Stupid or Inspired?

November 13, 2015

Much has been written about the LDS church’s new policy that denies church ordinances and membership to the children of gay parents. I couldn’t think of much to say other than to express my total disagreement with the policy, so that’s what I did earlier this week.

An LDS friend and I were discussing the policy, and he said there were only two possible explanations for it: either church leaders were “stupid,” or they were “inspired” (his words). I told him I thought there were any number of possibilities, and he naturally asked for some examples. I had planned to write a thoughtful post about other possibilities, but then the church issued a “clarification” that preempted my response.

To recap, the church policy was as follows:

Children of a Parent Living in a Same-Gender Relationship:

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows:

A mission president or a stake president may request approval from the Office of the First Presidency to baptize and confirm, ordain, or recommend missionary service for a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship when he is satisfied by personal interviews that both of the following requirements are met:

  1. The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.
  2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.

This is worded such that:

  1. No child living with a same-gender couple will receive a name and a blessing in the church.
  2. No child living with a parent who “has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage” can be baptized, receive the priesthood, or serve a mission until they have turned 18, don’t live with that parent, and disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.

In short, taken at face value, the policy applies to the children of anyone who has ever lived in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage, regardless of their current situation. I know a man who, while he was a BYU student, met a guy at the MTC, where they both taught a foreign language. They lived together until they graduated essentially as a couple, being both roommates and lovers. A few years later, this man married a woman and has children. As the handbook is worded, his children would be affected by this policy in the same way as the children of a parent currently living in a same-gender relationship.

One need not be a prophet, seer, or revelator to predict the outrage among church members and non-members alike. My LDS friend said that church leaders must have anticipated the outcry because to suggest otherwise would mean they were (again in his words) “stupid.” He acknowledged that the policy made no sense to him and was troubling, but he suggested that sometimes the Lord inspires His servants to make decisions that don’t make sense to the rest of us, and if we are patient, we’ll see the wisdom in it.

I agreed with my friend that these church leaders would have thought long and hard about the change in policy, and I said they probably considered that the loss of a few members and some temporary bad PR was an acceptable cost of setting a definite boundary. I dismissed rumors that church leaders were caught off-guard by the reaction, especially among members of the church. It seemed likely that they expected “fringe” members to leave the church over this issue, but then such members are not their focus, anyway. Certainly, Elder Todd Christofferson’s  brief video interview gave no indication that the church would reconsider or reverse its decision; basically, he just tried to reassure members that this was done with good intentions and that they should follow the prophet. The policy, then, didn’t seem like a crazy one-off, but a carefully deliberated policy change run through all the normal channels of the church bureaucracy and ecclesiastical hierarchy.

In that spirit, I thought of all the possible reasons for the policy. The obvious one is, as another LDS friend put it, “boundary maintenance and prophylaxis” to prevent creeping acceptance of homosexuality among church members. In a more cynical moment, I thought perhaps this might be a manufactured crisis designed to further the “great sifting” some keep speaking of between the wheat and the tares. In the end, I didn’t think it was either stupid or inspired, but rather a needlessly cruel policy that, intentionally or not, divided families and hurt children.

But today the LDS church’s First Presidency issued a “clarification” of the policy. The important parts are as follows:

The provisions of Handbook 1, Section 16.13, that restrict priesthood ordinances for minors, apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship. As always, local leaders may request further guidance in particular instances when they have questions.

When a child living with such a same-gender couple has already been baptized and is actively participating in the Church, provisions of Section 16.13 do not require that his or her membership activities or priesthood privileges be curtailed or that further ordinances be withheld. Decisions about any future ordinances for such children should be made by local leaders with their prime consideration being the preparation and best interests of the child.

Whatever else I can say about this, it is not a clarification but a clear retreat from the earlier policy.

