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 Post subject: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 1:36 pm 
B.H. Roberts Chair of Mopologetic Studies
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Friends and Colleagues:

I’m sure that, by now, you e heard about the mysterious “apology letter”: a text which, according to Louis Midgley and others, vindicates the Mopologists since it represents an apology from a key figure in the Maxwell Institute’s administration. Is this true, though?

It turns out that I have apparently been furnished with an authentic copy of this letter, and I can report that what Midgley says is sort of true. The author of the letter (unknown to me: the names were redacted) is certainly apologetic, and s/he expresses a lot of regret, but the language throughout is exceptionally metaphorical and vague. It can be read in more than one way.

Take, for example, this passage:

Quote:
However, after seven years of plenty, these past seven years have been years of drought—a drought of vision and intellectual leadership. The crops have failed, the land in barren, and the people perish for want of real nourishment—while I have feasted at the administrative table. I am sorry for the part I played in this. I and others have survived the famine, though not from any virtue on our part—rather because we have been drinking from wells that we did not dig, and eating from stores that we did not gather. I am sorry.


What does this mean? The letter is from April of 2015 (it’s framed as an Easter reflection), so the timeframe would take us back to 2008 as the beginning of the “famine.” DCP was at the helm of the Review at that time, and the author says “we.” So is it really accurate to see this as describing a division between the Mopologists and the “Mormon Studies” crowd? I don’t think that it is. Instead, this seems like a circumspect and very carefully worded attempt to mend hurt feelings.

Remember, this is the way that Midgley describes the letter:

Quote:
The letter that was packed with apologies for being involved in evil deed unbecoming a Latter-day Saints. When exactly did you read this letter? Was it before or after I called it to your attention? And to actually read it, you would have had to make a trip to Provo from, I assume, Logan.


“Evil deeds”? I don’t think so: I don’t see any such confessions in the text of the letter. Again, here’s another passage:

Quote:
I have wasted energies advancing a cause I no longer believe in. The Maxwell Institute should never become neutral ground for objective scholarly activity. We are a research institute sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that means we need to do work that is honest, ennobling and significant, and that stands for something. I am sorry for the part I have played in advancing another agenda, of pleading for another cause. I now see that a nobler vision for all of us could have been sought and obtained through peaceful and collegial discussion and humble and prayerful deliberation. I am sorry for the part I played in a failed and flawed process that resulted in disunity and unnecessary pain.


What to make of this? What is the “cause I no longer believe in”? Mormon Studies? Mopologetics? It’s tough to say: what does the author mean when s/he says that the MI “should never become neutral ground for objective scholarly activity”? On the one hand, this *could* mean aggressive, negative Mopologetics; but it could also mean legitimate, faith-promoting scholarship in the vein of, e.g., Terryl Givens. I lean towards the latter because it’s very hard to see something like the Dehlin “hit piece” as “honest, ennobling, and significant.”

Yakov ben Tov has said that this letter was written in the hopes of mending a fissure that had formed between the MI and Mopologists such as Midgley and Peterson, and at the end of the day, that seems like the most correct interpretation to me. I think that Midgley saw the apologetic tone of the letter and decided to spin it as a “confession” of “evil deeds,” but that doesn’t seem accurate to me. The author of the letter *is* sorry about what happened, but isn’t really confessing to having done anything wrong.

I know that there are others here at MormonDiscussions.com who have also read the full text of the letter. Your commentary would be useful, too, I think.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 1:53 pm 
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I think the significance of the comments within the letter is dependant on who wrote them.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 2:03 pm 
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Dr. Scratch,

Can you post the entire letter, or would that be a breach of confidence? It’s hard to get a good take on it with just a couple of excerpts.

- Doc

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 2:32 pm 
B.H. Roberts Chair of Mopologetic Studies
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Hmmm. The names / email recipients were redacted, meaning that there is a desire to retain some semblance of privacy. And yet, I think that impressions about the letter have been a matter of public discussion for years at this point. So, here it is in its entirety, save for a couple instances that could potentially identify the author:

Quote:
An Apology

This Easter was a salutary feast. I feel like I have come to myself after years of determined wandering in a half slumber. As I look back over the course of my journey I see that damage has been done, and I want to apologize for my part in it. Not by way of defense, but by way of penitence. I want to apologize to my colleagues who have found themselves working in a hostile environment these past three years. They must have felt like Rip Van Winkel, waking one morning and coming into work to find the world turned upside-down. Although, unlike Rip, this new world was not the one hoped for, but the one dreaded. I am sorry.

