to prove its phonie. Sorry but its true.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  2. ben

    This woman is in a cult that believes in multiple gods, wearing magic underpants, and the rantings of a known con-can named Joe Smith. Who cares what she thinks about anything? The true crime is that people are trying to claim that 'mormons are normal people just like us!" they're not. They're cult worshiping lunatics.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Taint

      Right, just as looney as any 'christian' or muslim. It's all made up story books. A cult is a cult is a cult myfriend, and yours is no better than the other. If you teach your children this garbage, you should be in jail.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • MormonChristian

      I dare you to come to one of our churches and say that to our faces. Your ilk has so little idea of who we are or what we believe. Your hatred is disgusting. You sound like a few "Christian" ministers I know...

      February 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  3. JiminTX

    Until Victoria Secret makes and sells Magic Underwear, I'll pass.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  4. TalkingHead

    This lady is pathetic. Not only can she come to terms that her religion (and all religions) are corrupted tools for brainwash, but she thinks she(or her kids) can be a good servant for her religion if she practices two different religions? What a joke. These religions claim exclusivity and inherently cannot be practiced alongside another religion as equals. Maybe if you practice every religion you will surely choose the right one in there somewhere and be rewarded in the afterlife!

    February 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • bff

      ..and you're only lucky then if the correct religion is any of those that are currently defined. Someone alive 3000 years ago would not even know about christianity. Maybe the "correct" religion won't be known for another 2000 years. And maybe we are alll doomed because of this!

      February 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • EJ

      Well Jesus was a Jew...

      February 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  5. dmiller

    Joanna thrives on her faith, as do most people. A common idea is that faith is inevitable, and the only issue is where we should place our faith. I think Joanna is a person who no longer considers a life without believing in something intangible and unprovable.

    A minority of people consider faith a human failing, however. To them, faith is neither inevitable nor healthy. They thrive on reason, skepticism, and rationality. Joanna's struggle is rooted in the reality that her religion is a corruption of a hoax, and no matter how much she tries to nurse her religion to health, her faith cannot make truth out of something that is a lie.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • sancho

      So those people put their faith in reason and skepticism, right?

      February 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • dmiller

      Skepticism and reason do not require faith. Faith is a commitment to accept things as true without evidence, and then to maintain that commitment even if counter-evidence comes forth. Such a commitment is anathema to a rationalist.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  6. beef

    Dumb,dumb, dumb,dumb,dumb, dumb,dumb,

    February 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  7. johnc

    to rob:
    She doesn't have to get married in the temple. You can marry outside of the church and then have what is called a temple sealing, which they obviously did not get done. The church recognizes marriages done outside of itself. That's how they are married.
    Truthfully about the three levels of heaven, I will say sort of. It isn't really discussed much and it only shows up in one verse of one book. Most Mormons' probably don't think about it. Anyway yes you can become like God. In Mormonism Heavenly Father (God) is your actual spiritual father and if you attain the Celestial Kingdom(the third level) you can become like your father, a God. It's just like how your physical children will be like you when they get older and become men. I'm glossing over things but that's the idea. Hope that helps.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  8. Ron

    It has been more than proven that Mormonism bears little resemblance to actually leading people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Adherence to is tenets, will make "twice the son of hell" if you follow it's practices. It is simply a cult, it is an apostate movement, as is Roman Catholicism and the Jeovah's Witnesses are as well

    February 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • momoya

      It's all the religions except yours, huh Ron?

      February 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Scott

      I believe he just meant those as examples. Obviously, all religions are included under the "cult" banner.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Joe T.

      All religions are bunk. I noticed you mentioned Jehovah's Witnesses. I used to be one so I know that first-hand. They fit in just fine with the Mormon mumbo-jumbo.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • MormonChristian

      Prove it to me, Ron...

      February 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  9. ron

    It's a shame they are both deluded. Wake up and realize it's all minor variations on the same fairy tale.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  10. Russ

    This is simply self-contradiction. The closing prayer makes that evident. They're saying opposite things.

    Judaism is monotheistic. They quote Dt.6 – a declaration that there is no other God.
    Mormonism is – at the least – henotheism (one god elevated among many), if not simply polytheism.

    Marriage is built on a shared foundation. All this says is: they don't share the same faith. Their marriage is built on something else. Which makes one ask – what's more important to them than their so-called "God"?