Again, the policy as originally published covered children of “a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship.” Now it’s applied only to those children whose “primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship.” (I’ve already heard from a couple of attorney friends that this wording may cause even more problems in custody arrangements, but I’ll let others discuss that.) The second paragraph allows for some baptized members to be “grandfathered” in as members fully eligible for church ordinances and participation. This is also a clear retreat from the policy as originally published.

Obviously, this policy affects fewer children, but it still restricts the membership and ordinances of children for something they haven’t done. Likewise, it does nothing to change the clear message that same-sex couples and their children are not welcome in the church.

Had the policy been written with these “clarifications” in the first place, there probably would have been some outrage, though probably less among church members (at least that’s my guess). But it took more than a week for these clarifications/changes, and in the first attempt to “clarify,” Elder Christofferson made no clarifications whatsoever. In the meantime, faithful members I know and love have been agonizing over their membership in a church that treats gays and lesbians this way. People I know who were on the margins of the church told me it was the last straw for them, and even some people who wanted to stay in the church left over this. The church has likewise endured a lot of bad press over the new policy.

Looking at the big picture, I realize I was wrong. If, as I believed, church leaders had carefully crafted this policy as they believed they had been inspired from God, there would be no retreat, no walking back in the face of public criticism. What this tells me is that they really hadn’t considered how this would be received and were probably quite shocked at the outcry.

In the short term, it was wise to dilute the harshest parts of the policy, but there is one effect that I think may be lasting: a number of people I know had never considered that church leaders could be wrong. They had absolute trust in the wisdom and basic goodness of their leaders, and they never had any reason for fundamental disagreement with them. Until now. A lot of members have realized that their leaders got this completely wrong, and not just in a “mistakes of men” sort of way, but in actively hurting families and children. Probably most members will accept the “clarifications” as given, but I wonder if the brethren have altered the foundational relationship of trust they had with many members. I suppose we’ll find out.

I’m sure many church apologists are now saying this was all just a tempest in a teapot, a misunderstanding. Me, I think I have the answer for my friend.


What Can I Say?

November 10, 2015

I’ve been mulling over my response to the LDS church’s new policy of denying ordinances and sacraments to children of gay parents, wondering what I could say that hasn’t been said already. Honestly, as shocked and disgusted as I am with the policy, I am more interested in the reactions of individual people I know to it. Most former Mormons and non-Mormons who have an opinion agree with me that this is a misguided and needlessly cruel policy that does nothing but further divide families. On the other hand, I have seen quite a number of Mormons simply accept the policy at face value, some even applauding it as drawing a line between the church and the evils of same-sex marriage. But what has gratified me the most has been the reaction of faithful LDS friends who love the church and believe with all their hearts yet cannot reconcile this terrible policy. To be sure, I don’t enjoy watching them struggle, but it does my heart good to know that I’m not alone in being deeply troubled by all of this.

So, what am I supposed to say? The only thing I can think of is this: When I am asked to choose between conscience and obedience, I choose conscience. When I am asked to choose between love and policy, I choose love.

Mormons in Bolivia by the Numbers

September 18, 2015

A non-LDS friend was asking me about the church’s claims of being the “fastest-growing” church in the world, so I gathered a few statistics. I’ve mentioned before that activity rates in Bolivia, where I served my mission, are abysmal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a large chapel, even a stake center, where there were 25 or so people in sacrament meeting. In one branch where I served, there were 250 names on the membership records, but only 3 who attended sacrament meeting (and one of those was the branch president, who didn’t even live within the branch boundaries).

I just discovered that Bolivia did a national census in 2012, so I finally have real numbers to compare.

In 2012, the church claimed there were 182,964 members in Bolivia. According to the 2012 census, the population of Bolivia in 2012 was 10,027,254, so if we accept the church’s numbers, Mormons made up 1.82% of the population.

However, in the 2012 Bolivian census, only .3% of the population, or 30,082 people, self-identified as Mormon. That is only 16% of the number of members the church claims. Dividing the total by the number of wards and branches indicates that there are, on average, 117 self-identified Mormons in each unit. Of course, I would assume that not all self-identified Mormons are active in the church, so the number of active members per unit is probably a bit lower.

