Notable artists who have left the LDS Church

The Salt Lake Tribune/April 20, 2012

Richard Dutcher is one of a handful of prominent Mormon artists who wrestled with their faith before leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Here are three other notable cases:

Brian Evenson

In 1994, Evenson, a novelist and short-story writer, had just begun his first year teaching at Brigham Young University when an anonymous complaint about his story collection, Altmann's Tongue, was sent to an LDS general authority. The tipster accused Evenson of "promoting incest and cannibalism, of corrupting the youth and of writing the sort of book that was the opposite of what a Mormon should write."

Evenson's dean defended his employee — sort of — by writing a memo to administrators saying that the writer "knows that this book is unacceptable coming from a BYU faculty member."

Evenson left BYU voluntarily, for jobs at Oklahoma State and the University of Denver, before arriving at Brown University in Rhode Island. He divorced, wrote six more books and drifted away from the LDS faith. In 2000, he had his name formally removed from the church rolls.

"If you decide to stand up for your own beliefs in the face of your religion, you will lose," Evenson told a Sunstone Symposium audience in 2006. "But it's worth losing, and that willingness to stand up even if you know you can't win, does something to you that it's hard to get any other way."

Neil LaBute

LaBute, an LDS convert, attended graduate school at BYU — but even then, he had trouble getting his sometimes lacerating plays produced on campus.

LaBute became nationally recognized when his low-budget film "In the Company of Men," centering on two business executives taking turns seducing a deaf secretary, made a splash at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. His plays and screenplays — such as "Your Friends and Neighbors" and "The Shape of Things" — were confrontational about the relations between men and women.

But he didn't write anything with overtly Mormon characters until his 2000 Off-Broadway production "Bash: Latter-Day Plays," a trilogy of one-act plays that depicted good Mormons doing bad things. "Bash" led to LaBute being disfellowshipped by the LDS Church, and he later had his name removed from the rolls.

"I thought it was better [for my children] to have a father who was not a Mormon than to have a father who was, as they perceived, a bad Mormon," LaBute told a Sunstone Symposium in 2006.

Elna Baker

The young stand-up comedian's 2009 memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, became a best-seller. The book describes Baker's internal conflict between being a good Mormon and wanting to explore her romantic and sexual possibilities as an attractive, single woman in New York City.

"I didn't think that I would have to choose," Baker told KUER's Doug Fabrizio in February. "I wanted to be able to make it work. I think I possibly could have. I felt that if I just met the right Mormon guy who was liberal enough, and I married him, I could stay in both worlds."

After grappling with the decision, Baker told Fabrizio, "Finally, one day I thought, 'I don't know what it's like to not be Mormon, and I want to try it, just for a year and then decide.' … It was a really slow break. It was really too scary for me to try and do anything. I did drink a little, and I tried coffee. That's about it."

When she finished the publicity tour for her book, Baker told Fabrizio, she and her then-boyfriend had sex for the first time. "That was the point of no return," she said, adding that she tells people she's a "nonpracticing Mormon."

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