book reviews, LDS

Repost: Elder Bill Shunn is the Accidental Terrorist…

Oops, I lied. I just thought of this book and decided to repost it today. I posted this on my original blog on January 3, 2016. It’s here as/is.

Some years ago, I read a fascinating story by a guy named William Shunn, an ex Mormon who writes science fiction.  He had written about how, as a Mormon missionary in Canada, he’d gotten into some serious legal trouble.  The story, as it was originally written, was condensed so that it could be read in one sitting. 

I had forgotten about Elder Shunn and his wild adventures as a missionary.  Then I found out that William Shunn had published his story into a full length book.  Remembering how exciting I found the excerpt I’d read online, I was eager to download it.  I just finished Shunn’s The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary and I’m happy to report that the story was just as fascinating and engaging as it was in its shorter form.

Who is William Shunn and how did he become an “Accidental Terrorist”?

Donald William “Bill” Shunn grew up in Kaysville, Utah, the eldest of eight children.  His parents were devout Mormons and raised their children to also be dedicated Latter-day Saints.  Like many young LDS men, Shunn had been saving up for and planning to serve a Mormon mission his whole young life.  His father had served in Germany and frequently told Shunn stories about the mission experience.

When Shunn was nineteen years old, he did what so many other young Mormon males do.  He put in his paperwork to become a missionary.  He also took out his endowments; that is, he went through the temple for the first time, donned “sacred” temple garments, got a new name, and became fully invested in the LDS church.  Bill Shunn came of age for the missionary experience in the mid 1980s. At that time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still had blood oaths in the temple endowment ordinance.  Four years later, that part of the temple experience was removed.

Around the time Shunn was planning for his mission, he met a pretty young lady named Katrina.  They started dating and the relationship quickly became serious… or as serious as it can get between two people who aren’t supposed to go to third base before marriage.

Shunn’s parents didn’t like Katrina, even though she was “gorgeous” and a church member.  Naturally, Bill was head over heels for her, and the feeling was apparently mutual.  They planned to marry once Bill finished his mission in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Bill Shunn writes very colorfully about what it was like to go through training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.  Then, he describes what it was like to go to Canada, where he settled uncomfortably into the missionary lifestyle.  Being a missionary made Bill miserable.  He missed Katrina and chafed at the lack of freedom he had.  So he decided to escape.  Shunn’s escape story was probably my favorite part of The Accidental Terrorist.  I’d love to describe it in this post, but that would spoil the story for others.  Let’s just say that he made a great effort that eventually failed.

Two months later, another missionary attempted to leave and roped an unwilling Shunn into helping him.  Having seen what happened to his own companion after he’d tried to escape, Shunn was determined to stop the other missionary from leaving.  So he called the cargo department of the airline the missionary was using and made a phony bomb threat.  Needless to say, that landed Bill Shunn into some very hot water.

My thoughts

William Shunn is an outstanding writer who has a real gift for painting mental pictures with vivid words.  I really had a hard time putting down this book and even stayed up pretty late last night to get through it.  While the book is entertaining and often hilarious, it’s also educational.  Interspersed with Shunn’s “terrorism” story is the story of Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS church.  I had read parts of Joseph Smith’s history before, but not written in such an engaging and entertaining way.  Also, I noticed that though I was familiar with Shunn’s story after having read it online years ago, this version is tighter and better edited.  I could practically envision the people involved in the story… it was as if it became a virtual movie in my mind.

I love a good missionary tale, especially when the missionary is an ex Mormon.  Bill Shunn’s life has turned out fine post Mormonism.  He and his wife, who didn’t turn out to be Katrina, now live in New York City and it appears that Shunn has been able to make a living from his writing.

You don’t have to be Mormon to appreciate Bill Shunn’s story.  I am not now nor have I ever been LDS.  My husband was Mormon for a few years and got me interested in the church.  I have been studying it for years, but have pretty much come to the same conclusions Shunn did.  It’s definitely not a lifestyle for me.

Anyway, I think you can tell this book gets my stamp of approval.  Five stars!