During these years, a respected colleague [...] was forced out of the Institute, supporters felt betrayed and rightly ceased their support, giving their time and means instead to more worthy causes on the BYU campus. Our right to bear the name of a beloved and respected Apostle was justifiably called into question. I helped bring this about. I bought into and advanced a narrative that resulted in peremptory changes to our periodicals and ultimately our personnel. I am sorry.

I believe wholeheartedly in the mission of BYU. [Deleted] I did this joyfully and willingly because I wanted to be part of something great and noble, to do something valued by my academic colleagues that helped to build the kingdom and advance the cause of Zion. However, after seven years of plenty, these past seven years have been years of drought—a drought of vision and intellectual leadership. The crops have failed, the land in barren, and the people perish for want of real nourishment—while I have feasted at the administrative table. I am sorry for the part I played in this. I and others have survived the famine, though not from any virtue on our part—rather because we have been drinking from wells that we did not dig, and eating from stores that we did not gather. I am sorry.

I have wasted energies advancing a cause I no longer believe in. The Maxwell Institute should never become neutral ground for objective scholarly activity. We are a research institute sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that means we need to do work that is honest, ennobling and significant, and that stands for something. I am sorry for the part I have played in advancing another agenda, of pleading for another cause. I now see that a nobler vision for all of us could have been sought and obtained through peaceful and collegial discussion and humble and prayerful deliberation. I am sorry for the part I played in a failed and flawed process that resulted in disunity and unnecessary pain.

I stand now, sadly and wearily, reviewing the dusty and debris-filled path that I have walked these past few years, sorry for the pain that I have caused, the trust that I have breached, and the disrespect I have shown to a name that should have always been held aloft with honor and respect. Yet I do not despair—I have been nourished this Easter from a different source, and have reason to hope, and so I do hope—hope that this Institute can shake off the dust and become elevated and etherealized, and truly be all that it can be.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 2:48 pm 
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Oh dear. Today, I received a copy of this letter. The source of the letter asked me not to publish it. I want to go on record to say that I did not give this letter to anyone else, thus leading to its publication on MormonDiscussions.com. I hope the person who gave me this letter understands that I was true to my word in not publishing this letter or giving it to others to read or publish.

Doctor Scratch, would you mind confirming the fact that I did not give you the letter?

I do not know who gave you the letter, or what they said you could do with the letter, but I have to assume that the party who gave it to me is not the same person who gave it to you, otherwise I would not see the letter published on the board, as I know you would not have betrayed a commitment not to publish it.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:05 pm 
God

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Is the letter addressed to someone? Because it reads as if it's just some note of apology to any and all who'd read it. Donors to the former MI? Patrons of MI generally?


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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:08 pm 
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Stem wrote:
Is the letter addressed to someone? Because it reads as if it's just some note of apology to any and all who'd read it. Donors to the former MI? Patrons of MI generally?

It reads to me like a pompous and self indulgent “oh woe is me” soliloquy.

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“When we are confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs. We simply invent new reasons, new justifications, new explanations. Sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether.” (Mathew Syed 'Black Box Thinking')


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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:17 pm 
B.H. Roberts Chair of Mopologetic Studies
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Reverend:

It’s true that you *were not* the person who sent me the letter. It’s also true that I was *not* told that I could not publish it. That said, if there are good reasons for deleting it, then I have no problem with that. Personally, I see no real harm here, and am glad that we all now have a clearer sense of the truth.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:52 pm 
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I really don't see what the fuss is about. Organization had become toxic and divided. Leader had a choice to own that outcome and re-earn the right to remain in charge, or be replaced. Seems whoever this is chose the former. Good job. Nothing too specific should be read into any of the details, because it all just boils up to "the buck stops here" in words designed to appeal to as many as possible in the organization.

Also, a letter such as this one isn't an end to itself. It's just one part of the beginning of a change management process.

Writing letters like this is painstaking work, but not nearly as hard as coming to a realization that the letter needs to be written in the first place.


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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:52 pm 
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Now, let me comment on my take regarding the letter, now that it has been published.

