Critics complain that the book promotes a kind of Mormon elitism and endorses giving candy as a reward for righteous living — and withholding it and group membership for children who make a mistake. It equates drinking coffee with more serious problems such as sexual sin, they say, and encourages perfectionism that undermines belief in Christ's atoning sacrifice.
"At a time when righteousness was equated with exact observance of rules, Jesus taught that God is concerned not so much with our actions as with the motivations behind them. There are only two commandments, and they are both love," writes LDS blogger Edward Jones at Rational Faiths.
Mormons "give constant lip service to Christ's atonement, but our highest aspiration is never to come within a hundred feet of it," Jones writes. "If only we can prevent people from performing wrong actions, we think, they can return safely to heaven, untouched by the world and I would add, untouched by Christ's grace."
Although it is important to set high behavioral standards for children, Jones writes, "all people make mistakes and need Christ's atonement. Children who read this book and go on to sin, as all people do, will feel needless shame and humiliation."
Jones is spearheading an online petition drive, asking LDS Church-owned Deseret Book, the publisher, to remove "The Not Even Once Club" from its shelves and inventory.
After a couple of days, the petition has garnered more than 100 signatures.
When asked for a response from Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew or the author, the publisher's spokeswoman, Michelle Moore, issued the following statement defending the book:
" 'The Not Even Once Club' was created to help LDS parents and their children discuss the importance of making and keeping promises."
The publisher, Moore said, encouraged people "to read the short story in its entirety and the 'Guide for Parents and Children' in the back of the book, especially the emphasis on the atonement of Jesus Christ."
Jones acknowledged that, though repentance and Christ's atonement are not part of the story, it is mentioned in "the final three inches of text" in the parents' guide.
It doesn't change his view, he says, that "while this book was clearly written and produced in good faith, it is not good doctrine and not psychologically healthy for children."
In response to Deseret Book's statement, Emily W. Jensen, another Mormon blogger, writes in an email that the book "should have a warning on it: 'Make sure a child never reads this on his/her own.' "
She blogged about it at bycommonconsent.
Peggy Fletcher Stack