The Rise and Fall of FARMS

The Rise and Fall of FARMSI’m sure many of you are by now aware of what happened this past week at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University.  I don’t want to rehash everything again here (you can read about it here, here, here, here, here, and here).  Suffice it to say that I am extremely disappointed, deeply saddened, and frankly appalled at the actions of one M. Gerald Bradford, Executive Director of the Maxwell Institute, as well as others at the Institute (some unknown), most specifically for the unimaginably rude and utterly undeserved public firing of Daniel C. Peterson, Editor of the Mormon Studies Review (formerly the FARMS Review), who has served fervently and with untiring dedication for the past twenty-three years since its inaugural issue in 1989, as well as his entire team of associate editors, including Louis C. Midgley, George L. Mitton, Gregory L. Smith and Robert White (some of whom are out of the country and may still not even know yet that they’ve been summarily handed their coats).  There aren’t words to describe how unprofessional, uncalled for, and how exquisitely ungrateful these actions are towards these devoted scholars, and the many other FARMS scholars who have been a part of the organization since 1979, and who in many ways have given their lives in sustaining and defending the kingdom of God.  For that, this is the curt note they got.

One view that has been mentioned several times by those involved is how these inconceivable few days of events has in reality arrived as the exclamation point on a very long internal struggle at the Institute over the last decade in defining its core mission.  That mission has consequently evolved in recent years.  

The organization that became the Maxwell Institute was organized originally and independently as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) in 1979 by John W. Welch.  When President Gordon B. Hinckley invited FARMS to become part of BYU in the late 90′s, he noted its particular and long established apologetic nature, saying:

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. I see a bright future for this effort now through the university.

This mission to sustain and defend the Church (something which we all must do, which is what the term apologetics means from the Greek for “speaking in defense”) included scholarship in a number of subjects such as history, language, literature, culture, geography, politics, and law relevant to ancient scripture, especially the Book of Mormon, areas which have been targets for critics and enemies of the Church since Joseph Smith and the Restoration.  Indeed, the original FARMS logo itself conveyed this multifaceted ancient focus as well:

FARMS logo

Original FARMS logo

The logo of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies is composed of characters from four of the main ancient languages and cultures relevant to Book of Mormon research. The Hebrew “aleph” in the upper left corner and the Greek “omega” in the lower right are the first and last letters of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets, standing for “the first and the last” (Isaiah 48:12), who is Jesus Christ.

The Mayan glyph in the upper right is stylized, representing Mesoamerican studies. The Egyptian “Wd3t-eye” in the lower left corner represents Egyptian studies. This character, the pupil of the sun god Re, was an ancient symbol of resurrection, since a myth told how the eye was torn to pieces and then put back together. The round pupil of the eye was also used as the model of the round outline of the hypocephalus placed under the head in royal burials, of which Figure 2 in the Book of Abraham is an example.

Of course, the preeminent scholar-apologist of the Church and restored gospel in this past century was none other than Hugh Nibley, who set an incredibly high standard for those who would follow him.  Hugh Nibley became very much an advocate and conduit of the mission and purpose of FARMS until the end of life, and then even posthumously.  His last collection of works were published in 2010, five years after his passing.  The printing presses couldn’t keep up with him, even at 94.  As many of you know, the impetus and inspiration for my starting this website was to do my small part to help continue the legacy of Hugh Nibley, and his unconquerable spirit and quest to defend what he knew to be true of the restored gospel, a knowledge which I have also come to share.

In about 1998 FARMS became part of BYU.  Many disagreed with that merger, fearing it would hinder what FARMS was doing by tying it too close to the Church, and causing it to be viewed as an “official” voice, which it was not.  Of course, the university promised that FARMS could continue doing what it was doing without fear of change or disruption.

Unfortunately, and in an ironic twist of fate, those who were the leaders and original founding organizers of FARMS in the beginning slowly began to be replaced by managers and administrators by the university, people who had not been involved at all with the organization in the past, in order to “run” it.  Anyone who has even the slightest recollection of Nibley’s work knows he addressed such a lamented situation in one of his most well remembered speeches, in which he subtitled the scenario “the fatal shift.”  How right he was.  Those with no core passion for the organization, personal interest, or invested desire to fulfill its original purpose began to take over, and make it their own.

