Friday, June 22, 2012

BYU's Maxwell Institute Purges Mormon Studies Review Editor Daniel Peterson And Four Of His Associate Editors; John Dehlin Accused Of Instigating It

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University has conducted a Soviet-style purge, firing longtime Mormon Studies Review editor Daniel Peterson. Peterson himself reveals that the purge included four of his associate editors; Louis C. Midgley, George L. Mitton, Gregory L. Smith, and Robert B. White.

Peterson, an expert on Islamic and Arabic studies and a weekly columnist for the Deseret News, edited Mormon Studies Review for 23 years. He also helped establish Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) in 1979 to promote, coordinate, and publicize Book of Mormon research. In 1998, both FARMS and the Review were brought into BYU under the umbrella of the Maxwell Institute. Commentary published in the Review was often quite robust, particularly when rebutting those who challenged LDS origins. But the tipping point may have come from a 100-page article about John Dehlin, a church member in Logan who launched Mormon Stories, which welcomes those who question aspects of LDS history, practice and theology. Dehlin decided the article was an ad hominem attack upon him, and so he allegedly cried on the shoulder of his own personal General Authority. The next thing we knew, Maxwell Institute Director Gerald Bradford pulled the article from the journal, and shortly thereafter, the axe fell on Peterson. But in his Examiner piece, Timothy Berman cautions us that he found no substantial evidence to support the Tribune's assertion that Dehlin had exerted any type of influence to have an article removed from publication, nor any evidence that the article actually made any personal attacks against Dehlin.

Surprisingly, neither the Deseret News nor KSL Channel 5, both owned by the LDS Church, have published stories on this development as of this post.

The Maxwell Institute published their own somewhat cryptic response. They noted that they are continually striving to align its work with the academy's highest objectives and standards, as befits an organized research unit at Brigham Young University. But while they profess gratitude for the contributions of Daniel Peterson and his four associate editors, they are now assembling a board of scholars to advise them on the selection of a new editorial team. They are suspending publication during the reorganization. Basically, a bunch of high-falutin' language essentially devoid of any meaningful substance. MormonScriptureExplorations is less charitable; they say the Institute has gone into full damage-control and stonewall mode.

MormonScriptureExplorations published a cogent analysis. They say this is the culmination of a decade-long struggle between radically different visions for the future of the Institute. While Peterson wanted to continue the traditional heritage of FARMS, providing cutting edge scholarship and apologetics on LDS scripture, Gerald Bradford wants to move the Institute in a different direction, focusing on more secular-style studies that will be accessible and acceptable to non-Mormon scholars. Bradford is especially opposed to LDS apologetics, which he wants to terminate entirely as part of the mission of the Institute. He feels apologetics should be done by FAIR (The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research ( or other groups. In this other post, they directly compare the Institute's previous mission statement with their current mission statement.

Actually, Bradford's proposed mission realignment for the Institute is not a bad idea. Instead of having apologetic material scattered throughout two different sources, he wants FAIR to become the primary clearinghouse for apologetic material, so that non-Mormons who access Mormon Studies Review don't feel like they're being proselytized. But what leaves a sour taste in my mouth is the cold-blooded, undiplomatic way in which Peterson and his associates were purged.

Peterson, who also edits the MormonScholarsTestify website, explains this further on his Patheos blog. He says he was first notified by Dr. Bradford of his desire for a change in the direction and approach of the Review slightly more than two weeks ago, just prior to Peterson's departure for Israel. They spoke for several hours, as he attempted to figure out precisely what he had in mind. Peterson had some very substantive concerns, and was still rather uncertain about exactly what Bradford was saying. However, he said nothing at that time about dismissing Peterson as editor. But on Thursday June 14th, Peterson received an email while he was in Jerusalem notifying him that he was being removed as editor of the Review. Peterson says he was completely blindsided, although he now suspects that it was the culmination of a long-prepared plan.

Mormon Discussions has published what is purported to be Peterson's initial e-mail response to Bradford.

If Peterson's recollection is accurate, then Dr. Bradford committed a cowardly and gutless act by firing Peterson remotely. This is not the way real men do business. This is not the way Jesus Christ does business. Dr. Bradford has dishonored himself and his institution by not firing Peterson face to face. This is symptomatic of America's new predatory corporate culture, where people are nothing more than pawns to be moved around by the rich and powerful. America's so-called "democracy" is a joke.

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