    February 6, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • sancho

      You are picking one aspect of each religion while ignoring the many things they have in common.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Russ

      @ sancho: no, i'm not picking just any aspect of these religions – I'm picking the *central* claim of these faiths. It's the foundation. We're not talking about different colored bath towels. We're talking about the most foundational, basic claims of these faiths. Who is the center of the faith? Whom do you worship? What is the nature of that existence? That is essentially central to any such faith.

      Either there is only one God or there are many gods (or even there are no gods). But there cannot be all of the above. These are mutually exclusive, objective truth claims.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • EJ

      actually the LDS church comes closer to the Jewish tradition than any other faith. Such as ancient traditions including worshiping God in temples. Jesus himself was a Jew..but so many Jews had fallen away from the pureness of their own faith that they did not recognize him... In John 10 they are mad at him for saying he is the Son of God and he tells them in vs. 34-35 that in their own law it is written "ye are gods" ... you can find a reference to that in Psalms 82. ...Judaism is apart of our heritage. ..

      I think this couples relationship is unique and beautiful. I think before making judgments about something we don't understand we should try to find commonalities. There are more than you think. This world would be a better place if more people tried to understand each other than separate each other into groups and make rude assumptions about the other because they think they are too different...

      February 10, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  11. TalkingHead

    Feminist Mormon? Good luck with that.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • sancho

      More common than you would think. This article paints Dr Brooks as an outsider or as "unorthodox." But any member of the LDS Church knows many wonderful people very much like her.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • keb

      kinda like all those "good catholic women" who are taking birth control.

      February 6, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  12. Rabbit One

    Look dudes – i'll in no way contribute to hate or discouragement of any faith; however, all faiths as written by men or women who have believed themselves to have received divine communications are observably fallible and limited in their unique abilities to serve all humans equitably and admirably – those we find lame oppressions and slavery in most of these religions.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  13. bob

    Jesus was a Jew, right? Mormons were Jewish dissidents who came to America in 500BC, right? A jew and a Mormon sounds like a match made in heaven!

    February 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  14. Matt Slick

    Faith is great... in the true God. Faith in a false god is useless. You can feel good, do good, but you'll not be good on the day of Judgment. Mormonism is not Christian. It teaches that here are many gods, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163); There is a mother goddess, (Articles of Faith, Talmage, p. 443); God used to be a man on another planet, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 321); you have the potential of becoming a god, (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pages 345-347, 354); God resides near a star called Kolob, ( Pearl of Great Price, pages 34-35.) This is not biblical Christianity.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • bff

      and you know the biblical god (gods really – father/son/holy spirit) are true...how? The bible doesn't count as proof of the bible, either.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Clarify

      Exactly, Matt.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  15. David

    John 7:16-17 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. If we want to know the truthfulness of Christ's teaching, we must first follow them. The best (and only) way to know if the Book of Mormon is true is by reading it and following its teachings, then praying and asking God if it is true. "and if ye ask with a sincere heart, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost." (Book of Mormon – Moroni 10:4)

    I have taken this challenge on and can testify that this promise works and that the Lord Jesus Christ does answer our prayers, if we ask in real faith. It sounds to me like Joanna Brooks has done the same. I trust she is teaching her children to do likewise.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Jerry

      David: Why would I want to follow the teachings in the Book of Mormon if I'm not sure I believe it's true? That sounds a bit like brainwashing to me. If you follow the teachings of anyone for a period of time you are more likely to start believing they're true. Try this; do your own investigation on the teachings of Mormonism and the teachings in the bible and see if they're compatible. Use scripture to help explain scripture and not the teaching of your Bishop, etc. Buy a King James bible with scripture cross references and do your own study. I'll be praying for you. Jesus loves you and wants a personal relationship with you.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • David

      Jerry, my point is that they are the same. Following Christ's teachings is the way to know if they are true, as he promised in the scripture quoted (John 7:17). I don't think you would call that brainwashing, would you? I have made a study of the bible and the Book of Mormon and can tell you plainly that they teach the same gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ. I ask you to do the same study, and compare the Bible (King James is also my preference) to the Book of Mormon. If you do so with an open heart, with real intent, meaning you intend to follow the teachings as you become convinced that they are true, God will manifest the truth of it, and the unity of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, to you. I pray that you will do so and come to understand the fullness of the gospel as taught by Christ and his disciples in biblical times and restored to the earth in modern times.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Jerry