During the past decade, things have begun to change at the Institute as this transformation has taken place, most acutely in the last few years, as the vision has changed from Mormon apologetics to a focus on studies that will appeal to non-Mormon academia.  William J. Hamblin, once a Board member and FARMS scholar who has published many fantastic works over the years, has taken note of the change in the organization over the past few years:

Astute observers will note that there has been a steady decline in both quantity and quality of Institute publications over the past few years.  (Indeed, more cutting-edge books on the Book of Mormon have being published in the past few years by Kofford Books, Salt Press, and even Oxford University Press than by the Institute.)  They may also observe that most of the original core of FARMS scholars from a decade ago, including me, have nearly ceased publishing with the Institute, having been systematically marginalized, alienated, or ostracized by the Institute as it tried transform itself to conform with this new vision.  Needless to say, most of the original FARMS scholars have been dismayed by this inexorable movement to remake the Maxwell Institute.

I hadn’t taken note, as of yet, of the decline of the number of publications coming from the Institute until I read this note, although I think I knew things weren’t the same as in the “good old days” of FARMS.  I read a similar viewpoint again today by Jamie Huston at Gently Hew Stone:

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.

This got me thinking.  Could you actually chart the rise and fall of FARMS based on its publications?  From its inception, to its prolific golden age, to its uneasy decline in the midst of “forward” thinkers?  Indeed, you can.  The chart you see at the top of the post isn’t scientific by any means, and I’m sure I’ve missed some things here, but this is what a cursory counting of the FARMS publications looks like over the years from 1981-2012, based on what is currently available online at the Maxwell Institute website.  (Note: It’s a stacked chart, to show the total number of “publications” per year for all types.  I’ll update this chart, if I can get more accurate information, just contact me.  It’s also, incidentally, exactly how long I’ve been alive.  In addition, this only takes into account “quantity” of material, not “quality,” something which is much more difficult to statistically quantify, but which has also seen a decline by censorship and “design by committee.”  Finally, I did not include more than a handful of articles or books by Hugh Nibley in my count, as he would have single-handedly skewed the whole picture.)

I didn’t make this chart for fun.  I don’t like to see FARMS fade away and disappear into oblivion.  FARMS has been a tremendous inspiration and a source of faith affirming knowledge and study for me for many years.  I did it to see if what these people were saying was true in any degree, or if they were just caught up in the emotions of current events and making exaggerations for maximum impact.  If this chart is any indication, they are, in fact, quite right.  Since the year 2000 (nary a year or two after becoming part of BYU!), the Maxwell Institute seems to have suffered a prolonged and slow dearth of published material, until very little at all in 2011.  This current year’s 2012 publications to date can be counted on two hands.  Two hands.

I want to be very clear that this decline is not, even moderately, the fault of Daniel Peterson.  He has wanted to publish more for many years (as has been the desire of many other scholars!), but was systematically stopped short at the behest of the Institute’s administrator(s), who thought they knew better the direction to take it than its original creators, former contributors, and current editors.  The decline was so gradual and subtle, over such an extended period of time, that many people probably didn’t recognize it was even occurring, or only had a faint feeling that something was amiss.  Hindsight is 20/20.  After the firings, Dr. Peterson implied that now he recognizes that all of this was likely a work in progress for quite some time, a sloppy plan of sorts, the wool being pulled white-knuckled over his eyes the whole time.  This was, perhaps, his only shortcoming in this whole ordeal, not seeing the freight train approaching from a distance, while looking through a glass, darkly (1 Cor. 13:12, which incidentally has apologetic reference to the Urim & Thummim, I come to now realize, a sublime irony!).  I suspect a large part of the decrease in publications since 2000 is a combination of administrative red tape that came from the merge with BYU, as well as this new “direction” that’s gradually taken hold over so many years, which censored apologetic works written by a number of scholars.  These scholars consequently picked up their bags and left to find other publishing houses with vacancy signs that were fully lit (e.g. Kofford Books, Salt Press, Oxford University Press).  Some might point fingers and say that they were improving the quality, at the expense of quantity.  But I think most scholars would agree that the FARMS scholarship before the union with BYU, and shortly thereafter, was in many cases better than in recent times.  (“Well, yea, that’s because of Nibley!”  Ok, then, where are the Nibleys of today?  Again, I note, you could count the Nibley articles, chapters, updates, etc. included in my graphic representation on one hand).  FARMS scholars had more freedom at that early time, to do the passionate work that they wanted to do without bureaucracy standing solidly in front of the printing press.  Thank you Dan, for your years of selfless service and resolute testimony in the face of untold harassment from the Church’s detractors.  I have personally learned abundantly from your hand, and have been able to share that with many others.  You’ve been a tremendous influence for good, and we mourn what this has done.

William Hamblin rightly notes that this is the end of what has traditionally been known as FARMS:

Dan Peterson was the only scholar of the original FARMS Board who was left as a “director” of the Institute; with his dismissal classic-FARMS is gone.  There is not a single voice left in the leadership of the Institute to represent the original goals of classic-FARMS.  This is why Dan’s dismissal and marginalization is seen as such a massive betrayal.  It is the removal of the last vestige of classic-FARMS.  The pretense of the MI as the heir of FARMS can no longer be maintained.

