Sunday, October 16, 2005

A lot of sexual abuse survivors (quite possibly the majority of them) face disbelief when they tell their families what happened to them -- particularly if the abuser is a family member. But Martha Nibley Beck had an even larger amount of disbelief to face than most. Her abuser was her father, a Mormon theological writer so widely known in the Mormon communities of Utah that strangers would come up to Ms. Beck in public and say how much her father's work had meant to them. Coming out as an abuse survivor under those circumstances had to be like announcing that the U.S. President had molested you. And though lack of support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is far from the only thing that led Beck to leave it, it seems to have been the trigger that led her to take note of all her other dissatisfactions with the church in which she was raised.

It amazes me that she managed to hold on to any faith in God at all, but actually it seems from her story in Leaving The Saints: How I Lost The Mormons and Found My Faith that her belief in the goodness of God is what sustained her while leaving not only the church, but her denying parents and siblings and the communities she and her husband had grown up in. I myself am an agnostic and so religious faith has never been any source of sustenance for me in emotional turmoil, but Beck never preaches or says anything I found off-putting; I can only be grateful for her sake and for others' that at least for them, such a source of strength is available.

Beck's story will certainly not please members of the LDS church (as some of the e-mail posted on her Leaving the Saints website proves), because it talks about aspects of that church's practice that will probably seem at least odd to outsiders and sometimes laughable, sometimes downright appalling. But I applaud her bravery in speaking out to the world, even if those who would benefit most from hearing her story are the least likely to pick up the book. I hope others in situations similar to hers will gain hope and strength from her words, and that those who are not abuse survivors will gain some insight into the value of questioning dogma and hierarchy when those institutions shelter evildoers. There is no single religion and no single location that allows such abuse to go on; it can be in all kinds of places, faiths, or social classes.