The Maxwell Institute/FARMS controversy

Let me begin this discussion with some background info. With my moniker, Rameumptom, I’m fairly well known on LDS blogs, etc. When I spoke at this year’s Kirtland Sunstone Symposium, Dan Vogel, ex-LDS scholar, came up to me and shook my hand, calling me Rameumptom, glad to finally have met me. I’ve been involved in apologetics for about 20 years, having studied such things for over 30 years.  In the past, I was an active member of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, editing articles and working on several projects.  With my own blogging, the work I do for More Good Foundation, and blogging here, I don’t have the time to work for FAIR right now.  But I stay very involved in apologetics on and off-line. BTW, I am not, nor ever have been, an alumni of BYU or any other LDS related university.

Now the issue:

Recently, on an Anti-Mormon website, private emails were published regarding the firing of Daniel C Peterson as editor of what was once the FARMS Review of Books.  Dan was one of the originators of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), which published scholarly research that supported the Church and defended against its critics and attackers.  FARMS has done many great projects over the years, including organizing and republishing all of Hugh Nibley’s great works.

BYU convinced FARMS to join with them, promising to allow it to keep its focus. Elder Neal Maxwell of the 12 Apostles, was a strong supporter of FARMS and its efforts.  Eventually, FARMS was brought under the Maxwell Institute with other projects, such as CPART.

Gerald Bradford, who was never a supporter of FARMS and is not an expert in ancient things, became the director of the Maxwell Institute. He wanted to take it in a different direction than FARMS had done for decades.  He has delayed and refused to publish the recent issue, supposedly because it included an article by Gregory Smith regarding Mormon Stories (written by a lapsed LDS, John Dehlin, and often discusses why people leave the Church). While Dan was on a trip to Israel (and now in Europe), Bradford sent an email notifying him that he’s been fired as the editor.

Dehlin claims he heard of Smith’s article and had a General Authority friend stop it.  Rumors have it that this event gave Bradford reason to shuffle the deck, firing Peterson as editor, and dismissing his entire board, claiming it will go in a new direction.

Bill Hamblin, BYU professor, has written on his blog regarding these events, and explain them as best he can:

https://mormonscriptureexplorations.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/my-assessment-of-the-situation-at-the-maxwell-institute/

I have known Bill Hamblin for 20 years.  Back around 1990, he began one of the first LDS listservs (email list), entitled Morm-Ant (Mormon Antiquities). It was the first place for scholars to share insight into their studies regarding the Book of Mormon being an ancient document.  It was my first foray into apologetics.  The list lasted for a few years, until one ex-Mormon on the list and others chose to have a heated debate, causing a melt down of the list. It would be more than a decade for Bill to decide to return to the public with blogging, etc.

I’ve read Daniel Peterson’s research for many years. Dan is one of the premier scholars in Arab studies.  I first met Dan in 2004, at the FAIR Conference. He probably does not remember meeting me there, but we’ve had good discussions over many years.

Peterson and Hamblin have sought over the years to expand the knowledge and understanding of Latter-day Saints and others, regarding the scriptures. A few years ago, they team taught a class at BYU on ancient Ascension texts, and then shared them as podcasts online.  They’ve written many articles, many available for free online, including at the Maxwell Institute, Deseret News (Dan has a weekly column), and on their own blogs.

While neither is afraid of a fight, and will use their mastery of words to defeat an opponent, they mostly seek good scholarship to silence others. I’ve used their research and teachings many times in my own studies and teaching.

That said, I share my concerns with Bill Hamblin regarding how these things happened.  To fire a person while they are out of town for several weeks, means they cannot adequately respond to the firing.  They do not have the recourse to immediately file appeals, speak with the big heads of BYU, etc. It was a cheap shot, and does not place Bradford in good light, especially after Dan’s many years of fund raising and dedication to FARMS.  It was what it once was, because of Dan and other dedicated folks.

Secondly, the donors to the MI do much donating of it, as they have in the past when FARMS was independent, because of the apologetic work being done. Can the MI survive without its original purpose, or its main fund raiser?  Will MI slowly fade, because of mismanagement?

Third, if rumors are true, and Dan was fired because of connections between Bradford and Dehlin, then we must fear that the foxes are in the henhouse. Dehlin claims to be supportive of the Church, when in reality, the articles and podcasts I’ve seen from Mormon Stories tend to ease people struggling with their testimonies out of the Church.  FARMS, OTOH, has helped strengthen many testimonies.  Do we really want to support a lapsed Mormon over one who seeks to defend and protect the Church?  Didn’t Jesus say something about a house divided against itself?

Fourth, I recall a great seminar at the Kirtland Symposium regarding the Palmyra Pageant. It was an independent project, growing from obscurity. They sought to use Broadway level quality in all they did, and entice people from all over to see it.  In 1997, they had about 100,000 people attend.  Then, the Church Missionary Dept took over. They changed it to provide something more for members, and sanitized it.  In 2005, only 20,000 people attended it.  Since then, there is hope it is being returned to its original glory.  I fear that Bradford represents a sanitized Church Dept that will make MI seem safe, but will bore and drive everyone off.  Non-LDS scholars will say it is nice, but will bore with its contents and soon look elsewhere, while Mormon readers will find that they no longer have anything in common with MI anymore.  There’s something to the old saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Finally, the Church should not be out looking for fights, but it should be ready to defend itself. Several years ago, the Church asked members and units to not do things on the Internet, except through the official church website.  Unfortunately, this safe road ended up being a road to ruin. Google searches ended up with anti-LDS website popping up on the very front search page for “Mormon”, “LDS”, etc.  Thankfully, Elder Ballard asked us to go forth in the Internet, on Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc., and make our presence known.  Since we were given this new direction, most Google searches now have LDS friendly sites coming up first. It has helped surge our Mormon Moment into a positive thing, rather than us being swallowed up in obscurity, or worse, the undefended attacks of anti-Mormons.

I would like to see the Maxwell Institute cut FARMS loose. Let it become independent again, and run its program as it did for decades.  Bradford is welcome to start up another journal, where he can compete with Dialogue, BYU Studies, and Sunstone.