It’s a sad day for those who loved the work of the Church’s most extraordinary defenders.  Of course, they are still around, with more up and coming scholars coming to the fore, and they will most assuredly continue to do their great work via other avenues (perhaps with FAIR?), but what was once their home and haven has vanished.  The nest has been knocked clean from the branch.

Thank you FARMS, and all those who’ve been a part of it, for all you have done for so many countless people across the world, including myself.  You will be acutely missed!

I don’t know what Hugh Nibley would say about all of this, if he were still with us.  But I’d sure like to be in the same room.


  1. dallske
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    I was introduced to FARMS and much of Hugh Nibley and others’ writing while on my mission. I was hooked then and loved it. I echo the sentiment above, that FARMS will indeed be missed and that the actions of certain individuals at BYU are unfortunate and unprofessional.

  2. Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this. Let it serve as something of an obituary for FARMS.

    it has been a golden age of Mormon scholarship and apologetics.

  3. Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Thanks Mike.

  4. Sherry
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this explanation of what has happened. And I had thought it was just me. I noticed the decline in publications over the years. When I first joined FARMS, I couldn’t keep up with all there was to read and will admit that a lot of it was over my head – but it was prolific and fascinating.

    Now my feeling of “it isn’t what it used to be” is confirmed. Thank you for pulling back the curtain for us. It is more than disappointing to learn what has happened to FARMS and those who made it what it was.

    Maybe now is a dawn of a new life for those intrepid scholars who were trapped and shackled. Perhaps as newly freed agents, they can pursue their hearts calling without the burden of the university’s restrictions that they were carrying.

    My naive but hopeful thinking…..

  5. Antonio Batanero
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Bryce, thank you for your post. This shouldn’t take our sight away from the things that really matter in the restored gospel, but it definitely is an interesting post, especially for FARMS’ lovers like me.

  6. Posted June 25, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    The reason that BYU took up FARMS can only be guessed at, but it was only natural that it should. Most of those who were in it were BYU professors and it was published pretty much on campus. When it was first obsorbed into BYU I was excited because I felt it deserved the recognition. My hope was that it would allow even more scholars to get involved. History has proven that hope misguided and the recognition dubious. Strangely enough, the death of FARMS could be detected by the few number of published works in Deseret Book of substance. All this talk of bringing FARMS back, or BYU “killing it” is questionable without a distributor. I have the distinct feeling that Deseret Book, and not BYU, was the deciding factor. What happened at BYU was only the refult of a publishing minded world of academia.

  7. Posted June 25, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Apparently there are more reasons why BYU took up FARMS that have not been revealed. It would be interesting to learn them some day. I’m not so sure it was a natural progression to become one with BYU. There are many groups that BYU professors are a part of that are not part of BYU. It certainly could have remained independent, and appears to have attempted to do so quite strongly. But at the end of the day, when a prophet personally invites… It’s a bit sad that the Brethren today haven’t seemed to have had their eye as closely on what has been happening at the institution as they once did. I still hold out hope that they will reach out and help ameliorate this situation, as perhaps only they can.

  8. Posted June 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Chris Heimerdinger noticed the same decline in Book of Mormon scholarship. He mused that it might be an indicator of the younger generation being too embarrassed or enamoured of worldly philosophies to apply scholarship to restoration scripture. That might be a factor, but this intentional blocking of classic-FARMS-type publications since the BYU merger might be another major factor he nor I have considered before. It’s especially interesting to note that Chris Heimerdinger pinpointed “about 15 years ago” as the beginning of the decline, which puts it at 1997, just when FARMS was accepting BYU’s invitation.

  9. Posted June 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting, Nathan. I just noticed that the decline at MI began just barely after the merge with BYU. Post updated.

  10. JL
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I work at BYU and didn’t hear a thing about this until I read your post. However, I had noticed the decline. So sad.

  11. David
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I shuddered when I heard that FARMS had been brought under the unbrella of BYU. While some of my friends said that it would be a winfall because of the funding that it would now have. I on the other hand saw the control that mid level managers that would want to steady the ark would have on the quality and of the works produced. If anyone has doubts about what was going to happen all they had to do was to look at the quality of publishing that Deseret Book produces. If you are an Anita Stansfield fan you must be in total heaven and think I am an apostate for disparaging the good name of Deseret Book.

