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:
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.