      David: The teachings are not the same. One of the major differences between Mormon belief and God's Word in the bible is the understanding of who Jesus Christ really is. God's word teaches that Jesus IS God, not a god, but God. God's word makes it clear that Jesus is part of the Triune God; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is made clear in the book of John; John 1:1-5, 14; Colossians 1:16; and Hebrews 1:2. The omnipresence of Jesus: Matthew 18:20; 28:20; Ephesians 1:23; 4:10; Colossians 3:11. The omnicience of Jesus: Mark 2:8; Luke 9:47; John 2:25; 4:18. Tghe authority of Christ: Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:22. The sovereignty of Christ: Phil. 2:9-11; 1Peter 3:22 and Revelations 19:16. Check those out for me and please be sure you pray that God would reveal His true self to you while reading those verses.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Jerry

      BTW: They are not the same and you know it because the Mormon church teaches that ALL other faiths are in apostacy.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • David

      Yes, we do believe that the apostasy prophesied by Paul in 2 Thess. 2, 1 Tim. 4, and 2 Tim. 3 occurred during the first century or two after Christ and his disciples preached and were killed. It required a restoration of the gospel in the latter days and not a reformation only to bring the fullness of the gospel that was taught by Christ and his disciples back to the earth.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  16. Student

    I wonder how she feels about being locked out of the highest level of heaven because of her choice of husband. Does she believe that this is true and accept that she's less heaven-worthy than mormons who marry mormons, or does she believe that this part of mormonism is wrong, as she believes their rejection of the LBGT community is wrong? Why is a schism such a bad thing? Lots of other religions have schisms, and they seem to do just fine. Even the Catholics have schisms, though they try to pretend otherwise.

    How does this whole thing impact her kids' heaven-worthiness in the eyes of the Mormon church? It's only touched on briefly, but some Jewish branches will reject the kids because their mother isn't Jewish. Are the kids doomed to rejection by both their faiths as they get older, unless the kids adopt the Mormon tenets their mother rebelled against? Seems like she might be setting the kids (or, perhaps, herself) up for a rather harsh awakening as they get older – much like her rejection from mainstream Mormonism as she aged.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Scott

      Nope, none of them are doomed to include the husband who is not Mormon. We believe that our Father in Heaven is Just and Merciful. None of us here can judge what will happen to anyone. God has a great plan and we (Mormons) firmly believe that if we all try the best we can, then by the grace of Jesus Christ we will all be saved.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • sancho

      To answer your 2nd question, her marriage has no bearing on the "worthiness" of her children. We all will ultimately end up where we really want to be.

      To answer your 1st question, I don't know how Ms Brooks thinks on this, but I know many Mormons in the same situation who simply trust Romans 8:28 "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." Mormons above any particular point of doctrine, tend to be hopeful and optimistic about salvation and grace.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  17. R. Glenn

    Mormons, we're such a horrid people. We worship Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and suffered in the garden for our sins and commanded us to love one another. We read the bible and follow its tennants, we pray daily as families, individuals, and at our meals. We try our best to serve our fellowmen and recognize all people as children of a loving and just God. Yes, we're terrible. We teach that families can be together forever and place emphasis that the family is the most important unit in heaven. We teach and encourage people to be more religious, whatever that may be, and say unto all, come and see. We teach faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost (Spirit), redemption by Christ, and know and trust a Living God. Yes, we are wretched. We make mistakes, sometimes grievious, and call on Christ to forgive us. While many still hate us, we continue our jobs, give service to our communities, and try to do the best we can. Come and see. If you want to judge us, truly judge us, come and see. See if living by our standards bring you life. Test our lifestyle and see if it doesn't improve your life.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Glenn

      Our – all of us – our "beliefs" are the cement to our core beings. So is it important to ask a Mormon about their beliefs? Sure. But, don't ask about the doctrine because that is where things tend to get a bit uneasy. Imagine asking Romney about the Mormon belief that Jews arrived in America on an air-tight submarine, hence the Native Americans are genetically tied to Jews. That is the cornerstone of the birth of Mormonism and it would be very difficult to explain.

      In fact – it totally proves that the Book of Mormon is a lie. Now, ignore the doctrine and you've got quite a nice group of people.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • sancho

      Glenn, none of the things you mention could be considered "cornerstones" of Mormonism. It is a stretch to even consider them doctrinal.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • yeah..but..

