Kay Burningham Bares Her Soul
An American Fraud: One Lawyer’s Case against Mormonism
by Park B. Romney
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An American Fraud: One Lawyer’s Case against Mormonism, by Kay Burningham, is, in my sincere opinion, a courageous and historically significant contribution to the literature on Mormonism and American cults presented with a rare and refreshing spirit of sincerity, authenticity and candor. While one might expect a rather dry and painstakingly detailed presentation by a trial attorney of 25 years, intent on articulating her case in a compelling way to jurors, rather, Kay Burningham bares her soul in her book. She is a former Mormon who struggled through her youth and adult years with the dichotomies and conflicts inherent in the clash between her keen sense of personal, intellectual, and spiritual integrity, and a corrupt system of exploitive precepts masquerading as the only legitimately authorized Church of Jesus Christ on Earth.
In the first six chapters of her book, the Author unwittingly reveals, to those insightful enough to perceive the significance of the presentation, the indomitable spirit of a young woman, “Muffin,” to her father, who was raised to examine her own soul as an integral part of navigating her course through life. Kay begins the unfolding of her spiritual journey by sharing the intimate moment of cathartic self-reflection that brings her to the point of full acknowledgment and reconciliation with the reality that she has swindled her younger sister unfairly in a financial exchange that took advantage of her sister’s ignorance, as a young child, about the relative value of larger and smaller coins. Kay doesn’t make it successfully through the night without being harrowed by the call of her own disquieting sense of integrity. She must make it right at the next opportunity. Taking strength from the quiet wisdom and sustaining love of her father at sharing her guilt with him, she makes full restitution to her sister, who would have never been the wiser had it not been for Kay’s loving sense of integrity.
And so begins the journey of a child who never relinquishes her soul, in the quest for mature womanhood, to the corruption of compromise. Things must be right. They must make sense to Kay. Her values cannot be compromised. Her sense of truth cannot be bought or sold. She will not subordinate that which should never be subordinated for the sake of peace or social compromise at the unacceptable price of surrendering her soul. Inevitably, the orientation of Kay’s spirit is on a collision course with Mormonism, the faith of her cultural roots, long before the fundamental reality of the clash rises to the cognitive clarity of her own increasingly sophisticated and perceptive intellect.
Significant parts of the back story behind this conflict are not shared, no doubt due to Kay’s inherent humility, or perhaps, insecurity, misunderstood by those who see her confidence as pride, but known to her closest friends. Kay is not the average person. Like Ellie Arroway, the child turned scientist-astronomer played by Jodie Foster in the 1997 science-fiction film, Contact, Kay Burningham was nurtured by the cosmic connection between the love of her father and her own innate love of philosophical harmony, into the path of human pursuit that demanded that she both experience and understand. Kay developed over the years into a keen observer of the paradoxes of her own life, while at the same time the star of her own life drama in which she excelled in art, dance, and drama, while pushing her own mind into the intellectual territory of sociology, history, philosophy, and law. As a young woman, Kay was a high school leader who excelled in debate. In college she performed with an international variety show tour and represented her own community as Miss Bountiful in the Miss Utah scholarship pageant. She graduated with a BA in History, and went on to complete her Juris Doctorate at J. Reuben Clark School of Law. Kay has litigated hundreds of civil cases and holds the distinction of winning a precedent setting case before the Utah Supreme Court. She engages the creativity, artistic flair, and soulfulness of a right-brained woman, while in full command of the left brain traits of the demanding logic, consistency, and intellectual discipline that would easily intimidate most men. No small wonder then, the irony that Kay Burningham should become, in this former Mormon’s opinion, one of the most historically significant critics of Mormonism of our generation.
Generally, it is a departure from unwritten professional protocol for an attorney to publish an articulation of legal issues involved in an untried case of national significance and potential class-action certification. Understandably, attorneys, as professionals, might feel uncomfortable with the arguments of potential future cases aired out publicly in the absence of paying clients and outside the procedural control of the judiciary. The risks include broad influence of public opinion that can give rise to a certain amount of social and political pressure brought to bear on future judicial decisions while, at the same time, impacting on the expectations of the public about the subject matter. In effect, some would argue that legal advice is being offered up in the public domain in the absence of paying clients. Neither attorneys, nor doctors, nor a variety of other professionals, are particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of their clients or patients being well informed on the subject of issues that might come up in paid consultations. A well informed public does not necessarily contribute to the dependency and related economic advantages for the professional that is supported by the ignorance of potential clients. Attorney Generals are not anxious to be confronted with the complexity of the expectations of an increasingly well informed public that pressures them to address the evils of those who are commonly found among their most substantial political allies. Politicians are not particularly enthusiastic about public expectations that they address the evils of some of their most powerful political supporters. Generally, professionals seek to remain in good favor with their colleagues and are disinclined to break protocol for fear of social and professional isolation. Here, we have a case where a philosophical difficulty gives rise to a moral conflict for an attorney whose heart still responds to the call of social justice amidst an awareness of certain fallibilities within the profession that give rise to a longstanding inequity with gross ramifications to countless lives.
