The Mormon struggle to fend off detractors didn’t stop after their trek West in the 1800s in search of religious freedom.
In many respects, it had only begun, and sometimes from within their own ranks.
The most recent high-profile critic, Martha Beck, used to be one of their own.
Beck was a mainstream, churchgoing Mormom, a Harvard-educated sociologist whose father was a revered professor emeritus of ancient scripture at the church’s Brigham Young University.
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Beck’s recently published memoir accuses her father, Hugh Nibley, of sexual abuse, and has been the target of an e-mail campaign by Mormons who said she has twisted the facts.
But Beck, 42, of Provo, Utah, hasn’t wavered, and said walking away from Mormonism is a tougher task than leaving other denominations.
“Mormonism is a ‘life world’ religion. It permeates every aspect of life,” said Beck, who recently visited the Valley on a book tour. “Therefore, to leave it is a much more drastic act.”
Her book, Leaving the Saints: How I lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, tells of her decision to leave the church and confront her father with the painful memories of childhood sexual abuse.
Her father denied the accusations and died in February, about the time the book was published. Beck’s book has been condemned by the church and has elicited angry responses from readers.
Her seven brothers and sisters defend their father, calling Beck a “masterful storyteller,” and claiming the book is full of errors and distortions.
Beck isn’t the first former Mormon to come out against the church. LDS leadership had long been accustomed to critics decades before Beck put pen to paper.
Jim and Judy Robertson, who founded the Mesa-based Concerned Christians ministry in the 1970s, left the church and have spent more than 30 years helping others who also are questioning.
Judy’s book, Out of Mormonism, tells the story of the couple’s disillusionment with church teachings.
Jim said the church’s teaching that all men have the potential to be gods contradicted what he read in the Bible.
He also objected to the church’s belief in “earning your way to heaven.”
The group provides information to Mormons, ex-Mormons and non-Mormons via its Web site, newsletters and support groups, and said it has helped about 2,000 Phoenix-area families who chose to leave the church.
Mormons even have to deal with critics on their own doorstep.
Lonnie Pursifull, 40, a minister from Duchesne, Utah, brought a group to the Mormon Temple to demonstrate on the sidewalk during the church’s Easter pageant last week.
“Half of practicing Mormons don’t understand their own religion,” Pursifull said.
“Everything they teach behind their doors after they do their thing out in public is not of God.”
Pursifull said he plans to be in Salt Lake City this weekend for the General Conference, his 25th trip there to protest.
“It’s deception,” said Pursifull, who said his grandparents helped build the Salt Lake temple.
“They’re trying to put on a face to make the world think they’re Christians.”