  12. RT
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    I have not been privy to much of any of the debates and discussions that have led to the current change at MI and I do not have enough insider knowledge to know whether or to what extent Bradford has indeed bungled the process of reorganizing it. If that is truly the case, then I feel sorry for DCP. But I think you are undeservedly glorifying the past two decades of apologetics at MI-FARMS. In two respects chiefly: First, the style of confrontational and personal attack apologetics done at MI have been deeply troubling to many people for a long time. I remember feeling even as an undergrad at BYU that this style was inappropriate for an organization so closely affiliated with the Church. I am actually surprised that it was allowed to go on for so long. Second, because of the overriding drive for apologetics, the scholarship done at MI-FARMS has been very uneven, in fact, in my view, generally subpar. Nibley is supposedly the champion and model at MI-FARMS of what gospel scholarship is all about, but Nibley was far more intellectually creative, flexible, and broadly engaging with secular academia than the typical interpretive narrowness that characterized MI-FARMS.

  13. Mavin Swapp
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    It is sad what is happening to FARMS after it got the blessing of a great Prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, along with approval of its long established apologetic nature and his praise of those sincere and dedicated scholars that started FARMS. Our Prophet wanted it, as he stated, to have recognition and a bright future as part of the university. Now if the university would not change the function of FARMS, it would still be the apologetic organization that it was when praised by President Hinckley.

    It is also sad that it is obvious that the action taken to “reform” FARMS and dismiss Dan was not “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—.”

    I only hope that we get some corrective action soon. Now is not the time to end defending the Church and the truth.

  14. Posted June 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    RT, a few questions. Can you give some specific examples of the “confrontational and personal attack apologetics” that you are referring to? I don’t believe I’ve read them. Usually ad hominem attacks are looked upon poorly in scholary circles, so I would be surprised to find them in the MI. Yes, apologetics is not always a cozy place. There are very real people and organizations out there who are trying to destroy the Church in any way they can, and defending against that kind of assault can result in very direct and solemn responses. But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen MI engage in personal attacks. In everything I’ve ever read, they engage the topics, the criticisms, the falsehoods, the claims, but not people.

    Second, do you mean that apologetics cannot be done at a high level of scholarship, and that is why MI’s work has been subpar? I don’t share that belief. I think the scholarship from FARMS and MI has been excellent, particularly in the early years, tapering off at the end for reasons I mentioned in the OP. Of course no one will quite match the wit of Hugh Nibley. He was a one-of-a-kind.

  15. KLC
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    I would have to agree with Bryce about the dearth of examples showing personal attack apologetics coming from FARMS. This is something that is repeated and repeated in certain LDS internet circles until it has become received wisdom, yet it is never proven with facts. Smallaxe at Faith Promoting Rumor cites a column by Dan Peterson from 1994. He presents it with certainty that it states his case and when called on it defends his analysis. But it is nothing, no attacks, no vitriol. DP does use a few metaphors but I’m confident that he knows the difference between a metaphor and vitriolic slander, although Smallaxe apparently does not.

  16. Robert F. Smith
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Your chart is a good idea, but quite inaccurate because (as you point out) it depends on material currently available digitally through NAMIRS. FARMS was actually very productive in the early years, but much of that is not available online.

  17. Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Robert, yes, I suspected that. Perhaps it is most accurate post 1989 or so. Between 1979-1989 it is most fuzzy. I would love to get some better numbers for the earlier years, and I would update the chart. But on the whole, if we had all detail, I think we’d still see the “rise & fall.”

  18. Chad
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    I feel like a post on “The rise and fall of” would also be appropriate. First post in 6 or 7 months, and I used to check this site weekly. What gives?

  19. Raven
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Hi, Chad. I’m sure Bryce will respond himself, but I thought I’d add something of my own, too. Your point is valid, though the “fall” of is not something Bryce is happy about. He loves this work and the research and the writing and the interactions. I would say three things are the largest contributors to his recent lack of posts. The first, his job (the one that actually pays the bills, vs. this particular labor of love). Last summer, he was hired on to a position that is taking up a lot more of his time than jobs in the past. We’re grateful for the job. It just brings him home later and keeps him completely occupied during the day. The second, his current calling in our ward that began last fall. This calling keeps him at the church pretty much all day on Sundays and usually another evening of the week. This calling is set to change in two weeks. The third, our third child. He arrived last year, too. Notice a timing trend here? But I can tell you this: this blog and temple scholarship are high on Bryce’s list of passions and I’m guessing that with everything happening in the FARMS world recently, you might see an increase in posting. I know he and I would both love that.