Having read and reflected on the email, I can see why it is that Lou Midgley maintains this idea that its message is about a sin committed against the Maxwell Institute and his/her colleagues therein. The problem here is that the letter is so filled with clever allusions and metaphors that one can easily take it in that way if so desired.

The strength of Midgley's reading is immediately apparent. In the first paragraph, the author refers to "penitence" for what the author did to contribute to the ejection of DCP from his editorship. Right there, we are in a narrative about sin. It is the author who has strongly implied a sin was committed, and now penitence is being made.

Furthermore, the author appears to adopt the same contrasting visions about the Old Maxwell and the New Maxwell that DCP and friends have pushed and we and others have challenged. There does not seem to be room for a tertium quid here. Either the Maxwell Institute is academically neutral or it does work that is "honest, ennobling and significant."

Whether the author intends to convey the message or not (I think not), the author allows his readers to conclude that classic-FARMS polemics fit within that second category. Now, it seems to me that this is not exactly what the author envisioned as a better path forward. The author would have preferred a "collegial discussion and humble and prayerful deliberation" to find unity in pursuing a "nobler vision" for the whole MI. One cannot be completely sure that classic-FARMS polemics would have been part of such a nobler vision.

Unfortunately, the "classic-FARMS" crew has no reason to assume that their goal of "spirited" responses to people they perceived to be dangerous or opposed to Mormonism, in other words, their usual M.O., would not have been part of such an imagined alternative future, and they would certainly see themselves as having fought for what has always been obviously right in their minds: polemics.

The narrative of sin is clinched, I believe, in the reference to walking a "dusty and debris-filled path" for the "past few years" in which the author has reflected on the pain the author has caused, the trust that was breached, and the disrespect shown to Elder Maxwell's name. The last part is the most potent and triggering in LDS discourse. If one has disrespected the Lord's anointed, that is a profound trespass/sin in covenantal terms.

I believe that I can understand something of the spirit in which this was written. It is an odd mixture of genuine regret and occasional lighthearted jocularity, but I think it really does convey sorrow for acts that are, in LDS terms, easily interpreted as sins. Whether the author genuinely felt he/she had committed a real sin, I don't know, but I cannot imagine thinking otherwise if I were among those classic-FARMS folk who were reading the letter through their own lens of the "coup" as a betrayal of a divine mandate.

Final Comments
I went into my reading of this document expecting a strong confirmation of my own biases regarding the events of 2012 and subsequent developments at Maxwell. Admittedly, I did not see a strong confirmation of my biases. I instead see the words of a person who maintains a posture and sympathies much closer to the classic-FARMS crew than I anticipated. Some of this must be attributed to the intent of the letter, which is to heal a breach.

However, some of what I find surprising here is the author's apparent agreement with DCP, Midgley, Hamblin, and others that objective scholarship can be seen as lacking honesty, nobility, and significance. Admittedly I am extrapolating here, and I really do not know that the author feels that way. That bleak view of objective scholarship is, however, strongly implied. This kind of rhetoric too easily confirms the feelings of the classic-FARMS crew about the new Maxwell Institute's more "objective" approach.

Still, this discourse about scholarship in an LDS university exists within that bubble and may not translate so well to those of us who are not also operating within it. The author is telling us she/he understands the special mission of the Maxwell Institute, the honor that the name Maxwell carries with it, and the obligation that Latter-day Saints have to embody the values and mission that go along with the package. It is not so much that objective scholarship is bad. Rather, neutral, objective scholarship is incompatible with the mission of BYU and the name of Elder Maxwell.

On the one hand, I have to agree 100% with the author of the letter. On the other hand, I completely disagree with idea--which I do not attribute to the author--that a faith is best served by exclusively partisan scholarship that is designed solely to boost faith, as though this were the only way to serve faithfully and loyally.

The issues are complicated. As someone who spent eight years at BYU (as an undergraduate and a graduate student), I recall quite clearly the many times that professors and administrators discussed BYU's unique mission. That unique, multi-faceted mission was (I paraphrase here) to advance the Gospel and the cause of Zion, and to engage with the world intellectually but through eyes of faith. Therefore, it can truly be said that neutrality on the topic of Mormonism does not belong on BYU campus, if BYU is to be true to this mission (assuming I am correct about its nature).

But it is also most certainly the case that what many people on BYU campus have said about the mission of BYU is not necessarily what best and comprehensively serves the interests of the LDS Church and Mormonism as a faith. In saying that, I am not presuming to say that there is no place for BYU to operate with its mission. What I am saying is that if BYU were the only venue for exploring Mormonism, then that discussion would be stilted and, in certain ways, impoverished.

