RIP, anti-Mormon literature

Remember back when evangelical publishing houses used to have a whole cottage industry of anti-Mormon books?

A search for anti-Mormon literature at Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest evangelical publisher (now part of Harper), revealed no hits.


There was a time not that long ago, like during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, when you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a brand new anti-Mormon exposé. Oh, the sensationalist tales of those books! Oh, the lurid accounts of hearts corrupted, families wrecked, and brains washed by the false religion of the Latter-day Saints!

Alas, it’s time to do a postmortem on the genre of anti-Mormon books, because the genre is just a pale shadow of its former self. Here’s what’s coming in 2017:

  • There’s a book coming out in January from Prometheus, which specializes in books for The Skeptical Inquirer This one focuses on the LDS Church’s attempt to wrest control of the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper.
  • Rachel Jeffs, daughter of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, has a memoir coming in November from HarperCollins. That’s not about Mormonism per se, but an offshoot fundamentalist sect. However, it appears to follow the basic tropes of the escape-from-polygamy genre established within anti-Mormon literature in the 19th century, so it loosely fits my search for anti-Mormon lit. Meanwhile the LeBarons, not to be outdone, have The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir, Anna LeBaron’s story, which came out a few months ago from Tyndale.
  • Whew! A relief: here’s an evangelical book that fits the older mold. Cult Shock: The Book Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons Don’t Want You to Read is “an apologetic resource that teaches Christians how to defend their faith and evangelize Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.” But it’s not being published by one of the mainstream evangelical houses; the publisher is Morgan James, a newer vanity press. (For more on the controversial “pay to play” model of publishing, see here and here.)
  • And there’s still the usual round of self-published material, this one so poorly copy edited that the necessary commas are missing from the title. And there are self-published exit memoirs aplenty, like here and here and here.

But those exit memoirs aren’t being released by evangelical houses as in days of yore. In fact, there’s basic radio silence on Mormonism from the major evangelical presses, excepting the LeBaron memoir I mentioned above (Tyndale).

Zondervan doesn’t seem to have published anything in this line since Unveiling Grace back in 2013, which I reviewed here on the blog. Baker has a 2015 title, Mormonism 101, but it’s only an expanded version of an older backlist book, not a new work. Kregel, Moody, B&H, WaterBrook, Multnomah, Thomas Nelson . . . none has anything recent.

What the heck is going on with the disappearance of anti-Mormon literature? Here are four possible explanations. I’m sure even more will become apparent over time.

  • Publishing is changing. Some topics are so comprehensively covered online now that only the oldest and least Internet-savvy readers might actually buy books about them. That’s true of a number of categories that used to generate strong book sales, like books about TV shows, heroic pets, or annual almanacs. When the same information is available for free at a user’s fingertips, it’s hard to justify the purchase price of a book.
  • Mormons are boring. Mormons just aren’t that exotic anymore, darn our hides. Readers are still willing to pay for polygamists’ memoirs because those stories remain quite different from the mainstream and have residual shock value. Mainstream Mormon families are pretty milquetoast by comparison. Who wants to read an exposé about their neighbor family’s adventures in a beige minivan? Where the littlest one poops in the car seat on the way to church? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
  • Evangelicals care less about theology than they used to. Sociologists have noted a trend over the last few decades that suggests theology is not as important as it used to be in the minds of most American Christians. If Americans are fussed about religion at all (and a growing number aren’t), they are more concerned with behavior and political views than with orthodox belief. And many self-professed evangelicals don’t even know their own theological tenets, according to a LifeWay study released last year. More than half, for example, agreed that Jesus was the “first and greatest being created by God”—an Arian heresy that’s anathema to classically-defined evangelicalism. If evangelicals don’t care about (or even know about) their own theology, the whole raison d’être of anti-Mormon lit has just gone up in smoke.
  • Mormonism is no longer a threat, because it’s growing far more slowly. In the heady days of the 1960s through the 1980s, when Mormonism was adding to its membership at rates between three and nearly nine (!) percent a year, evangelicals were crapping their pants because of us. Now, with our growth rates slowly dipping to between 1.5 and 2 percent a year, we’re not nearly so scary. Mormonism is still growing, but the rate of that growth has significantly decelerated worldwide. Moreover, what growth does occur is largely happening in the global south. If Mormonism’s most promising areas of conversion are in West Africa rather than the western U.S., American evangelicals are not going to get terribly exercised about it.

A representative anti-Mormon title from the glory days of the 1990s, when Mormons still scared the bejesus out of evangelicals.

This last reason is, I think, the most critical. The history of American religion is littered with cases of new religious movements attracting deep censure when they are successful—and very little attention when they are not. When Christian Science was at the top of the world just over a century ago, anti-Science books and tracts proliferated (including a fanciful “biography” of Mary Baker Eddy by none other than Mark Twain). We’d be hard pressed to find that now, with Christian Science struggling and its membership in decline.

Of course, there is a bright side to the disappearance of anti-Mormon literature. Now that there is less opposition to the restored gospel, Mormons can say that the Lord has cleared the way for his church to move forward. Yay!

On the other hand, when there was pronounced opposition, Mormons always found a way to interpret that opposition as a sign of the Lord’s favor too: if Satan was inspiring this much hostility in non-Mormons, our religion had to be true. Um, yay again!

So it’s all good either way, right?