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book reviews, LDS

Reposted review of Perfect: The Journey of a Gay Ex Mormon

And finally, one more repost for today… another Epinions review from March 2012, posted as/is.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church) has been in the news a lot lately, partly because Mitt Romney, a prominent Mormon, is hoping to become the next President of the United States.  I have a keen interest in Mormonism, mainly because my husband, Bill, is a former member of the church.  I spend a lot of time on a Web site called Recovery from Mormonism (www.exmormon.org), which is a lively discussion forum populated by people interested in or affected by Mormonism. 

Many people on the Recovery from Mormonism site are former members of the church, but there are also participants there who still attend and some people, like me, who have never been LDS, but have somehow been affected by or interested in the church.  Having spent approximately nine years hanging out on that Web site, I have read many stories of people who were raised Mormon.  One issue that consistently comes up among ex-Mormons is homosexuality. 

Officially, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes a dim view of homosexuality.  In order to remain in good standing, church members who experience SSA– that is, same sex attraction– are required not to act on their homosexual feelings.  In many cases, members of the LDS church who are gay are encouraged to get “therapy” in an attempt to overcome their homosexual feelings.  Being gay and Mormon is a very big deal among the LDS faithful.  Mormons believe that marriage is only valid between a man and a woman and only married people can get to the Celestial Kingdom, which is the highest level of Heaven.  Every faithful member of the LDS church wants to go to the Celestial Kingdom when they die.

It was on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site that I first read about Joseph Dallin’s book, Perfect: The Journey of a Gay Mormon (2009).  Since I love true stories and have a special interest in Mormonism, I decided to read it myself.

Joseph Dallin’s story 

Born in 1975, Joseph Dallin grew up in Utah, the eldest of his Mormon parents’ six children.  He was a very faithful member of the LDS church and had always been obedient to the church’s tenets.  From the time he was a young boy, Joseph Dallin expected to go on a mission for the church, get married, have children, and live a happy, church-approved lifestyle. 

But then Dallin turned thirteen, a difficult age under the best of circumstances.  As Dallin entered puberty, he noticed that he was attracted to males.  Knowing his church’s rigid stance on homosexuality, Joseph Dallin realized that his feelings were inconsistent with the church’s teachings.  He immediately began to fight against those feelings that he had been taught were so inappropriate.

At age 18, Joseph Dallin went to college at Utah State University, where he met a lovely young woman named Emily.  Joseph and Emily bonded and became very close friends.  After their freshman year at Utah State, Joseph went off to Houston, Texas to serve a two year proseletyzing mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The whole time he was gone, Emily and Joseph wrote to each other.  Emily clearly had set her sights on marrying Joseph when he came home.  Then, the two of them would transfer to Brigham Young University and begin a happy life together.  But while the transfer to BYU happened, the marriage could not.  Joseph Dallin was gay and had too much integrity to marry a woman he could never love as a wife.

Joseph Dallin became embroiled in a battle between the man his church expected him to be and the man he actually was.  Dallin’s internal struggle almost led to his suicide as he tried to reconcile his forbidden attraction to men with the church’s strict teachings against homosexuality.

My thoughts  

I think Perfect is definitely worthwhile reading, particularly for those who have found themselves in Joseph Dallin’s situation.  His writing is very personal and thoughtful.  I think this book would be best received by people who already know something about Mormonism, although those who are very faithful to the church may be offended by it.  Dallin does not mince words as he describes his sexuality.  His writing becomes very vivid when he relates the struggle he had between his attraction to men and his desire to stay faithful to his beliefs.

Dallin writes that he began to have doubts about the church during his mission and includes some quoted material that may be offensive to some readers, particularly those who are LDS.  On the other hand, those who have thoroughly studied the church’s history will probably not be surprised or offended by Dallin’s revelations.   

Actually, as a non-member, the only thing that shocked me was that Dallin made his discoveries as a missionary.  Apparently, he was never taught about the church’s racist past and, in the course of learning more about his faith so that he could be a better missionary, Dallin discovered some disturbing quotes by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, a volume with which Dallin had previously been unfamiliar.  He writes on page 111:

“… we were teaching the missionary lessons to a black woman who was preparing for baptism.  I couldn’t help but wonder what she would think of this statement:”

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race?  If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.  This will always be so.

