I can't help but think that President Hinckley made a huge mistake when he invited FARMS to join BYU. Why did he make such a mistake? Undoubtedly because he was unaware of the problems that would result from doing so. Hinckley did not really understand academia, and he did not know that many BYU professors and administrators were not in favor of what FARMS was doing.I am not talking about assertive opposition but something more like casual disinterest or distaste. It was only a matter of time before the FARMS mission would clash with BYU's academic culture.
In writing this, I am not saying that we should be upset about everything FARMS did, or that academics are always right. It was, however, entirely predictable that trouble would emerge in FARMS' move to BYU campus. Now, the FARMS crew had every reason to hope that, despite their misgivings, everything would turn out OK. They could cling to the clear support from apostles such as Maxwell, Oaks, and others. At the same time they were not unaware, I am sure, that not everyone was a fan. Well, the opponents turned out to be much closer to them than they realized.
So here we are, and FARMS as it once was is dead, although its legacy does live on in Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central. Still, these outfits are not quite the same as FARMS. FARMS will always hold a special place in the hearts of those who followed it, contributed to it, and founded it. If you track the story, as I have in only a cursory way, it is quite poignant, actually. John W. Welch had a big idea, and he made it happen. FARMS had a run that lasted over 30 years. In that time it grew and matured. A great many people felt they benefited from what FARMS was doing. Then, one day, out of nowhere it seemed, YANK! The plug was pulled.
Although my sympathies as a historian and reader of old texts are obviously with the Americanist approach, it is sad to remember the death of FARMS as it was. And, I think, that end came when Hinckley invited FARMS onto BYU campus, not when Bradford removed Dr. Peterson from the editorship of the Review. The latter was the completion of a process that was all but inevitable after the occurrence of the former. President Hinckley made a mistake, pure and simple. He did not understand his mistake to be a mistake when he made it. I am sure he had no understanding of what this would all ultimately lead to. FARMS could be FARMS because it was not an academic enterprise in the predominant, contemporary sense. If BYU were more like Liberty University in its clear partisanship to the faith, then perhaps FARMS would still be around as FARMS, but because many faculty and administrators at BYU want to adopt a "secular" approach, and look down on traditional faith assumptions, this outcome was always in the cards.
It feels odd for me to say this. I don't believe the exactly the same things the FARMS people seem to believe. I hold the Book of Mormon to be a 19th century text. There is little doubt in my mind that this is the case. But it is not impossible for me to be sympathetic to the people who made FARMS happen, and who felt they benefited from FARMS. I think, however, that there were two fundamental problems at play here. The one was FARMS being on BYU campus, and the other was FARMS' very spirited way of going after Mormon "liberals." The latter was a stealth problem. Even those BYU folk who were tolerant of the FARMS approach could be offended by the sharpness of FARMS' reviews and so-called hit pieces. By way of confession, that was what irked me first as a BYU student. It was something I felt comfortable bringing to the attention of people involved in FARMS.
In retrospect I think I overreacted to that sharpness, and that is probably due to some immaturity on my part. Academics clash, and they sometimes do so sharply. Grant Palmer, by the way, was nowhere near being a top-shelf historian, and he could be very sloppy. (I say that as someone who liked Grant and think he raised some valid points.) The problem is not that FARMS criticized his work; it is probably more that they seemed not so see how piling on in the way they did would look unseemly to others. And, while I certainly allow for differences of opinion, my opinion is that they did tend to pile on. We should not, however, start calling everything a hit piece. That is a mistake. A partisan saying he does not like the methods of those he opposes is hardly news. Sure, I am interested to know what Christensen has said, but I don't benefit from hyperbole about what is absolutely predictable complaints from one side of a two-sided debate.