Unveiling “Unveiling Grace”- Part 1: Semantics, Tone, and Word Choice
Review of Lynn K. Wilder, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 367 pp. $15.99
I have always been intrigued with the accounts individuals give of their previous faiths and it does not take one long whilst searching the word “religion” in any online resource to find them. Whether one’s transition takes them out of Christianity, Secularism, Islam, Buddhism, Scientology, or any other worldview, the accounts given are often strikingly similar when the experience was a difficult or negative one. The theme of escaping, of going clear, or breaking away usually casts the individual in question as a type of spiritual refugee whose faith journey has left them alienated, critical of, and a survivor of a belief system that held them captive for so long. Unveiling Grace by Dr. Lynn K. Wilder, a previous Latter-day Saint of some thirty years and a BYU professor for around half that, is no different in portraying the journey her and her family experienced as they came out of Mormonism and found new faith in Evangelical Protestant Christianity.
While Lynn includes captivating imagery and provocative storytelling in her narrative, unfortunately in matters of objectivity, scriptural exegesis, rational analysis, and an accurate representation of Mormonism, her account all too often demonstrates its less-than-boasted capacity to provide an informational and honest approach to her former faith. The following critique, though meant in the kindest and best of spirits, will highlight, elaborate on or else deconstruct the manifold areas I consider to be of interest in her work whether due to matters of inaccuracy, lapses in reasoning, or even -and yes it’s possible- mutual agreement! Through these efforts, I hope to offer an alternative perspective and contradictory viewpoint, and otherwise follow a similar mission of the author, by ultimately unveiling Unveiling Grace.
Dr. Lynn Wilder, Micah Wilder and Adam’s Road Ministry
Before I begin the unpacking of my thoughts and feelings towards Unveiling Grace it is extremely necessary to correctly define and state my view towards Dr. Wilder, Micah Wilder (her son of whom initiated their family’s journey), her family and Adam’s Road Ministry. In short, I like them. Lynn, Micah and the members of Adam’s Road (the musical ministry he organized as part of their loving outreach to Mormons) have all been nothing but kind towards myself in all of our personal interactions, whether face-to-face or online. Lynn was generous and gracious enough to send me a free copy of Unveiling Grace, as part of a larger care package containing CD’s from Adam’s Road, several of their iconic “Jesus is Enough” bracelets and a copy of her and her husband’s brief work, 7 Reasons We Left Mormonism: Quick Guide to Doctrinal Differences Between Mormonism and the Biblical Word of God, which will be dissected in a later post.
It was October 10th, 2016 when I got to attend a worship and testimony service held by Adam’s Road Ministry at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church here in Gilbert, AZ. The group had been conducting a multi-week tour across the nation as part of their outreach efforts. Their service consisted of several live performances of their own music as well as their personal stories of coming from Mormonism to what they and Lynn refer to as Biblical Christianity, though for clarity’s sake -as we both consider our faith to be biblically supported- I will refer to as either Evangelical, Born-Again, or Protestant Christianity.
Let’s just say that I easily stood out in a room full of a couple hundred Lutherans being the often overdressed Mormon I always am! I have been in brief contact with both Matt and Micah Wilder since then, although I have enjoyed more extensive conversations via Facebook Messenger with Joseph Warren. I have also been able to converse with Lynn Wilder face to face on an online webinar through Apologetics Academy titled Sharing the Gospel With Mormons: A Conversation with Dr. Lynn Wilder- the exact exchange able to be seen here from 1:19:36 to 1:38:00. Such was more of an introductory experience for myself and not so much one where I wished to actively debate or counter her points in-depth. As of now, I am scheduled to be a future speaker on the topic of Why I am a Mormon on April 29th, 2017.
The reason I even became interested in attending and hearing their message was because from a young age, the comparison between myself and Micah Wilder, was one that had been drawn by the local high school ministry leader of Sun Valley Community Church (my mother’s church of choice after she left Mormonism), Pastor Miguel de la Mora. This was due to my “zealous” faith in Mormonism and my often long conversations with him regarding the Bible, faith, truth, God, grace and of course the LDS Church. Unlike Micah, my attitude was never one seeking to convert a Christian Pastor to my own faith, but rather to understand his own, and more-so understand an outsiders perspective on myself as a Mormon. In Micah, I saw a similar journey of a young, dark-haired, zealous Mormon youth searching after truth while attempting to understand and weigh both Mormonism and Born-Again Christianity. Yet unlike Micah, I came to the complete opposite conclusion; that Mormonism was biblical, that it was truly Christian and that it was indeed true.