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10

It is a missionary’s job to convert new members.  However, in reading about Dallin’s startling revelations about his church’s history, it occurred to me that missionaries are selling something they may not know that much about.  And becoming a Mormon often requires major lifestyle changes and sacrifices that can actually tear apart families.

Dallin explains that the part of Mormon history concerning race was never discussed as he was growing up in the church or during his training.  He had discovered old doctrine that had been swept under the rug and whitewashed with more current doctrine by newer church prophets.  Suddenly, everything Dallin thought he knew about his faith was fragmented by new information.  He discovered he had been taught to rely on his feelings rather than logic or factual information.  Naturally, the new information led to Dallin’s feelings of betrayal and bitterness, which helped change his perspective of his church.       

Dallin’s story includes a lot of perspectives from others.  He uses sub-headings to relay his anecdotes and different fonts for letters sent and received during his mission.  I’m not sure the different fonts were entirely necessary.  I actually found them somewhat distracting, especially since he uses fonts that are somewhat unorthodox.  For example, letters from Emily are printed in a very flowing, feminine font.  Dallin’s letters are presented in a font that looks like handwriting rather than a more conventional type.

As a final note, I was impressed by the way Dallin’s parents handled his “coming out” to them.  While their reaction wasn’t completely without drama, ultimately, they treated their son with a lot of love and respect.  Their loving reaction serves as a fine example to other religious families dealing with a homosexual son or daughter.

Overall

I would recommend Perfect to anyone who likes true stories, especially if they are empathetic to homosexuals who are struggling with religion.  This may be good reading for parents who are struggling with a child’s homosexuality, particularly in relation to the Mormon faith.  I think this is an especially good book for gay Mormons in search of some reassurance that the struggle between faith and sexuality doesn’t have to lead to suicide or other drastic measures.  Perfect is ultimately a very positive book that may serve as a source of hope to others in similar situations.

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Repost: Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints…

This is a reposted book review I wrote for Epinions.com in May 2006. It’s being reposted as/is.

“The choice to believe or disbelieve, that’s what makes you free.”

I didn’t know it when I purchased it last week, but the book I’m going to review today, Martha Beck’s Leaving The Saints: How I Lost The Mormons And Found My Faith (2005) made a lot of waves when it came out last year. Of course, having never been a Mormon myself, I had no reason to be scandalized by the subject matter in Martha Beck’s book, nor did I have an inkling that I would be reading a somewhat scathing indictment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I didn’t know anything about Martha Beck or her famous father, Hugh Nibley. While I don’t claim to be anywhere near an expert on the subject of Mormonism, I have known a few members of the church in my lifetime and most of them have, at least on the surface, been fine people. In fact, I even married a member of the LDS church, although he very recently formally resigned from the faith. In any case, I was looking for something interesting to read when I found Martha Beck’s book, and indeed, I did find something interesting.

Leaving The Saints begins in the early 1990s, as Martha Beck and her husband, John, decided to move back to Provo, Utah after their second child, Adam, was born with Down Syndrome. They left their home in Massachusetts, even though Martha was finishing up her doctoral degree in sociology at Harvard University. The Becks longed for the security and sense of community they would get in Provo, Utah, where both John and Martha had grown up and where many of their family members still lived. They knew their son, Adam, would be universally accepted by their neighbors and they would be around people who would understand and support them. Like most of the people living in Provo, the Becks were devout Mormons. Martha Beck is the daughter of the late Hugh Nibley, a very famous and much revered man in LDS circles.

Beck writes that when she and her husband arrived in Provo, they were given the sort of enthusiastic welcome they had been expecting when they made their decision to move. Both Martha and John Beck started teaching at Brigham Young University (BYU); Martha taught on a part time basis while she finished up her doctorate. Before too long, she and John welcomed their third child, a girl named Elizabeth. For awhile, the Becks assimilated into life in Utah.

