Book Review: Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism

December 8, 2011 | 16 comments
By

Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism, Oxford University Press, October 2011, 521 pages.

***

In the early 19th century, preacher La Roy Sunderland denounced Mormonism as “a delusion . . . manifestly and monstrously absurd.” He explained that Mormonism was based on three texts: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and Parley P. Pratt’s A Voice of Warning. Pratt wrote a rebuttal to Sunderland, but he did not dispute Sunderland’s characterization of A Voice of Warning. This wasn’t just personal pride: Brigham Young lauded the book and it has been claimed that Joseph Smith called it a standard work. It may be hard for a 21st century Saint to appreciate Pratt’s enormous contribution to LDS thought; I suspect very few people today read A Voice of Warning or Pratt’s autobiography [ftnt1]. Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism should do much to restore our understanding of Pratt’s pivotal role in the Restoration. And what’s great about this biography is that it isn’t just one damn fact after another [ftnt 2]; rather, the authors work hard to contextualize Pratt. Which means that this isn’t just a biography of Pratt but also a good introduction to 19th century Mormonism.

That said, I’m going to start with a complaint: I don’t like the title. Perhaps it is petty and churlish to complain about that [ftnt 3], but the title isn’t a throwaway line; the authors spend significant time in the introduction and epilogue explaining how Pratt served the same role for Joseph Smith that Paul served for Jesus. I can understand the need to contextualize Pratt for the non-LDS reader (the book is published by Oxford, not by an LDS press) and calling him “the Apostle Paul of Mormonism” clearly does that. Of course, the Jesus-Paul situation is complicated by the fact that Jesus didn’t write anything (that we have). Perhaps a better analogy than Jesus : Paul :: Joseph Smith : Parley P. Pratt would be Jesus : Luke :: Joseph Smith : Parley P. Pratt, since that analogy preserves the problem that we don’t know which ideas to attribute to the founder and which to the writer.

Which leads us to my second issue with this book: I’m sure I’m not the only one who is desperately curious to separate out which ideas were originally Joseph Smith’s and which were Pratt’s, and the authors do devote significant time to this issue, but I’m left unresolved and unconvinced. The authors say that “Pratt saw his role not as innovator, but as systematizer and popularizer” (p6). But given the lack of a paper trail [ftnt 4], that strikes me as a somewhat difficult claim to sustain. Pratt was, clearly, a popularizer of Joseph Smith’s teachings, but whether he was a systematizer seems unreconstructable: To what extent did Pratt innovate theologically? To what extent was Pratt simply the first to record ideas that had already been fully articulated by Joseph Smith? To what extent did Pratt bungle Joseph’s teachings? (There is somewhat funny story about Pratt mangling the account of the First Vision.) The authors admit at one point that “the genesis of all of these ideas found in Pratt’s pamphlet is hard to trace” (p172). But the larger claim of Pratt as a systemitizer in the Pauline mold feels unsubstantiated.

The title also creates an implicit comparison between Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ that will make some LDS wince a little, not to mention (and I am not the first to point this out) that the Apostle Paul of Mormonism is . . . the Apostle Paul. I wish they had gone with “The Archer of Paradise” as a subtitle. That was W.W. Phelp’s nickname for Pratt, because he “always hit the mark” (p64).

***

OK, I’m done complaining. Now I can tell you what I liked about the book.

The authors did an excellent job of conveying who Pratt was. I’m sure you have read biographies that didn’t leave you with the sense that you understood now what made the subject tick. Givens and Grow manage to let us know Pratt. We see him share his testimony while eggs drip from him. They refer frequently to “Pratt’s unflinching bluntness” (p79) and the problems that it caused for him and the Church. We see Pratt performing poorly in religious debates and dancing awkwardly. We see his pain at unsuccessful missions. We see his sense of humor and lack thereof. Most amazingly, we see again and again the role that extreme poverty played in the life of Pratt and his family: two of his children may have died of malnutrition (p277). The high point of the book is the chapter “Parley and Mrs. Pratt(s),” which examines his complicated family life. By the end, you have a real sense of Pratt’s personality.