However, I do not think he will do that.  So, I ask all of you to do a couple things. First, let BYU know that this was handled wrong. Second, let them know that you expect the journal to reflect its FARMS origins.  Third, place the journal under a board made up of FARMS scholars, independent of Bradford.

Finally, let’s remember that BYU has met with controversy already this year. Having a BYU religion teacher confirm to the media that we believe in the curse of Cain is simply beyond the pale.  Now we have BYU’s MI going nuclear against a wonderful organization, FARMS.

If BYU will not do this, then I recommend everyone stop donating to the MI (at least regarding the journal), and donate instead to FAIR, More Good Foundation, SaltPress.org or other quality projects that seek to move the work of the Church forward.

 

 

 

 

89 thoughts on “The Maxwell Institute/FARMS controversy

  1. Pingback: FARMS Fires Peterson et al . . . « Messenger and Advocate

  2. You said, “Several years ago, the Church asked members and units to not do things on the Internet, except through the official church website.” I believe that guidance was given to units and local leaders doing things on behalf of local units, but not to individuals. Individuals were never asked “to not do things on the Internet.”

  3. I’m going to study this out fully before I decide where I stand. But IF what you’ve written is true, I’m incredibly disappointed and upset. I believe in fair play—-on all sides.

  4. For years, these are the people who have been warning us not to trust accounts of people who talk about church discipline in the media, because only one side is speaking. Now they are the ones going to the media with a one-sided, partisan account. Let’s apply the same sort of critical thinking to their accounts as we would to any story we knew only one side of.

  5. “Third, if rumors are true, and Dan was fired because of connections between Bradford and Dehlin, then we must fear that the foxes are in the henhouse.”

    This seems a bit melodramatic. I don’t have any inside information about this whole episode myself, but IF John Dehlin’s actions played some sort of causal role in Dan’s firing, wouldn’t the most likely scenario be (1) Dehlin (or someone on Dehlin’s behalf) complained to a G.A.; (2) said G.A. relayed his concerns to Bradford; and (3) Bradford saw this incident as a opportunity to take an action against Dan that he had long wanted to take anyway, but was just waiting for the right moment? Nothing about this chain of events — assuming it, or something like it, is true — comes close to making Bradford out to be some sort of fox in the henhouse.

    Or am I misunderstanding what you are saying?

  6. And I don’t mean to defend Bradford’s vision, or his firing of Dan, or the timing of his firing of Dan, or anything else. I just think this one sentence really jumps the shark.

  7. I agree with Aaron–everything in this article is spot on, and I will follow up with BYU, but we really only have Dehlin’s word that an article about him got spiked because of a GA (some online threads say an apostle). It’s far more likely that a GA asked Bradford to revise any sarcastic or personal comments, and Bradford used that as an excuse to spike the story and soon after fire Peterson. Even that’s just an outside chance.

    But count me as just another FARMS-lover who will complain about any halting of apologetics so we can try to fit in with the cool kids.

  8. I lean more toward this being an example of mismanagement and unethical conduct than foxes, but I’m naive that way. What we are capable of when our visions clash never ceases to amaze me.

  9. This is exactly what I was about to predict would happen — except it already has. I am greatly saddened, except this does look like a real chance to revitalize FAIR.

    I am still so sorry for Dan.

  10. Another thought: Whatever you want to make of the way Bradford handled things, or the way this change at MI betrays the expextations of former MI donors — and I’m inclined to agree with Dan’s and Bill Hamblin’s complaints on both counts — the fact that certain PTBs don’t want MI doing Dan’s particular brand of apologetics doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about (a) how these PTBs feel about other organizations doing Dan’s particular brand of apologetics; or (b) how they view the enterprise of apologetics generally.

  11. Dan was not fired over the Dehlin paper. The Dehlin paper is merely a symptom of a much larger illness.

    I have heard this first-hand from those involved.

  12. To clarify: The concerns by some within the Maxwell Institute over Greg Smith’s paper on John Dehlin were not the cause of Dan Peterson’s dismissal. Those concerns were about direction and focus, and the Dehlin paper was part of that direction.

    Dan was not dismissed because of a single paper, but over issues of where to take the Institute.

  13. one thought:

    dehlinites aside, there could be a fair amount of difference of opinion among scholars that are mormon as to what is ‘defending and protecting the church’ and what is well intended but frankly embarrassing.

  14. Mike Parker: What direction? Those like me who have invested both time and money since the beginning did so because it was not just BYU Studies or the MHA. Why do we need something already being done? Further, the direction of FARMS shouldn’t direction shouldn’t be the decision of just one person — and certainly should not be handled by firing those who have given so much so well. To take this actio ben while Dan is out of the country is just inexcusable. The mismanagement is palpable.

    I’m not sure what Dehlin did or what the relation to the paper on his antics may have been; but he has posted on Hamblin’s site and appears to want to take credit for this action. He claims that the decision was made by GAs at the highest level. Is he just trying to make himself look important or misrepresenting the facts? Who was (were) the general authority(ies) involved?

    Let’s hope that saner heads and kinder hearts can prevail.

  15. Mike: Another question: why did the anti-Mormon message Boards know about what FARMS was doing before anyone else? Is there a leak or just a wolf in the hen-house?

  16. Pingback: The Decline and Fall of FARMS? « Gently Hew Stone

  17. G.wesley: “…well intended but frankly embarrassing.” That’s very funny.

    Blake: Oh, I completely agree with you. This is a stupid and unnecessary move. Unfortunately, the board that once governed FARMS has been replaced by a university-appointed executive director who makes the decisons.

    Dehlin is overstating his role in this event in an attempt to control the narrative. See my blog post on this subject:

    http://www.fairblog.org/2012/06/23/changes-at-the-maxwell-institute-and-controlling-the-narrative/

    Yes, there is a mole at the Maxwell Institute. His identity is known. Bradford has done nothing about it.

  18. It seems entirely possible that at least some people in the institutional BYU or larger church organization decided that it was not a net gain to be affiliated with some of the nastiness that seems unfortunately prevalent in Apologetistan.

