A Must-Read Essay on Martha Beck and the Assault on Hugh Nibley

As Things Stand at the Moment: Responding to Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints” by Boyd Petersen is an essay I urge you to read and ponder. I was touched by the profound emotions yet firm restraint demonstrated in the reasoned response of Boyd to the outrageous attacks of his sister-in-law, Martha Beck, on the Church and his family. What he says and how he says it has value to all of us as we deal with the many nasty charges that are hurled our way by enemies of the Church.

I also think there are some important but brief insights into the dangers of recovered memory therapy.

I also agree with Boyd in his opposition to kidnapping the elderly. Not sure why so many in the media and in RFM circles don’t get the seriousness of what Martha did. How can they take her work seriously?

Update, Oct. 18: The third comment below was deleted for its use of profanity. So you know, it was someone who said he served a foreign mission, was treated terribly, nearly died from illness, and was then told to lie about his experiences. He also said that he saw racism from Utah/Idaho missionaries and that he stood out for opposing it. Now he’s out of the Church and is fighting against it.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

30 thoughts on “A Must-Read Essay on Martha Beck and the Assault on Hugh Nibley

  1. I was at that conference and met Boyd and Zina Petersen, and there are few kinder people in this world. Boyd’s biography of Hugh Nibley is a wonderful book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

    It’s a horrible shame that Martha had to publish her book just before Hugh’s death.

  2. For what it’s worth, a great many people in the RfM community, including myself don’t give Martha any credence.

    “Recovered memories” are perhaps psuedoscience at it’s worst.

    Those who do give her credence are just those who like to jump on anything negative.

  3. I served a mission as well, and while I had some bad experiences, there were also many, many good and uplifting ones. And every other person I’ve met who has served has said the same thing.

    I’m not one to discount people’s experiences, but an anonymous post that accuses everyone in, around, and near your mission experience of evil, lies, and hypocrisy is scarcely believable. I suspect there is more than a little exaggeration in your story, and even some downright fabrication.

  4. It’s a pity to see this topic completely hijacked by an irrelevant and mean-spirited rant such as Anonymous’. Like Martha’s self-contradictory book, the rant asks us to believe that (1) its author can’t remember much because he suffered a disease and (2) that we should unquestioningly accept his memory of terrible things being done to him by the Church. On a more relevant note, I’m happy to see such evils as Martha Beck’s exposed. I wonder if Oprah will be willing to pay any attention.

  5. Wow. What a coincidence!

    Everybody I’ve ever dealt with has treated me badly, too, and every experience I’ve ever had was bad, and it’s all everybody else’s fault. And, to top it all off, I’m also a genius!

    Maybe we should get together and write a book!

    Nah. Never mind. Nobody is worthy of reading it.

  6. Besides, Anonymous B, if you collaborated with Anonymous A on a book, he would oppress you, cheat you, hurt you, steal your heater, call you a racist name, and starve you into losing seventy pounds. That’s what They always do to Us.

    Wasn’t this thread supposeed to be about Martha Nibley Beck?

  7. Concerning bitterness against the church in general:

    Poor experiences on a mission are NO EXCUSE to rail against the church. Trust me. I had exaggerated, if not outright false, accusations laid against me (it took months to regain the President’s trust–in the meantime, we were limited to tracting. No member visits) and VERY incorrect diagnoses given me (I was told I had bronchitis by the mission nurse when, in fact, I had pneumonia. If I didn’t contact a real doctor, things could have been bad). This goes without mentioning a some unpleasant times with very volatile companions (Indy, you and I can relate somewhat).

    Never mind that my calling in the mission was unique, causing other the mission president to think that we were unproductive and/or lazy. It was a tough situation for everyone. He had a mission to manage, and I had an area to manage. We both tried to act with our best judgment.

    I hold absolutely no malice in my heart against my mission leaders. Whatever mistakes I made or they made are absorbed into a larger picture of success. Few mission mistakes are so large that they cancel out the overwhelmingly positive outcome of the mission. Again, those of you familiar with my posts know that I seldom make such general statements.

    If my bishop came to me today and said, “Walker, will you go on another mission?” I would say, “When does the plane leave? I don’t want to be late.” Say what you will about me being brain-washed, deluded, overzealous, yadda, yadda. Bottom line: I wouldn’t trade my mission experience for anything, pneumonia and all.

  8. My issues with that unbelievable rant laying the blame for all his and the world’s ills on the Church aside, I implore you, Jeff, to remove that word.