    -Raven (Bryce’s wife)

  20. Posted June 26, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Chad, yea. :) That would be a good post. We all have winds of change in our lives, and I suppose I’m caught up in a gust. There are some things, such as this topic, that glue my fingers to the keyboard. Otherwise, I have wanted to get back to posting more regularly for a while. These posts take a lot of time (notice the time of day the OP was published), a commodity I’m short on right now. At one point I had hoped to be able to do TempleStudy full-time, but now I realize that was probably not realistic. If you subscribe by RSS or email in the top-right sidebar, then you’ll be notified when there’s a new post.

  21. Posted June 26, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Daniel Peterson wrote today about the supposed “mean-spiritedness and viciousness” that has come out of the Maxwell Institute, which he denies (as do I), and also takes note (as do I) of the apparent lack of evidence to show for the claim.

  22. RT
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I’m not interested in going through the Review and cataloguing examples of what I describe as “confrontational and personal attack apologetics”. And perhaps I may have misspoke when I characterized it as “personal”, since only a small portion of the Review is actually directed toward attacking certain individuals and organizations. But that it is confrontational and controversy-oriented there can be little doubt. As you yourself say, “there are very real people and organizations out there who are trying to destroy the Church in any way they can”, which easily leads to a very real tendency to mirror the combativeness of your opponents, to not see them as human, to fail to recognize what motivates them, to misjudge them, to fail to see any value in their ideas, and more than anything, to fail to be truly self-reflective and self-critical. It leads to a fortress-like mentality.

    I do not say that apologetics cannot be done well or at a high scholarly level. I actually believe that there is a need for religious apologetics as defined by DCP, when he alludes to 1 Peter 3:15: “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”. But in my view, the people who are capable of doing scholarly apologetics the best are those who engage in it only as a minor aspect of their total scholarly output. When you focus on scholarly apologetics to the exclusion of other forms of productive scholarly work, your perspective becomes skewed and the tendency is to produce more heat than light.

    An analogy that may help you understand what I am trying to say is what was called scriptural “bashing” on my mission (served in the South). Some missionaries engaged in it frequently, and I myself tried my hand at it. But I quickly learned that it was almost totally ineffective, even if the missionaries were quite knowledgeable about what they were speaking. It was only those missionaries that rarely engaged in argumentative discourse that were able to effectively articulate, as you say, “direct and solemn responses” that were in keeping with their sacred responsibility to represent Christ and the Church.

  23. Posted June 26, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    RT, it’s interesting the many folks that say that the Maxwell Insitute/FARMS engaged in heavily confrontational and combative, even “violent” attacks, but then fail to point out any examples. That is, of course, easy to do.

    I would characterize the Maxwell Institute, or more precisely the FARMS department, as engaging in intensely focused and well-educated defenses. There is a difference.

    Here’s my analogy. Elder Neal A. Maxwell is often quoted as saying that there should be “no uncontested slam dunks.” That implies that there is certainly a “contest” going on, even a game, one in which we are one of the teams. When your opponent brings the ball in your side of the court, the best thing to do if you have any hope of winning the game to is to make a defense, to get your defenders to block the ball, get in their way, steal the ball, even blocking opponents themselves (hopefully without fouls) to send the ball back to the opponent’s side. Your defenders should be at least as capable as the opponent’s offenders, very well skilled and well educated in the game of basketball, if you want to win the game. If your opponent makes a “slam dunk,” you engergize yourself to make a good sportsmanlike offensive reply, which might involve you taking your own offenders, who should be equally skilled, and making your own awesome slam dunk on the opponent’s side. If our best players were engaged mostly in developing the field of soccer strategy outside the arena (a noble field of study), leaving the basketball game inside as only a minor aspect of their interest and output, you can be sure our opponent would have a most fantasticly uncontested game, with many Harlem Globetrotter slam dunks. It would be quite a show! Yes, our players do not play ball games 24 hours a day in the arena, nor should they necessarily get their doctorates in Basketball, but they do spend a lot of their time practicing and playing ball games, even studying the other team’s strategies and tactics. Now, if our players were engaged in consistent harsh fouls, technicals, with the coach being ejected from games, players being suspended, backboards being shattered, taunting or insulting opponents and their fans, and players and fans getting injured, then I would say that is attacking more than playing the game of basketball. We have to be in the game.

    I do not consider what the Maxwell Institute/FARMS has been doing for decades as scripture bashing. But I do believe there is a space for scripture debate, and certainly scripture defense.

    (By the way, would you consider these comments confrontational and combative, or in the spirit of honest debate?)

  24. Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    RT: “But in my view, the people who are capable of doing scholarly apologetics the best are those who engage in it only as a minor aspect of their total scholarly output.”

    You mean in the way that FARMS/NAMI has turned out dozens of scholarly volumes and journals, and kept the apologetics to a relatively small percentage of the articles in the Review?