    For instance, the NAMI was apparently lined up to publish some of the work of Will Schryver until Jack Jeffries collected and posted a summary of the slimy nastiness that Schryver had been publishing on message boards; Bradford then apparently withdrew that offer, over DCP’s objection. (This is mentioned in DCP’s e-mail: “My wife predicted that you would pull this while I was out of the country — just as you used my absence last year to suppress Will Schryver’s writing without discussion — and, in fact, you have.”)

    (For Schryver’s record, see http://mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=18091 . Warning: Highly profane and misogynist. Sample Schryver snippets: “Now get your fat a** back in the kitchen and whip up a batch of cookies before I slap you silly,” or the classic, “Emma was a champion b**** and no one else would have her except Joseph.”)

    On the issue of public disclosure of private e-mail, I absolutely agree. It is highly problematic at the very least to publicly publish e-mails like this; probably a significant ethical breach, depending on details; and depending on fact details and on the jurisdiction, I believe it may be a potential illegal act. Very, very bad form.

  19. I won’t defend Will Schryver’s intemperate public comments (even he has admitted he has a problem), but it really is a shame about his research not being published. It’s top-notch stuff; it will, in some important areas, completely change the study of the Book of Abraham.

    The examples of “nastiness” in “Apologetistan” are almost exclusively limited to a handful of personal comments made by a few authors outside the pages of their published works. It’s unfortunate to see the entire FARMS Review brushed aside because things unrelated to what actually appeared in print.

  20. I gotta agree with Mike Parker on this one. Also, I don’t know anything about Schryver’s supposed nastiness, but it has nothing to with the quality of his work on the KEP. In fact, it is merely an ad hominem attack of its own to discredit sound scholarship even assuming that he is guilty as charged. By that standard, Beethoven’s masterpieces would have been deep sixed by Bradford because he was arguably a very bad and controlling man. I still like his music.

  21. Richard Wagner wrote some immensely complex, moving, and inspiring music. He was one of the most important composers of the 19th century, and a pioneer in world of classical.

    He was also a thoroughgoing racist and a raving anti-Semite whose views inspired the Nazi movement in the 20th century.

    just because he was a bad man, however, doesn’t mean we should ban his music.

    (Imagine Apocalypse Now without “Ride of the Valkyries.”)

  22. I get the feeling that, as a supporter of John Dehlin, my opinion won’t be very welcome here, though I hadn’t heard a thing about this drama until this morning.

    I suspect this was more a case of the John Dehlin article being the straw that broke the camel’s back, a final example of Dan Peterson’s vitriol. I don’t object to apologetics in general but find Peterson to be spiteful and mean-spirited, and suspect that he does at least as much harm as good to those sincerely asking questions and looking for answers and finding only attacks.
    I find John Dehlin’s approach to show much more compassion and christ-like behavior than anything Peterson has done, and Mormon Stories showed me that there are people who are aware of all the “hard issues” who still have solid testimonies and stay in the church. What the Mormon Stories podcast did for me was showed me all the scary issues then showed me I have a choice to stay or go- as Terryl Givens said on his interview with John Dehlin: “…faith is what operates or what unfolds in a middle ground, between the compulsion to affirm and the compulsion to deny. And I believe that God has structured our lives here on this Earth in such a way that, when it comes to those issues of eternal import, we have to be free to affirm or to deny. And therefore, there has to be a balance of evidence, both for the veracity of the Gospel, and against it. It’s essential to God’s divine purposes, and to the flowering of freedom itself, I believe, that there have to be compelling reasons to reject the Book of Mormon, to reject Joseph as a prophet, to reject the existence of God Himself. But they have to exist alongside compelling reasons to affirm those things. Only in those circumstances can we call upon our will and choose to believe or not to believe. And I think in those moments, our choice reflects the most important things about us: our souls, what we love, what is it that we choose to affirm.”
    Honestly, if ANYTHING could get me to stay in the church, it would be this attitude, that doesn’t blame me for questioning, acknowledges my doubts are legitimate, but offers me a choice.

    PS, remember when Dan Peterson was ON Mormon Stories? I was trying to find the more positive-towards-the-church Mormon Stories (such as the one I got that Terrly Givens quote from) but found that the attitude and pompousness of Peterson made me want to distance myself from the church even more.

  23. Kaimi, number 20, is engaging in the time-honored tradition of all partisans and ideologues of finding only bad things in the people he disagrees with. And then of course he argues that a few negative experiences therefore justifies taking down an entire organization, including of course changing its original mission and forcing out a few dozen other people who did not engage in such behavior.

    The truth of the matter is that the act of “defending” anything will bring moments of tension that will cause people to act in ways that they later regret. I would bet every person reading this has done this.

    It would be wonderful if we all were reasonable and loving in every comment and interaction, but none of us are. But we should not be distracted by these criticisms from the bigger picture here, as described by Rame (the OP), Prof. Hamblin and Mike Parker. The nay-sayers will use the only card they have, which is to say *some* members of classic FARMs were mean and engaged in ad hominems. But they will of course ignore and downplay the thousands of cases of nastiness by the ex-mos, the DAMUs and the critics of FAIR and FARMS.

  24. Kaimi wrote:

    “On the issue of public disclosure of private e-mail, I absolutely agree. It is highly problematic at the very least to publicly publish e-mails like this; probably a significant ethical breach, depending on details; and depending on fact details and on the jurisdiction, I believe it may be a potential illegal act. Very, very bad form.”

    Based on what legal theory–criminal, civil (defamatory), both? There’s quite a huge difference. Is bad form illegal? IF the emails had likewise been cc’d to several other individuals, how does that impact your privacy analysis? . . .

  25. Guy: Gerry Bradford’s email to Dan Peterson, dismissing him as editor of the Review, was not CC’ed to anyone. It was being circulated by anti-Mormon critics withn a few days. (The copy in my possession was sent by Eric Johnson of Mormonism Research Ministries.)

    It is ludicrous to think that Dan himself would send that message to his enemies. Someone with access to Gerry Bradford’s email did it.

  26. Jenn: I am glad that you have chosen to remain in the Church.

    John Dehlin is not as nearly interested in a fair and unbaiased presentation of the facts as you believe. When Greg Smith’s paper finally appears, this will become very clear.