Beck became disenchanted with Mormonism when she started to discover how much the LDS church influenced the curriculum at BYU. She watched many of her most brilliant and talented colleagues get fired from their jobs simply for voicing opinions that undermined the church’s teachings. She both experienced and witnessed blatant gender bias on the job and claims that the church actually censored controversial topics. Despite the fact that she worked in what she describes as a very repressive environment, Beck counseled her students to question whatever didn’t ring true to them. However, according to Beck, BYU was not the intellectual bastion it was purported to be, as professors anxious about losing their jobs stifled themselves in order to keep church officials happy.

The bigger bombshell within this memoir, of course, is the fact that Beck openly accuses her father, the beloved Hugh Nibley, of sexually abusing her when she was a child. She writes about the memories of the abuse, which she recalled after she and her husband moved back to Utah. She also writes about some of the physical evidence of the abuse which was supposedly discovered during medical exams. Because Hugh Nibley was so well regarded within the LDS church, this aspect of the memoir is particularly scandalous, and if what Beck writes is true, quite damning.

Beck confronted her father before he died and intersperses the story of how that meeting went between anecdotes about her marriage, career, children, and the local culture. Toward the end of the book, she writes the story of how she and her husband left Mormonism and Utah. Evidently, the couple was forced to start their lives anew once they resigned from the faith. By Beck’s account, they were lucky enough to have the ability to start over elsewhere; apparently, other LDS members who doubt the veracity of the church do not have that luxury, mostly due to career or family constraints.

I found Beck’s writing to be very colorful and interesting; in fact, it was also often very funny, even as she lambasted the LDS church and made serious sexual abuse allegations against her father. Although at times Beck’s writing has a sarcastic, angry flavor, she’s able to temper her edginess with humor and warmth. Beck uses a lot of hyperbole to get her point across, which may actually make her account less believable to some readers. After all, when a person often exaggerates in order to make a point, it becomes harder to know where the exaggeration stops and reality begins. However, even though Martha Beck accuses her father of molesting her, I still got the idea that she still loved him and on some level, respected him. Even as she confronts him, she still is able to relate to him in a bittersweet way.

Before I read Leaving The Saints, I had heard of Hugh Nibley, but I didn’t really associate anything with him, positive or negative. For instance, I did not know that Hugh Nibley was a revered LDS apologist and scholar, nor did I know anything about his distinguished career at Brigham Young University, the premier institution of higher learning among devout Mormons. More importantly, I had also never heard of Martha Beck, herself a Harvard educated scholar, author of several books, Oprah Winfrey darling, columnist, and life coach. This is important, because in the few days it has taken me to read Beck’s book, Leaving The Saints, I have run across a number of different opinions about the book. Some people have praised it, calling it a moving, well-written memoir and heralding Beck as a brave heroine for sharing her intensely personal story. Other people have called the book an unfair, inaccurate, and hurtful attack against the LDS church and Hugh Nibley. I want to note that many of the people whose opinions I’ve read have had some direct exposure to the LDS church, either as current or past members. Again, I’ve never been a member of the church, so I’ve based my opinion only on how I feel about the book, instead of trying to determine whether or not Beck has written the truth.

Frankly, whether or not Leaving The Saints is an entirely true account, I found it a fascinating and engaging read. It appears to me, however, that if Beck did not write the truth, she paid quite a price for writing this book. First of all, Martha Beck and her husband, John Beck, are now divorced, a fact that she does not reveal in Leaving The Saints. John Beck has even posted a negative review of Leaving The Saints on Amazon.com, claiming that she lied about some of the content. Secondly, Beck’s family has publicly come out against her, accusing her of lying about the alleged sexual abuse. I don’t know if Martha Beck is telling the truth or not. At this point, I have no reason to disbelieve her, since I don’t know anything about her aside from what I’ve read. And again, since my religious faith is not being attacked in this book, I have no reason to criticize what Beck has written about the LDS church. I can only base my opinion about her allegations against the church on what I’ve heard and read about from other people. Based on those aspects alone, I’m inclined to believe at least most of Beck’s story. Even if what she wrote isn’t entirely true, it’s still a hell of a story.

