Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mormon Stories vs Mormon Apologists

Another event has occurred that may be another mark the church's ongoing shift away from retrenchment towards a stance more accommodating of open intellectual inquery. John Dehlin's successful Mormon Stories Foundation provides a community and forum for Mormons to openly explore unorthodox issues that can challenge belief. Apologists associated with the Maxwell Institute of BYU (formerly FARMS) have defended traditional, correlated views of the church in a variety of methods including identifying and exposing persons or groups they perceive as enemies of the church. This past week, the two groups clashed.

As information about controversial aspects of the church has become widely available on the Internet, faithful Mormons encounter troubling information they didn't learn about through the church's correlated programs. This has led to  many leaving the church as they discover uncomfortable aspects of its history and theology.  Mormon Apologists defend the church's correlated views, providing answers to questions to help Mormons understand difficult aspects of their history in order to help them maintain belief. Dehlin's approach  has been to openly discuss problems from a non-defensive, non-apologetic approach. He has provided input to general authorities and feels the current apologetic approach is "damaging to the church, Mormonism and Mormons alike." He believes "the brethren seem to see the writing on the wall" and that some of the approaches of apologists have accelarated disaffection from the church due to harsh tone and uncredibile arguments.

Both parties are tight-lipped about some aspects of the encounter. According to Dehlin, apologist Greg Smith authored a 100+ page "hit piece" about Dehlin and Mormon Stories that was to be published in the Maxwell Institute's Mormon Studies Review, a publication of conservative LDS scholarship and apologetics. According to editor Daniel C. Peterson, Dehlin appealed to several influential, non-BYU academics and a general authority. Subsequently an apostle got involved, possibly preventing the article's publication, or controlling the content of a yet to be published article. Dehlin reports that Peterson was censured for the incident, and the intervening general authority expressed his "condemnation of the whole enterprise." 

Further information about the incident may or may not indicate apostolic protection of Mormon Stories. If it does, the church's tolerance and defense of a liberal Mormon activist would stand in contrast with the church of the 1990s where stories of intellectuals and feminists being disciplined by the church were common place. An apostle protecting a liberal Mormon from apologists would break new ground as the church transitions out of an era of retrenchment.