That said, according to, “Congregations widely vary in active membership, with a few larger wards numbering nearly 300 active members.” I saw that firsthand. There are a few wards in the larger cities that function pretty much like any ward in the US, with large congregations filling the pews each Sunday. But such wards are the exception, with most units struggling.

None of this should surprise anyone, but it’s kind of nice to have some real numbers for once.

Where Was Julie Rowe in 1991?

September 11, 2015

I have to admit that my knowledge of current LDS/Mormon culture isn’t as good as it used to be, mostly because I don’t attend church services and have far less frequent interactions with Mormons. A friend sent me an article from the Salt Lake Tribune about how a subset of Mormons is preparing for impending doom and the Second Coming.

Apparently, a church member named Julie Rowe had a near-death experience several years ago and has written books about the knowledge she received through that experience:

Here’s how the doomsday scenario plays out: History, some preppers believe, is divided into seven-year periods — like the Hebrew notion of “shemitah” or Sabbath. In 2008, seven years after 9/11, the stock market crashed, a harbinger of a devastating recession. It’s been seven years since then, and Wall Street has fluctuated wildly in recent weeks in the wake of China devaluing its currency.

Thus, they believe, starting Sept. 13, the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, there will be another, even larger financial crisis, based on the United States’ “wickedness.” That would launch the “days of tribulation” — as described in the Bible.

They say Sept. 28 will see a full, red or “blood moon” and a major earthquake in or near Utah. Some anticipate an invasion by U.N. troops, technological disruptions and decline, chaos and hysteria.

Some of these speculations stem from Julie Rowe’s books, “A Greater Tomorrow: My Journey Beyond the Veil” and “The Time Is Now.”

Rowe, a Mormon mother of three, published the books in 2014 to detail a “near-death experience” in 2004, when the author says she visited the afterlife and was shown visions of the past and future.

Though Rowe rarely gives specific dates for predicted events, she did describe in a Fox News Radio interview “cities of light,” including scores of white tents where people will live in the mountains and sometimes be fed heavenly “manna.” She saw a “bomb from Libya landing in Israel, but Iran will take credit.”

And “Gadianton robbers” of Book of Mormon infamy, meaning secret and corrupt leaders, are “already here.”

Her purpose in speaking out, Rowe told interviewer Kate Dalley, was “to wake more of us up. … We need each other as we unify in righteousness and continue to build a righteous army. When we need to defend the [U.S.] Constitution, we will be ready.”

I would be kind of bummed if the end came just as the college football season is getting underway, but we’ll see what happens.

Given the LDS church’s long history of encouraging emergency preparedness–at one time suggesting that church members stockpile a year’s supply of food and necessities–a cottage industry has grown in Utah and other places where Mormons make up a significant part of the population. But there has always been a subset of people in the church who have combined the preparedness fervor with right-wing politics and prophecies of doom. (These “doomsday preppers,” as they’ve come to be known, are not limited to Mormonism but are found all across the US.) Some LDS teachings just seem to be more compatible with these beliefs, so it’s not surprising that there are quite a few LDS preppers. It seems that every ward has at least one.

But I lived in a ward once where such beliefs and activities thrived. Between 1991 and 1997, my wife and I lived in an LDS ward in Orem, Utah, located just south of University Mall. For much of that time I was elders quorum president and then the bishop’s executive secretary. The ward was about 80% young married BYU student couples, with perhaps 10-15 families (a mix of older couples and families with kids).

Anyway, the ward was remarkable to me for two reasons.

First, among the “established” families, there seemed to be a high percentage of “doomsday preppers” with extreme right-wing views. Pretty much every sacrament meeting included at least one person warning of impending calamity and railing against the “New World Order,” the UN, and so on. Bo Gritz bumper stickers were common, and I was grilled more than a few times as to why I didn’t support his candidacy and instead supported one of the fake parties that were in on the conspiracy. One of the more militant couples routinely would email me right-wing propaganda, and they even got me a subscription to a right-wing magazine, whose name I have forgotten. It just showed up one day, and then about a month later, this sister approached me after church to ask, “Do you like the magazine?”

