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. binky

    Mormons are evil.
    Find out what Mitt Romney and the evil mormoon "church" are up to
    Google: The White Horse Prophecy

    April 28, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  2. ?

    Do a Wikipedia search on Joseph Smith to learn about the origin of the church. How this con man is considered a prophet is appalling.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  3. Cousin Death

    Mormonism is a stupid cult started by a man (like Muhammad) who simply wanted to have a reason to f * c k young girls and amass power. The idiot Smith was not a prophet and neither has anyone else in history.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Cousin Death

      Smith was just a dam pedophile. The Mormon idiots have a lot more in common with ragheads than they do with fellow non-Mormon Americans.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Mohammed_Islam

      I would not judge anyone as I have not been given this power... I believe The Almighty God (The Creator of the heavens and earth and everything between them which includes me, you and all of us :)) is the best judge and just... I will let Him decide for everything... I would be worried about myself and I will ask myself about my responsibility to the humanity....


      May 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  4. Natural Babe

    I am an LDS (Mormon) woman of 37 years. This woman does NOT represent the majority of women, nor does the church or its women espouse many of her perspectives. Julie Beck is actually the "it" girl of Mormonism. Go educate yourself about her and then write a legitimate article. CNN's Belief reporters need to get educated before I can take seriously anything they say about my faith and people or any other faith and people.

    April 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • MormonMom

      I'm a Mormon mom (42)–you know, the whole direct decendent of Heber, BYU, conservative upbringing, Relief Society teacher kind of mormon– and I couldn't disagree with you more. The variety of women in the church is wide and we should embrace it. Why do you feel the need to cast her as something less than you or the "majority" of women in the church. Why do you feel the need to wrap your comments as those of "the majority"? It creates this picture in my mind of lots of women standing together pointing their finger at Brooks and saying in unison (in that weird whispery monster voice I do when I'm telling my kids stories: "you are not one of us... " I'm pretty sure that you don't have any special claim to knowing what the "majority" of women in the church are like and what they think. Let's face it, there are plenty of members who are troubled by the historical beginnings of Mormonism and/or some of the cultural aspects of the church–some choose to talk about it, others don't–but they are no less representative of this faith than any others struggling with any issue. She sounds like she has a great family and that they teach love, service and tolerance to their kids. I think she's a wonderful example of the kinds of people we have in our faith.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Jessica

      I was raised LDS and was active in the church until my early 20's. I left the church because my moderate to liberal consience did not match up with what was taught.

      I remember sitting in Relief Society and hearing the women sitting around being catty. Gossiping about other members they perceived to be be less holy than they. These were suppposed to be my sisters and sisters to the women they were casting judgement upon. I am not ignorant. This type of behavior happens in all congregations of all faiths. Your comment reminds me of these women.

      May 21, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  5. NutGrinder

    Gross... Religious crack pots forcing their children to believe the same nonsense... Should be illegal!

    March 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • pastmorm


      April 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Audra

      You realize that this is an incredibly bias source. It is so twisted with myths and speculations it is sick.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Mohammed_Islam

      When a child become an adult and s/he takes her/his own decision, s/he is on her/his own... as s/he makes decision to go wherever s/he want to go or to hangout with whoever s/he likes and so on.... same way s/he will be responsible for her/his faith... this is the teaching of Al-Quran... also no one can force anyone to do/chose anything as Al-Quran teaches that 'There is no compulsion in religion' Chapter 2: Verse 257....


      May 3, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  6. david

    Guys, i think Mormon started when Christians are too comfy, and face no pressure. The core of Mormon belief is so "i-faith". if Christians are persecuted like those in China, Indonesia, Arabic and the non-Christians countries, they will find out the true spirituality. they certainly won't describe their faith as the 'i-faith" like some folks doing here. We in America, has too comfy life as Christians, that we start building multi-flavor of Christianity, and add so many childish things and try to defend it wholeheartedly. We are too much absorbed in our comfort zone.

