In short, it seems that a bureaucrat at BYU has railroaded out a whole generation of scholars from their formerly-fine Book of Mormon studies publications. The era of faithful apologetics at BYU may be over, replaced by some vague desire to go in an as-yet undefined direction.
Daniel Peterson, a great advocate of the Book of Mormon, has been unceremoniously given the boot, apparently along with a host of other scholars. I don’t want to rehash the whole sordid affair here, but here’s a brief intro from a longer and excellent summary:
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.
My two cents:
I’ve never met Dr. Peterson, but I saw him speak once. A few years ago, he came to Las Vegas to speak to BYU alumni at a stake center. I saw the event listed on the Maxwell Institute web site and got excited. I’m not a BYU alum, but I snuck in anyway. Dr. Peterson spoke about evidences for the Book of Mormon, and it was an exhilarating two hours. His stories and examples had a huge range, and he was funny and personable–an excellent speaker.
I guess I could have seen something like this coming. It seems the MI hasn’t had its heart in it for years. Consider this: A collection of short articles from the FARMS newsletter in the 1980’s, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, had 85 entries and was extremely wonderful–a seminal classic in bringing Book of Mormon scholarship to the non-specialist world. A book collecting their updates of the 1990’s, Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, had 74 entries and was almost as good.
There was no collection published of the brief updates in the 2000’s, perhaps because there was nothing substantial enough to print. Or they just didn’t care anymore. The quality and quantity of work went down hill pretty steeply. I subscribed to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies from 1998-2003, and ended it because I just wasn’t getting my money’s worth. Ironically, I just gave those issue away last week.
If the new direction for the MI is coming from the church, from the General Authorities, then of course I’ll support it. But I don’t think it’s likely that that’s the case. I think the current administrators over the institute are essentially going rogue, trying to fit in with the cool kids. But the larger scholarly world isn’t going to respect LDS research any more because it has a more secular tone or doesn’t engage in apologetics so enthusiastically. It won’t make any difference to them at all. Meanwhile, faithful church members and those who are inclined to be friendly to us in the wider academic community will a poorer intellectual life.
Certainly, the apostle for whom this institute is named–Neal A. Maxwell–supported apologetic work:
Let us be articulate for while our defense of the kingdom may not stir all hearers, the absence of thoughtful response may cause fledglings among the faithful to falter. What we assert may not be accepted, but unasserted convictions soon become deserted convictions.
Church critics and enemies should not be permitted to make what Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve has sometimes called “uncontested slam dunks.”
And church president Gordon B. Hinckley incorporated FARMS into BYU in the first place because he also approved of their mission:
FARMS represents the efforts of sincere and dedicated scholars. It has grown to provide strong support and defense of the Church on a professional basis. I wish to express my strong congratulations and appreciation for those who started this effort and who have shepherded it to this point.
Number of results for search “Daniel C. Peterson” at lds.org: ten
Number of results for search “M. Gerald Bradford” at lds.org: zero
I have created a Facebook group to defend Dr. Peterson here.