Here’s a topic I never thought I would ponder in this space: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But the Mormon church has come up quite a bit in the j. newsroom lately, mostly because of our newest blog, “Latter-day Shalom”(www.jweekly.com/blog/latter-day-shalom).
The blog is j.’s virtual space to discuss the Mormon and Jewish faiths’ commonalities and differences — don’t worry, it won’t all be serious — whose content is being filled by one of my closest friends, Christa Woodall.
Taking a cue from the L.A. Jewish Journal (which hosts the blog “Jews and Mormons”), j. wanted to launch something similar but didn’t know who should write the entries. I suggested Christa, a Latter-day Saint with a flair for blogging.
Her first entry, “Green Jello and Matzah Balls,” illuminated some of the religions’ similarities, from “paralleled histories of persecution to similar values of marrying within the faith and keeping a religious and cultural heritage vibrant, even in an ever-secularizing and homogenizing world.”
Christa’s words, not mine. And she’s got plenty more to come.
I recently got a rare opportunity to chat with Christa about Mormonism and why she wanted to jump into the Jewish blogosphere. I say rare because when we talk, the conversation almost never steers toward religion.
This time was different, though. We conversed for nearly an hour about controversial subjects such as Proposition 8 and posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims; how Mormons often are misunderstood; and her goals for the blog.
“Religion is such a serious topic because it’s something so close to people’s hearts,” she said. “Like politics, religion goes beyond sight and sound. It’s something you feel as a part of you. But I’m just me. I don’t want to be a history professor. I’m just this 20-something LDS girl who loves to study different things and write.”
Christa, a Brigham Young University graduate and self-proclaimed history buff, is no stranger to writing for the masses.
A communications professional, she has spent the last six years working in journalism and public relations. She is currently a marketing writer for a software solutions company in Provo, Utah.
We met in 2007 while reporting for the Orange County Register. I remember Christa rushing out the door on most days, but I never thought to ask where she was headed in such a hurry.
Turns out, she was on the public affairs committee of her local stake (a group of at least three LDS congregations, or wards), charged with promoting interfaith relations between the church and community.
A major component of her work was keeping misconceptions of her faith at bay.
“It’s similar to how Jews can be misunderstood or maligned,” she said. “Many people, for some reason, don’t like us. From Mormonism’s earliest days, we have been misrepresented. Sure, there are quirky things about our religion. But when they’re explained, they make sense. But you have to have an audience to take the time and hear.”
Of course, shows like TLC’s “Sister Wives,” a reality show documenting the life of a polygamist family in Lehi, Utah, and HBO’s “Big Love,” which stars Bill Paxton as the patriarch of a fundamentalist Mormon family, haven’t helped. (Polygamist culture was abandoned by the Mormon church in the 1890s, and today the church strongly opposes it.)
Upward of 14 million members worldwide follow Mormonism, which has standards such as abstaining from alcohol, coffee and tobacco.
Christa is a devout Mormon who has studied her religion extensively. She has explored what she calls the “strong kinship” Mormons share with Jews and plans to relay her findings in her blog. I hope you take time to read her insights.
“Latter-day Shalom” also is a space to have a little fun. She’s even on the quest to find a “good Jewish deli” in Utah.
“There’s one place in Salt Lake [City] that offers kosher food,” she said. “I want matzah ball soup and it’s nowhere to be found. I have to check the place out.”
Amanda Pazornik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.