That leaves me to explain the title of this review. I found the above quote toward the end of Leaving The Saints. John Beck had just resigned his church membership and it had been all over the local news. Martha Beck was still a member in good standing and was moderating a women’s issues forum being held at BYU. The forum was discussing domestic violence and sexual abuse in a roundabout way. Some of the attendees were getting upset, claiming that no one on the panel had ever experienced sexual abuse and therefore none of them knew what they were talking about. Martha Beck had, up until that point, been portrayed to the women as a blueblooded Mormon above reproach, even though her husband had just left the church and privately, she was often “counseled” about her outspokenness. As the angry women in the crowd continued to grumble among themselves, Martha Beck stood up and announced to the attendees that she was an incest survivor. And after she told them about her personal experience as an incest survivor, she said those empowering words, “Choose to believe or disbelieve, that’s what makes you free.”

The aftermath of Beck’s public confession was not exactly what she had expected it to be. After the conference, she was swarmed by appreciative women who thanked her for sharing her story. Now that her story is in print, many others have also thanked her for sharing her story. It’s clear to me that even if Martha Beck hasn’t told the truth, she has helped a lot of people who have lived with the shame of sexual abuse and moved many others who haven’t lived that unfortunate reality. If she has unfairly tarnished her late father’s name, I suspect she will answer for that someday.

I doubt most devout Mormons, especially those who admired Hugh Nibley’s work, would enjoy reading Leaving The Saints. Martha Beck certainly does not cast the LDS church in a flattering light and I suspect that many Mormons will feel that she is attacking their beliefs. Personally, I liked this book. Now that I’ve finished it, my husband Bill will read it and hopefully he will add his own review from the perspective of someone who has direct experience with Mormonism.

Martha Beck’s Web site: https://marthabeck.com

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Repost: My review of Suddenly Strangers: Surrendering Gods and Heroes

Here’s another repost of a book review. This one was originally written for Epinions.com on April 30, 2009. I reposted it on my old blog in July 2014, and I’m reposting it again today, as/is.

Note from 2014

A few years ago, I read an excellent book by Chris and Brad Morin, two brothers who decided to leave the LDS church.  They were from a large family and their decision to leave the church was not met with a lot of acceptance.  The brothers came together to write their story.  I think it illustrates one terrible issue that people run into when they decide they don’t want to be Mormon anymore.  For a belief system that claims that families should always be put first, the attitude toward those who question the beliefs sure is harsh.  Suddenly Strangers is a very well-researched book with plenty of examples from church approved sources as to why the brothers decided it wasn’t as true as it claims to be.  I strongly recommend it.

A few years ago (in 2006), my husband officially resigned his membership to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He had many reasons for doing so. The main one, I think, was that he had pretty much joined the LDS church as a means of saving his first marriage. My husband and his ex wife had converted to Mormonism just three years before they divorced. At the time, it had seemed like a good thing to do, since the church seemed so wholesome and family oriented. They went through the “discussions” with a couple of nice missionaries and were very warmly welcomed as a “golden family”, so called that because they had come to the church on their own accord. But not long after he joined the church, my husband started to learn much more about his new faith and found that he didn’t agree with it. Worse, my husband’s former wife used the church as a mechanism to turn his children against him. When the marriage finally crumbled, so did my husband’s testimony. He became inactive and formally resigned his church membership several years after he had married me.

I have never been a Mormon myself, but my husband’s participation in the faith piqued my curiosity about it. I began to read a lot of books on the subject, and that’s how I came to read Suddenly Strangers: Surrendering Gods and Heroes (2004), by Brad L. Morin and Chris L. Morin. These two authors are brothers who, along with their nine other siblings, were brought up as faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The church had been the focal point of their upbringing and family life. It was also a large part of their heritage and history. They had been taught that the LDS church was the only true church, and that apostacy and denouncing the church was worse than committing murder or adultery. And yet, even so, they felt compelled to leave the church, despite the fact that they knew how negatively their friends and family would react. Suddenly Strangers is the story of their departure, along with their well researched and documented reasons why they left.

Why leaving is such a big deal

I was brought up as a mainstream Presbyterian and that faith, by and large, has been the only one I’ve ever followed consistently. In my church, if someone grew disatisfied and wanted to leave, it was not that big of a deal. Sure, church outreach volunteers might call and ask for an explanation and issue a welcome back, but it’s not like the decision was likely to break up families or cause divorces.  People just leave and that’s it.

