Piecing Together FARMS's History.
In the wake of the "Are the Apologists Set Apart by the Brethren?" thread, I have been thinking about a number of things. At the heart of that discussion is a very basic question concerning the Church's relationship to "official" apologetics. Of course, apologists have long denied that the Brethren have anything to do with apologetics---something which, as critics have rightly pointed out, often seems like a stretch. There is really no denying that a long, dark shadow has been cast over this particular facet of Mopologetics, and in this thread, I would like to try and dissolve some of the mystery.
In the course of my thinking, I realized that the best place to look for evidence of a FARMS-BYU connection lay during the time period, in the mid-1990s, when FARMS was "officially" incorporated into the University. This was an important step, as many people have observed. But why did this happen? Apologists have long tried to portray themselves as being almost an entirely volunteer effort (hence their bristling at any suggestion that they get paid), so why not remain so? Why "incorporate" with BYU?
Here is one reply, from Noel Reynolds:
The new invitation offers to take the relationship a step further, making FARMS a full-fledged part of the BYU family. This relationship offers many advantages to FARMS, according to FARMS president Noel B. Reynolds. "One of the chief advantages for FARMS, of course, is financial. While FARMS will continue to be dependent on sales, subscriptions, and private donations to fund its research and other projects, it will now enjoy the advantage of significant BYU budgetary support as well."
John Welch, one of FARMS's founding members, provides another answer:
[Note: I will post links to all my sources at the end of the post.]John Welch wrote:In 1980, when I came to BYU, I asked Academic Vice President Robert K. Thomas if I should terminate FARMS or bring it with me. He said, "By all means, bring it." Ever since, FARMS and BYU have been closely intertwined. Soon BYU gave us some unused space in the basement of the law school and then some offices in the old Amanda Knight Hall. As FARMS grew, it became obvious that sooner or later BYU and FARMS would need to define their mutual relationship.
As Bro. Welch explains things, the incorporation of FARMS into the university during the 1990s came about as a result of necessity. FARMS was "growing," and thus its relationship with BYU needed to be "defined." Again: what does this mean? What kind of "growth" was occurring? The answer comes from a variety of sources.
An early notice of FARMS' plans for exponential growth appeared in a 1995 issue of Church News:
Groundbreaking for a new 25,000-square-foot building for The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies is tentatively scheduled for next April, according to Brent Hall, FARMS director of development and operations. Construction of the building will take approximately 18 months to complete, he said.
The design of the new building suggests elements of the world of the Bible - a dome, arches and pyramid - and the world of the Book of Mormon - stone work reminiscent of Meso-American pyramids and other structures.
This massive edifice to apologetics would have been like recreating a structure out of Zarahemla, and it would have stood as a powerful symbol of Mopologetics' accomplishments and power. But there were problems. Some time near the announcement of the building, the following letter, dated 20 November 1995, was sent out to FARMS supporters:
In the last newsletter we announced the campaign to raise the funds to build the Book of Mormon Research Center.... Your help is needed. Many of you have already responded with generous contributions for which we are grateful, but more is needed. Local building costs are escalating rapidly. Presently the architects estimate the project will cost some seven million dollars.... We invite those of you who have abundant means to be very generous.... Please don't delay
Was this referring to the same building? Given FARMS's status as a purely volunteer effort, one would have to assume so. But other troubles were brewing.
It is worth back-tracking at this point in order to reflect on what was happening in the world of Mormonism during this time period. The 1980s had seen the Mark Hoffman scandals, along with the rise of the Tanners, and, in 1993, the very public troubles with the September 6. Moreover, a very important new development called the Internet was beginning to spread across the world. Could it be that the Brethren had at last begun to see the need for a Church-financed, Church-supported apologetic effort?
Or, was it the other way around? Interestingly, in the course of an interview, Noel Reynolds revealed the following:
Our need to be better known led us to promote publicity that raised concerns in the church and the university and led to the new BYU president's interest in merging FARMS with the university. This late 1996 proposal from President Bateman moved the two-year conversation with the previous administration to a higher level. On September 10, 1997, President Hinckley proposed in the monthly meeting of the BYU board of trustees that FARMS be invited into the university with partial funding for it and for CPART being provided.