Nonetheless, I cannot emphasize enough the kind, loving, and meaningful interaction I have had with the Wilder family and with Adam’s Road Ministry. Realistically speaking, it is connections and interactions such as these which could have any future capacity to draw one out of Mormonism and into Born-Again Christianity. I do not doubt or believe their intentions to be anything less than loving and Christ-like, even when they are coming from a position totally opposite and in direct outreach towards myself and members of my faith. They actively defy the stereotypical aggressive street-preacher or antagonistic ex-member gone “Anti-Mormon” picture so many members of the Church might be quick to assume and instead adopt a position that is not so much “Anti-Mormon” as it is what they would consider in their view as “Pro-Christ” or “Pro-Biblical Christian”. To be clear, this review is not done as part of a personal vendetta I have against Lynn, Evangelical Christians or ex-Mormons. It is not done due to any sort of personal offense on their part either. I am providing such to explain from a faithful Mormon’s viewpoint of my belief in the Church, my thoughts on her work, and my insights or corrections on areas I felt were misleading or otherwise wrong in Unveiling Grace.
A Methodology of Unveiling “Unveiling Grace”
The approach I will be taking towards Lynn’s work will be somewhat chronological and somewhat topical as many of the points she makes against Mormonism are repeated throughout the whole of Unveiling Grace. In doing such, I will either be offering my own thoughts or referencing the works of others in order to address the multitudinous points, errors, misrepresentations, or areas of agreement that are present within the narrative. After completely reading her book, I made sure to highlight all such parts that are worthy of addressing and hope to be able to reflect and address them point by point. As far as future posts go, the whole of the Glossary in conjunction with Appendix 2: Quick Doctrinal Comparison of Mormonism and the Bible, will need to be tackled outside of this review. Likewise I will responding to her joint publication with her husband, Michael Wilder, titled, 7 Reasons We Left Mormonism: Quick Guide to Doctrinal Differences Between Mormonism and the Biblical Word of God. I hope to make my following counterpoints concise and brief as there is a lot of substance to sift through. I will warn you now that this will be no light read but indeed worthwhile to anyone who has read Unveiling Grace and is interested in what an informed, faithful and experienced Mormon has to say towards the issues Dr. Wilder raises.
Unveiling “Unveiling Grace”
Semantics, Tone, and Word Choice
As with any work of literature, the manner in which the author expresses their ideas has a direct impact on the message and perspective it conveys. Through diction and word choice, the overall tone of the piece can be manipulated or changed to incline the reader upon an intended conclusion. Such is completely natural when composing writing on any subject, and all the more common in biographical or personal narratives which rely heavily on descriptive and sensory imagery. On the outset, this is not necessarily problematic, nor can it be completely avoided as each individual will have a different manner of retelling past events, experiences, and internal emotions and mindsets. However, the potential for such subliminal messages or subjective descriptions to lead or influence the reader to adopt or reach a specific conclusion can be dangerous if left unnoticed or misunderstood. Bias is inherent in all story-telling to some extent and this applies as equally to the Mormon as to the ex-Mormon, as seen clearly in Unveiling Grace. To better understand how Lynn utilizes language to induce readers to her same conclusion, we must first understand why and what said conclusion is. Personally, I believe Lynn depicts her overall message and thesis in the following passages, located on pages 326-327:
“Mormonism wraps itself in the cloak of Christianity, using and twisting Christian words. Mormon doctrine sounds terribly Christian, but it’s not. Religious words such as grace, salvation, and atonement have different meanings for Christians and Mormons…With its focus on church community, family, hard work, tithing, and missions, it presents itself as just another Christian denomination. Bust as the Bible points out, counterfeit spirits pose to deceive and can even cloak themselves with an aura of goodness and light… Mormons are ensconced in a false Christ and the culture built on his foundational prophet, Joseph Smith, and his successors… salvation is dependent on personal works and the approval of men in authority… Salvation is never guaranteed in Mormonism…Members work to obtain exaltation and never know if they’ve done enough. In short, the juxtaposition of the Mormon Church’s media campaign slogan “I’m a Mormon” with the declaration “I am yours” makes differences evident.”