  9. Personal morality aside, Jeff DID say that all posts with vulgar information contained therein would be removed.

  10. Kudos?

    Mormanity probably hasn’t noticed it yet.

    Objecting to obscene language doesn’t make one a prude, and using, publishing, or preserving obscene language doesn’t make one a hero. Let alone a “genius.”

  11. Walker, I hope I can go on a mission again some day, too. Maybe I’ll get it right next time.

    I’ve talked to missionaries who were already in the field when “raise the bar” was implemented, and they said they noticed a change.

    I can envision it taking a couple more years for the “raise the bar” program to be fully effected, as young men of pre-mission age see the new requirements in place during their teen years, and no longer get wild stories (or fewer wild stories) from older pre-mission teenagers and RM’s.

    In other words, I think it will take a “peer group generation” (4 to 6 years) for the old mind-set (live as wild as you want, then turn around right before the mission) to stop being passed on from peer-to-peer.

    Then, in another family-generation (25 years or so), the higher-bar RM’s will raise up an even better generation.

    That’s not to say that there were no fathers or missionaries living the higher standards all along. Most missionaries of the past did live the current standards. I’m talking about the 15% to 25% of young men who were just rubber-stamped and sent on out.

    As I understood Ballard’s “Raise the Bar” talk, and compared it to what Elder Monson said 22 years ago, the stated standards haven’t changed, they’re just being enforced more strictly now.

    I think it might take a generation for the old mind-set of some fathers (those who, as missionaries, were themselves in that 15 to 25%) who say “let them be wild until they’re 18 or 19” to finally die out.

    I met the fathers of two of the “wild elders” in my mission, and I could see how attitudes were passed on. The acorns didn’t fall far from the trees.

    One of those elders did at least commit to a turnaround when starting his mission, to obey all the rules, and he ended up being an A.P. The other elder seemed to have committed to “getting away with as much as possible” and he was just a hair’s breadth from being sent home.

  12. Walker, Some day Anonymous A may well see how his suffering was worth it. Suppose one of his converts looks him up in the Spirit World or during the Millenium and tells him about all the good things that resulted from him delivering the Gospel.

    I believe in a glorious reward for all those who remain faithful through tribulation. And for those who apostatize due to extreme tribulation in His service, I think a compassionate savior will be very merciful and quick to forgive.

    (I try to remember that forgiveness of sins does not equate to receiving a glorious reward. Absence of punishment does not mean that rewards are given for services not performed.)

  13. I’m feeling charitable, so I’ll throw Anonymous A another bone. Yeah, some of those Utah boys, having grown up in lilly-white communities hadn’t learned much sensitivity regarding people who weren’t like them. I experienced prejudice for being a convert from “What do you know? You’re just a convert!” to one who was well-meaning when he said “Gee! You know a lot for a convert!”

    I get the impression that his story is an amalgamation of several different ex-mormon RM’s. The sad thing is that there is usually a particle of truth in things like those.

    In matters of missionary health, when you’re truely sick, and if rules or silly orders are hurting you, then to heck with the rules and see a doctor! The curfew rule goes out the window when your apartment is on fire!

    Missionaries are legal adults and are ultimately responsible for their own well-being. If what you’re being asked to do, either by a DL or ZL or even the Mission President, creates a health hazard, do what’s right! Missionaries are under a contract, but they are not slaves.

    Mission presidents only have ecclesiastical authority over a missionary. As I understand it, they have no binding legal authority, and cannot force a missionary to stay in the mission against his will. And mission presidents cannot stop you from reporting bad conditions to his superiors.

    If a mission president is giving orders that harm his missionaries, I’m sure that the powers-that-be in Salt Lake want to know about it and correct the situation. But if the missionaries don’t complain, or go over the MP’s head when it’s appropriate, no one knows.

    Back then in my mission, I saw the “baptism machine” in South America that was responsible for so many inactive members today. But my MP was a “don’t give me any bad news” kind of guy, so I was too chicken to bring it to his attention. Either that, or I guessed he wanted the “baptism machine.” And I was too chicken to ask visiting GA’s about it or write to Salt Lake HQ about it.

    However, I remember either in 2002 or 2003 hearing Elder Oaks address it as one of the topics of his talks. That, and the new missionary teaching program clearly lay out what the requirements for baptism are. So the church does eventually address those kinds of problems.

    But as it took over 20 years to address the “rack up the numbers” problem, apparently I wasn’t the only one failing to report the “rack up the numbers” games that many missionaries were playing, granting they were doing what they thought was right.