      By no means are you horrible people, for the most part Mormons are hard working people. But there are a few details that people really don't enjoy
      1.) If your not Mormon and live in an area heavily influenced by the LDS church, you are a loner, they look down on you, don't talk to you the same as they would a fellow church goer. your not invited to gatherings/ parties etc.. and they don't show up for yours. Your isolationists
      2.) The LDS door to door activities, yes its a right of passage of sorts, yes its how a lot of new members are gained, but to the rest of the people its extremely irritating/ insulting. (this comment will get some angry replies, but its true and i don't care)

      February 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Clarify

      It is not the "lifestyle", it is the prevalent blasphemy within the majority of Mormon doctrine. There are many "nice" people in the world (religious or otherwise) but causing others to fall is a major sin.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Taint

      All of you arguing over your storybooks is funny. You die, you don't exist. Sleep tight.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • biodan

      It is nice that you do good works, but no man is justified by works alone; redemption comes from believing and accepting the true gospel of Christ. All of the evidence suggests that the book of Mormon is a false gospel. The fact that you trust that gospel and teach others to do the same very likely puts you on shaky ground as far as grace is concerned.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Glenn

      R. Glenn – are you suggesting that the Joseph Smith, interpreted story from the Angel Moroni, who translated Egyptian hieroglyphics, that included the story of: AN AIR-TIGHT SUBMARINE FILLED WITH JEWS, and LANDED IN CENTRAL AMERICA, and that this story EXPLAINED THE STORY OF HOW THE NATIVE AMERICANS GOT HERE....IS TRUE?

      Further, are you suggesting that this is NOT the basis of the forming of the Mormon faith? Without this story, there IS NO BOOK O" MORMON. Again, my point is that nobody converts to Mormonism if they try to learn the doctrine of the faith.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • anonymous

      Glenn...There were people that lived here before the so called "submarine" arrived. You have the Mayan's and the Inca's that were here before. I think it is fascinating how people can be so hateful and quick to judge. There are things that are left as "mysteries" that we will not know about until after this life. I can tell you I know some really good people that are Mormons and some that are not so good. You will find that with any religions. It is up to us to do the best we can, learn all that we can and take what we learn and build on that. You will only find one perfect person and his name is not R Glenn. Follow his example and you will find happiness however that is interpreted to you.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • anonymous

      Sorry follow His example. That being Jesus Christ. I like what R Glenn was trying to get across.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  18. Joe T.

    I long for the day when these types of cults will be gone.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  19. MisterUncle

    And maybe one day this person will do something interesting...

    February 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • sancho

      It was interesting enough for you to read it and comment.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • MisterUncle

      Only 5 paragraphs because it's a slow news day. VERY slow.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • sancho

      What?!? You don't like CNN headlines like "Jessica Alba ponders Dark Angel diaper"??!!

      February 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • MisterUncle

      I'm about to go there.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  20. rob

    This is so silly. Who wouldn't be accepting of their eating customs and hardships.
    Where are the real questions?
    Does the Morman church reqognize her marriage with someone who is Jewish. He wouldn't have been allowed in the temple so how did they get married?
    I doubt there are few if any Christians that would have a issue with the way Morman's conduct themselves. How they pray, since, etc.
    The real issue that has been asked above and never gets a real answer is this:
    Do you believe as a Morman that there are three levels of heaven, which are obtained by works, and if you get to the top level you become a God and have your own planet?
    I have never heard a Morman answer this question. it is certially in their book of beliefs. So do you really believe that or not? If you don't, then say most Morman's don't believe that, or yes that is what we are working for now.
    Morman's usually skate those hard questions.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • sancho

      Hey, as a Mormon, I'll happily answer for you. No. The answer is no. I think you are a little confused on some points of doctrine.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Scott


      I don't know of any Mormons who shy away from the question you pose. I am LDS and I'd be happy to respond.

      Yes, we do believe in three degrees of glory as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:40-42. These are obtained by works, but we cannot also forget that they are obtained by the grace of Jesus Christ for he is the only one who allowed us to be resurrected and can give us forgiveness for our sins.

      We believe the highest degree of glory, or celestial kingdom, is where our Father in Heaven dwells. Those who make it there become like Him. This is because we are continually learning and have the power to procreate. However, this does not take away God from being God. He will always be over us. He is our Father. I'll be honest with you, I don't think we were ever promised our own planet or anything. This is definitely NOT mentioned in any of our scriptures. However, if you have a source that says one of our prophets said this, it wouldn't change anything. God would still be God.