    March 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  7. sarah

    Mormonism is one big joke. I lived in Utah for 28 years, and was nauseated daily by people obsessed with their church. What other religion markets itself the way they do? They are just a big corporation with a bunch of ridiculous fantasy stories for beliefs. Prop 8 is the nail in the coffin in my opinion. What a bunch of hypocrites. Yuck!

    March 16, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • unknown

      Sarah, the problem with what you are saying, to me of course, is that you have NO IDEA what religion is about. its not a corporation and a big joke, it is a CHURCH, with faithful members who have FAITH and believe in their gospel. they aren't obsessed with their church, they are DEVOTED! there is a HUGE difference between obsession and devotion, of which you frankly have no understand of. there are no Fantasies in the gospel, everything they believe can be pointed to either in the bible or their book of mormon which is then traced back to the bible. you clearly have no love or understanding of faith or devotion. maybe you should work on that before disrespecting religions which you know absolutely nothing about?

      March 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  8. Joseph

    Being Mormon myself, I have been discriminated against pretty much my whole life. When I see evangelical Christians telling Mormons that we are cultists is wrong, because we are no less Christians than they are. The only thing that these pasteurs are afraid of is the fact that mot only that we don't believe that people of other different faiths are going to hell for not believing in Jesus Christ, but we don't believe that we are a fallen people. What does that mean? The sins of the father are not the sins of the sons and daughters. You are your own person, and you make your own choices. You are not born a sinner, and nor are you going to hell for having contrary beliefs to Jesus and Judaism. How wrong is it to believe that people are not born evil miscreants looking to do harm to all without god in their life? It isn't. Aethists have just as much of a right in heaven as any Christian. Muslims have just as much of a right in heaven as Christians. Budists have just as much of a right in heaven as Christians. All faiths and non faiths are equals in the sight of God, and are not judged by there "Santa Claus-esque" views on Jesus. I have had enough of so-called christians who cannot live and let live people that don't share their opinions. Just because certain people may or may not believe in Jesus doesn't make them any less loved by God. Period

    March 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • pastmorm

      Oh Joseph your poor martyr....someone call the waaaahhhhmbulance!

      April 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Cousin Death

      If you have been discriminated against, that is disgusting and reprehensible. I say "F you" to all bullies. We should respect one another regardless of religion.

      Now, that being said, is important to have a free society in which we criticize dogmas like that of the Mormon faith.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  9. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusional.

    March 11, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  10. reason

    The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from stone age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.

    Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you lived your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.

    March 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  11. Andrew B

    As a former Mormon that graduated BYU and am now married to an orthodox Christian, I can relate a little bit. I just support my wife in her orthodoxy, and that has brought a lot of joy to our marriage, although I don't believe in the 'trueness' of it.

    I long to attend a church of like minded people, but my Christian beliefs now seem too nebulous and basic for most people. I also find organized religion starts off preaching unity and then always develops into something exclusionary–it turns into 'us' and 'them' and 'they' always end up not being as good as we are–nauseating.

    Maybe I need to move away from Utah? Yea, you know it baby......

    February 24, 2012 at 6:37 am |
    • Lhouzeia

      Oh man, that stinks. The only thing to do, rellay, is write a rebuttal (and in it, formally request the rebuttal be included in her personnel file). I would keep it as factual and non-passive-aggressive as possible. I would also include questions she would like answered (or assumes she knows the answers to, but technically doesn't know for sure) such as if more than one of her employees was interviewed, etc.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  12. Shane