    And the up-side is that some of those basketball-baptisms or baseball-baptisms (or weenie-baps as we sometimes called them) are now RM’s themselves, and bishops, and relief-society presidents, and high councillors, and stake presidents.

    The Lord said in the Bible, that the gospel net brings in all kinds of fish; some are going to be thrown back, and some are keepers.

    Walker’s right. Yeah, life can be a (insert a J. Golden Kimbal word here), but the good outweighs the bad

  14. In the military, sometimes it takes quality mid-grade officers resigning their commission and going public (they call it “falling on your sword”) before the general officers realize there is a problem in the ranks and do something about it.

    If a mission’s conditions are to the point of being literally intolerable, I would venture to say that if a handful of missionaries from good families were to buy their own ticket back home (or to SLC) and complain about the harmful actions/orders of their mission president, that the powers that be would take it very seriously, possibly replacing him. Or at least reassigning those elders to other missions, and making sure the MP corrects things in his mission.

    If the missionary or his family can’t afford a ticket back, I would suggest going on strike to force the MP to send you back. But, only if the missionary truely believes the conditions created by the MP are intolerable. However, he better have evidence and the testimony of others to back up his version of events.

    To read some of the stories on RfM, you wonder why the missionaries didn’t go to the local police with their allegations against fellow missionaries or the MP.

    The vast majority of missionaries DO complete their missions honorably, and do NOT go around complaining about how intolerable things were.

    One of the recurring refrains from bitter RfM’ers is that their offending mission president “went on to be a General Authority”. It’s in almost every RfM mission story. Unless names, dates, and places are given, those stories just sound like rehashed legends.

    The scriptures, DC 42:88-89, and Matthew 18:15-17, say how to handle offenses within the church. After trying to deal with the offending person directly, going over their head is authorized, and even commanded by the Lord.

  15. Thanks for your support, Indy. However, it looks like I perpetuated the spilling of a can of worms. I just wanted to let everyone know that one could have an excellent mission in spite of negative experience.

  16. Some great comments. Thanks! As you see, I have deleted the post with profanity and did so as soon as I noticed it. It may be based on a true story – suboptimal stuff happens! – but it sure seems extreme. The part about the evil mission president going on to be an unnamed General Authority just sounds too cliche to accept at face value (along with the part about the unnamed Stake President also telling the elder to lie).

    I really like what Indy said: “I believe in a glorious reward for all those who remain faithful through tribulation. And for those who apostatize due to extreme tribulation in His service, I think a compassionate savior will be very merciful and quick to forgive.” That’s how I feel also. The Lord understands. Everything I have encountered and learned teaches me that He truly understands our pains, having taken them upon Himself fully, and that His mercy is great. Of course, the most sure way to enjoy the blessings of God’s mercy is to repent now and follow Him, for I also fear that all my excuses for not repenting will ring hollow when I stand before Him. Ultimately, I must choose Him and let go of what holds me back from following.

  17. Samuel just found that the nasty anonymous post (now deleted for profanity) from someone claiming to have been an abused missionary was a copy-and-paste job from an old post on an anti-Mormon site. Since I really don’t want to increase traffic or search-engine visibility for that site, I choose to act as a vicious censor and delete the reference. Sorry, Samuel – no offense ad I appreciate your detective work. Yes, the post was a word-for-word copy, raising questions about whether our anonymous poster really experienced any such thing. Sure, perhaps he did, and was just too lazy to repeat his rant in how own new words, and too lazy to even leave off the profanity at the end. Too bad he didn’t bother to fill in any of the gaps in the story.

    I’ve noted that many of the anonymous gripes we get just don’t seem to have much credibility. That’s the problem with cutting and pasting things from other sites and pretending to be something you’re not.

  18. Now the the topic hijacker has been ousted, is there any chance we can return to discussing Boyd’s responses to Beck’s book? Or are we just going to go on talking about missionary experiences, good and bad?

  19. “Sorry, Samuel…”

    No problem Jeff. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the website’s name anyhow.

    It is simply amazing to me to hear all these stories. I realize I have only been in the Church for 3 1/2 years, but I have yet to meet any of these characters, ie the Stake President who routinely asks people to lie, the Bishop who harrasses members into staying in the Church, and the mean spirited members who “shun” less “perfect” members.

    Reading these stories with details in the area of my expertise (mostly military affairs) makes me question their validity.

    Thanks for the great blog Jeff.

  20. Jeff has provided a new post in which missionary experiences can be posted. It is sad that ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ would behave in such a manner, but alas, I do not know all the problems Peter, Paul, Barnabas and others had in the Early Church.