In essence, the main message of Unveiling Grace then could be said to be that Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity -what Dr. Wilder refers to as Biblical Christianity- run fundamentally opposed and are not the same. Mormonism represents a legalistic man-made religion based upon works, whereas Christianity offers a salvific relationship based on Christ’s Grace. Hence, it naturally follows that in her depiction of Mormonism, Lynn establishes and attempts to strengthen a fixed dichotomy of the two faiths at every turn, thereby hammering upon the reader that they are complete and total opposites, unable to be reconciled. A large manner in which she does so, lies in the semantics scattered throughout the text. I have organized such occurrences into three major groupings, that of Nomenclature or the manner in which Lynn applies descriptive terms to refer to the subjects in question, Authoritarianism or way in which Lynn depicts Mormonism as a highly restrictive, legalistic, and oppressive system, and general Pessimism/Pejorative in reference to the overt negative light and/or derogatory descriptions of beliefs and elements common to Mormonism. Let’s analyze some major ways such takes form:
It is not unexpected for one writing on their experience of coming out of Mormonism to adopt Evangelical Christianity as their new viewpoint to plainly and fairly distinguish between the two by quickly and practically referencing between both faiths. The shorthand term used for one who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is referenced either as a Latter-day Saint (LDS) or as a Mormon. Both are common and acceptable for members of the faith and are not at all derogatory. Such holds true within Unveiling Grace as well, although the latter term is abundantly more populous therein. For adherents of Evangelical or Protestant Christianity, Lynn most often utilizes the terms Biblical Christians, or more simply Christians in passing or direct reference.
Now, at face value, her use of either of these collective groupings shouldn’t be at all problematic or misleading for the reader. However, both serve to solidify the dichotomy she establishes in her thesis between Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism. Instead of the more accurate, objective, and precise labels of Evangelical, Born-Again, or Protestant Christians, Lynn relies heavily on the less precise, and more subjective Biblical Christians or Christians. The intended effect this has on the reader is three-fold. Firstly, it obfuscates and redefines the exact meaning of Biblical Christians or Christians to be instead synonymous with the terms Evangelical or Protestant Christians, thereby implying that any Christian groups outside of such are not truly Christians; even those historically included, such as Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Restorationist, and non-Trinitarian denominations. By heavily employing the former terms instead of the latter in reference, the very term “Christian” is redefined to only effectively refer to a faith community and belief system to which Lynn herself now identifies. Such is based on her own subjective definition of what constitutes a Christian rather than approaching such from a more objective position. Secondly, by attributing the qualifier Biblical, Lynn repeatedly implies that the worldview that both she and other Evangelical Christians adhere to, is fully original and wholly reflective of the beliefs expounded within the Holy Bible and held by the Early Christian Church. I find this to be completely subjective and an example of a proof by assertion and begging the question,in that Lynn very much argues for the biblical nature of her own beliefs as opposed to Mormonism, whilst repeatedly and simultaneously referring to such as wholly biblical. I cannot but help to think of how many of the 33,000 Christian denominations/sects as cited by the World Christian Encyclopedia (Barrett, Kurian, and Johnson; Oxford University Press) would make the similar claim that their beliefs are biblical. Certainly, as a Mormon, I believe that my faith has a biblical base, however when dialoguing with other Christians, this is an ineffective and redundant description as they too would just as quickly claim likewise; hence my preference for the more objective Evangelical Christian as opposed to the subjective Biblical Christian. Thirdly, by the mere use of Christians and Mormons as the preferred reference to the two collective faith communities at hand, what is logically implied then is that Mormons are not Christians. Unfortunately, this is only accurate within the frame of Lynn’s own personal convictions rather than broader objective academia.