Givens and Grow also have a knack for contextualization. For example, they point out that Pratt was one of the first converts who didn’t come from the Smiths’ social circle but that “Pratt represented a different kind of convert, who became convinced of Mormonism’s truth claims by reading the Book of Mormon and not through association with Smith” (p33). This path to conversion meant that Pratt’s “relationship to Smith never evolved into the unalloyed adoration of Brigham Young or the fanatical attachment of Porter Rockwell” (p35). The influence that “Baconianism” had on Pratt is explained (p104, 124), and this is very helpful in situating some of Pratt’s writings. They even make the virulent anti-communism of the 20th century church more understandable inasmuch as it developed out of Pratt’s view of history (p108-109). They contextualize some of the violent persecution faced by the early church through a helpful explanation of the ways in which “the lines between mobs and these militia units was sometimes fluid and nebulous” (p136) and further explaining that not only Mormons but also Catholics and abolitionists and the Irish were similarly targeted, along with members of virtually all minority religious groups. They mention how the people of Quincy protected and helped the Saints. (If you are sensing my disapproval of people who paint the LDS as the one and only group to ever be violently dissed by Americans, good pick up.) They really excel at locating Pratt’s life not just in his personal context but in the larger world; the sections on print culture and the role of the margins in the success of new religious movements and the different rhetorical position of Mormon missionaries as opposed to other Christian missionaries abroad in relation to their opinion of the US government are insightful.

Third, they’ve done a bang-up job of including fascinating details: if you don’t know what the excitable Ohio Mormons termed “sailing in the boat to the Lamanites” (p51), you’ll find out! And even if you had slogged through A Voice of Warning, you might not have realized that the first edition did not mention Joseph Smith’s name (it was included in the revised edition). Pratt’s version of Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary is hilarious.

Fourth, I feel that they have been frank but fair in their treatment of difficult issues. Pratt was seriously ticked after the Kirtland banking crisis and publicly criticized Joseph Smith. He was deeply involved in polygamy and the secrecy surrounding it. Some readers may also feel challenged be material that suggests that Church doctrine has changed over time (at one point, Pratt taught that God did not have a body). Most members will be familiar with the famous scene of Joseph Smith commanding “SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit” to jailors boasting about attacking Mormons; the authors suggest that “Pratt perhaps embellished the scene” (p144). They note, “as so often in his writings, Pratt’s hyperbole threatened to undermine his credibility” (p151). If you are easily disturbed by such things, you will not appreciate the difference in prophetic opinions regarding the meaning of Pratt’s death (although I thought it was fascinating).

***

One final matter: I feel the need to address a rather unfair review that this book received in the Deseret News. I read that review before reading this book, and noted its warning that “the book contains mature subject matter, including discussions about sexual dimensions of polygamy, accounts of persecutory violence toward the early church (including a disturbing and graphic account of the rape of at least one Mormon woman), and the extremely violent nature of Pratt’s own death.”

So of course I was on the look out for GRAPHIC SEX AND VIOLENCE while reading. But I found that that warning was, to put it charitably, hyperbolic. The discussion of the sexual dimensions of polygamy is minimal to the point of nonexistence, unless you think Pratt shouldn’t have written about kissing one of his wives (admittedly, it is in a letter addressed to all of his wives, and that’s definitely creepy, but it is hardly graphic).

The rape comment is perplexing; here are all of the references to rape in the book:

“Furthermore, ‘one or two individual females of our society’ had been ‘forcibly bound & twenty or thirty of them one after another committed rape upon.’ (Pratt later confirmed one case of rape with the woman’s family.)” (p140).

“The prisoners suffered the further torment of listening to their captors boasting of ‘defiling by force wives, daughters, and virgins’” (p144).

“Illinois newspapers, Pratt noted, condemned ‘the cold blooded murder, by the mob of Missouri, of Mormon men and children, the violation of females, the destroying of property” (p152).