    The accusation of child molestation should always be taken seriously. This case, however has several inconsistencies. The fact that the family lived in a very crammed space and that several sister could not remember, those abuses, casts a doubt on Martha’s allegations. Sadly, since 80% or so of the sexual molestation cases involve a member of the family, her case can gain attention. The case is constructed on very flimsy evidence that could be refutated in a court setting. In the early 1990’s Church authorities were warning against “improper therapeutic practices” that did more damage than good. Recovering memories could be classifie in such instances. The possibility of ‘implanting’ memories can not be ruled out. From the evidence that I have gathered in this case, this could be closer to the truth. Sad. If this all a false memory, it has tarnished the reputation of a man held in high esteem from his peers.

    The defense provided by B. Petersen is quite fair toned, one could only empathise with him with all the pain and hurt Martha caused all family members by publishing inaccurate and ficticious events. The legal actions that Martha has tried to pursue only demonstrates, in my opinion, that she is in a permanent paranoical state. All are her enemies. Sad, very sad indeed.

  21. As I understand it, it is extremely rare, perhaps unheard of, for child abusers to abuse only one victim. Unless they’re caught, child abusers move on to another victim when the previous victim is no longer available.

    In today’s society, it seems like no public figure who takes a stand for good things will escape mud-slinging, whether it’s magnifying a real wart, or making up complete lies.

    Even though there are web sites that give the “other side of the story”, web sites such as FAIR, FARMS, Sheilds Research, and Jeff’s site, the anti-Mormon crowd keeps rehashing the old stuff.

  22. On the other hand, Samuel, when I was Bishop, members of my ward met the following people (so I’ve been told, often by the offended party):

    a) a bishop who lied repeatedly and played devious mind games;

    b) an ecclesiastical leader who micromanaged events and made people feel oppressed;

    c) a calloused, insensitive leader who did not respect the sacrifices of others;

    d) a bigoted male leader who made false accusations about good people that caused great grief and pain;

    e) a wicked, corrupt person who made someone’s life hell for years;

    f) a foul, deceptive leader who should be exposed for the fraud he is;

    g) a self-righteous pig who tried to keep good people out of the Temple and cause intolerable grief and suffering through his lack of care;

    h) a power-hungry, arrogant snot; and finally,

    i) a sweet and really good-looking guy (thanks, Honey – it’s nice to get some balance).

    They were probably the roughest but most rewarding years of my life. But it was often amazing just how easy it is to offend people. One person approached by email me five years after I was released and told me I had made his life hell, that I had wrecked everything for him. I wanted to apologize, but I couldn’t remember ever meeting this person. I pressed for details. The most I could learn was that we had some brief encounter in a parking lot, and somehow something insensitive I did or said caused great grief that grew out of control and wrecked things for him. I apologized and wished I could know what he’s talking about – but I’m sure he’s sincere that I really did something wrong. The awful thing about all the responsibility put on a bishop is that there are so many opportunities to offend people. Every decision, every action, every word spoken will bother someone. And for some of the most painful issues, I was unable to defend myself without breaking confidentiality. Sometimes to protect a victim or maintain confidentiality, I could not give a reasonable and honest answer to a question, and sometimes I had to be vague or evasive or, as one could argue, deceptive – especially when caught off guard and not sure how to handle an incredibly explosive situation. Ouch. I made many mistakes, I offended many people, I opened wounds or created new ones, and I’m sure that I was every bit as evil as the typical evil stake president, mission president, or unnamed General Authority that are so often mentioned in anti-Mormon Websites. Yeah, I was totally evil – but I was honestly trying to follow Jesus Christ and serve properly. But oh, how easy it is to offend and to be misunderstood.

  23. Although I’m no professional in the field of child sexual abuse, I am a medical doctor who has read widely about different religions for personal interest. I had no prior knowledge of the mormon religion before starting to read about them and the limited knowledge I had was positive. However I have read widely about a number of fringe religious groups from orthodox judaism to the Amish, and in none have I found the sheer volume of testimony about sexual abuse as exists in the Mormon church. Whether Martha Beck’s book is truthful or not, and I’m inclined to believe her- why would she put herself through all this rubbish throwing if not? the weight of all the other books speaks volumes. Sexual abuse exists in every community to a greater or lesser extent- I was never abused but have no problem in believing others may be, it is not a critisism of all mormonism if she was, in the same way that all Catholicism isn’t bad due to paedophile priests.

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