This dichotomy between the assumed biblical nature of Evangelical Christianity and its mimicked opposite within Mormonism is further juxtaposed by the sheer repetition of the said labels of Christian or Mormon. Although not by itself offensive, misleading, or inaccurate, the term Mormon is more often used as a qualifier rather than a subject. The reader of Unveiling Grace is absolutely inundated by the word Mormon when discussing matters and topics relative to Mormonism. The following are but a potion of instances where such occur. Instead of merely saying “Jesus”within the context of Mormonism, Lynn often uses “Mormon Jesus,” (315) instead of “the Gospel,” she uses the “Mormon gospel” (16, 19, 24, 38, 53) instead of the “scriptures,” they are referred to as “Mormon scriptures” (21) and so-on and so-forth. “Mormon faith,” (16) “Mormon culture,” (22) “Mormon Lord,” (46, 144) “false Mormon god,” (61) “Mormon bliss,” “Zion of Mormonism,” “Mormon hymns,” (16) “Truth of Mormonism,” (17) “Mormon prophet,” (22) “Mormon Church,” “Mormon hierarchy,” (45) “Mormon elders,” (47) “Mormon Mecca,” “Mormon truth,” (59) “Mormon life,” (53) “Mormon ward,” (60) “Mormon spirit-o-meter,” (112) “God of Mormonism,” (114) “Jesus of Mormonism,” “conservative Mormon element,” (124) “Mormon community,” “Mormon teaching,” (124) “Mormon Christ,” (148) “Mormon-Jesus-niceness,” (213) and many others, all serving to strongly emphasize their distinct otherness from Evangelical Christianity. Again, while taken alone, many are accurately and appropriately used. However, upon soon turning the pages of Unveiling Grace, the reader is quickly swamped by the repetition of Mormon-this and Mormon-that thereby overwhelming them with the casting of all things Mormon with a distinct sense of the other.To a lesser extent, the precursor of “LDS” is used as well as seen in reference to “LDS culture,” (21) “beloved LDS faith,” (19) and redundantly enough “LDS saints,” Latter-day Saint saints? (289) Such are a portion of instances in which nomenclature serves to emphasize the intended dichotomy and contrast between the faiths, at times in a rather misleading or subjective manner.
The second way in which Lynn Wilder engages in a particular semantic maneuver in order to achieve her intended purpose is by casting Mormonism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a starkly exaggerated authoritarian light. While it is true that Mormonism is an organized religion with a hierarchical structure of leadership, what Lynn presents here is overkill which brings to mind images reminiscent of some Soviet-era totalitarian state. While I haven’t included all instances of such below, I have listed multiple examples which I feel illustrate this explicit use of word-choice in order to paint Mormonism as a kind of dogmatic, thought-repressive, autocratic regime common to most anti-Mormon polemic.
For instance, when referring to the missionary discussions her and her husband underwent back in August of 1977, before they joined the LDS Church, she recalled the missionaries having “canned presentations and leading questions they were required to use,” with such creating “artificial discussions.” (40) This is a place where I will totally agree with Lynn, and it is especially not surprising given the time-period that such occurred. Unfortunately, many LDS missionaries do create what feels like artificial discussions when sharing their faith with others. I have experienced the same type of canned presentations, leading questions, and artificial discussions when speaking to Evangelicals performing outreach to Mormons at temple dedications, pageants, or Christmas nativities. I would not count this as an express denominational rarity, but rather a presentational flaw carried in the past by many faiths when offering a brief introduction to their respective beliefs. Within the past two decades, the LDS Church has recognized the limitations and weakness that come with “artificial discussions” and has since adapted the format in which missionaries preach and teach to be more fluid, dynamic, and relative to the situation at hand.
In my own mission prep class for example, we are taught to focus on building relationships rather than checking off boxes when it comes to proselyting. This is a much better focus I think, and I am appreciative to belong to a Church which recognizes areas in which it can improve to better serve and reach individuals around the world. Instead of the focus being, as Lynn puts it, to “convince us to join the Mormon Church,” the focus is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to serve others. Nonetheless, when Lynn and Michael Wilder did make the decision to be baptized, she describes the missionaries and members as “ecstatic to hear that we finally folded.” (41) which gives the impression that they begrudgingly agreed to buy product from door-to-door salesmen rather than entering into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In reference to the ward members reactions, “I guess it was a big deal to win converts.” (42) to which I would relate it to as big a deal when individuals are publicly accept Jesus as their Savior at the Evangelical churches that I have been to. Nevertheless, Lynn draws upon foreboding imagery when she states, “The Mormon Church had a powerful grip that pulled me in.” (42) as if it was the work of external forces which heavily influenced her decision to become Mormon.
As for her husband Michael during the early months of their conversion, she describes his decision to adhere to standards of grooming when accepting a specific calling as the “priesthood brethren…training him well to obey his leaders.” (44) After moving closer to a local ward building, she describes their church as “a home that isolated the children from the world.” (64) and this theme of cultural and social isolation is further reiterated when she says, “I realized that we LDS parents were raising our kids pretty isolated from the real world.” (82) after recalling her six-year-old son’s reaction to seeing an individual smoke a cigarette for the first time and presuming that they were on fire. Now, without going so far as to say that the Wilder’s should have associated their children to smoking earlier, (a preposterous notion,) a relevant question to consider is if this cultural and social unawareness is a direct product of Mormonism itself, or in the way that such was practiced by the Wilder family and other local members in raising their children? While anecdotal of course, such is a relevant question as we analyze the difference between Mormon doctrine and Mormon culture throughout the remainder of the post.
