McFarlan capably explores the contours of his characters’ inner lives and emotions, especially Nephi’s rigidity after years of closing off his sexuality. The dialogue is sometimes stilted (“I have been reflecting on my standing in the church as a gay man and my state in eternity”), and extraneous details occasionally drag down the pace of the story, but the characters’ strong personalities provide stable footing and enough gravity to keep events from slipping into melodrama.
Early chapters are weighed down by awkward explanations of Mormon practice, but McFarlan folds in some details more naturally, as when he depicts Nephi’s encounter with church discipline. The presence of Nephi’s boss, Mark Stone, who also serves as a major church leader, highlights the messy overlap of religious and professional lives in the insular communities of small-city Utah. McFarlan effectively contrasts the more tolerant but conflicted approach of Nephi’s family with the exceptionally harsh decisions of Bradley’s family. This romantic story will ring true to Mormon readers and help others begin to understand the depth and complexity of trying to reconcile sexual desire and religious beliefs.
Takeaway: This sympathetic exploration of the clash of sexuality and Mormon faith will have broad appeal for readers of contemporary romance.
Great for fans of Keira Andrews, Laura Stone’s And It Came to Pass.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A
Nephi’s Courage: Story of a Bad Mormon by Rory McFarlan is about a man who is actually a good Mormon, but also gay. The story follows his life as he tries to balance the demands of his church with his real beliefs about a loving God and his own nature. There is so much here that interests me! And some things which had me questioning or made me uncomfortable.
If you are interested in religion and sexuality I recommend this book, with a few caveats. The first of those is that it might be a very distressing read – the whole plot turns on homophobia, which is extensively and realistically depicted, including the horrible consequences it can have (family conflict, psychological distress, need for mental health support, drug abuse, suicide), and there are cases of family abuse. The second is that the writing is not always great. There’s a lot of dialogue which is sometimes stilted – not bad, but slightly short on contractions and sometimes full of info which the reader might need but the characters would already have. I found I was reading some of it in Data’s voice, which is enjoyable in a different way but not I think the intention! With those things in mind, I thought it was a good example of a niche book which wouldn’t find an audience at all pre-internet, but can now be shared internationally and reach people, like me, who are interested in this specific subset of things.
There will be spoilers in this post, so if you want to read the book unspoiled please go and do that now and come back!
I learned a lot about the Church of Latter-Day Saints from this book. I was already reasonably well informed, I think, and had read up on feminist Mormon perspectives before. However, because Nephi is both deeply committed to the religious practices (and loves them, and so they are described from an insider and sympathetic point of view) and deeply entangled with the community and its structures (which don’t always treat him well), there’s a level of detail which I didn’t have before and an engaged and affectionate perspective which is sometimes difficult to get. For example, I was aware of the practice of performing rituals, including baptisms, for deceased family members – like many amateur historians and genealogists, I’ve benefited directly from work done to enable this, but also like many people outside the church (and as a member of a faith community which is specifically not interested in baptism) I’ve thought of this as ethically disturbing because it feels like imposing a religious ritual on someone who can’t consent. Seeing this from Nephi’s point of view, where the sense of love and desire to be close to his ancestors is strong, puts a different perspective on this.
I already knew a good deal about homophobia, and although some of the details of the depiction are interesting, what makes the story compelling is Nephi’s commitment to bringing together his faith and his sexuality – having tried living alone, he decides to try and forge a new path, one in which he keeps not just God and Jesus but the church in his life, while also dating and then marrying a man. There are some tragi-comic episodes as he experiments with the wonderful and confusing world of online dating (perhaps not handled entirely realistically, since most people would do some Google searches to find out about otters and bears and twinks… but Nephi’s decision to ask a friend instead produces some entertaining scenes, so I’m not complaining). Among other things, Nephi comes into contact with a series of people who are also in his position but making different decisions or failing to cope with the tension between the church and their lives. One character is rejected by his family and dies by a drug overdose. Another rejects the church, and some within the church fail to understand why anyone gay would want to remain.
This is the core conflict of the novel and one which is very relevant to me – and resonates with Tina Beattie’s The Good Priest which I reviewed last year. In a church where being gay makes you a bad church member, how do you strive to stay right with God? (Side note: I know you all know this, but just in case – this is not all churches and certainly not all religions, lots of people who believe in God are also gay and happy about it, so if reading about this is filling you with dread why not check out some affirming faith groups instead?) One of Nephi’s answers is to try and stay as involved with his church as that church will allow, even when they’re trying to kick him out. His consistency in this, and struggles to balance his need to attend church with other demands (like his partner’s desire that they attend a Pride parade together), is admirable even as it sometimes reaches the point of damaging stubbornness.
Another of Nephi’s answers, and a more theologically interesting one in some ways, is that he tries to work out what God’s commandments for a gay man would look like if they treated homosexual and heterosexual relationships fairly. Accepting as much as he can of the church’s rules, and taking on board – after a struggle – his own conviction that he is loved by God and worthy of human love, not called to remain entirely single or celibate, he tries to adjust the rules the smallest amount possible to make space for his own happiness. From a Quaker perspective, this story of trying to incorporate new light, fresh revelation not accepted by the hierarchy, into an existing structure is perhaps especially compelling – and frustrating, since nobody shows much sign of listening to him. For example, he knows he can only be attracted to men and decides to pursue a relationship with another man, but he commits to not having sex before getting married. (I really thought he wouldn’t succeed… but we don’t have Vegas in the UK!) Although eventually convinced, people around him find this very hard to believe – and after his marriage, he continues attending church services in a single’s ward, partly because he now has a group of friends there but also because the church don’t recognise his marriage.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and found it well worth reading. I braced myself to be horrified at several points (as well as the homophobia, there are extensive shooting and hunting sequences, which were actually fine for this relatively unsqueamish anti-gun pacifist vegan, but could have been much harder to read). I had questions sometimes (I can’t always tell what’s artistic license for the sake of the story and what’s genuinely vastly different systems in terms of the treatment of mental health, for example – there’s a massive lack of waiting lists). I recommend it to anyone interested in the overlapping issues of religion and sexuality, especially if you want to learn more about the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and I hope Rory McFarlan will continuing exploring these questions in fiction.