    Has anyone ever read Plato's Cave allegory? It seems to me most people here are focused on what they have discovered by other's opinions and are not too concerned with finding out information for themselves. It reminds me of the people who are held in the cave for all their lives only seeing shadows of reality and never seeing reality as it exists. Plato makes an interesting point in this allegory: if one of these people was taken out of this cave and shown the real world and after forced back into the cave, would any of those people actually believe the stories he told of this "other worldly" realm? I'm pretty sure they would call him nuts, crazy, and try and shut him up.
    The same goes for many scientist who have come forth with new hypotheses. Techtonic plates were once thought to be a thing of myth, at one point the Earth was the center of the galaxy, at another the earth was flat. Modern science seems to have it's own high and low points in discoveries and cover-ups. If you can find me one scientist who does not have a personal opinion about the research they are doing, I'm pretty sure you're making things up.
    What we naturally do as people when we encounter information is first to try and make what we learn fit into what we believe. If we cannot do that we question whether what we believe is true or not. When we make a descision on this we must choose if we want to change our personal belief or cast it aside and form a knew opinion about what we know. Let's say we reject the knowledge, there is a chance we become spiteful or there is the chance we ignore it in later encounters. We generally turn angry at the information when we do not understand it or believe it is meant to offend us in some way. The bottom line of this is why be so offended by information that is merely that? Get on with your life and spend your time doing that which will benefit you the most.
    This article was meant to show the differences that exist in every culture. Mormons have a culture, Catholics have a culture, Muslims have a culture, Atheists have a culture, we all have our own personal and familiar cultures. There are struggles in all our cultures and crossing them and mixing them together makes conflicts all the more likely, let's try and be a little more thick skinned.
    I am a Mormon. I'm proud of being one. What I think and what my opinions are my own. There is one thing people always seem to overlook when debating about this religion. We believe in Christ, we know he is. We believe there are many good things on Earth which we should examine and explore, we are encouraged to do so. We also believe we have the privilage and right to worship God and Christ as we see fit, with this we believe all men have the same right; that they may worship how, where, or what they may.
    If you think I'm the one in the cave, so what. Are you going to try and prove me wrong? How can you? There is something about faith even other Christian religions seem to forget. It's not based on simply temporal knowledge but rather on believing in what is true even when you cannot see it. Just as a carpenter cannot see his end product when he starts, we cannot see our own end, be whatever it may.

    February 23, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  13. Paul

    Why stop at two? If they are right, so all the others must be too. How could you argue otherwise? It just proves the faith of the parent becomes the auto-faith of the kids, which means anything goes. Which means in turn that nothing goes.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  14. MormonsAreGay

    I think im comming down with a sinus infection

    February 21, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  15. ali

    What I don't get is all the anti-religion comments from people who are visiting a religion blog. Stop picking a fight and let people find meaning where they wish. Who are you to assert your superiority? I feel sorry for you not because you disagree with religion but because you are a bully and that usually comes from BEING bullied. Do you really think that someone who believes in God is going to stumble upon your snippy comment and will decide to end their "foolish" ways?

    February 21, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Audra

      Thank You! I was thinking the same thing.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  16. Bill the Cat

    A polytheist reciting the Shema is sad...

    February 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  17. Isaac

    I was slightly acquanted with Joanna when she worked for the BYU Student Review (she was a friend of my roommate was also part of the Student Review). She was the kind of person who left an impression on people with her intelligence. She probably wouldn't remember me but she might remember the "Standards Violator of the Week" series. If you are reading this, Joanna, the Naked Native American says "hi" from Abu Dhabi.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  18. sean burns

    What a fool. She seems intelligent enough; has she ever looked dispassionately at the beginnings of the Mormon Church and not seen Joseph Smith for the lying huckster he was? How could she believe his science fictional faith? It seems she is tied to the religion by nostalgia for the culture she grew up in, and though she has plenty of problems with their current tenets, she hasn't looked clearly at how they got there.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • Jpop

      You recommend dispassionate analysis. What, like the dispassionate analysis YOU are capable of? I've yet to meet a non-mormon who was vitriolic about Joseph Smith and his alleged huckstery–perhaps critical, but not vitriolic. You, sir, like most of your fellow headline-trolling wastrels, probably suffered some injustice from the mormon church and don't have the stomach to move on. Common decency requires respect for all lifestyles, religions, etc. Be a bigger person and grow out of it.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  19. King Kong Kolob

    Free lard bricks in the shape of cow to the first 350MM people to land on my planet.

    February 21, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  20. Randy Garner

    Mormonism is stupid and wrong. The end.

    February 20, 2012 at 5:20 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.