New Anti-Mormon Trump Card?

February 5, 2005

I have been undecided for several weeks about how to express my reaction to Marth Nibley Beck’s new diatribe Leaving the Saints (see review here and here) ever since I heard about it and read the first chapter last month. (Yes, this has already been scooped in the Bloggernacle here, here, and here, and in the comments on this BCC thread.) I have, however, counted to ten, metaphorically speaking, and resisted the urge to lay into her personally too severely on my blog (e.g. her anorexia, depression, homosexuality, and anti-Mormonness).

What I want to ask is if sexual abuse is going to become the ultimate new anti-Mormon trump card? As far as I know, as anti-Mormon as Fawn Brodie was, she never alleged that David O. McKay sexually abused her while wearing an Egyptian ceremonial mask.

But this is exactly what Beck alleges against her father, Hugh Nibley, as he wastes away on his death bed in Provo, Utah, surrounded by family, including all of his other children and his wife, all of whom have sworn affidavits in court that nothing of the sort ever happened in Hugh Nibley’s home. Why would she do this to her father? Oprah might say that it is obvious: she really was sexually abused, otherwise she would never do this to her father, noone would. But Oprah doesn’t understand the length to which anti-Mormons will go to malign the Church. In a way, Beck has resorted to the most effective anti-Mormon tool ever.

Claiming sexual abuse at the hands of a respected and successful Latter-day Saint scholar and priesthood holder is extremely effective because it allows Beck to side-step the sticky substance of the debate surrounding Latter-day Saint truth claims. If her first chapter is representative of her entire book, she does not footnote any of her antiquated, tired anti-Mormon barbs. She merely makes the anti-Mormon claims, particularly against the historicity of the Book of Mormon in the same paragraph as supposed recovered memories of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, a person largely responsible for battling against such anti-Mormon claims with sound scholarship from his knowledge of ancient languages, culture, and civilization. By taking this approach, Beck can act like these nineteenth-century criticisms of the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which have for the most part been squarely refuted by competent scholarship in the intervening century, are still valid. She can ignore all of the subsequent scholarly debate about these issues, which a credible treatment would both acknowledge in footnotes and provide thoughtful counterarguments against.

Thus, Beck has sunk to a new low in anti-Mormon diatribes, not even attempting to deal with the credible apologetics that defends the historicity of the Book of Mormon, much of which started with her own father. Her simultaneous hatred of the Church and apparent inability to surmount the difficult task of combatting the solid scholarship in defense of the Book of Mormon have led her to slander and now libel her father with claims of sexual abuse instead. That is the answer to Oprah: an anti-Mormon agenda knows no bounds, even the ingrained filial piety that would naturally dissuade even the most disaffected of daughters from bearing false witness against their own fathers for such a heinous deed. She has found the new anti-Mormon trump card; now we will see how many anti-Mormon copy-cats will follow in her footsteps.

As a side note, I wonder if it would be possible and/or feasible for the Nibley family to seek a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the release of the book on March 1 pending a suit for slander and libel. If I were Nibley, I would pursue that option. I know the family is “considering” legal action for libel, but a TRO would prevent the book to accomplish its anti-Mormon goal of indoctrinating the readers of discredited and illegitimate nineteenth-century anti-Mormon criticisms through the vehicle of sexual abuse claims rather than solid scholarship addressing the sound subsequent scholarly debate on these issues. Whatever the case, she can erase a lifetime of work in defense of the Book of Mormon–scholarly work that is well-respected–by merely saying “sexual abuse.”