Steve Benson, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Arizona Republic newspaper and grandson of Ezra Taft Benson, prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), has resigned from the Mormon church. His high-profile departure caps a year of controversy for the Salt Lake City-based sect.

Despite continuing membership growth worldwide—the church claims it expects membership to reach 9 million by the end of the year—the LDS image has been rocked by unfavorable publicity:

• Last spring Secret Ceremonies, a book by journalist Deborah Laake, made national best-seller lists as it revealed temple rituals and ceremonies. Another book, written by LDS researcher Brent Lee Metcalfe and other church members, has challenged the authenticity of The Book of Mormon, the LDS church’s key scripture.

• In August, speculation about the 94-year-old Ezra Taft Benson’s physical ability to function as “prophet, seer, and revelator” of the church made national headlines. The elder Benson, who has not spoken publicly in more than three years, has been portrayed as a functioning executive, despite what Steve Benson calls his grandfather’s incapacitation. LDS spokesman Arnold Augustin says church leadership is stable despite Ezra Taft Benson’s advanced age.

• In September, the church disfellowshiped six people, self-described loyal members who argued for a more liberal view of Latter-day Saints theology, including the worship of a female deity along with a male God. Church spokespersons defend the move, saying the organization must maintain “doctrinal purity.”

Decision to leave

For Steve Benson, however, it was intellectual honesty that spurred his move.

“It was a very heart-wrenching and emotionally painful decision,” Steve Benson told ...

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