[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Nephi's Courage" by Rory Mcfarlan.]
“Please don’t judge me because I sin differently than you. And don’t assume that you know my sins. Remember that God will judge us the same way that we judge others.”
Nephi has spent his entire life trying to be a good Mormon, adhering to the strict doctrine and devoting much of his week to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Still, he feels a deep void in his heart, and this emptiness is perpetuated by continually repressing his feelings for the same sex. After expressing his questions and concerns to Bishop Thompson, he feels better. Still, the respite is short-lived when his church begins giving him the cold shoulder.
Meanwhile, Nephi’s exposure to the online dating world is met with challenges. Due to his inexperience, it is tough to find a compatible date. While using a dating app, he meets Alex, who is also gay, and they form a purely platonic relationship. Alex begrudgingly accepts Nephi’s choice to be a practicing Mormon. He makes it abundantly clear to Nephi that the gay community will likely shun him. Nephi feels like he right in the middle of a tug-of-war. How can he embrace his identity when being Mormon and gay are two things that can never co-exist?
Nephi’s Courage by Rory McFarlan is a heart-wrenching book about self-discovery, discrimination, and maintaining faith through the darkest of times. The book is comprised of approximately three hundred pages and is written from the third-person perspective. It follows Nephi Willard as he begins to embrace a side of himself that's been repressed for his entire life. His journey is met with opposition and incorrigible anger from individuals who see homosexuality as a sin.
This book was a massive eye-opener for me as I come from a place that has always fostered love and acceptance. I guess my liberal upbringing had me seeing things through rose-colored glasses. Nephi’s Courage was a harsh but much-needed dose of reality. My family and circle of friends come from all walks of life, and many are proud members of the LGBTQ community. Still, while reading this book, I was able to put that aside and immerse myself in Nephi’s plight.
The author couldn’t have created a better protagonist to root for; Nephi’s honestly and relentless positivity was delightful. I admired how he was able to remain hopeful for a bright future, regardless of the deplorable way others treated him. His bother, Jacob, often threw disparaging comments Nephi’s way. He said, “Nephi, you just need to humble yourself, repent, and stop flaunting your gayness. Think about the family for once.” There was also Brother Hanson, whose comments were the most shocking of all. He said, “Why don’t you understand that you don’t fit in? You are an abomination.” While these opinions saddened Nephi, he never once gave up on being true to both his sexuality and his faith.
While the book had its fair share of characters that harbored hateful attitudes, two characters showed Nephi unconditional love and acceptance. Stacy was Nephi’s childhood best friend, and she supported him unequivocally from the beginning of his coming-out journey through to his plan to finally embrace it. Although she had a husband and small children to worry about, she made sure Nephi knew she was only a phone call away. Alex was another character who showed immense love for Nephi, but his friendship came from a place of understanding. As a gay man, he could relate to Nephi in a way that no one else could. Alex introduced Nephi to the unpredictable world of dating, and his life experience became a beacon of hope for Nephi.
Overall I adored this book; the only thing that I found off-putting was the religious aspect. While I know that understanding the Mormon doctrine was crucial to the story, at times, I felt like it was too much information thrown at me. Other than that, I have no complaints. The book was professionally edited, and I chose to give it a rating of three out of four stars.
For readers who appreciate books that are heavily based on character development, this book is for you! Nephi’s story brings up important issues such as social injustice and discrimination, and I think this is an essential read for all human beings. For readers who are sensitive to death by suicide, I would dissuade them from reading this book as it may be a trigger.
SEATTLE (PRWEB) DECEMBER 13, 2019
“Nephi, as your Bishop, I must tell you that those prayers are wasted. God’s plan permits marriage between one man and one woman. He declared it in the Proclamation to the World on the Family. It is clear. It is a doctrine that will not change.”
“The strongest bonds don’t happen all at once. We form them over hundreds of shared moments. Those bonds are strengthened as people rely on each other through trials.”
“There are others like me. Others who are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, aro, ace, or otherwise queer. All of us feel like misfits and outcasts in the church. We don’t know where, or if we belong. It feels like there is no place for us. We are stuck between two worlds, a Mormon world that we love, and a queer world inherent to our nature.”
Nephi Willard is a practicing Mormon who loves God and his church. He grew up in Happy Valley, the center of LDS life in Utah, and faithfully served a mission.
The perfect Mormon life would be his, if not for the fact that Nephi is gay, putting him at odds with his church leaders. No matter how well Nephi obeys the commandments, he doesn’t seem to fit in at church, and his desire to follow the Mormon rules makes it difficult to fit in with the gay community.
While he tries to reconcile his Mormon side with his gay side, Nephi navigates two worlds in a struggle to understand himself. When new friends introduce him to possibilities he never imagined, he must decide whether to embrace his nature or his faith.
Buy Nephi’s Courage: Story of a Bad Mormon on Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082HCDV52
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Name: Rory McFarlan
Address: 300 Lenora Street #415, Seattle, WA 98121