Lynn describes Mormon leadership as “many-layered and highly regimented.” which I wholly agree with as I compare it to other Christian denominations with an organized hierarchical body of leadership. However, I can’t help but raise an eyebrow when she then goes to say that “the Mormon Church is skilled at keeping things hush-hush” (129) when recalling an African American colleague of hers discreetly being fired from BYU, for what she associates with writing a controversial work on African Americans and the LDS Church. I imagine the discreet nature of the firing is due to the same reason that Lynn withholds the name of the individual, out of respect, professionalism, and privacy. Despite the multiple red-flags Lynn cites throughout the narrative during her experience as a Mormon, she still describes herself as having a “cataleptic allegiance to the Mormon Church” (137) and being in a “trance” or sorts, not at all language uncommon to polemical works written by previous members, of really any religious community, towards which they employ the imagery of being enchanted or spiritually abducted when reflecting on their past membership. This is most prominently seen when Lynn ultimately questions, “Were we under a spiritual spell that blinded us to this viper in Mormonism?… did this love [for the Mormon people] supersede horse sense?” (122) Through alluding to trances, allegiances, and spiritual spells keeping them within Mormonism, comparisons or connections to the occult are not too distant.
Further examples of an authoritarian or power-seeking caricature that Lynn now paints her former faith can be seen in her recollection of her son Josh’s experience while serving his LDS mission in Russia and Belarus. Though including mention of the arduous and Christ-like service he rendered the people there, Lynn makes sure to emphasize that “Their main purpose, though, was to increase the ranks of the Mormon Church.” (140) One can clearly see the negative spin that Lynn puts on the purpose and roles of missionaries when comparing her statement to the purpose of a missionary clearly stated in the standard LDS missionary handbook, Preach My Gospel in the very first section, What is My Purpose as a Missionary? which reads:
“Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
If the purpose of an LDS missionary is to “increase the ranks of the Mormon Church?” than why not employ the obvious double-standard in casting the purpose of various evangelists and ministers of Born-Again churches to be primarily focused in bolstering their own numbers as well? The point of this spin, that any individual could use, is to make Mormons appear more concerned with numbers and statistics rather than people and their coming to Christ. Other instances of similar propaganda can be seen when describing the events surrounding her son Josh’s excommunication following matters of personal misconduct regarding chastity. While awaiting the word that he would be allowed full reentry and baptism into the fold of Christ, Lynn described the stake executive secretary as a “loyal scurrying serf to the stake president” (157) as they sat outside of the high council room. At to her depiction of the stake president she says, “He had the classic stake president CEO look.” (168) Granted, of itself, it is not at all inaccurate to comment on the appearance of stake presidents as such as they do adhere to a well-groomed, formal, standard of dress and appearance almost always including wearing a three-piece suit. However, Lynn incorporates such imagery only to invoke and support her overall caricature of the LDS Church as more of a corporation rather than an ecclesiastical organization. Again, such caricature of Mormonism is not at all original or unique to Unveiling Grace. I cannot but wonder if the double standard could again be employed in reference to all well-dressed pastors, reverends, and ministers common to Evangelical Christianity, or if it would be appropriate to refer to their own office secretaries as loyal scurrying serfs? My guess is that most Evangelicals would not respond positively to such, and the same can be said for Mormons.
Finally, Lynn goes as far as to possibly insinuate organizational deceit and deception from the general authorities of the Church themselves, specifically in reference to the president of BYU. During a luncheon following Good Friday, Lynn remarks her request to the president after missing hearing his personal testimony of the Savior on the day memorializing his death and crucifixion. Upon her request for him to bear his testimony, Lynn says that she was met with anger and irritation, “as if I caught him” she says. Relenting, the president then bore what Lynn recounts as a standard LDS testimony, though Lynn only includes his mention of the truthfulness of the Church and his testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Overall, she describes such as “hollow, canned” and remarks that after such, she began “to glimpse the little man behind the Wizard of Oz.” (175) as if this was evidence of ulterior and potentially malevolent behavior on behalf of the general authority. Besides themes of insincerity among church members and leaders, Lynn likewise commonly emphasizes supposed sexism or male domination within the church, often as an aside as seen on page 171, where she is sure to include that “It’s a well-ordered system of male priesthood governance,” which Lynn describes sees her as “expendable” (82) on one occasion. I will speak more to the claims of sexism within the Church later, however they often also work to emphasize distortion of Mormonism as equally authoritarian as it is chauvinistic.