I believe, and may disagree with the author of the letter in saying this (something I do not hold against the author by any means), that the new Maxwell Institute is filling an important role in advancing the cause of Zion, regardless of the sentiments expressed in this letter. The Maxwell Institute could conceivably be a place where dialogue between Mormon scholars and the larger academic community takes place, feeding new approaches and ideas, and giving birth to a greater mutual understanding among all.

I don't see classic-FARMS polemics achieving such goals. I also don't see that the new Maxwell Institute is not a place where scholarship from a faithful perspective can flourish. But, let's be frank here, it is perhaps not a place where intriguing but fringe or amateur meditations on Mormonism should be allowed to flourish. The author, I am guessing, fully understands that all of the polemical and amateur work was part and parcel of the classic-FARMS tradition that DCP and others presumably wanted to hold onto.

If they did not, why does Interpreter give such writings a home now?

So, my question after reading this is as follows: Would a "nobler vision" of Maxwell Institute's alternative future have included all of the things that DCP and his friends were accustomed to publishing that were arguably not appropriate for even a faithfully Mormon university? And another question: At what point does the zeal to pursue a certain interpretation of the mission of Elder Maxwell contradict or clash with the purposes and interests of a university, even if it is, first and foremost, an LDS university?

These questions will continue to spark disagreement. I did not and do not see a place for religious polemics at BYU. I also do not think it is appropriate for BYU to house hobby publications of fringe religious theories. Neither of those things, however, is necessary to achieve the religious goals of Brigham Young University. They may have been tolerated there at one time, and to an extent they may still be tolerated, but not having them would not betray the unique mission of this Mormon university in any way, IMO.

So why should it have been, be, or ever be suffered to find a home there? What is the cost of doing so? What is the advantage when other venues easily suffice without being on campus?

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“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith


Last edited by Kishkumen on Wed Jan 08, 2020 6:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:56 pm 
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Well, I certainly don't see what The Midge is grousing about. I have to agree with IHAQ, in that it appears to be a weird rameumptom-apology mean to both flatter someone while also trying to weasel his way into the next phase of the MI. Like. You could literally picture and hear a Jimmy Swaggart type, with tears streaming down his cheeks, tearfully plead into the camera while reciting these words.

Just bizarre stuff all around.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 4:23 pm 
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I apologize for having such a suspicious mind, and I also apologize if this seems a little obvious to those in the know, but without revealing anything inappropriate, can someone confirm that the “author“ of the letter has personally and specifically verified that they did indeed write it?


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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 5:17 pm 
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Lemmie wrote:
I apologize for having such a suspicious mind, and I also apologize if this seems a little obvious to those in the know, but without revealing anything inappropriate, can someone confirm that the “author“ of the letter has personally and specifically verified that they did indeed write it?


I can attest to the authenticity of the letter.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 6:29 pm 
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Thanks for those remarks, Reverend: I agree with just about everything you said. I have a couple of things to add. First, the author of this originally *wanted* it published. The letter—as I understand it—was sent as an email attachment, and the text of the email said:

Quote:
"Here’s something that came out of my Easter reflections. Do you think this would be suitable for the MI Blog, or should I find somewhere else to post it?"


So: I am interested in knowing who wrote this, because that would help us to better understand the full range of intentions behind this. I will say that the two bits I omitted above were: (1) that the author apparently views DCP as “mentor”; and (2) that this person is apparently from a country other than the US.

I think that, in keeping with your observations, Revered, that whoever wrote it probably had to walk a thin line. The Mopologists have a decades-long reputation for destroying other people and getting them excommunicated. (Just look at the trepidation in David’s letter.) So, even if this author *did* think that the smears needed to stop, it probably wasn’t the case that s/he could just come out and say so. If they’d done that, Midgley et al. would have immediately accused them of being sympathetic to critics like us, which would open up the letter-writer to accusations of apostasy, etc. So, for my part, I tend to sympathize with the way this was worded. I don’t know if we can treat it as being a 100% sincere reflection of the author’s views.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 6:53 pm 
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I am not going to say anything about the identity of the author as I still feel bound by my promises to the person who sent me an un-redacted copy of the letter.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 7:05 pm 
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Midgley's fantasy has been utterly decimated, lol. No wonder he's going off the handle as of late on the B.H. Roberts Chair!