As Brad and Chris Morin point out, making a similar announcement to their very devout Mormon family members was bound to cause a great deal of backlash. When they did make their announcement, the reactions were varied. One sister called them and pronounced them “wicked”. She told them she never wanted to see or hear from them again. A couple of brothers expressed sorrow, but otherwise respected their decision. Another brother wrote a letter full of demands that placed conditions on their future relationship. A niece wrote a letter to Brad Morin that practically begged him to reconsider and pray to God for assurance that the church was true.

Of course, the two brothers also had to break the news to their wives. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for LDS marriages to break up when one spouse no longer believes. At the time of his decision, Chris Morin was the father of a one year old child and another child on the way. He actually entertained the idea of his wife, Cathy, divorcing him and remarrying a faithful church member so that his children would grow up in household without a doubter. Then it occurred to him that no stepfather could possibly love his children the way he did. As I’ve witnessed my husband’s pain as his daughters have pretty much grown up without him, I could relate to that thought.

Many reasons for going

In this very well documented book, Chris and Brad Morin include many personal and doctrinal reasons why they could no longer be faithful Mormons. They include many quotes from Brigham Young, some of which ranged from the ridiculous to the unsavory. Brad Morin is a professional educator and he found himself researching some of the historical claims made by the LDS church. He found that many of them couldn’t be accurate. Both brothers discuss how they watched church members behave when someone began to express doubts. Rather than respond to the scrutiny, it was immediately assumed that the person was reading anti-Mormon literature, consorting with apostates, had been offended by another member, or simply wanted to sin. It occurred to them that the judgmental attitudes they were encountering were not in harmony with the warm and fuzzy “families first” image the church put out to the world.

Aside from Brigham Young…

The Morin brothers include transcripts of interviews involving Larry King and the late Gordon Hinckley, who was until recently the church’s prophet. With each chapter, they include actual quotes from church leaders and philosophers. It’s clear they’ve done their research along with plenty of thinking about their decision.

My thoughts

To be honest, I’m of two minds about this book. I definitely think Chris and Brad Morin did exhaustive research in order to make their compelling arguments against the church. Those arguments are no doubt very valuable to those who would want to use official doctrine to disprove Mormonism. However, the part of the book that I found most compelling and more interesting was their discussion of the reactions they got from their family following their decision to resign. I was very surprised and somewhat dismayed to read some of the things these once loving family members said. On page 134, Brad Morin quotes a brother as saying the following when he found out about Morin’s decision:

I am going to be honest with you. I don’t ever want to talk to you again. I don’t want to see you again. I don’t want any letters or e-mail from you. If you write a letter for the family newsletter, I will not send it out. I don’t want you coming to visit on the nineteenth. I still love you, but I don’t ever want to see you again.

A brother-in-law e-mailed the following after Chris Morin announced his decision to quit:

Just heard from Chris, and respectfully speaking, of course, I’m not so sure you didn’t exert some influence there… I think you need to allow people to make their own decisions without your influence… Choices about religion lead to divorce, bad family feelings, and really crappy family reunions, otherwise known as dysfunctional families. People who leave the church end up with huge chips and a need to convert others to their new found philosophy. (137)

It struck me as mildly ironic that this brother-in-law was so quick to chastise Brad Morin for not letting Chris Morin make his own choices. It seemed to me that the brother in law was really selling Chris Morin short, as if he were a child who couldn’t think for himself and had to be talked into coming to the same conclusion his brother had.

But in my opinion, the most offensive missive came from a brother who wrote the following to both Brad and Chris:

The thing that scares me most is your current beliefs. Those beliefs have the capability to destroy me and my family, and anyone who subscribes to those beliefs… You must not say anything to my wife or children about Joseph Smith or any prophet of the church, or any church leader or any church writings, or any church history… We read scriptures in our house. We say prayers in our house. If you visit us you will observe at least one of those maybe both. If we visit your houses we expect to be able to give thanks for the food and to read scriptures even if in our bedroom… If you cannot make this promise to me or if you make this promise to me and break it, my family will not associate (Face to face) with yours… Is this drastic? You bet it is. I have everything I have ever wanted, to loose [lose], if I am deceived. (139)

The pervasive fear that comes from these emails is very surprising to me, but what surprised me even more was when one of Brad’s very intelligent and fair-minded friends produced his own reasons for staying faithful to the church. And then he followed up by stating, “…if it isn’t true, I don’t want to know it” (149). Brad Morin compared this statement to the attitude some people have about not wanting to face reality, particularly when it’s distasteful. He likened it to someone who doesn’t want to know they have cancer. It just feels better to ignore evidence and pretend that everything is okay.