Besides speaking to the use of abused nomenclature and themes of authoritarianism, overall Unveiling Grace serves as both a personal narrative and an exposé against Mormonism. In line with such, Lynn often relies on casting the beliefs, cultures, and members of the LDS Church in an almost constantly negative light; quick to assume flaw, fault, or intentional deceit in most instances. Such isn’t surprising seeing Lynn’s position as an individual who has left one faith for another, however its overuse and exaggeration creates and maintains more of a polemic spirit than a generous one. Following is a complication of more instances and examples where such can be seen.
Cheap and disparaging hits against Mormonism are not uncommon and can be seen in Lynn’s description of her conversion as being “indoctrinated.” (42) Likewise she describes vicarious baptisms and temple work on behalf of one’s ancestors as “creepy,” (267) perhaps unaware of the late Lutheran Bishop, Krister Stendahl’s perspective on the unique Mormon practice:
Regardless, Lynn says that “Mormonism is dubious” and that “this doctrine sounds bizarre now” (45) when speaking -somewhat incorrectly- on the LDS doctrine of the preexistence, falsely leaving the reader with the impression that part of the doctrine of the preexistence includes Mormons conceiving children in effort to save them from being born into less favorable conditions, as if such was a widespread belief. Likewise, Lynn refers to the concept of God restricting priesthood to a select group of individuals as a “crazy teaching” (121) despite the obvious double-standard when comparing Biblical parallels. As per her and Micheal’s upcoming calling as temple workers, Lynn is sure to dismiss their work as being mere “bizarre temple rituals.” (268) I wonder if she finds various practices and rituals within the Biblical canon as equally bizarre? As per Mormonism in general, she says that “This worldview is self-centered” (217) and contains “Hidden vipers.” (128) Perhaps the prime example of Lynn’s disparagement can be contained in the following:
“I saw clearly that the spiritual waters I drank from in the Mormon Church were not just a little murky; they were poison. Not only did they not satisfy; they were death. Mormonism was not just twisted; it deceived.” (220)
“Something is Rotten in the State of Deseret” serves as the title for Chapter 10 of Unveiling Grace, in which Lynn describes Utah culture as “decidedly offbeat, if not noticeably “rank and gross”…” (133) in a direct reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act I, scene ii. She also describes Mormonism as fostering a”closed-culture gossip cesspool” (147) a point that, though at times unfortunately very much the case, is no more reflective of close-Mormon circles as it is close-Evangelical circles; gossip remains a general human issue not uncommon to any one group. As far as ethnic demographics go, Utah is described by Dr. Wilder as “white-bread land” (119) although according to data released by the US Census Bureau, Utah isn’t even included among the top-ten whitest states (which are instead composed of West Virginia, Iowa, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Kentucky, North Dakota, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont!) So much for Utah being representative of the hyper state of racism and ethnic homogeneity, as asserted throughout Unveiling Grace.
Nevertheless, Lynn makes sure to mention the various positives that occur during her family’s stay there, attributing them to the “true, life-giving Jesus,” who generously lifts their burdens despite them being a “very confused and lost Mormon family” (138) and in contrast to Mormonism’s “weak Jesus whose sacrifice wasn’t enough.” (148) This trivialization of the sacred and dear beliefs of Latter-day Saints isn’t at all singular within her narrative, she refers to both Jesus, the sacrament, or the priesthood/bishop as “the sin janitor” (143) which sweeps individuals sins away; inconsistent and at times inaccurate to say the least. Further trivializing occurs when Lynn informs the reader that “In the Mormon Church, we used leavened bread and water as sacrament, the food fed to prisoners throughout all human history.” (217) Not only is this comparison essentially sacrilege, but stands as a double standard if some disrespectful Mormon unjustly decided to compare the Communion Wine to the substance used by drunkards to become inebriated throughout all human history. Not only would such be highly defamatory, it would be outright tactless on behalf of its instigator; Lynn has no such problem invoking such though to further her caricature of Mormons belonging to a widespread spiritual prison. If we are drawing upon prison analogies though, I will readily proclaim that I am a complete prisoner to both sin and death, and only through my Savior Jesus Christ’s Atonement, am I made free and alive in Him.