    Or the way Daniel Peterson has overseen the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative; written several books on Islam, Mohammad, and general topics of interest to Latter-day Saints; has acted as an ambassador for the Church and BYU in Europe and the Middle East; and spent a great deal of time in fundraising for the university and the Institute?

    Then I’m glad that you apparently seem to agree with the direction FARMS/NAMI has taken to this point, and their ratio of scholarly-to-apologetic output.

  25. RT
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    It’s not that I can’t provide you with examples of what I consider combative and confrontational language in the Review; that would in fact be easy to do (If you want, you can check out the sample provided by Smallaxe over at Patheos). I just think it’s a waste of time and energy, not only because I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but because you and others will probably just come up with your reasons why what has been written cannot possibly be considered academically, ethically, or in terms of LDS religious behavior inappropriate. Again, the nature of polemical argumentation is just to promote more heat than light.

    It seems to me that some people just have very different spiritual and ethical sensitivities. I believe the “violent” language at FARMS is transparent, others don’t see it at all. It reminds me of how I feel about the Hannity news talk show on FOX that my father loves. While I actually consider myself a political moderate, I cannot stand the language that is typical for that show. For me it is morally repugnant. And yet many LDS I know do not find anything wrong with it.

  26. RT
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    We seem to have different opinions about what is apologetic or not. I agree that FARMS and DCP in particular have produced valuable non-apologetic work (though his book on Muhammed didn’t really add much that wasn’t already out there on the market). But if we were to take all of DCP’s professional writing (not his teaching) over the last ten years, I would venture to bet that most of it is of an apologetic character. Some writing, such as his non-academic series for the Deseret News, may not be explicitly apologetic, but it tends much in the same direction.

  27. RT
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    (By the way, would you consider these comments confrontational and combative, or in the spirit of honest debate?)

    I failed to notice the question, but I appreciate you asking it. I think our conversation is tending toward “the spirit of honest debate”. But even then, it is so easy for either of us to be focusing on what we already believe rather than trying to understand what the other person is saying. For example, I still think you failed to respond to what I believe is most damaging and discrediting about the apologetic enterprise, that it leads to a tendency to “mirror the combativeness of your opponents, to not see them as human, to fail to recognize what motivates them, to misjudge them, to fail to see any value in their ideas, and more than anything, to fail to be truly self-reflective and self-critical. It leads to a fortress-like mentality.”

  28. Posted June 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    A paragraph does not a book make, nor a library.

    Sometimes we have to address the negative to pull it back and shed the light. An umbrella can block the sun from shining.

    I disagree that anything the MI/FARMS has published can be considered “violent.” It may use violent imagery and metaphor occasionally in its choice of language, but that is because we are, in reality and unfortunately, in a war that began in heaven. Violent language is very different than being violent.

    I have no trouble singing these hymns with gusto:
    Onward, Christian Soldiers
    Up, Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion
    Hope of Israel, Rise in Might!
    A Mighty Fortress is our God
    Battle Hymn of the Republic
    Behold! A Royal Army
    Come, Come, Ye Saints
    Israel, Israel, God Is Calling
    Let Us All Press On” – in the fight for right let us wield a sword, the mighty sword of truth!
    Like Ten Thousand Legions Marching
    We Are Marching On to Glory
    O Thou Rock of Our Salvation” – We a war ’gainst sin are waging; We’re contending for the right. Ev’ry day the battle’s raging; Help us, Lord, to win the fight.
    Praise to the Man
    Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” – The fight with sin is real.
    The Star-Spangled Banner
    We Are All Enlisted” – Soldiers in the army, there’s a bright crown in store; We shall win and wear it by and by. Haste to the battle, quick to the field; Truth is our helmet, buckler, and shield. the sound of battle sounding loudly and clear; Come join the ranks! Come join the ranks! We are waiting now for soldiers; who’ll volunteer? Fight for our Savior; come, come away! Fighting for a kingdom, and the world is our foe; Glad to join the army, we will sing as we go; We shall gain the vict’ry by and by.

  29. Posted June 26, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Ok, let me respond directly to the “most damaging and discrediting about the apologetic enterprise.”

    “Mirroring the combativeness of your opponents” – as I already mentioned, the players on your team need to be just as skilled and educated, hopefully more so, than your opponent, and need to take head-on the arguments that they present. We won’t tip toe around them. It is a real defense, and we are “soldiers in the army.” On the other hand, the things I have read from our detractors are often full of extremely low hits, which I’ve never seen the Institute return.

    “to not see them as human” – again I ask, can you provide an example of when the Maxwell Institute/FARMS referred to any critic of the church as an object or thing, and not human?