  27. Got it–I had assumed the subject was Dehlin’s email. Thanks for the clarification. Still pondering whether that might rise to criminal and/or civil exposure . . .

  28. On my point about the rumors regarding Dehlin, I do not think it over-dramatic, as Aaron and a few others think.

    Dehlin’s Mormon Stories has devolved from where it began. It now is the perfect forum to help members who struggle to ease out of the Church. This is very different than the Church’s encouragement to “come back.” Remember, Dehlin only stays in the Church because of family and friends. He does not believe it is true, and so he doesn’t really care whether people stay or not. He reports all sides, but lately has mostly reported on the struggles that tend to lead people out of the Church.

    I have no problem with GAs asking us to not attack him. I do have a problem with Dan Peterson being fired in the way he was, especially IF it was over Dehlin.

    I’ve studied the development of other churches. Those leaders that seek to avoid contention end up with a strongly social liberal religion that has given up morals, character, and often the belief in miracles and Jesus Christ. I have many friends in the Community of Christ. However, they are relegating the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith to the past, and becoming just another liberal church. I do not want us to deny our roots, even as we learn from new scholarship and revelation the things we ought to believe. If we ever give up on the Book of Mormon, or defending it and teaching from it to the world, then we have given up our very soul.

    Unlike the Jews, who have a large contingent of non-believers who still retain their cultural heritage, we are the ones carrying the message of the Lord, and cannot allow distractions or social politicking from changing it. I do not wish to shut down Dehlin or his efforts, but I do want to place them in proper perspective. When we stop caring properly for our struggling members, and allow non-believers to manage it, we should not be surprised that so many leave the ranks. We leave them with nothing to believe in.

    Today, we are managing our Mormon Moment with many websites not run by the Church. Most of these are very faithful to the gospel. There are some that focus on perceived wrongs of the Church, and while such places need a voice, I see some blogs as beginning as faithful with a few concerns, many have devolved away from faithfulness. I don’t want to eliminate a faithful journal that defends the Church, and replace it with neutral scholarship that does nothing for the Church, except allows some liberals to have a touchy-feely moment.

  29. Also, after Dehlin sent his series of preemptive emails, which attempted to silence criticism against him, he then publicly attempted to claim that he had done so in a different order and to different people (i.e., he outright lied), in order to make his actions look more reasonable and less threatening and desperate.

    This, too, has all been been documented and will be published someday. Hopefully soon.

  30. I’d like to see the Dehlin article. In the past, I’ve been told about supposed “nasty” FARMS articles that were nothing more than vigorous defense of the church against dishonest opponents.

    I’d rather read the article and decide for myself, since the people who claim nastiness are often too invested in justifying their own disbelief.

  31. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that the church doesn’t want to sponsor pointed criticism of personalities and religious projects, however hostile to the church they may be. The church is simply too diplomatic to defend itself in that way, or to allow anyone else to do it on its behalf.

    From what I gather, however, the Maxwell Institute is using this an excuse to commit institutional suicide. If they dump all the old FARMS folks, and drop all the activities that gave them a reason for being in the first place, what reason does it have to continue to exist? It sounds like the MI is about to turn into an empty shell of its former self.

    In addition, this seems to be a perfect example of why the command and control style that might be necessary in the executive functions of a church tends to be more than a little unsuitable for the maintenance of its supporting institutions.

    What possible reason could the church have to give carte blanche authority to the Maxwell Institute’s executive director to run it like his own personal fiefdom? It would be like giving the president of BYU the authority to eliminate entire colleges just because he felt like it.

  32. In the ten plus years I’ve been a bloggernacle reader the issue of Dan Peterson and his “vitriol” and “pompousness” regularly surfaces. I’ve always found Peterson to be a breath of fresh air on the internet. He’s educated, confident and articulate, three qualities that I guess can be misread as pompousness by people looking for an an ax to grind. I find him no more vitriolic or pompous than many of the members of BCC, but he is consistently funnier and usually more astute than any of them.

  33. Mark D: “It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that the church doesn’t want to sponsor pointed criticism of personalities and religious projects, however hostile to the church they may be. The church is simply too diplomatic to defend itself in that way, or to allow anyone else to do it on its behalf.”

    This is the narrative that John Dehlin and his supporters are advancing, but it is not true.

  34. There is nothing ad hominem in my claim. An ad hominem argument would be, “Schryver is an unpleasant misogynist, and therefore his arguments about scripture are invalid.”

    What I said was that an organization that holds itself out as representing the Lord might understandably choose to distance itself from those who choose to engage in highly visible acts of unpleasant misogyny.

    And Blake, if you “don’t know anything about Schryver’s supposed nastiness,” I suggest you click on the link. 5 minutes of work. They’re collected nicely and all hyperlinked to the actual conversations in question.

  35. Kaimi: Has anyone at the Maxwell Institute ever held that organization “as representing the Lord”?

    Or does everything done at BYU have to hold to that high standard?

    If so, does that apply to other subsidiary organizations owned by the Church, like Deseret News and KSL?

    And to what level of meanness does a person have to rise before the Church can refuse to have anything to do with him?

    Is is possible that flawed people, who have even occasionally been complete jerks, can still produce good scholarship that deserves to published?

    These are serious questions.

  36. “From what I gather, however, the Maxwell Institute is using this an excuse to commit institutional suicide. If they dump all the old FARMS folks, and drop all the activities that gave them a reason for being in the first place, what reason does it have to continue to exist? It sounds like the MI is about to turn into an empty shell of its former self.”

    This is blatantly not true. For quite some time, the most respected projects coming out of the Maxwell Institute had nothing to do with FARMS. Their CPART and METI projects are internationally respected in the scholarly community, and probably have a greater importance and readership than their various Mormon studies publications. To say that the Institute has nothing outside of FARMS–which has always been only a small portion of what the Institute does–reveals an ignorance of the great work the Institute has been doing.

  37. Mike,

    If you think that claim is too strong, how about this one?

    “By furthering religious scholarship through
    the study of scripture and other texts,
    Brigham Young University’s
    Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
    seeks to deepen understanding and nurture
    discipleship among Latter-day Saints
    while promoting mutual respect and goodwill
    among people of all faiths.”

