After more than 60 years serving the ex-Mormon community, the Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore closes its doors for good. Sandra Tanner and her late husband Jerald Tanner have been the sole owners of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore since they started the organization in the 1960’s as a newly-married couple.
“The Tanners are authors of over forty books on the subject of Mormonism. They are well-known for their extensive research into Mormon history and doctrine. Utah Lighthouse Ministry provides these books and research, as well as photocopies and reprints of original Mormon documents to the public,” according to the Ministry.
“It all started with my husband and I as newlyweds,” Sandra Tanner said. “We had questions about early Mormon history. We got researching the early history of Mormonism and Utah, and spent lots of time in the libraries to find and research these documents. Over time, we found that if we had a publishing business, we could make photo reprints of these early Mormon historical documents relating to the rise of Mormonism that anyone researching Mormonism would be interested in.”
This research and analysis led the Tanners to start a company that would provide copies of those documents to patrons for a small cost.
“We started the company and called it Modern Microfilm Co.,” said Tanner. “The goal was to supply photo reprints and documents at a very inexpensive price. That grew into a little bookstore in our front room in the parlor of our old Victorian house here on West Temple. The parlor became a little bookstore.”
Although the company was successful, it became hard to solely live on the profits of the bookstore. After 20 years, the Tanners turned the Modern Microfilm Co. into a non-profit organization and the Utah Lighthouse Ministry was born.
“In the 1990’s, we were getting more activity in the bookstore and decided we needed to expand,” said Tanner. “We bought a little house next door to our Victorian house and remodeled it into the bookstore. We moved the store there in 1995 and it’s been there ever since. It will remain there until we close our doors on February 28.”
The Tanners both grew up members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but, through their own faith journeys, found it troubling that the Church didn’t publish much of its history in a way that was easily accessible to the general public.
“Our goal in starting the Utah Lighthouse Ministry was to provide information about the Mormon Church that the Church wasn’t providing themselves,” said Tanner. “We thought the Church had too tight of control on who could see which documents. By providing these publications to the public, we wanted to open the bottle neck of people being able to have access to important information.”
The Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore is full of books the Tanners themselves have written, history they have compiled, and books written by other religious scholars that present a variety of opinions surrounding Mormon history.
“‘Mormonism: Shadow or Reality’ is a major book we wrote and sold in the bookstore,” said Tanner. “It’s a 600-page research book on all sorts of things that have been changed throughout the years in Mormonism.”
The Tanners have received pushback from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the documents they’ve published and sold in their bookstore over many years, but the couple has remained true to publishing their research and providing historical documents to the community.
“Through it all, our point has been that members of the Church deserve to know both sides of the story,” said Tanner. “People who are being asked to make decisions that will affect their entire lives should know ahead of time what they are signing on to. When the Church holds back information, they are asking people to make life decisions without full knowledge. We felt that people couldn’t make informed decisions without all the information. That has been our motivation through the years. People had a right to know what both sides of the issue were in deciding if the Mormon church is what it claims to be.”
Despite the pushback, the Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore has been beneficial for many going through a faith crisis or searching for their own answers regarding Mormon history.
“I’m usually the one sitting in the bookstore, so it made it possible for a person going through a crisis of faith to come in anonymously and talk to me about what was bothering them, what they were trying to research, or what they didn’t understand,” said Tanner. “There has always been an open market of discussion. Because of this, there has always been an opportunity to talk about it. That’s been beneficial for a lot of people.”
Tanner has found great joy and fulfillment in helping those who walk through her door each day.
“It’s been a real joy to see people come through their faith crisis and end up with a positive view of God and Christianity,” said Tanner. “We’ve seen people who come from generations of Mormonism have a major life switch with a faith crisis. It’s been amazing to see people find a joyful life and marriage through their faith crisis. It’s been rewarding to see people go through this and come out to find joy in whatever way they end up going with it. They find their own integrity in following what they felt to be true, and that’s beautiful.”
Although Tanner is retiring and closing the physical location of the bookstore, she will continue to run the online portion of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry.
“What we will do is sell everything off and then the assets will be divided among several other nonprofits to be determined,” said Tanner. “I will still have the website up and resources will be posted there.”
Tanner has ultimately decided to close the bookstore and wants to be sure it isn’t tainted through the re-possession of someone else.
“I didn’t see how the bookstore could succeed if I stepped away from it,” she said. “Part of the success was having an ex-Mormon sit behind the desk that could relate to the struggle that people were going through. I didn’t know who I would be able to turn it over to that I could trust to keep the same level of civility and integrity and carefulness in research. I didn’t want to have someone else come along and do something that would hurt our reputation. It felt like it was time to close it down.”
Tanner is excited for her future and will always value the lessons she learned through her time running the Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore.
“When I got married I assumed I was going to be this simple little housewife, have three kids, and do the Mormon thing, and then life went a different direction,” said Tanner. “I ended up with a fulltime job running a bookstore and a ministry and it’s certainly taught me a lot. I’ve learned compassion and patience and concern through listening to everybody’s stories of their struggles. It’s helped me grow a lot and my ability to be welcoming to people of all different points of view has increased, even if I don’t agree with them. It has helped me a lot in learning respect and honoring people for their own journey and their search for truth.”
The Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore is located at 1358 South West Temple in Salt Lake City and is open to the public through the end of February.