In her depiction of her experience with LDS missions, Lynn describes such as “being ripped from [her sons]” (23) as they each departed on their respective missions, despite it being a conscious decision on behalf of both the missionary and the parents. This of course only facilitates the theme of Mormonism as highly authoritarian. “The torture room” is her reference to the waiting area for missionaries, saying once they had bid farewell to Micah that, “We exited the family door in emotional agony. The torture room had lived up to its name once again.” While it is completely accurate to speak to the great sacrifice represented by serving an LDS mission and the emotional hardship it can present for both the missionary and the parents, suggesting that such is forced or completely bitter in nature is inaccurate. With the MTC close to her own office at BYU, Lynn describes the “high walls surrounding the complex,” saying that “The church had the missionaries well isolated” (24)
After praying for her unborn son Joshua’s health within the temple, after a series of complications with the pregnancy, once he had been safely delivered weeks later in perfect health, Lynn retold how both she and her husband had “thanked the God of Mormonism for this great blessing.” She quickly followed though by foreboding that, “I didn’t see the spiritual danger that we had put Joshua in. This kind of misguided faith in Mormonism would prove to be dangerous more than once.” (49) This was followed with even more complications during Lynn’s pregnancy with Micah, after receiving feelings of peace and comfort following her praying to God for the safety of her child. “Despite my wandering in the false faith of Mormonism,” she says, “God’s grace again raised me up.” (60 ) Even mere religious architecture common to Mormonism can’t but be spun to induce a negative or malignant outlook, as in reference to Mormon churches, Lynn again evokes authoritarian emotions and imagery by describing how “their tall, bare spires reach up from the churchyard, watching over the social and spiritual lives of the people in that community.” (100) As to the temples scattered throughout Utah, she compares them to “droning sirens bidding faithful LDS to submit.” (100) I must ask if she would ask if she would just as quickly draw the same comparisons when talking about the numerous steeples and spires dotting the landscape of the Bible-Belt, or perhaps the old cathedrals and church yards. My guess is that such would be seen as unjustified, despite the obvious double-standard the Mormon could raise.
Other instances of pessimistic outlooks can be seen in cases where Lynn assumes passive aggressive or petty behavior on behalf of multiple members or groups. On a day in Utah when the her daughter’s elementary school scheduled its open house during working hours, Lynn inferred that “this seemed like a message to working mothers that their poor decision to work would not be tolerated.” (103-104) Likewise when her son Matt qualified to run finals in state, but was substituted by a senior not even on the team, she suggested that such could have been”because Matt was new in town or the son of converts?” (108)
As far as Church discipline goes, Lynn describes her and her families experiences in the harshest and most unforgiving of terms. Her son Josh, having undergone excommunication due to matters of personal misconduct, was described as, “in one swift, unexpected drop of the guillotine’s blade…been separated from his salvation. His baptism was removed.” (145) She follows by describing excommunication as, “the most severe discipline, reserved for predators who could create victims, prominent members who could impact the reputation of the church, or disfellowshipped members who remained unrepentant,” (146) none of which she argues throughout, applied to Joshua, thereby showing the grave abuse that exists within the Church in matters of disciple. Unfortunately, both the view of how and why Church discipline operates is very much slanted to present a cold, merciless, and harrowing ordeal. Later, she recalls how with Micah’s conversion, how he had committed the “the colossal, unforgivable sin-apostasy” (153) which is wholly ironic as I have known multiple persons to have fully left the Church as apostates, only to return in full status years later. She recalls how her and Micheal had suggested to Josh that excommunication might be good for him, though during Micah’s situation, she couldn’t “fathom saying such a Cruella de Vil kind of thing when Micah was mourning, but at the time it fit my worldview.” (157) In total, the above represents a portion and a glimpse of the negative and highly critical lens in which Lynn places both her former faith and the faith of millions of others throughout the whole of Unveiling Grace. Though time-consuming to list and unpackage, my hope is that I have unveiled some of the ways in which Dr. Lynn Wilder utilizes semantic ploys and spin to leave the average reader with her intended conclusion, that “Mormonism was not just twisted; it deceived.” Perhaps this will be proven to be most ironic by the end of the review, nonetheless I just guess we will have to wait and see what turns out.