Dr Moore wrote:
I really don't see what the fuss is about. Organization had become toxic and divided. Leader had a choice to own that outcome and re-earn the right to remain in charge, or be replaced. Seems whoever this is chose the former. Good job. Nothing too specific should be read into any of the details, because it all just boils up to "the buck stops here" in words designed to appeal to as many as possible in the organization.

Also, a letter such as this one isn't an end to itself. It's just one part of the beginning of a change management process.

Writing letters like this is painstaking work, but not nearly as hard as coming to a realization that the letter needs to be written in the first place.


Right. A couple of points. First, it's very likely that many LDS won't be comfortable with the new MI and want a more traditional defense of the Fund. That says nothing about a desire to see Old Guard Mopologetics rise from the ashes.

Second, to Professor Moore's point, what we're seeing here in the behavior of the apologists is in fact, a metaphor for the essential nature of Mopologetics. The apologists hang their salvation on scraps of evidence, whether it's "NHM" from the ancient world or a figment of cultural imagination -- the imaginary Second Watson letter. if three letters prove the Book of Mormon is an ancient document, if a memo supplied by a mid-level corporate staff member proves the Brethren agree with the LGT, then obviously one email with an apology proves their entire cause was just from the beginning.

As the professor said, this stuff happens all the time in the real world, nobody makes it their life's work to show a company re-org was evil.

And finally...j/k! lol!

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 9:02 pm 
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I am going to go ahead and say that I believe the author of the letter is Kristian Heal, which, if true, definitely colors my reading of the “apology.” I have no doubt that he regrets the way things happened, but I’m also quite confident that he took/takes very serious issue with attack-minded Mopologetics. Thus, this would be a case of him trying to avoid taking any sides. Heal, along with Davis and Carl Griffin likely were the “3 Wisemen” that Midgley considers traitors.

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2020 11:49 pm 
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The letter seems to me to mean that the Maxwell should return to being a bastion for Apologetics and lying for the Lord should be mandated, potentially to honor Neal Maxwell, but, more importantly, to earn their keep at BYU rather than engaging in neutral academic studies like all those so-called "other" universities.

To make recompense, BYU should erect a bronze statue of Dr. Peterson sitting on a world globe with a placard declaring, "Adventuring with Apologetics".

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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2020 2:48 am 
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Doctor Scratch wrote:
I am going to go ahead and say that I believe the author of the letter is Kristian Heal, which, if true, definitely colors my reading of the “apology.” I have no doubt that he regrets the way things happened, but I’m also quite confident that he took/takes very serious issue with attack-minded Mopologetics. Thus, this would be a case of him trying to avoid taking any sides. Heal, along with Davis and Carl Griffin likely were the “3 Wisemen” that Midgley considers traitors.

In what way would he have been a person of significance in the removal of non-Christlike apologetics from the MI in 2012? Would he have had any influence on the decision making chain that led to the Ousting of undesirables?

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“When we are confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs. We simply invent new reasons, new justifications, new explanations. Sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether.” (Mathew Syed 'Black Box Thinking')


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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2020 9:22 am 
Nursery
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moksha wrote:
The letter seems to me to mean that the Maxwell should return to being a bastion for Apologetics and lying for the Lord should be mandated, potentially to honor Neal Maxwell, but, more importantly, to earn their keep at BYU rather than engaging in neutral academic studies like all those so-called "other" universities.

To make recompense, BYU should erect a bronze statue of Dr. Peterson sitting on a world globe with a placard declaring, "Adventuring with Apologetics".


Re-read the letter right after re-reading Morgan Davis's. That lens should provide reliable further insight.


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 Post subject: Re: Reflections on the “Apology Letter”
PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:03 am 
God

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Man what a slog!!

Just to get to the bottom of this, I want to know if this is the first letter or second of a two parred or just and edited version of a first letter that was not really sent? Or is a copy of a fax and the original writer's name is cut off from a cut and paste job made to look like an attached original? If anyone has F. Michael WAtson's phone number in the Cayman's I would happy to call him; rumor is he and Carla are living nicely and still Communicate with a FP fax machine!

Well it's worth a try rather than trying to guess if it is DCP in the kitchen with a laptop!

Back to the slog!!

k


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