That’s it. Those may be (they should be) disturbing, but they are not graphic. Similarly, the depiction of Pratt’s death is no more graphic than is necessary to describe what happened to him.

So I am disappointed by this characterization and concerned that it might scare off readers. The review continues from what I quoted above to say, “Although the material is appropriately set within the context of overall themes and events, the book is not recommended for readers under the age of 18.”

Frankly, if your kid is old enough to show interest and slog through a 400-plus-page books on a 19th century church leader published by a staid university press, they can probably handle the material. They’ve almost certainly encountered far more graphic sex and violence in books they have been assigned for school, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, etc.

And perhaps you think I am overemphasizing one paragraph from a review at the expense of the rest. Well, there is so very little meat to the review–strike out the boilerplate about the authors’ previous works and the information about the appendices, and you’ll see that the review is virtually content-free–that the GRAPHIC SEX WARNING looms large as one of the very few substantive comments about the content of the book in the entire review.

Which makes it even more disappointing, excessive, and prudish. [Update: See comment #6 below for the review author's response to this critique.]

***
Where does this book fit in the world of Mormon Studies? Well, we’ve had a great run of biographies within the last decade, most notably including David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (review here, noteworthy because the authors had access to President McKay’s private papers), Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (review here, which received significant national attention), and Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (review here, unique for its author (the subject’s son) and format (disputes between author and publisher [Deseret Book] led to a slightly different and much franker edition of the book being included on a CD tucked into the hardback). The Pratt biography belongs in the same class as the McKay, Smith, and Kimball books: it is a serious biography with an academic approach and it is well worth reading. But it doesn’t quite . . . sparkle . . . as much as those three did. I think the average reader is going to be more familiar with the ground covered here, if only because they have read Rough Stone Rolling or Brigham Young: American Moses and get regular doses of 19th century church history at church. The basic outlines of early Church history are much more familiar than some of the issues raised in, for example, the McKay book. So there isn’t quite the wow factor here. At the same time, focusing on Pratt, a major figure to be sure but not a prophet, does give a somewhat different spin to the events of church history; it isn’t quite history from underneath, but it isn’t a prophet’s biography, either. And focusing on Pratt gives the authors the excuse to focus on church history “at the margins,” where Pratt was serving his missions.

***

To sum: this is an excellent book, despite its flaws, and anyone with a serious interest in Mormon history should read it.

***

[ftnt1] Although I do wonder if the ereader revolution just might cause a resurgence of interest in these books, now that they are easily accessible and free.

[ftnt 2] That’s my favorite line from Guns, Germs, and Steel: that sometimes we treat history as if it just consists of one damn fact after another.

[ftnt 3] But please note that I could be even more petty and complain about the numerous errors in this book that any decent copyeditor should have caught but didn’t.

[ftnt 4] It is perhaps not coincidental that we have this from Joseph Smith: “O Lord, deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were total darkness of paper, pen, and ink and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language,” but this from Pratt: “There is power in language. Power to . . . move upon the spirits of nations like the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters” (p64). Obviously, each one had a position more nuanced than these quotes would suggest, but they do seem to be reflective of an overall difference in temperament related to the written word.

Note: The publisher provided me a review copy of this book.

16 Responses to Book Review: Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism

  1. Christopher on December 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the review, Julie, and I look forward to the others forthcoming here at T&S. I must admit, though, that I’m sort of dumbfounded by your critiques:

    Perhaps a better analogy than Jesus : Paul :: Joseph Smith : Parley P. Pratt would be Jesus : Luke :: Joseph Smith : Parley P. Pratt, since that analogy preserves the problem that we don’t know which ideas to attribute to the founder and which to the writer.

    I’m not sure that comparing Pratt to Luke fixes the overall problem since much of the authors’ reasoning had to do with the fact that, like Paul, PPP traveled extensively preaching the gospel, right? Wouldn’t calling him “the Luke of Mormonism” make even less sense considering this?

    The title also creates an implicit comparison between Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ that will make some LDS wince a little, not to mention (and I am not the first to point this out) that the Apostle Paul of Mormonism is . . . the Apostle Paul.