Kay’s youthful and formative years reflected the emerging, but unresolved awareness that something didn’t add up to her satisfaction with the Mormon culture and religion. It seems clear from the beginning chapters of her book that, for the most part, she suspended final judgment on the recurring emergence of the dissonance between a religion that often seemed irreconcilable with the realities of life. Then, in chapter six of her book, she finds herself confronted with the philosophical gauntlet being thrown down before her once and for all. Life has a tendency to move some increasingly toward the acid test of their philosophical convictions. Kay lived out the drama of watching her economic stability and accumulated life investments crash as her Mormon husband, confronted with difficult choices in an employment controversy, abdicate intellectual responsibility for reality based decisions in favor of a superstitious belief in the dubious prophecy of a Bishop’s priesthood “blessing” as he believed it related to his career complications.
For Kay the facts of the situation warranted a conservative approach which, while involving some sacrifice, would have left their accumulated nest egg strong and viable, even if more modest than they hoped. Her husband, convinced that his Bishop’s prophecy obviated the concerns that seemed apparent to Kay from the evidence at hand, chose a course that ultimately wiped out substantially all that they had accumulated. In Mormonism, wives defer to the priesthood authority of their husbands. This social protocol, embraced by true-believing Mormon women, contributed considerably to the pattern of paradoxical pills that became increasingly distasteful for Kay. She was physically abused by her first husband, who clearly seemed annoyed and intimidated by her superior intellect. Now she would ride the emotional roller coaster of watching, from the subservient sidelines of Mormon wives, her latest “priesthood holder” wreck the family fortunes in defiance of her thoughtful input, that of other relevant professionals, and a preponderance of compelling evidence, in deference to the inspiration of a Mormon Bishop. Amidst the emotional fog of this drama, Kay is informed of the death of a dear friend from law school who struggled for years with what she perceived to be her personal failure to measure up to the Mormon model of womanhood. She died from an overdose of Vicodin. Suicide seemed likely to those who knew her well.
What, for Kay, had previously been a certain ambivalence about her faith, now became a serious life question. This life question was punctuated by the curious timing of a letter from a nephew, currently serving a proselytizing mission for the Mormon Church. Filled with the “spiritual enthusiasm” of his service as a missionary, Kay’s nephew shared his fervent testimony as to the truthfulness of the Mormon Church with her and declared that if she studied her faith out diligently and prayed sincerely and devoted herself to obedience to the Lord’s “commandments” her questions would be displaced with a knowledge of the truthfulness of the Church. Kay had from time to time increased her active participation in Church activities in an effort to feel more reconciled to her faith, but to date, had not thoroughly examined the religion with the depth of her accumulated intellectual, spiritual, and philosophical faculties. Her nephew’s letter struck a deep cord within her as its contextual relevance to the perplexities of her life became apparent. Kay had to know the truth. Too much of her life had been invested in a philosophical approach whose serious ramifications impacted heavily on her existence without being scrutinized appropriately. Appropriate scrutiny, however, would now involve more than her nephew bargained for. Over the next year Kay would apply her intellectual prowess to the question at hand with the earnestness of someone who knew they were lost in a philosophical cave and running out of air, and the wisdom and diligence that her professional maturity had armed her with. Kay, a history major who preferred to approach history from a sociological perspective, and a trial lawyer experienced in the successful pursuit of her client’s interests amidst the most intimidating and well financed legal challenges, instinctively sought to prepare herself for the inquiry that would settle the matter.
Over the course of the next year she studied everything that seemed relevant to the question at hand, including her own self imposed curriculum of prerequisites. Kay studied Mormon doctrine and Mormon history while expanding her perspective of theology and philosophy in general. She frequented university libraries and read everything she could find “tangentially related to theology”: The Tao of Physics, God and Religion in the Postmodern World, The Denial of Death, Existentialism from Kierkegaard to Sartre, Irrational Man, multiple works on metaphysics and non-duality, consciousness and the subconscious, neurology and thought processes. She was committed to a thorough and thoughtful inquiry that would lead her to a conclusion that she knew would be the basis of settling, once and for all, the underlying philosophical question that haunted her life. At stake was not only the rest of her life, but her heartfelt concern for the philosophical darkness that haunted the lives of so many Mormon women. She thought of “Teresa,” her law school friend whose life was consumed in despondency. Even today, on occasion, she has been seen to be reduced to tears when confronted with the perplexing paradox of young Mormon women struggling to reconcile their lives with their faith. And so it is that An American Fraud: One Lawyer’s Case against Mormonism grew out of the nexus between one woman’s intellectual and spiritual integrity, her rebellion against philosophical tyranny, her disgust for mendacity and misogyny, and disregard for the social and professional pressures that would censure her. She recognized a higher calling, and was willing to make the sacrifice.
Kay’s painstaking studies unfolded for her, and now her readers, the details of a grotesque fraud of cosmic proportions masquerading under a charitable façade of public spirited nobility. In her book, Kay demonstrates for the world to see, how a reasonable application of the law should be applied to the “affinity fraud” of Mormonism, whose very continued existence employs the quiet acquiescence of government officials and judicial officers whose canons of ethics demand of them a higher standard than to allow this fraud to continue unchecked. An American Fraud: One Lawyer’s Case against Mormonism, is, in this former Mormon High Priest’s view, an historically significant work that calls out the most insidious fraud of American culture for what it is. It is a timeless masterpiece, and will be associated with the beginning of the end of Mormonism in years to come.
Park Romney, a second cousin to the 2012 Republican candidate for the US Presidency, Mitt Romney, is the author of The Apostasy of a High Priest: The Sociology of an American Cult, a groundbreaking discussion of the epistemology (doctrinal theory of truth and knowledge) and sociology of the Mormon Church and culture, also available on Amazon.com. For more information about Park Romney see parkromney.com