Could Reynolds here be referring to the "Ziggurat" announced in the Church News piece? Was FARMS growing at a pace which had begun to alarm Church leaders? In any case, whatever happened around 1995 led to some lengthy conversations, culminating in President Hinckley's approval of the "merger." And yet, all of this seems to have occurred behind closed doors:
John Welch wrote:I remember saying to President Bateman in a private conversation, "As far as I am concerned, we can go either way, on campus or off. What we need is an answer that will stick. If President Hinckley will tell us what he sees as best, we will do it." Two months later, President Hinckley invited FARMS to become a part of BYU. He gave no explanations but saw a bright future for this work under the university umbrella.
Apart from the "need to be better known" and the "promot[ion] of publicity" mentioned by Noel Reynolds, what would have persuaded the Brethren to associate themselves with FARMS in this way? Clearly, there would have been a number of problems involved: it would be a tacit acknowledgment of weaknesses in the Church; it would also be a kind of "winking" support for the belligerent attitudes and methods of many apologists. The attempts by FARMS to maintain its independence are evident in the omnipresent disclaimer:
The opinions expressed in the articles and books [FARMS] distributes are not necessarily the opinions of anyone except the authors.
So, what would convince the Brethren to ally themselves with FARMS? One clue lies in the fact that a certain General Authority was President of BYU at the time: Merrill Bateman. Bateman had long been a supporter of FARMS:
"I was an early supporter of FARMS, serving for a time in the early 1980s on the FARMS advisory board," says President Bateman. "As president of BYU, I am anxious for the University to produce the best scholarship. Bringing FARMS into the University will give both entities more visibility. I am excited about the work that we will be able to do together."
Thus, it seems clear that Bateman was a kind of "inside man" for FARMS, and it seems reasonable to assume that he helped negotiate the behind-closed-doors deals that led to the integration of FARMS into the University.
But what were those negotiations? In reading over several sources, I found mention again and again of a "protocol" that was written up between FARMS and BYU. I looked far and wide (as did several of my "informants"), but I was unable to locate a copy of this document. Nevertheless, according to a September 4, 1995 Deseret News article,
The Foundation for Ancient Research & Mormon Studies (FARMS) and BYU have formalized and defined their relationship with a protocol agreement approved by the university's board of trustees.
As we all know, the "university's board of trustees" consists of the Brethren. So, whatever happened in 1995 triggered a series of discussions with the Brethren, and it ultimately led to the joining of FARMS and BYU. Was the FARMS "ziggurat" the straw that broke the camel's back, as it were? Did the Brethren feel concerned about FARMS's growing power, prestige, and fundraising capabilities? Regardless, there is no doubt that this was a pivotal time both in the Church, and for FARMS.
So, what did the protocol say? As I noted, I was unable to procure a copy of the document. But Noel Reynolds did offer up some clues:
While about 100 BYU professors have been involved in some way with FARMS, their relationship to the organization hasn't been clear. The protocol statement, a two-page document, outlines how BYU professors may pursue religious research with FARMS support.
``Teaching religion classes is the sole responsibility of the religious education departments,'' Brother Reynolds said. ``But who is responsible for research on scriptural and religious topics? The answer that the protocol states very clearly, and this with the complete agreement of BYU religious education leadership, is that religion-related research, scripture research, is appropriate for anyone on campus as long as it's approved through normal university channels.''
It would seem, then, that this document helped to provide the basis for apologists' repeated denials that they are paid to do apologetics. Certainly, I would be interested to learn what "approval through normal university channels" consists of.
So, with the implementation of the Protocol of 1995, FARMS was well on its way to being fully integrated into BYU. But not everyone was completely happy about this move. Here again is Noel Reynolds:
"We have thought long and hard about this move," says Reynolds. "Our organizational independence has served us well in our formative years, and we are very confident that FARMS will continue in the future to deliver the same dynamic, innovative, and superb scholarship as it has in the past.
And, perhaps more emphatically, Daniel Peterson, who told this to Peggy Fletcher Stack:
Daniel Peterson, FARMS chairman and professor of Islamic studies and Arabic, said he is ``cautiously optimistic'' about the move.
He elaborated later on in the article:
``In some ways, we are already part of BYU. Almost everyone on the board is a member of the BYU faculty,'' Peterson said. Still, the group ``did enjoy being independent, rather like being an entrepreneur.''
University officials have promised FARMS scholars that they will not interfere in the editorial policies or administration of the group, but Peterson wonders if FARMS' members will feel as free to engage in speculation and discussion of Mormon scripture.