    I said so when I first heard this critique and I’ll say it again: This is stupid. Claiming that the Apostle Paul of Mormonism is the Apostle Paul may be the most historically stupid thing one can say about a work of historical scholarship that compares PPP’s role in early Mormonism to the Apostle Paul’s role in early Christianity.

  2. the narrator on December 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    from the DesNews review: “Although the material is appropriately set within the context of overall themes and events, the book is not recommended for readers under the age of 18.”

    I wonder if this reviewer makes the same disclaimer about the Bible?

  3. the narrator on December 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    What about “The St. Augustine of Mormonism”?

  4. TeamJedward on December 8, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Christopher, I believe this link will clarify the situation:

  5. Justin on December 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    “I wish they had gone with ‘The Archer of Paradise’ as a subtitle.”

    Reva Stanley used this subtitle in her Pratt biography.

  6. Kurt on December 8, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Julie:

    I am the infamous author, it appears, of the Deseret News review referred to above. Unfortunately, reviews in the Deseret News come with a very short cap on space and a significant amount of required material. By the time the requirements are met, there is very little left room left for substance. I requested extra space to add more substance, but was asked to stay within the word limit. Accordingly, I requested the opportunity to write a longer piece to add some substance and context, a proposal which was accepted and published at the link below:

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705393312/5-questions-answered-about-Parley-P-Pratt.html

    As for the warning of mature subject matter, I tried to write the required connection similar to a movie rating with my grandmother in mind, who I knew represented at least a portion of the readers of the Mormon Times where the piece was originally published. I felt I had described the mature subject matter accurately, and did feel queasy upon reading the account of the gang-rape you referenced on page 140.

    Nevertheless, it was not my intent to scare off potential readers, and I am regretful the article was perceived as such. My “review” would have been much different had I been provided more latitude and had I been writing for a different audience – such as the Times & Seasons.

    That the “review” came across as something interpreted to be “disappointing, excessive, and prudish,” is deserving of my apologies. My intent was to follow the guidelines for the book review and to consider the potential reactions of the most conservative readers and certainly not to do a disservice to those would consider whether or not to read the book.

    I worried a great deal about sending the wrong message with that particular paragraph. When I received a note of thanks for the “review” from one of the authors and positive feedback from readers, I felt I had managed to meet the Deseret News criteria without significantly limiting potential readership. It appears my assumption was incorrect.

    To Julie and all those who feel similarly, please accept my sincere apologies.

  7. Julie M. Smith on December 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Kurt, you are truly a gentleman to respond to my critique in the manner in which you have.

    I would have tempered my language had I known of the restrictions under which you were operating. I will update the post with a link to your comment.

  8. Jonathan on December 8, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Julie,

    I thought your review of the review was pretty harsh and seemed a little mean spirited. I thought the original review seemed targeted to a general audience, and provided the information that the audience would want – the type of book, the types of things a person might come away with, and a note about the maturity of content. You might disagree about the characterization of the content, but I thought the warning was appropriate. It told me that this was not just a casual Sunday read, but dealt with real and serious issues and should be approached with that kind of sensitivity and understanding.

    I was glad Kurt posted the link to the additional review. That was good to read as well.

    Otherwise, I quite liked your review, Julie.

  9. Julie M. Smith on December 8, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Jonathan, now that Kurt has provided more information about the restraints under which he was writing as well as his intentions for the review, I would not disagree with you that my review of his review was harsh. Were I to re-write the review taking comment #6 into consideration, I would leave poor Kurt alone and just excoriate the Deseret News for creating a situation where “by the time the requirements are met, there is very little left room left for substance” . . . with one exception.

    It seems like there is a pretty comprehensive norm in Mormonism that we do not talk about the rape of Mormon women in Missouri, or anywhere else for that matter. This norm, I think, exacerbates the pain of many victims. The fact that we never, ever, ever talk about rape/sexual assault furthers the shame and isolation of those who experience it.