    It seems entirely within the ambit of reasonable conclusions that someone might think that the missions of “nurturing discipleship” and “promoting mutual respect and goodwill” limited to some extent the kinds of people the organization might choose to affiliate with.

  38. Mike (#35), an example of the church defending itself against specific religious projects or personalities would be a general conference talk calling out Sunstone by name.

    There have been talks criticizing “alternative voices”, but as far as I can tell the church almost never singles out specific organizations or individuals for public criticism. Dehlin is not going to rank a mention in General Conference, or the Ensign, or an official press release anytime soon. Even when the church excommunicates people it strongly prefers that their names not become public knowledge.

    I don’t have any problem with this inclination, so long as independent organizations that do the same thing in a responsible manner are allowed to do so. The most disturbing theory about this whole episode is that not only does the church not want to sponsor criticism of organizations and individuals attacking the church, it doesn’t want anyone else to do so either. The acquire-FARMS-in-order-to-neutralize-it theory, more or less.

  39. Mark D: “It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that the church doesn’t want to sponsor pointed criticism of personalities and religious projects, however hostile to the church they may be. The church is simply too diplomatic to defend itself in that way, or to allow anyone else to do it on its behalf.”

    “This is the narrative that John Dehlin and his supporters are advancing, but it is not true.”

    I agree with Mark D on this one. The church, (meaning the 12 Apostles) avoids making any true ‘prophetic’ statements in our days. Yet, they let (FARMS) do the dirty work in fear of someday being proven wrong. The church will distance itself far from answering questions such as DNA and the BOM. When someone like Peterson steps in the tries to come up with a plausible answer, it’s all we have to go with because no Apostle will give a definitive answer. If FARMS is proven wrong in the future, the church has nothing to worry about because it was never ‘official’.

    As a geneticist by profession and LDS member, it troubles me to think that church leader’s will not step in and clarify the many issues I face regarding church history and in particular DNA and the BOM. I respect Dan, and often read his articles, but when all is said and one, he’s not an Apostle.

  40. And Guy, I’m not an expert in the area, but I wonder if forwarding Dan’s (non-public) e-mail in a damaging way would give rise to a claim under the “public disclosure of private facts” tort, or the related invasion-of-privacy torts. (My limited understanding is that these torts vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and that the jury is still out on a _lot_ of questions about how they apply on the internet.)

  41. I agree with KLC. Dan’s a funny guy — and most folks who are offended at his “nastiness” are really just pinked by the virtual laughs. Laughter can crash like the seven thunders on those who can’t bear the irony of truth.

  42. Kristine’s comment #4 (way up there) got caught in the spam queue somehow and I just liberated it. I think it needs addressing. Kristine’s point is that we have only heard one side, and I assume she is referring to the fact that we haven’t heard anything from Gerald Bradford. Speaking as an outsider with little real knowledge of what is going on, I would LOVE to hear his side. In fact, we at M* would be happy to publish his side in a guest post if he is so inclined. Kristine’s reminder is a good one.

  43. GRobbert, The controversial part, which I have the impression that the BYU does not want to be affiliated with, are attacks on personalities and institutions, no matter how inaccurate, offensive, dishonest, or deceitful those people are. All of that could be handled by others, and the primary activity of FARMS would remain intact.

    There are two basic questions here: (1) Does the church wish to support criticism of individuals and organizations that attack the church and its doctrines? (2) Does the church wish to support apologetics in general?

    If the answer to (2) is “yes”, BYU ought to back-pedal on dumping the apologetics function of the MI, because acquiring a friendly institution in order to kill it is enormously counterproductive.

  44. I will say that when it comes to CPART, METI and other projects, MI has done a great job with them, and hopefully will continue to do so. That said, if they no longer wished to have a FARMS component, why not just cut it loose from the MI group, make it independent again (as many FARMS scholars always wanted), and let them continue the journal themselves? He could have said, “Dan, FARMS doesn’t fit MI anymore. Why don’t you take it back again and run it as a private organization?” I’m sure Dan and others would gladly have jumped at that opportunity (I know Bill Hamblin would have). It just seems to me that Bradford could have worked this in many ways more positively than he has.

    That he’s made no statements over the past week, seems oddly strange to me, if he believed he had done the correct thing. One quick media announcement that really said nothing, does not work for me. I believe he is hoping the furor over this will pass in the next month or so, and we’ll all just forget it, leaving him in charge of his fiefdom, and us left without such an important journal.

  45. Kaimi: I have no interest in pursuing anyone’s nastiness. I suggest that you are way too fast to excuse yourself from having engaged in an ad hominem. You take whatever nastiness Schryver has engaged in as totally justifying the decision to not publish and to disregard what would have otherwise been published. It is an ad hominem in its purest sense — what he has to say shouldn’t be published because he is a nasty guy.

    The irony is that you believe FARMS was totally justified in not publishing materials from nasty people but when it wants to point out nastiness of others you are quick to point out that its hands are tied because it somehow “represents the Lord”. FARMS must engaged in this discussion with one hand tied behind its back. Anyone who says something critical of what another person advocates (which is the essence of scholarship) is therefore unkind and unworthy of the exalted designation “represents the Lord.” That is a pretty heavy weight to carry and I think any apologist would justifiably shrink from that standard.

    Ben P.: I acknowledge that MI has done more than FARMS in publishing translations of important works and so forth. As valuable as it is, it doesn’t entail at all that it shouldn’t also be engaged in the very important issues of apologetics and defending the Church from unjustified attacks. I think you would agree with that; but maybe I don’t understand what you are saying.

    G. Robbert: The work of Ugo Perego pretty well addresses the DNA questions and the BofM as far as I am concerned. Until we have a profile of what Lehite or Mulekite DNA would be, there isn’t much more to say. We don’t have that and it is unreasonable to expect that we will get it.

    I am interested in why you would expect apostles to step in and address issues of DNA. Are they supposed to definitively resolve such scientific issues in your view? In my view, that is a wildly inappropriate expectation for a lot of reasons.

  46. Kaimi: I’m not suggesting that Will Schryver be appointed as editor of the Mormon Studies Review or or made a director at the Maxwell Institute. He was warned by friends that his online behavior was going to kill his scholarly career. He’s admitted his error and apologized.