Things I didn’t like about this book

I didn’t really care for the way this book was laid out. The brothers took turns writing chapters and include boxes with quotes in them, endnotes, and various other distractions. I found this layout particularly hard to deal with when I read the heavier chapters that had to do with the church’s doctrine and history. However, even though I found the endnotes a bit distracting, I do think they will be very helpful to people who want to verify research. The list of references is chock full of resources.

I also felt that the writing could have been more polished. This book reads as if the two authors sat down and typed it out without having an editor wade through some of the redundancies. Consequently, some of the material is wordier than it needs to be, particularly in the sections where letters and emails are quoted.

Overall

I think this book may very well be offensive to some readers. If I shared it with my husband’s daughters, for instance, they would probably dismiss it as being full of lies. On the other hand, I don’t know that this book would appeal so much to the casual reader, either, since it takes a somewhat academic approach. I think this book will be most valuable to readers who have been in the Morin brothers’ shoes at some point and have some understanding of where they’re coming from.

Sadly, this book has probably already been labeled as “anti-Mormon” literature by some of the people who might benefit from it the most. In case anyone is wondering, I didn’t get the feeling that these authors had a chip on their shoulders or an axe to grind regarding Mormonism. They even state several times that they value many things about the church and still live the clean lifestyle favored by church members, minus the temple garments. But I fear that some people will still want to dismiss it because it’s a book about two guys who fell away from their religious beliefs… beliefs that were chosen for them before they had the chance to decide for themselves.

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Repost of my review of Dancing On the Head of a Pin by Pamela McCreary

And finally, here’s an “as/is” repost of a book review I wrote for Epinions in August 2011, when I was reading a lot of “ex Mormon” literature. I’m preserving it for the interested.

Those of you who regularly read my Epinions book reviews may know that my husband, Bill, is an ex-Mormon.  Though I have never been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I did witness my husband’s exit from Mormonism.  I now find myself attracted to books about people who have left Mormonism.  I also have quite a few Facebook friends who have left the LDS church.  A week or so ago, one of them posted a video by author Pamela McCreary.  In the video, McCreary explains how for the first thirty-five years of her life, she lived “another person’s story”, then decided to go her own way.  She mentioned that she had published a book, Dancing on the Head of a Pin, that was available on Amazon.com.  I am a sucker for Mormon exit stories, so I decided to read it.  

Who is Pamela McCreary? 

At the beginning of Dancing on the Head of a Pin, Pamela McCreary establishes that she and her two sisters grew up near Warrenton, Virginia during the 1970s.  Her mother had converted to the church when Pam and her sisters were very young; their less devout father joined about ten years later. 

Always one to march to the beat of her own drummer, teen-aged Pam dreamt of going off to a small liberal arts college in New England to pursue her love of acting. But Pamela’s parents had other ideas about what their daughters should be doing with their lives, and they declared that they would only offer financial support to them if they attended colleges run by the LDS church. In the 70s, that meant they had a choice of either Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah or Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) in Rexburg, Idaho. Moreover, Pam’s parents made it clear that they expected their daughters to go to college to find worthy husbands, not to indulge in “silly” fantasies about becoming an actress or launching a career. Pam opted for Ricks College because she hadn’t been a good student in high school and she felt sure BYU would not accept her.

There were not very many Mormons in Virginia in the 1970s, so Pamela McCreary grew up with many non-Mormon friends. Although the LDS church forbids members to smoke, or drink alcohol, coffee, or tea, many of Pam’s friends indulged in drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking cigarettes or marijuana. A lot of them were also having sex outside of marriage, another “no no” for devoted members of the LDS church. Nevertheless, Pam tried to be faithful to her religion, and she dutifully spent a miserable year at Ricks College.