    Forgive the tangent, but this stuck out to me because at the same time I was reading the Pratt book in light of Kurt’s warning, I had to suffer through that awful movie from LDS Social Services about adoption as part of a 5th Sunday RS/PH meeting–this is apparently a yearly tradition in my stake. And of course completely missing from that movie is the concept that an LDS woman might become pregnant through no fault of her own. This, despite the fact that a quick Google shows that one in eight Utah women (our usual but, of course, imperfect proxy for LDS women) will be raped. 1 in 8. Look around in sacrament meeting, and do the math.

    So, with that background, the idea that three extremely tame and circumspect and not-at-all-inappropriate, graphic, or gratuitous statements in the book would merit a mention in a review that otherwise only barely engages the actual content of the book (which, again, we should blame DN and not Kurt for), leaves the average reader with, I think, the impression that this book probably violates LDS norms in terms of what we might choose to read. That really upset me.

    I felt (and still feel) that he (inadvertently, I am sure) encouraged one of the most inappropriate taboos in American LDS culture–that we do. not. ever. talk. about. rape. Even when it happened. Even though it happens now, frequently. Now, I seriously doubt that the idea of furthering this taboo was on Kurt’s mind. I do not suggest that his queasiness was an inappropriate reaction to what he read. But the inclusion of a notice about “disturbing and graphic account” of rape is not, I think, accurate (disturbing, of course, all rape accounts are; graphic, no) and its context in the review makes it sound like a major feature of the book. And the warning for those under 18 makes it sound like any mention of rape is inappropriate to youth. All of which combine to reify an aspect of our culture that needs to be called out and rectified.

    None of this is to pile on Kurt (who I am pretty sure has committed a bloggernacle first with his attitude and apology in comment #6 and deserves to be left alone), but just to explain why I was not pleased with the rape reference in his review.

  10. Kent Larsen on December 8, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Julie, I think you are being very kind. I certainly don’t want to pile on Kurt, but I strongly disagree with the standard that warns an audience at the mere mention of a rape. To me this is the epitome of what is wrong with Utah Mormon culture — the mollycoddling (and I think that is the perfect word) of members. When will the Deseret News, Deseret Book, etc. recognize that hiding reality from members is even MORE dangerous and destructive than the damage from the mere mention that someone nearly 175 years ago was raped.

    Do a significant number of people in Utah really complain about innocuous things like this? And shouldn’t those who do complain be introduced to the necessity of sometimes calling a spade a spade?

  11. Stephen Hardy on December 9, 2011 at 3:24 am

    I wish to simply agree with Julie and Kent that choosing to over-look the horrible crime of rape does little to protect the victims, and in fact tends to increase any shame that might be (inappropriately) felt. It appears to be the crime that dares not speak its name. This attitude continues to leave behind a sense that a good woman wouldn’t “allow” it to occur; that she would rather choose death and then this leads to the destructive concept of “honor.”

  12. aquinas on December 9, 2011 at 8:48 am

    In regards to the title, I think there is an interesting story regarding its origin and usage. This appellation was used as early as 1876 by the Utah historian Edward Tullidge. Tullidge, however, was speaking of Orson Pratt and not Parley Pratt. The shift to moving Parley into that position, I believe, is due to the increased attention to the life and thought of Parely P. Pratt, and the desire to acknowledge his contributions. But it wasn’t a title that the authors had to create. Rather, choosing to designate Parley with a title already in historical usage might be seen as an effort to recognize Parley’s contributions, which have often been overlooked in the history of Mormon studies. So there is somewhat of a back story to the title.

    http://thepierianspring.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/the-saint-pauls-of-mormonism/

  13. Matt on December 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Julie,

    Thanks for the thoughtful review. I thought I’d weigh in with a few thoughts.

    The title is meant to be suggestive, a way to conceptualize Parley Pratt’s role in early Mormonism. As you know, it wasn’t just about his role as a popularizer and systematizer of early doctrine. The other two key similarities to Paul were Pratt’s worldwide missionary labors and his sense of persecution (and the way he shaped the early LDS memory of persecution). I think the comparison shouldn’t be taken too far. (And, as has been pointed out, the “Archer of Paradise” was the title of a biography on Pratt in the 1930s, so that wasn’t an option.)

