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Keeping the faith, daring to be different

Updated 2:08 PM ET, Sun February 5, 2012
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Joanna Brooks, a faithful Mormon, believes there's room in her church for loving criticism. For 10 years, she turned away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But now she's back, writing and blogging about a religion and people she couldn't love more. david s. holloway/cnn
Brooks, a descendant of Mormon pioneers who struggled, is inspired by her heritage. She attends events like the annual Mormon Battalion Commemoration Day in San Diego to honor those who walked before her. david s. holloway/cnn
Each night at dinner, daughters Ella, left, and Rosa, right, recite prayers for Brooks and her Jewish husband, David Kamper. Sometimes the girls are inspired by their Mormonism; other times by their Judaism. david s. holloway/cnn
Ella, 8, wears her mother's bonnet while sitting in the driver's seat of a covered wagon at a historic site celebrating Mormon contributions to early San Diego history. David S. Holloway/CNN
Rosa, 6, opens a large cabinet in the family's garage to reveal stockpiles of food, which could feed the family for up to nine months, Brooks says. The LDS Church recommends food storage in case of disasters. David S. Holloway/CNN
Rosa helps out in the kitchen, stirring the ingredients for pancakes. When her daughters are old enough, Brooks says, they will choose the religious path they want to walk. She's not worried about them because "God has a plan for everyone." David S. Holloway/CNN
The Book of Mormon and a study guide sit among sections of The New York Times. Brooks is on a mission to humanize her often misunderstood faith and doesn't hold back in responding to editorials she views as unfair. David S. Holloway/CNN
Brooks met her husband at a union party for teaching assistants when they were in graduate school. She honors his Judaism, has never asked him to convert, and her acceptance has helped him get over what they call his "Jesus allergy." David S. Holloway/CNN
Scattered on the family refrigerator are signs of this household's spirit. Among the magnets are some from the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog, including one that says, "Jesus loves us. Who cares what you think?" David S. Holloway/CNN
Brooks and Kamper are professors and department chairs at San Diego State University -- she in English and comparative literature, he in American Indian studies. At night, in their home office, she does her research and blogging. David S. Holloway/CNN
With Mitt Romney's presidential bid, curious eyes are trained on Mormonism. Brooks, an Obama supporter and longtime gay rights activist, hopes people emerge from this election cycle more educated about and accepting of others. David S. Holloway/CNN
Brooks recently self-published her memoir, "The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith." Writing it allowed her to heal from past hurts she's felt as a Mormon and will someday help her daughters better understand their mother. David S. Holloway/CNN
She speaks openly about issues that many in the church wish she'd avoid. But Brooks is committed to being her authentic self. She refuses "to be ashamed of being Mormon" or of holding beliefs that don't mirror expectations. David S. Holloway/CNN
Brooks has emerged as an accidental and unofficial voice of Mormonism, all while serving as a full-time faculty member at San Diego State University. Her work ethic and ability to do so much at once don't surprise those who know her. David S. Holloway/CNN
As a young activist, Brooks watched her beloved church crack down on -- and even excommunicate -- her intellectual heroes. Today, she trusts that times are changing and that she can speak up without being cast into the wilderness. David S. Holloway/CNN
The life and home that Brooks has created with her husband are the result of a complicated journey. Like her ancestors who struggled before her, she fights for her faith. And she's at peace with her purpose. David S. Holloway/CNN