Leaving the Saints, by Martha Beck

I’ve been waiting for quite awhile to read this book, as it seemed to take forever to come into my library. I enjoyed Martha Beck’s earlier memoir, Expecting Adam, when I read it last summer, and naturally I was interested in her account of how she parted ways with the Mormon church and also with her family, which was deeply involved with the church due to her father’s status as a prominent LDS scholar and apologist.

I have many warm feelings towards the Latter-Day Saints, largely because we Seventh-day Adventists tend to get lumped together with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses as “weird fringe religions.” Knowing how easy it is to have your beliefs misunderstood, oversimplified, and caricatured, I don’t like to see it being done to someone else. Plus, I’ve had a couple of good online LDS friends over the years who have given me a better understanding of their religion. So I wasn’t interested in reading a “hatchet job” on the Mormons, but I was interested in Martha Beck’s story of her own experience.

It’s not a hatchet job, and she does try to be fair to her former religion, but readers certainly won’t come away with an overwhelmingly positive impression of the LDS church. Primarily, it appears as a movement intolerant of diversity and dissent, which of course reflects Beck’s own experience. Many things about the LDS subculture were things familiar to me as a still-practicing but ever-questioning SDA: while our doctrines are quite different, the sense of a very closed and self-referential subculture is similar. My sense is that there is much more openness in the SDA church but I’m keenly aware that that is putting my personal experience up against Martha Beck’s: another SDA woman of my generation might have experienced our church as much more harsh and repressive, while I’m sure many of Martha Beck’s contemporaries have found the LDS church far more open and tolerant than she found it to be.

Her alleged sexual abuse, which is at the core of this story, has been denied by members of her family. It’s not something a reader can really make a judgement on the truth of, but she does tell the story in a very compelling way. Certainly I believed her while I was reading it. Beck writes with her usual warmth and energy, and a great deal more humour than I expected — I laughed out loud often during this book, though in many cases the humour is at the expense of LDS doctrine and practice, so it was somewhat guilty laughter.

You may like this book or hate it, agree or disagree with Martha Beck, but she is (as always) an engaging writer, and many of the issues she raises about the LDS church will be familiar to anyone who grew up in a conservative religious environment.

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Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

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