    I think it’s a fair critique that it’s sometimes unclear which ideas originated with Pratt and which with Joseph Smith, but this uncertainty is largely a reflection of the sources. In the existing sources, it’s often difficult to tease out where a particular idea originated.

    On the other topic of the review and comments, I’ll just say that I think the book is well within the norms of what you would expect from this type of serious history. We don’t flinch from discussing difficult issues, but neither, I hope, did we sensationalize them. And I think it’s important that we acknowledge that the violence of the Missouri expulsion did include sexual violence against women.

    So, thanks again Julie for raising these issues, and to T&S for doing this forum on the book.

  14. Kurt on December 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    All—
    I don’t want to do Julie a disservice by detracting the substance of her review by discussing tangents. However, I would like to chime in and offer a few thoughts in light of the direction the comments on this posting have gone.

    1. I personally believe Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow have put forth a meticulously researched book that adds substantially to the history of Pratt, the Church, and the times in which he lived. As with any book, we each come away with our own criticisms and compliments. In my view, the strengths of this book outweigh the weaknesses when measured against the stated purposes of the authors.

    2. Julie’s review of my “review” (and I put this word in quotes because a newspaper is not a venue for a true academic review, but serves more as a venue to provide potential readers with a cursory introduction to a book; accordingly, I do not consider my “review” an actual review) was appropriate. Some have come to my defense and indicated I was treated harshly. I admit I felt stung by the criticisms, but they were criticisms that were largely, if not entirely, appropriate given her lack of awareness relative to the context surrounding my “review.” I certainly hold no hard feelings to Julie, and in fact, feel she was both genuine and kind in her response to my Comment (#6).

    3. The purpose of my response in Comment #6 had no hidden agenda, including a motive to shift responsibility for the lack of substance in my “review” to another individual or group. My purpose was to offer an explanation, provide context, and offer a sincere apology to Julie and those who felt as she did.

    4. Accordingly, I do support the desire of the Deseret News to address a connection to family values in their book “reviews.” I do not feel the publication should be blamed in any way for my writing, limiting requirements notwithstanding. I cannot emphasize this enough. “I” am the one who (perhaps foolishly, perhaps not) took it upon myself to try and expose a greater demographic to what I feel is a very solid piece of scholarship by Givens and Grow.

    I knew upfront the requirements would leave little room for substance (See details in my Comment #6). Nevertheless, I attempted to write a one-size-fits all “review” of a work deserving of much more in the hopes I could expose more readers to the book. I support the policy of the Deseret News to alert readers of mature subject matter no matter where it falls on the continuum of squeaky clean to absolute filth (of which the Pratt volume is more closely aligned with the former). I believe it is a responsible policy in line with the values of the company. At the same time, a book “review” of Genesis in the Old Testament would likely garner a disclaimer similar to an NC-17 movie under this policy. If readers have been turned off by the “review” I put forth, I bear responsibility for that, not the Deseret News or the Givens and Grow.

    5. With the most conservative of audiences in mind, I stand by the wording I used in that particular paragraph of the “review.” This was perhaps a great disservice to the authors and potential readers. My intention was exactly the opposite. But we all know good intentions don’t always pave a road to the best of places.
    6. As it deals with the subject of rape, it is stigmatized issue which is not spoken of with either the quantity or quality of discussion it deserves. Julie is probably correct that I “encouraged one of the most inappropriate taboos” in the way I approached the issue. I have a substantive background in criminal justice, including sexual abuse, and would have addressed the issue far differently had I been writing for a different audience. However, to me, the very brief description of a gang-rape was hard for me to read. The sexual nature of the violence toward the early Church is rarely mentioned anywhere, and no matter how sanitary the context, the description on page 140 is the most “graphic” depiction of sexual abuse during that time period I have come across (hence the relative context for my word choice in this regard). I feel I would have done my grandmother and unexpected readers a disservice by not alerting them to the fact they would be briefly exposed to a tragic evil which took place in the early history of the Church and continues to plague society today. At the same time, I am becoming keenly aware I may have done a disservice to the authors and certain potential readers.

