In a strange crossover being described as “super anti-Mormon,” famed “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling has alienated herself from some Latter-day Saint fans after questioning the credibility of the faith’s founder and prophet Joseph Smith on Twitter.
In a Thursday tweet swiftly noticed in Utah — where the church’s world headquarters are located — Rowling compared people calling her transphobic to skeptics of the Latter-day Saint leader. She suggested no one ever saw the gold plates that Smith said he found and translated into the Book of Mormon — and said those accusing her of discrimination also don’t have any evidence.
Her post came in response to an individual saying, “It’s baffling that people still hide behind ‘can you name one thing she said that was transphobic’ like sorry I don’t keep a tally, I don’t keep notes, I just saw them, knew they were transphobic and acted accordingly.”
In a reply has been shared and liked thousands of times, Rowling wrote back: “It’s like when Joseph Smith found the golden plates and nobody else was allowed to look at them.”
Many self-identified members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — known as one fan base for the “Harry Potter” series — responded, saying Rowling’s remark was offensive, insensitive and uninformed.
Smith did get written testimonies from 11 people who said they saw the plates, known as the “Book of Mormon witnesses,” and those statements were included in the first edition of the faith’s seminal scripture, according to a history on the church’s website. The first three said they were shown the same plates by an angel. The next eight said they saw the plates from Smith and held them. None ever retracted his statement.
Rowling later added that information in follow-up tweets. She said she did her own research, and her subsequent post continued to doubt the veracity of that history.
She wrote, “Eleven people claimed to have seen the plates, some of them related to Smith, but there’s debate as to whether this was a metaphysical experience or they genuinely saw them. And one man was allowed to hold the box but not look inside it.”
Her tweets came just days before General Conference, the biannual global gathering of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who meet in Salt Lake City and through telecasts to hear from their leaders.
Some on Twitter questioned the timing, saying it added to the insult. Others declared they’d no longer be fans of Rowling after the tweet.
Several were just astounded by the situation: “I didn’t have JK Rowling talking about Joseph Smith on my 2022 Bingo Card,” wrote one person on Twitter.
A spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined to comment on the matter.
Why Rowling connected with Latter-day Saint fans
Benjamin Park, a scholar of Latter-day Saints and an associate professor at Sam Houston State University, said he’s not totally surprised by the trajectories of Mormonism and Rowling converging.
Rowling has been an outspoken conservative voice among authors in recent years. And the LDS Church and many of its members, Park said, have long tried to align themselves with conservative influencers in society.
The LDS Church says it welcomes queer members, but they must abstain from same-sex romantic partnerships to remain in good standing. The church has also been outspoken in opposing same-sex marriage. And it has formed cultural allyships with institutions and celebrities that believe the same, Park said.
That alignment, he added, is part of why some Latter-day Saints haven’t been upset by her previous anti-trans stances and part of why “J.K. Rowling and Mormons are especially tight-knit.” And many Latter-day Saint kids, Park said, dress up as characters from “Harry Potter” for Halloween — which was also mentioned by several people on Twitter.
But now members of the faith are upset, he said, because they feel personally attacked by the author who they thought shared their views.
It’s a reminder, Park noted, that as much as the LDS Church tries to ingratiate into conservative spaces, “these cultural allies still see their faith as suspicious” and don’t see members as equals.
Park said that Smith’s experiences with the gold plates, in particular, is “among Mormonism’s most radical claims” and one of the most common for outsiders to question or laugh at. And that’s hurtful to believing members.
Her comments “definitely come across as super anti-Mormon,” added Richard Price, an associate professor of political science and co-coordinator of the Queer Studies Program at Weber State University.
Price, who is nonbinary and queer and uses they/them pronouns, has extensively studied banned books. In many highly religious places, the “Harry Potter” series is on those lists because of its sorcery elements. But among Latter-day Saints, Price said, who don’t have concerns about that, it’s beloved.
Price was at a Utah book festival earlier this month talking about banned books with a popular Latter-day Saint author who, they said, raved about “Harry Potter,” calling it “good content for kids” and clean literature.
“[Rowling] has just lost a ton of her fans here now, though,” Price said, with the Joseph Smith comment. “And it just came out of nowhere.”
Authors on social media and Rowling’s anti-trans tweets
Paul Draper, a Utah anthropologist and mentalist, compared Rowling’s reference to Joseph Smith to the depiction of the faith in “A Study in Scarlet,” part of the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In the novel, a father and his daughter are saved from dehydration in the Utah desert by Brigham Young, who followed Smith in leading the church. Young says in the book that he’ll only take them in if they convert to the faith, and he later tries to force the daughter into polygamy.
“Like Arthur Conan Doyle, who mischaracterized Latter-day Saints in ‘A Study in Scarlett,’ [Rowling] is exoticizing and minimizing the other and attacking groups she knows nothing about,” said Draper, who works on several equality and diversity committees within the magician realm.
As Rowling has exposed more of her views on social media in recent years, Draper said it has become hard to separate the author and her works from her online comments.
“Their daily personality becomes wrapped into their creations,” he said about authors now. “And we have to wrestle with that.”
In 2020, Rowling retweeted an op-ed that referred to “people who menstruate,” which is used to refer to a more inclusive group of individuals, including the trans community. Rowling appeared to take issue with the story because it did not say “women.”
That fueled backlash — including several actors in the “Harry Potter” movies denouncing her comments. But Rowling continued.
Draper said, for him, those and other comments made him unable to support Rowling any longer; and other fans, he said, have felt the same, covering up “Harry Potter” tattoos and donating their books.
Some within the Latter-day Saint community who support the LGBTQ community and would like to see the church become more inclusive, said on Twitter that they also stopped being fans of Rowling with those tweets — long before the Joseph Smith reference.
And a few questioned why other Latter-day Saints didn’t pull back then, when they promise to “love one another.”
Having a little fun being in ‘the cultural lexicon’
While most shared concerns about anyone feeling attacked by Rowling, a few did have a little fun with her tweet that combined the two worlds of the LDS Church and “Harry Potter.”
Rebecca Gleason, who runs The Good Book Club, a virtual reading group for former or what’s called more “nuanced” Latter-day Saints, came up with names for a “Harry Potter” book and movie series featuring Joseph Smith.
She was inspired after another poster on Reddit shared an image of the first movie poster, with Smith’s face transposed in the center and Emma Smith, Smith’s wife, filling in for the character Hermione Granger. It was renamed “Joseph Smith and the Seer’s Stone,” referring to the stone Smith said he used to translate the gold plates.
Gleason jokingly said the sequels to that would include “Joseph Smith and the Order of the Priesthood” and “Joseph Smith and the Prisoner of Carthage.” She said she was glad to see the gold plates making it “into the cultural lexicon.”
Latter-day Saints have long had ties to science fiction and fantasy — think Brandon Sanderson and Orson Scott Card. But admittedly, some said they were surprised Rowling even knew who Joseph Smith was.
Kerry Pray, a former member of the church who left after coming out as gay, said on Twitter after seeing Rowling’s post: “The internet is done for the day, I can’t laugh any harder.”
Another person on Twitter joked that he wanted to see Rowling now get into a fight with Stephanie Meyer, the author of the “Twilight” series and a member of the LDS Church.
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