An excellent and provocative post here, StructureCop. Let me intersperse some observations of my own:
First, a couple observations and then my question and hypothesis.
Observation 1 - Some critics tend to see a close relationship between Church leadership and apologetic organizations, specifically BYU-affiliated FARMS. Some have even proposed that FARMS is a surrogate for disseminating theories or defenses of LDS beliefs on behalf of the "institutional" Church but which the institutional Church doesn't necessarily want to take responsibility for.
Yes; this is true. There *is* a relationship between FARMS and the institutional Church, though there have been strenuous efforts to hide or obscure the details and full nature of this relationship.
Observation 2 - "Rank and file" membership seem largely unfamiliar with FARMS, its scholarship, or its status as an unofficial or official appendage of the Church.
I agree with this, too. Most Latter-day Saints, imo, are largely unconcerned with issues of Church history, doctrine, and culture. Most LDS simply go to Church and go through the motions. They follow the lessons, they enjoy Sunday services and the overall sense of community, but beyond that, they don't care.
Question: What is the net effect of FARMS-type apologetics, scholarship or research on the body of the Church at large or on official pronouncements or policies of Church leadership?
On the membership, I would argue that the net effect is "zero." I think that apologetics drives away roughly the same number of people as it "saves." I think that apologists' influence of Church leadership is far more profound. The 2nd Watson Letter; the revisions to the Intro of the Book of Mormon; anecdotal worries about the Book of Abraham; GAs quoting from FARMS publications---all of these show the powerful influence that FARMS has had on the upper echelons of the Church. At heart, most of the GAs are businessmen and/or administrators, and thus they've ceded the revelatory and doctrinal work over to the apologists.
Hypothesis: The number of Church members who subscribe or follow FARMS research/publications remains relatively limited.
I agree with this, too. FARMS/FAIR-type stuff appeals primarily to people who are angry, or carrying grudges over criticism. Some people are sincere questioners, but it seems to me that most hardcore apologists are genuinely aggressive, bitterly cynical, angry people. I would include DCP, Louis Midgley, William Hamblin, Scott Lloyd, Pahoran, juliann, and Scott Gordon in this category. It's not as if these folks need FARMS to give them answers; instead, they are looking for FARMS to violently retaliate against the critics. They want to see the blood flow. There are a few odd ducks out there who latch onto apologetics for obscure reasons (Tsuzuki and Kerry Shirts come to mind), but, as I've said, the two basic camps of people who gravitate toward apologetics are the rare sincere questioners, and the bitterly angry people who want revenge. Often, I think that apologists begin as sincere questioners and then morph into the angry types as they stick around and observe the "Top Dawgs'" behavior. I should add that there are also a few somewhat "scholarly" type people who don't seem angry, and have moved beyond the sincere naïveté phase, and who now just seem interested in the very far-flung, intellectual aspects of apologetics. (I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but there you have it.)
Some theories originating with FARMS publications make their way into the mainstream and become receive an official or folk status as an accepted interpretation of Mormon beliefs, but the vast majority only gain popularity among apologetic circles.
I would agree. The average TBM doesn't know diddly-squat about LGT, or Lamanite DNA, and in all likelihood, said TBM doesn't care. The Brethren could announce tomorrow that the Book of Mormon is pure allegory, and these TBMs would carry on as if nothing had happened.
Some Church membership may even regard FARMS or apologists with suspicion because they propose alternative interpretations of traditional LDS narratives or doctrines.
These people are rare, but they exist (e.g., Paul Osborne).
Church leadership may occasionally take FARMS theories into consideration, but such considerations are rarely articulated in "official" pronouncements, manuals, or other publications.
Yes, I think you're right. While I think that Church leadership actually leans very heavily on the apologists, I think that this reliance is frequently concealed or downplayed. The Brethren *must* seem as if they are fully in control at all times. This is one of the reason that FARMS and other Mopologetics publications always contain the "We are not affiliated" disclaimer.