    “fail to recognize what motivates them” – the Maxwell Institute/FARMS has on occasion taken note of what might motivate our detractors. You can leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone. Disillusioned former members. People who have been offended, who have a grudge. Apostates who now have disagreements on almost every level with the Church and gospel. People who disagree with priesthood authority. People who misunderstand Church doctrine, practice, and history. Leaders of other denominations who have a fundamentally different view of Christian doctrines. Et cetera. But again, taking on the motives of the person would be venturing dangerously close to ad hominem territory, wouldn’t it? Sometimes it is very difficult to know why they are criticizing the Church because they often don’t say. Better to deal directly with the resulting arguments than to try and determine why they are doing what they are doing. That’s what got Fawn Brodie in trouble in her seeming to know the mind of Joseph Smith, is it not?

    “to misjudge them” – I’m not exactly sure what this means. Has someone at the Institute said that someone was going to a lesser kingdom or outer darkness because of what they’ve said or done? An example would be nice.

    “to fail to see any value in their ideas” – I’ve read quite a bit of the Maxwell Institute, and while it’s true that they do not give a pedestal to the critics upon which to expound their theories, they have given points on certain occasions to those who have made good three pointers. I can think of one off the top of my head, in the argument of “automatic writing” the Book of Mormon. It’s an ingenious idea that the Institute dealt with on many levels, and made it clear that it is perhaps one of the best arguments to date against the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. It’s been some time since I’ve read that article, but it seems to me that even “automatic writing” is not 100% negated in addressing how the revelations might have come to Joseph Smith.

    “to fail to be truly self-reflective and self-critical” – This is an odd one. When you send out your offenders to take the ball down the court, do you send your offense to stop them? Not usually. Most of the time when I have seen the Institute being self-reflective and self-critical it is when an individual scholar is critiquing their own former work. Nibley noted that you could forget anything he wrote more than something like three years ago (or was it months?), because things were always changing, including his own scholarship. The Maxwell Institute has often published in the FARMS Review critiquing books from known faithful and apologetic scholars and authors (not necessarily always a part of the Institute), and sometimes they were noted as being incorrect in their arguments. As far MI’s own internal publications, they are very careful, almost to extremes I’m sure since 1998, to not publish anything that they would have to go back and revise or change later. That’s just good scholarship. Occasionally it needs to happen. Another example, John Gee edited and provided a foreward for the second edition of “The Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment,” in which he noted very clearly where Nibley was just plain wrong about Egyptian studies, and where new light and new discoveries have shed more light in certain areas.

    I hope that has helped.

  30. RT
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I can see that we are beginning to talk past one another. I’m not saying that we don’t have to “address the negative to pull it back and shed the light”. I’m merely suggesting that the way it has been done at FARMS has not been very effective–at a scholarly, ethical, and spiritual level.

    You can continue on with your war if that is what suits you. But you should remember that in most real wars both sides lose.

    We just have very different opinions about how best the interests of the Gospel can be advanced.

  31. Posted June 26, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    It’s not just my war, it’s ours. And we certainly have had our share of casualties, haven’t we? I’m deeply saddened by them, but that doesn’t mean we go home, for that would put more shame on them than to continue the fight they were a part of. Let’s be clear who will win:

    “No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”

  32. Posted June 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    In the cases I am personally familiar with, FARMS apologetics have helped very significantly. Its true that they probably haven’t persuaded the critics very much, but the critics are an insignificant audience compared to the universe of Saints with doubts or investigators with questions.

    P.S. I’ve been puzzling over RT’s indictment of FARMS for doing ‘controversial’ apologetics. I’m having a pretty hard time even imagining what non-controversial apologetics would look like. “Dispelling the Joseph Myth: Proof that Joseph Smith Is a Real Historical Figure”?

  33. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    The attacks made on Joseph Smith, the Church, its members and the Book of Mormon are pretty nasty. Defending them forcefully and with specific facts points out the dishonesty and bigotry of those who make such attacks. It is unavoidable. We have no obligation to equivocate when people tell lies about history and the contents of a book that is available for all to read. I know that some people find making any kind of argument distasteful. If you are that kind of person, you shpuld avoid professions like law and politics, not to mention most academic pursuits, because most forms of group decision making require forceful advocacy of one’s own viewpoint.

    Elder Marvin Jensen has been quoted as telling an audience at the Utah State University Institute that many young adult members have left the church because they learn controversial information about tge Church on the internet but don’t know how to find balancing informatiin from trustworthy, faithful LDS sources. While some people in the Church can ignore such attacks, and just insist on relying on other things in their lives that reassure them, the failure to point members who ask questions to tge vast reserves of scholarship that has been done in defense of tge reasonableness of the Restored Gospel is a betrayal of oyr duty to feed the Lord’s sheep. I can’t help but feel tgat those who are not willing to wrestle with these questions lack confidence that Mormonusm can survive such examination. And I think that is the message that young adults get when they are told not to trouble their little pea pickin’ minds about such questions.

