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