    Considering the importance and quality of his research on the BofA scrolls, if I were the Review‘s editor, I would publish it. That would not be an approval of his online behavior; it would be in spite of it.

  47. In regards to W Schryver, I agree with Mike Parker. Many scholars have bad marks in their lives, yet their work can still be valid. For example, in the world of philosophy, one of the major scholars was Heidegger. Yet, he used his philosophy to support Hitler and the Aryan concept. As bad as that is, many scholars (including LDS) quote him and extend and expand upon his views.
    People can be a real jerk in person, and yet be brilliant. We do not throw people away, or disregard them because of such things, unless they are criminal. And even with criminals, we seek to reform them. Chuck Colson went to prison for Watergate, but came out and began a major Christian prison program. I hope we remember him more for his good works, than his bad. It would be irresponsible to ignore all the good he did, simply because he helped Nixon to lie and cheat.

    Another example: Brigham Young’s rancorous speeches influenced the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Do we reject him as prophet or teacher for some of the terrible things he did? I hope not. I would venture that most of us have done something in our lives that would merit prison had we been caught doing it. Yet, we move forward and try and do better. I think Will’s seeking to do better, and we should give him that chance.

    If Gerald Bradford were to apologize for his methodology in firing Dan, and perhaps five us a good reason for the changes he’s making and the way he’s making them, perhaps we could get him to reform some, too.

  48. # 22 & # 50 Mike ~ I won’t defend Will Schryver’s intemperate public comments (even he has admitted he has a problem)

    He’s admitted his error and apologized.

    He has? Where has he done this?

    Because all he ever told the members of MDB, when they complained about his behavior, were sentiments to the effect of, “I feel neither regret nor contrition for anything I have ever written on this message board. I am willing to have it all read as I stand and listen at the day of judgment.” (See the sub-heading “Has William Ever Addressed This Behavior?” in the thread Kaimi linked in #21.)

    My thread could have ended on page one if William had simply admitted that his behavior was ill-thought-out and inappropriate, and apologized to the women in question.

    it really is a shame about his research not being published. It’s top-notch stuff; it will, in some important areas, completely change the study of the Book of Abraham.

    If his stuff is so top-notch, why doesn’t he simply submit to another peer-reviewed journal? Dialogue, Journal of Mormon History, JWHA Journal, etc. It’s not like the Maxwell Institute houses the only Mormon studies journals out there.

    #47 Mark D. ~ if someone actually posted a private communication the simplest remedy would simply be to deal with it as a copyright violation. A DMCA notice ought to suffice to get it taken down.

    Can anyone else verify whether or not this would work?

  49. If my published articles had to be judged based on my worst online behavior – well, I’d never have any publications. Thankfully, I do have some publications and my worst online behavior is buried very deep in any web search results in my name.

  50. I distinctly recall Will apologizing for his behavior. But this was several years ago; I’m afraid I don’t have a link.

    His research was done in Church archives with the assistance and support of MI scholars. I don’t know the details, but I think MI has publication rights.

  51. “Because all he ever told the members of MDB, when they complained about his behavior, were sentiments to the effect of, “I feel neither regret nor contrition for anything I have ever written on this message board. I am willing to have it all read as I stand and listen at the day of judgment.” (See the sub-heading “Has William Ever Addressed This Behavior?” in the thread Kaimi linked in #21.)”

    Will Schryver is DKL?!?!?

  52. I just deleted several insults aimed at various people. It ain’t gonna happen on this site, folks. Be nice. Thanks.

  53. Kaimi: I had originally thought you were referring to Dehlin’s emails, not Dan’s–my mistake. Since Dehlin apparently emailed several persons on a cc list it would likely take it out of the realm of private facts. Dan’s email may give rise to the torts you suggest, covered by CACI instructions 1800 and 1801–and of course under CA law. Not sure of the legal status of those torts in UT. Regardless, I think Dan would have an uphill battle showing harm or damages. Then there’s the issue of this now hitting the local media and becoming an issue of public interest, which I think would give rise to some First Amendment issues. Hard case, I think . . .

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  55. Ram, I can’t speak for Schryver, because I don’t care enough to bother with him, but I do know that there continues to be debate regarding whether or not Heidegger’s Nazi beliefs should give all his work as asterisk, as it were.

  56. I’ve heard some express the opinion that the Church/BYU should not be sanctioning unapologetic apologetics, because they are confrontational and provisional views are mistaken as dogma etc. etc. I see the point.

    But the solution is to let FARMS go again. Hive it back off. Divest it. Making a zombie of the institution is low and dishonest.

  57. Bryce, nice write up. It’s sad that it takes something like this to have you blogging again.

    John C, I recognize that some would place an asterisk next to Heidegger’s name, due to his Nazi beliefs. That said, many others have developed some very interesting and extensive work off of Heidegger, such as Derrida.

    I do not mind placing an asterisk next to Schryver’s name, but that does not mean we ignore all his work.

    Otherwise, why not ignore/reject George Washington and Thomas Jefferson for being slave owners? FDR for incarcerating Japanese-Americans during WWII? All Southern Baptists for belonging to a church that once supported slavery?

    That is the problem with isolating an individual for one poor decision or character flaw.

    With that, I see Bradford in this light. I’m sure that in his area of expertise, he’s top notch. That he’s playing in a sandbox that he hates and is not a scholar, is very problematic. He’s basically told the other kids that he now owns the sandbox, and he’s replacing the sand with concrete.

    Adam G, I totally agree. If they no longer want FARMS as part of MI and BYU, then they could just announce they are returning it back to the wild. To destroy FARMS is a slap to Hugh Nibley, John Welch, and many other LDS scholars that have done fantastic work over the years. As I’ve looked at the situation, I understand BYU’s interest in doing more things like CPART and METI. I understand resources can be limited, and they have to decide where to spend the money. But I also realize that they have just killed the golden goose that has fed the LDS populace. Providing good scholarship for other scholars is important. But providing good scholarship for the members is also important, especially when their tithing and donations fund the programs.