      So to answer your other question, Yes, I (we) really believe this. This isn't the first thing we bring up to people because we typically try to teach the basics first (Faith, Repentence, Baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost followed by the Plan of Salvation). It takes a little understanding of basic principles before one not familiar with our faith can understand and appreciate this view. We don't shy away from the topic because we are uncomfortable with it. This is a fundamental part of our belief.

      To answer your other question, yes, the Mormon church recognizes that Brooks got legally married to her husband and therefore would not be committing any type of adultury. You are correct, her husband would not currently be allowed in the LDS Temple and therefore they were not married there.

      Lastly, I do appreciate the tone of your question. To me it sounded sincere and not criticizing or making fun of our beliefs. I found your post to be respectful and I appreciate that.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Imminent

      As some one who didn't know before, I'll explain it in simple terms: To the regular person, it sounds like there are three levels of heaven. To be a little more precise, there's three levels of "likened" glory (stars, moon and sun) that one can obtain but you still have to be a good soul to be worthy of heaven. However, there are different levels of good people in this world. Some do far more good than the rest and that's how the "degrees of glory" fit.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Shaman13

      Holy crap! I can have my own planet?!?! I'd kill to get one of those. That'd probably preclude me from getting one though; right?

      February 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • R. Glenn

      rob, Have you sat down and talked to a Mormon, or have you tried to get answer only through websites? If you really want to know, sit down with an active member and discuss these things. In answer, their marriage is recognized as legal and to "death do you part." We don't see it as an eternal marriage, beyond the grave, but that doesn't neccesarily mean it could not later be changed. We beleive as John 14:2 states, " In my Father's house there and many mansions." We beleive people will be rewarded based on their faith and faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We do works to show our faith to God, but always rely on his mercy. "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). As for owning planets, while there is doctrine related to this, to most LDS saints this is really minor doctrine (while we know it, we don't focus on it, and really don't discuss it and it is not very important at all in the grand plan of things) and while eternity is long time to learn, our objective is to return to live with God and be in his presence, continually learning and worshiping Him for the glories and mercies He has given us. I personally, just pray for Christ's mercies and am more concerned about living His precepts than any rewards in heaven.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • MormonChristian

      Hey, Rob. Does it make you feel cool to misspell the name of my church and make fun of /twist my beliefs in an anonymous blog?

      Thought so.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Joe T.

      R. Glenn, so you are saying only trust Mormons to tell you what Mormons believe? Because they wouldn't be dishonest at all, now would they? I'll trust independent sources over ones that are looking through rose-colored glasses.

      I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. Being able to see through that cult brainwashing has given me a keen eye into seeing bullsh !t Guess what, my radar is picking up some steaming piles over at the church of LDS.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Wendyjo

      Rob, sancho is either being untruthful or is ignorant of his mormon church beliefs. My family, on my father's side, has been mormon since being in this country. My American ancestors have been Apostles and Counselors to Brigham Young and a great uncle has been the 7th president of the mormon church – but, I am now a Christian after denying there is any truth in the mormon church and becoming a member of a Christian Church.

      Still, most members of my family are mormons, married in the mormon temple, do temple work and are otherwise "active" mormons. Many of my female, adult cousins talk about their heavenly futures: Saying they can't wait to share their kitchens with their kitchens with their husbands other wives because they are "people persons." They also can't wait to have spirit babies with all the wives and populate their new planet. And when talking about their planet, heavenly kitchen and producing spirit babies, their eyes take on a crazy glassy gleam. I became convinced that they were sincerely delusional with the help of their sociopathic church and now stay far away from them. I'm quite confident that they continue with their psychotic delusions, especially on fast Sundays. I use to have hope for them, that they'd discover the truth and come to know what a lying, thieving scoundrel Joseph Smith had been – that they and their ancestors had been used for his greed. Now I just stay far away, not wanting to catch the sickness they have. Their good works, and moral code, shared by the majority of Americans, gives them no promise of salvation. Their worship of Joseph Smith and his false god denies them salvation – and they are not smart enough to comprehend their fate.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • dal

      Thank you Mike for pointing the obvious.
      I cannot see how the author can reconcile her husband basic belief in one and only one God, and her religion belief about God to her children.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:55 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.