``FARMS has often had a polemical edge and we are curious to see how or whether that will be accommodated,'' he said. ``The minute I write something offensive, we'll see if I get a call.''
This is very interesting. Did the protocol mention something about this? People have observed that the FARMS Review has mellowed somewhat during the past decade or so. Was this due to the influence of the Brethren? Or, was it covered in the 1995 Protocol? Although DCP told Peggy Fletcher Stack in 1997 that he was "cautiously optimistic," the truth seems far more grim. By 1997, DCP had become Chair/President of FARMS, and he may have begun to receive payment for his services:
As I've said before, I wasn't paid for doing apologetics. Neither my salary (for teaching and editing and directing research and publication projects) nor that temporary board chairmanship fee -- which compensated me for weekends taken away from my family and personal interests by fundraising trips, for weeks of travel to Italy and Lebanon and Mexico and elsewhere to supervise digitizing teams and negotiate partnerships with local institutions, for hours and hours and hours of time spent working out the details of the Institute's affiliation with the University, etc., etc. -- paid me to do apologetics.
By 1999, the parties involved were still bickering over the details of the merger, and it nearly brought DCP to his knees:
I didn't mind a bit that I was given some extra compensation for the hours and hours and hours that I spent working on the merger agreement for FARMS with BYU, which came on top of my editing and teaching duties and which almost destroyed my personal research and writing for several years.
Elsewhere, DCP revealed that the stress during this time period (1997-1999) was so great that he nearly walked away altogether from BYU. Again, one has to ask: what were the details of this "merger agreement"? Clearly, it had its origins in the Protocol of 1995, and there was enough contention that the details were still being hammered out nearly five years later--two years after Pres. Hinckley had rather mysteriously "invited" FARMS to join BYU.
* * * * *
At the beginning of this post, I expressed my hope in dissolving some of the cloudiness that obscures the relationship between apologetics and the Church. In looking over these materials, I believe that a hypotheses can be formulated:
To put things simply, I believe that FARMS had begun to expand to rapidly, and it had begun to step on the Brethren's toes. This all culminated in the failed "Ziggurat" which would have been financed to the tune of over $7,000,000 dollars. This had, as Noel Reynolds revealed, begun to raise eyebrows both within the Church, and within BYU. The GAs observed this rapid growth and increasing power (including huge donations from Alan "WordPerfect" Ashton), and decided that a leash needed to be put on FARMS. At this point, the 1995 Protocol was initiated, and a period of very stressful negotiation ensued.
There had to have been bruised egos amidst all of this. Reynolds, DCP and others all expressed regret over FARMS's loss of "independence." (Recall that DCP worried that the "polemical" tone of the Review might be affected.) Prof. Peterson said that he nearly resigned over the "hours and hours" that he spent, but it seems hard to believe that his angst and frustration was simply a matter of work and time. This is a man, after all, who repeatedly speaks of his impressive multi-tasking, such as teaching two classes, presiding as bishop for his ward, grading 100+ papers, taking phone calls from the Egyptian consulate, and trekking off to Scottsdale and then Dubai all in the same breath. I would guess that DCP's stress arose from other things: his fears over having the Brethren squash the Review, for example.
It could be, too, that something was amiss financially with FARMS, and the Brethren felt that they needed to intervene. DCP revealed that FARMS's accountant was fired during this very tumultuous and eventful time. Did the firing in some way relate to the FARMS "Ziggurat"? Perhaps.
In the end, I realize that I have not learned as much as I would have liked. But I do believe that this information, when taken in total, shows that there is a much stronger link between the Brethren and FARMS than the apologists would have us believe. It could be that the apologists themselves aren't quite sure what influence the Brethren are exerting, as evidenced by John Welch's remark (i.e., he stated the Pres. Hinckley gave no explanation). Hopefully, the text of the various agreements--including the 1995 Protocol--will one day be made public. Then we can know with much more clarity just how, exactly, FARMS (and apologetics more generally) are connected to the Church, and to the Brethren.
http://mi.BYU.edu/publications/insights ... m=10&id=49
http://mi.BYU.edu/publications/insights ... m=1&id=102
http://mi.BYU.edu/publications/insights ... m=12&id=97
http://mi.BYU.edu/publications/insights ... m=11&id=91
http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no90.ht ... %20DOLLARS!
N.B. Additional sources were furnished to me by anonymous informants. I can provide the citations if necessary.