    The best thing they could have done, and I suppose still could do, is to ask Dan to take FARMS back as a non-BYU entity, and let it manage itself. I can’t see how Bradford or BYU could do anything else to manage the conflict they’ve created. As it is, I would be surprised if the vast majority of members are not supporting the FARMS’ side of things in this issue. The only blog that seems to be supporting Bradford is from the “They Who Shall Not Be Named” anti-Mormon discussion list. Does Bradford really want to have them on his side?

  58. Thanks Rameumptom. I agree it’s sad it took this to get me back to my keyboard. Perhaps it will get me to pass by that way more often.

  59. Does Bradford really want to have them on his side?

    Probably not. But maybe like Derrida he can develop some very interesting and extensive work off the experience.

  60. There is some indication that BYU might be supporting Bradford’s approach (simply based on the fact that he’s doing it). Let’s not turn this whole thing into a bigger deal than it needs to be.

  61. John C, do you really think BYU supports Bradford firing Dan while he’s out of the country via email? Has BYU really sunk down to such an unprofessional level as that? Do you suppose BYU support Randy Bott when he told the media that we believe in the curse of Cain? They were, after all, silent on the matter for the first few days on that one.

    Or do you suppose BYU is going to try and fix things quietly behind the scenes, given all the furor. I have no doubt they’ve had dozens, if not hundreds of phone calls and emails regarding FARMS, etc. Given that BYU promised not to dismantle or change FARMS, it is not looking good for the university. You’d think that a religious university would be interested in keeping its promises.

  62. Rameumptom: “As it is, I would be surprised if the vast majority of members are not supporting the FARMS’ side of things in this issue. The only blog that seems to be supporting Bradford is from the ‘They Who Shall Not Be Named’ anti-Mormon discussion list. Does Bradford really want to have them on his side?”

    The vast majority of members may not even know what FARMS (was) and Mormon Stories are. But who cares? They probably don’t.

    Even among those members who own computers and have money to spend on the internet, a tiny fraction blog about such.

    The apparent absence of blog posts written by ‘members’ in favor of Bradford could mean any number of things.

    At any rate, I’m sure you could find plenty written online and in print by members opposed to apologetics. The larger issue is decades old (and has been just as unknown and unimportant to general membership).

    Of course, to find it you might need to reconsider your rigid dichotomy between ‘members’ and ‘anti-Mormons.’ But this is a staple of the very apologetics in question. So I won’t hold my breath any more than I will expect Mike Parker to take my earlier comment seriously.

    If it is overly simplistic to attribute Peterson’s firing to recent developments concering Mormon Stories, is it not an oversimplification to claim that Bradford’s only supporters are Dehlinites and anti-Mormons?

    To repeat, Dehlinites aside, there could be a fair amount of difference of opinion among scholars that are Mormon as to what is ‘defending and protecting the church’ and what is well intended but frankly embarrassing.

    It’s a matter of difference of opinion not the War in Heaven continuing to be played out online.

  63. BYU (and possibly even church leadership) could support Bradford’s move (up to and including letting Daniel Peterson go) without necessarily dictating the specifics of how that would work (ie–sending him an email letting him know he’d been let go while he was on vacation).

    Or perhaps they’d had it planned out for a while, but realized there was a leak and hurried to notify Peterson as quickly as possible instead of waiting until he returned, hoping he’d hear it from them first.

    We’re still lacking a lot of the facts here.

    As far as Randy Bott goes, BYU should have fired him. But there is no evidence to this point that Bradford’s move is anywhere close to as bad as what Bott did. In fact, there’s a very real possibility that Bradford acted under direction from higher-ups.

  64. g.wesley: It’s difficult to take a comment like “well intended but frankly embarrassing” seriously when it represents nothing more than a sweeping generalization without any specifics to back it up.

    Time and again, supporters of FARMS’ apologetics have asked its critics to come up with examples of its “mean and nasty” “ad hominem” approach, and consistently the critics have refused to provide examples (or have given a few old, indirect examples of things done or written outside of FARMS).

    So it’s difficult to know exactly what you consider “embarrassing” about the hundreds of books, journals, and newsletters FARMS has produced. It’s probably just another example of you believing something and seeing it criticized and not liking it very much.

    If I’m wrong, I’d be happy to see your examples of “embarrassing” things published by FARMS.

    (And, for what it’s worth, I can think of one article in the Review, years ago, that was poorly conceived and executed. But that article does not represent the sum and substance of what FARMS has achieved.)

  65. This imbroglio will pass. The Dehlinites may cackle with glee and Schadenfreude, but their reaction to all of this is barely above middle school level. (I do find it ironic that these folks are the first ones to cry “ad hominem!!!!”, despite the fact that at best it’s the pot calling the kettle black.)

    Mormon Apologetics, as a field of endeavor, is actually quite strong. Perhaps we just need to take a step back and take a gander at the forest and ignore the trees of discontent for now. With the Internet and FAIR and independent publishers like Salt Press, we have plenty of venues for faith-grounded scholarship and apologetics.

  66. MDKing, it’s a complicated issue. I don’t see the FPR post condoning what Bradford did, the way this is all going down, or even supporting the disbandment of FARMS. It is certainly saying that FARMS should not be part of BYU, something which many FARMS supporters also agree.

    There are many sides to this fence. Even William Hamblin, FARMS scholar and supporter extraordinaire, says he does “not really object to Bradford’s vision for the MI. I think it is perfectly legitimate to digitize Syriac manuscripts or publish dual Arabic-English editions of Muslim philosophical texts. I actually have some personal professional interest in such things, and have read some of these publications. I also have no real objection to a Mormon Studies Review that approaches Mormon studies from a purely academic standpoint… I also agree with Bradford that LDS apologetics should not be officially sponsored by the University or the Church” (http://mormonscriptureexplorations.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/what-the-maxwell-institute-controversy-is-really-about/).

    As has been pointed out, if the university didn’t want FARMS-style apologetics within its institution, why did it become part of the university in the first place, wherein it has endured a prolonged, slow death?

