I spent a lot of time this year learning about the religion in which I was raised. I wasn’t alone: the nomination of a certain presidential candidate guaranteed that many people would read up on Mormonism. What were they reading? Over the summer, a Mormon historian who has written a few pieces for me at Slate pointed out that the top-selling book in the Mormonism category at Amazon — after the Kindle edition of the Mormon scriptures, that is — has been, for pretty much eight years straight, Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. This jibed with my experience: It’s typically the only book about the religion that my secular, left-leaning friends have read.
For decades, LDS Church leaders have worked to mainstream the LDS faith, and with the nation on the verge of potentially electing the first Mormon president, coupled with the rising influence of the church in the cultural and political landscape of America, some have dubbed this period the ‘Mormon Moment.’ Universities have even experienced a burgeoning interest in Mormon Studies. Such attention, however, is a doubled-edged sword, forcing the LDS Church to respond to controversial issues from its past, such as its history of polygamy, denying priesthood authority to black males until 1978, and the on-going debate about Mormonism’s status as a traditional Christian faith. Predating all of these controversies, however, is the debate about the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon itself.