Fierce and faithful: the righteous life of Cathy Stokes

The righteous life of Cathy Stokes

Published: Saturday, May 19 2012 10:40 p.m. MDT

"She could be very tough, you know," added Gary Green, Christel's father. "She was not afraid to use salty language, if that's what it took."

A piece of cake

The Greens knows Stokes' directness — and her compassion — well. They lived in the same LDS congregation in the early 1980s in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.

"(Cathy) was basically my grandma," said Christel Green. She described sleepovers at Cathy's house, a brownstone with a baby grand piano, curved windows and wood decor. "I just remember feeling really comfortable there. It was like a second home to me," she said.

Her father said Christel and Cathy's friendship began when his daughter was just one year old. Stokes herself was new to the congregation and new to the Mormon Church in general. Her first introduction came on a flight to Hawaii when her pilot recommended his passengers visit the new LDS temple there.

She went to explore, and after a pair of missionaries at the visitor center failed to adequately answer her questions, she filled out a green slip to request more information, expecting "a magazine and a request for donations."

Instead, at her door, "I got two little white boys late in the evening, for which I scolded them for being out," she recalled.

This first pair, and many others, came and talked to her about the Book of Mormon. She in turn taught them about the Bible, because she usually knew more than they did. For Stokes, accepting Mormon doctrine was not a far cry from accepting Christianity, which came as a surprise to some of her Protestant friends.

"Do you believe in the virgin birth?" she would ask them. "Being a medical person, after the virgin birth, Joseph Smith was a piece of cake. God only had a conversation with him. That thing with Mary was a bit more complicated."

Once she joined the church, the LDS congregation in Hyde Park was energized by her presence and her urgings to sing hymns with some verve. But Stokes admits to struggling a bit with the cultural shift she encountered when she moved to Salt Lake City. Members of the church here are less likely to question anything, she said. She sees corruption of power in the state legislature. And she knows people in the church who cling to "old beliefs."

Black and Mormon

Some of those old beliefs were on display recently when BYU religion professor Randy Bott told the Washington Post that black members of the church didn't receive the priesthood because of 'the curse of the black skin.' His comments were condemned by the church leadership in what Stokes called "a beautiful statement against racism." But she is upset by an attitude she has witnessed in response to the incident. "There are a lot of people who tell me if the first presidency doesn't sign it and it isn't read over the pulpit, it doesn't count.

"Why should we need the first presidency (of the church) to say, 'Don't be a racist?' Jesus already told you. God told you in that second great commandment. How can being mean-spirited, destroying families, disparaging certain racial groups — how can that be loving your neighbor as yourself?"

Stokes' daughter Ardelia has felt estranged from the Mormon church of late because she heard a lesson in Sunday school that echoed Randy Botts' interpretation of doctrine, and no one challenged it.

Stokes' own frustrations are mitigated by the force of her faith. "In the final analysis, if you have something good that needs to be done, you can count on the Mormons," she said.

Gary Green said Stokes has often been an ambassador for the church to black communities. "The church has looked to her to represent them in certain things," he said.

'One of a kind'

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