    I am still amazed that adults who have been in the Church for decades and even attended BYU seem largely unfamiliar with tge great body of scholarly writing that shows how solud tge case is for tge ancient origin of the Book of Mormon. When I quote from it while teaching Gospel Doctrine, few seem familiar with it. The problem of Mormons being overwhelmed by anti-Mormon attacks would be well on the way to resolution if older adults, including bishops, were able to guide members with questions into the library of answers available online at Featuring it in an article in the Ensign would help a lot. There are lots of pages given to graphics in tge Ensign. If one page were devoted to featuring an interesting fact learned by FARMS researchers, in each month, it would raise awareness that there are substantive answers out there, free for the asking.

  34. Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Raymond, thank you for your brilliant rebuttal. What comes to mind is Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, when some of those who took of the fruit, fell away, after being jeered at by people from the great and spacious building. Their new resolve to live the gospel was shaken, without enough information to keep their seedling faith well-watered, and growing. (They didn’t have FARMS.)

    FARMS has fed our hunger for knowledge through many seasons. I look look forward to the scattered fruit growing into many new sources of truth, light, and future discourse. There are so many hungry souls here!

    Bryce, I’m glad to find your site today. Thank you.

  35. Posted June 27, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    “I’m having a pretty hard time even imagining what non-controversial apologetics would look like.” Haha Adam G.! Well said.

    Raymond, thanks so much for your response! It agree with it wholeheartedly. You really nailed the key points of the whole reason we should do Apologetics. Sure we respond to the critics, but we’re not going to convince them. Even if they read/listen, it won’t change their heart. But, it might help members of the Church who’ve read/heard their supposed “expose” to realize that it’s just garbage and doesn’t hold-up under real scrutiny.

    I share your frustration that so few members seem aware of any of this kind of scholarship. In fact, I recently wrote about it, in frustration over a Washington Post article that received a lot of attention:

    It’s interesting that RT compares this to “bashing.” Daniel C. Peterson has related on many occasions how he engaged in “Bible bashing” on his mission and after totally wiping up the floor with one “opponent” realized how counter-productive it is. He’s been against it ever since. Sure he (and other apologetics scholars) will point out the problems with someone’s argument. And if that argument or attack is extremely poorly done, a rebuttal may seems like bashing or a person attack. But that’s not the spirit it’s done in. Merely that their scholarship was so poor, that a rebuttal makes them look like a fool. That can’t be helped. RT, you should check out this excellent talk given by Bro. Peterson:

  36. Walter Ivan
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    So sad to read about it. I love the work FARMS did along the years, but now I am left with a sore heart. I hope we can read more from the great minds who were focused in the primogenial direction they put in their efforts.

  37. Posted June 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    David Bohn, a retired professor of political philosophy at BYU, gives some good commentary of why we need “FARMS-style” apologetics in the Church over at the Times & Seasons blog:

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  3. [...] standard Bryce.  And I’m not talking only about what’s been happening in this Maxwell Institute debate.  It’s flowing like a fire hose into all areas of my every day life, from my work, to my [...]

  4. [...] are many people who are disappointed with the events of the past week at the Maxwell Institute at BYU.  Indeed, it appears as if the original mission and purpose of the [...]

  5. [...] I entered the fore with “The Analogy of the Basketball Team.”  (It’s not really a parable, but an extended analogy.  Perhaps I should have put it [...]

  6. [...] I've noted on recently that Nibley and his contemporary LDS scholars hardly made absolutist claims about Abraham, Egypt, [...]

  7. [...] writing a couple days ago about Dan Peterson’s predicament, I thought about this scripture in 1st Corinthians, which [...]

  8. [...] other very interesting subjects.  Those that are interested in the ongoing FARMS/Maxwell Institute situation, the original founder of FARMS, John W. Welch, will be speaking about his further research on [...]

  9. By Trust and Prior Assumptions on July 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    [...] Institute blog that we intended to launch, but that blog has been delayed for unknown reasons and may well never actually see the light of day.)  Here, now, is the article that I wrote as a follow-up piece: **** In my immediately [...]

  10. [...] by experiences too sacred to share. It’s been a roller coaster of a time with everything that has happened at the Maxwell Institute. I make no bones about it–FARMS had an immense impact on my life, most particularly as it relates [...]

  11. [...] this isn’t standard Bryce.  And I’m not talking only about what’s been happening in this Maxwell Institute debate.  It’s flowing like a fire hose into all areas of my every day life, from my work, to my home [...]

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