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  69. Unfortunately, I am getting ready to leave town this morning and cannot provide a thorough reply to the things said in this comment thread about me. I am rather mystified by Mike Parker’s comments, since I am not aware of ever having “acknowledged” having some kind of “problem” or “apologized” for some offense I have allegedly committed. Suffice it to say that I am in the process of preparing a rather lengthy blog entry concerning this entire issue, and I will post it as soon as I am able (probably no sooner than early next week.)

    I categorically deny the allegations made against me here and elsewhere that I have routinely engaged in offensive online behavior. Bridget Jeffries et al. are, however, guilty of forgery, gross exaggerations, out-of-context misrepresentations, and otherwise blatant propaganda–all designed to suppress a completely non-apologetic article I had written concerning the forensic analysis John Gee and I made of the Joseph Smith Papyri in February 2010. This paper was to have been the cover article for JBMORS 20:2 (iirc); had already been fully edited, peer-reviewed, etc., and was literally pulled at the last minute in consequence of a “full-court press” applied to Jerry Bradford while Dan Peterson was out of the country last year.

  70. I have not had a chance to read this entire comment thread, but I also saw this statement by Mike Parker:

    “He was warned by friends that his online behavior was going to kill his scholarly career.”

    This is untrue. It never happened. To my knowledge, none of my friends has ever believed any of the propaganda created by the MDB crowd. To my knowledge, none of my friends believes my “online behavior” to have been “vulgar” or “misogynist” or “sexist” or particularly offensive.

    There is a myth that has been created about me, but it has no relationship to “things as they really were.”

    Again, my upcoming blog post will provide a detailed history of the events of the past two years, since the MDB crowd first attempted to convince Scott Gordon and FAIR to remove me from the agenda for the 2010 FAIR conference. Yes, their protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, they have been in the business of attempting to suppress the publication of my research for over two years now …

  71. Thank you, William, for correcting Mike Parker on how you never apologized for the behavior I documented at MDDB.

    I believe my thread—which certainly contains no forgeries and links every single comment I documented to the original context—speaks for itself. I encourage the few people who may still be interested in this topic to read the thread for themselves.

  72. MsJack:

    I have read the thread you made. In my opinion, it fails to provide evidence for the allegations that have been made about Mr. Schryver, just as your threads about Professors Peterson and Hamblin fail to provide evidence for the allegations made about them.

    You apparently have a personal grudge against Peterson, Hamblin, and Schryver. Why is that? What did they do to you?

    By the way, I hope readers of this comment thread WILL read your thread. I doubt very many people have read the thread. Instead, they just repeat what is said about Peterson, Hamblin, and Schryver as though “everyone knows” it is true.

    It should also be known that I am not a believing LDS. I am not an LDS apologist. But I’m also not someone who joins mobs for no good reason.

  73. For the record:

    I wouldn’t say I was ever “friends” with Will Schryver, but I had several exchanges with him online where I essentially told him that his behavior would be used as an excuse to ignore his actual scholarship. One such exchange resulted in his cancelling of a scheduled interview I was going to conduct with him on the FAIR Podcast regarding his work on the JS papyrus. He felt my remarks were something like friendly fire, and thus relegated me to a category of apostate-enablers.

    Note his rhetorical lumping of any criticism of him as consisting of “propaganda created by the MDB crowd.” I’m certainly not, nor have I ever been, part of any “crowd” at MDB, and I personally contacted Schryver via email as well as left comments which he responded to on another message board regarding his online antics. I can’t keep track of whether he defends them as being OK or whether he denies they ever occurred because if I recall correctly he’s done both of these things.

    All this being said, I also grant that his arguments themselves vis a vis his scholarship can be analyzed apart from his online behavior, and that those who would dismiss his work (now unpublished) based on his being rude or crude are basically employing a form of the dreaded “ad hominem” fallacy against him. The pragmatic fact of the matter is, though, that image matters. I put my own somewhat on the line by even entering this discussion presently.

  74. ps- I’m glad, given the way things have worked out, that I didn’t interview Schryver. But this is *not* because I believe his work is useless or wrong. In fact, I’m not conversant with it. It may very well be fine work. I’d like to see it published somewhere because it regards a very interesting and puzzling subject, From what I understand, he’s worked very hard on it. His behavior doesn’t necessarily compromise the quality of his research, which deserves to be assessed on its own merits. This can be done through blogs or other more open-access venues if no other publication is willing or able to publish it.

    I myself, and my guess is many of you, have sometimes acted stupidly online, and the stone-throwing isn’t advancing the scholarship. (Provoking stone-throwers ain’t helping, either!)

  75. Bhodges, excellent comments. As an outsider, I find this entire subject (the subject of who did or did not write ad hominems) distasteful and petty. I doubt there is not a single person on this thread who has not written, in a moment of passion, something he or she later regrets. Continually harping on such comments in an attempt to ruin the reputation of somebody is reprehensible. In my opinion, it makes the person doing the harping look even smaller than the person who supposedly made the ad hominem attacks.

    I like how Bhodges takes the discussion back in the direction of concentrating on the scholarship produced. That would be much more productive, imho.

  76. Mr. Ludd, the thread seems quite convincing. The offensive behavior seems well documented and not isolated. As someone without a dog in this fight, MsJack has made the more convincing case by far.

  77. I think discussing William Schryver’s eloquence on the Internet has nothing to do with the OP. As mentioned, we’ve all been guilty of attacks on occasion. That there are people on both sides of the Mormon/Anti-Mormon “discussion” that can be rude and crude is not the issue of the OP. While people can argue over William, I see no one discussing the trashing being done by those antis on their hate everything Mormon board. Many of them are vile creatures that offer no discussion, but enjoy bathing in their own slime.

    That said, this OP is not about such. It is about the controversy at MI and the future of FARMS and apologetics. I’m not interested in what bad things people have said in the past. I’m interested in scholarship, quality apologetics, and people behaving themselves as professionals in the future. I allow that all people can change. Once they begin that change, I’m willing to forego attacking their past, and focus on their present action.

  78. Ludd, I’ve already told you at MDB that I believe you are a sock puppet and a troll. There’s a reason I have you on ignore there. Take a hint.

    Rameumptom, I realize this issue is at best tangentially related to your OP, so I won’t assist with this derail by responding any further. I would encourage those who wish to discuss it further to register at MDB and comment on the original thread.

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