Write about Mormons critically, brace for death threats

Anybody who’s read Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven will be able to imagine the explosion of death threats, letter-writing campaigns, and bad reviews that have preceded the publication of this book:

The daughter of one of Mormonism’s most prominent religious scholars has accused her father of sexually abusing her as a child in a forthcoming memoir that is shining an unwelcome spotlight on the practices and beliefs of the much-scrutinized but protectively private Mormon religious community.

Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith” details how the author, Dr. Martha Beck, a sociologist and therapist, recovered memories in 1990 of her ritual sexual abuse more than 20 years earlier by her father, Dr. Hugh Nibley, professor emeritus of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and arguably the leading living authority on Mormon teaching.

The Times story chronicles some of the controvery that Ms. Beck’s book has stirred up. Her friend Russell Martin wrote to me yesterday and shared details (presumably discussed in the book) that I will not repeat here because I don’t feel like staring down even a frivolous defamation suit. Suffice it to say that I’ve already placed my order.

In the meantime, visit the book’s extensive website, or sample the hysterical reactions for yourself at this thread at Trib Talk.

Late last year I corresponded a bit with the author of Sisters and Wives, Natalie R. Collins, who, like Beck, used to live “behind the Zion curtain,” and whose novel currently has a higher Amazon sales ranking than The Book of Mormon. Collins’ experiences dovetail with Beck’s:

I was a little creeped out, as were my editor and agent, when the LDS Church publishing arm requested advanced copies of Wives and Sisters before it was even a glimmer in the St. Martin’s Catalog designer’s eye. Yup, they knew it existed before any promotional material of any kind went out. No big stretch. I’ve long known that they aren’t all that thrilled with my writing or my activities…. “But how would they know about it?” the publisher asked. Oh, my Web site, probably. Or my activity on a mailing list for Ex-Mormons where “trolls” are known to dwell. Maybe my mom told them. She means well.

Collins also talked about the difficulty of getting her book reviewed, the refusal of Utah bookstores to give her reading slots, and the “hundreds of Mormon hate-emails” she “opened [herself] up to” in publishing the book. Last I heard, she was thinking of asking Salman Rushdie for some self-defense tips.

Finally, in searching old email for my correspondence with Natalie, I came upon a funny, old message from a sender named “Not Telling.” Here’s an excerpt:

following the lead of “Left Behind” and countless Bible translations, Mormons have teamed with Doubleday to publish “The Book of Mormon.” This is the first time a secular publisher has handled the book.

For the small price of dealing with a conversion minded Mormon, you could have gotten a copy for free for over a century. Now, for under thirty dollars, you can get the book — without two missionaries attached.


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