In July of 1974, 19 year old Pam returned to Virginia and decided she would not be going back to Idaho. Moreover, she spent more time with her non-Mormon friends, who were hanging out in Warrenton or Georgetown, drinking, smoking pot, and dating. One night, Pam went out with a friend and hooked up with a couple of guys from Warrenton who needed a ride home. Pam drove her friend home; when her friend got out of the car, Pam was left alone with the two guys she didn’t know so well. One of the men suggested that they smoke pot. They did, and then Pam wound up being raped by both of them, forever changing her life.

Pamela McCreary explains how she was traumatized by the rape, and tried to hide from the pain of being violated by hiding in the safety of the LDS church. She repented, went back to college at BYU, got married to a man she barely knew, had three children, and became a housewife. She was protected from the dangers of the world, yet desperately bored and unhappy. She yearned to be an actress, yet felt constrained by the LDS church, and her role as a wife and a mother. Eventually Pamela McCreary found her way out of Mormonism and into a life that was more appropriate for her. But her exit from the church was definitely not without its pitfalls.

My thoughts

I found Pamela McCreary’s story very engrossing, and managed to finish the book within a couple of days. For the most part, I thought Dancing on the Head of a Pin was well-written, insightful, and interesting. Like Pam McCreary, I am also a native of Virginia. I’m pretty familiar with Warrenton, too, having had friends who lived there. I liked the way McCreary explained the way the LDS church works. Her explanations will, no doubt, be very helpful to readers who don’t know anything about Mormonism.

Since I started hanging out on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site, I’ve read a lot of exit stories written by formerly comitted members of the LDS church who, for whatever reason, eventually decided to leave. The social and familial pressures to remain a faithful member of the church can be overwhelming. Pamela McCreary’s crisis of faith came about not just because she felt stifled, but also because she had done a lot of reading about the LDS church’s history. She includes quotes from official church sources. Some of the more damning passages, helped in her decision to stop believing in Mormonism. As she quotes from some of these official church sources, McCreary states outright that her book would not be approved reading for true believing Mormons. Members of the church are discouraged from exposing themselves to anything that would shake their faith. That includes stories about people who have left the church, even if they were led out by the church’s own verifiable history.

Pamela McCreary’s story is compelling, but this book is not without flaws. There are a couple of minor editing glitches. McCreary is occasionally redundant, and there are a couple of instances where I had to figure out how some of the people she writes about fit into the story. Sometimes her story seems a bit glossed over; she mostly skips over her husband’s and children’s reactions to her apostasy, while including some very simplified stories about relationships she had after her first divorce.

I also found McCreary slightly boastful and self-centered. She often harps on her acting talent, and sometimes makes it sound like she’s God’s gift to the theatre. Toward the end of the book, she writes about finally telling her mother about the rape, as her father was dying of cancer. In the course of that confession, McCreary writes that she confronted her mother about how she had never felt accepted for who she is. While I applaud McCreary’s decision to confront her mom, I was kind of appalled at her sense of timing. I can only imagine how I would feel if I were a dedicated member of the LDS church; my daughter was an apostate; and to top it all off, as a teenager, she was raped by two men and never bothered to tell me about it until my husband was on his death bed!

I really liked McCreary’s story, but if I’m honest, her description of that incident did not make me like her very much.  Fortunately, McCreary implies that the confrontation eventually led to an epiphany of sorts, which was very healing to the relationship.

Pamela McCreary’s “I’m an Ex-Mormon” video

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that I found out about Pamela McCreary by watching her “I’m an Ex-Mormon” video. That video was just one of many presented by ex-Mormons as an answer to the recent “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign being run by the LDS church. You can find them on YouTube and, if you are the slightest bit interested, I highly recommend watching them. Some of the videos are very touching and uplifting, and all of the ones I’ve seen have been well done.

Overall  

I am glad I read Pamela McCreary’s book, Dancing on the Head of a Pin, even though I think it could have been better edited.  I would recommend it to anyone interested in stories about people who have decided to leave the LDS church.

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