    To restate or summarize this point, I believe warning the audience of a rape was appropriate and added significance to the tragedy of sexual abuse, although in writing with a certain audience in mind, I may have reinforced a cultural taboo.

    7. To continue with the theme of sexual abuse, I think this is a topic worthy of a separate discussion of its own (Julie deserves the comments in this thread to focus on the substance of her review). I would happy to join with Times and Seasons in offering my perspective (wearing a hat other than that of Deseret News book “reviewer”), or invite Julie, Kent, and certain community leaders to engage in a discussion of the issue on my own blog, and perhaps come up with a list of suggestions for how this topic might be better addressed within the Mormon community—and then proceed to publish our findings in whatever venues are deemed appropriate in an effort to educate our community, heal hearts that have already been broken, and hopefully prevent this abuse to the greatest extent possible. However, I think such a discussion would need to involve a ground rule of fundamental respect for individuals, groups, or communities that are “prudish[ly]” sensitive as well as those that are more educated and outspoken.

    8. In closing, I restate my apology to those to whom it is relevant. Givens and Grow have published a masterful work deserving of a wide readership. Julie’s review of my “review” under the circumstances was appropriate (although it was certainly disheartening to realize I accomplished in some measure exactly the opposite of what I intended).

    I accept responsibility for the “review” and do not condone the Deseret News for their policy, but rather believe it is appropriate given the values and mission of their organization.

    The subject of sexual abuse is a serious one—and a sensitive one at the same time. I offer an open invitation to initiate a serious discussion designed to mitigate the harmful consequences, especially as they relate to a Mormon population very much hesitant to discuss the issue and am willing to corral relevant community leaders who I believe would be open—if not desirous—to participate.

    Finally, Julie’s actual review includes her criticism and praise for the book by Givens and Grow. While I don’t condone further discussion of the tangents initiated by my response (in Comment #6), I would ask that we be mindful of Julie’s intended topic and address what we feel are the merits and criticisms or her own review.

    The Pratt biography is worthy of this kind of discussion, and the Times and Seasons is a very appropriate venue for such in-depth dialogue.

  15. Julie M. Smith on December 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Kurt, I’ve been blogging for over 7 years and I’ve never seen anyone disagree as agreeably as you have here, especially given the charged nature of the subject. Thank you for being such a good example for the rest of us.

    I started a draft of a post on the topic of rape last night, thinking it was a conversation worth having but not wanting to either distract from the Pratt bio or further drag you into a conversation you didn’t ask for. I didn’t get very far (it’s December . . .), but let’s work on this more.

  16. Kurt on December 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Sounds good, Julie. As you work on your blog, I think one goal of the dialogue might be to take the discussions and turn them into something tangible we can do to help others who deal with this issue in any of its varied forms.

    And thank you for your compliment. I appreciate it. I address sensitive issues in writing quite a bit, although usually of a political rather than a religious nature. I try to incorporate civility and an understanding of where the other side is coming from in all of my writings. Sometimes it results in some pretty nasty hate mail, but I hope at the same time it helps each side understand a little more where the other is coming from.

    Hopefully comments will continue to come in relative to the merits or criticisms of your review.

    I saw Matt weighed in on Comment #13 with some substantive points. I would comment in that regard that I don’t feel they sensationalized the “difficult issues” in Pratt’s life, but rather approached them in a very sanitary and academic way, while still helping to bring Pratt off the pages (I often found myself pausing as I read to ponder, and often looked back at various pictures of Pratt to see if the new image I was forming of him was the same as those captured in photographs).

    As I said at the end of my “review” for the Deseret News:

    “Readers are likely to come away from the book sobered by Pratt’s human weaknesses, humbled by his many sacrifices and inspired by his lifelong faith.”