The other notable feature was somewhat related. There was a Uruguayan woman in the ward, and sometime prior to my moving in, her sons were sent to jail for stashing guns in and around Temple Square, as they were convinced that church president Ezra Taft Benson, a known right-winger, was being drugged and held against his will by people who didn’t want him speaking out on the aforementioned New World Order. They were going to bust him out of captivity in his apartment at the Eagle Gate Towers. I heard about this because the First Presidency sent out a letter saying that, if members of the church were ordered not to wear their tempe garments in jail, they should not wear garments. Our bishop then chuckled, telling us this was the result of the Gedo brothers suing for the right to wear garments in jail.

While I was elders quorum president, the brothers were released from jail and moved back in with their mother. These guys were certifiable and took every opportunity to disrupt meetings and corner people in the hallways at church. They were told they couldn’t be given temple recommends because they weren’t doing their home teaching (I wasn’t about to inflict them on anyone in the ward). So, the bishop told me the stake president was “ordering” me to assign them as home teachers. I told him no, but that if need be, I should be released as elders quorum president, but I was not going to do that. My bishop smiled and said, “Good. I didn’t want to do it, either, but I didn’t want to say no to the stake president.”

A few months before we moved out of the ward, things escalated with the Gedo brothers, and they were told that, during meeting times, they had to be in the meetings, or they were not welcome to be there (the one brother kept accosting young girls in the hallways). During Sunday School one week, the one brother scared the crap out of a young girl, who ran screaming to the second counselor in the bishopric, an older man in a wheelchair. The Gedo brother ended up punching the counselor in the face, breaking the man’s glasses and causing him to bleed. Unfortunately for Brother Gedo, a very large man happened to see the altercation and tackled him, subduing him until the police arrived. I emerged from Sunday School to find the church filled with police officers. Following that, the stake presidency asked me (by then I was executive secretary) to go with the bishop to deliver a letter from the church’s legal department barring the brothers from all church property. They threatened to kill us and our families, but we delivered the letter.

I hadn’t thought much about them until a friend talked about standing up for her beliefs against leaders of a non-LDS church. I think refusing to assign them as home teachers was the only time I ever said a definite “no” during my years as a believing Mormon. I was trying to remember the exact circumstances of their original arrest, so I went to Google and found that the story doesn’t end there.

I knew James (the creepier one who punched the guy in the wheelchair) had been arrested for making “terroristic threats” and a number of other things.

But then I stumbled across something that completely blew me away. The woman in our ward who had sent us the subscription to a right-wing magazine later was sued by David Gedo for paternity to establish that he is the father of her youngest child. My first thought was that he’s even crazier than I thought, but according to her appeal, she acknowledges his likely paternity. I’ll quote from one of the relevant court proceedings:

Mother has been married to [Father] for over eighteen years. [Child], the fourth of five children, was born into the marriage [in 1998]. Gedo filed this paternity action in 2005, seeking to adjudicate himself as [child’s] father. Mother has acknowledged the possibility that Gedo may be [child’s] biological father.

The parties’ versions of events since [child’s] birth are wildly divergent. According to Mother, [child] has been happily living with her and Father in a cohesive family unit, has seen Gedo only briefly since his birth and not at all in the last three years, and has never formed any sort of parent-child relationship with Gedo. Mother also asserts that Gedo acquiesced in Father’s role as [child’s] father, never paid child support or any other costs pertaining to [child], and never took any steps to establish his parentage. According to Gedo, Gedo has a strong parent-child relationship with [child] and has “paid child support, medical bills, and costs at birth.” Gedo acknowledges his lack of legal action to establish paternity, but claims that he brought this action after Mother cut him out of [child’s] life.   The district court made no factual findings below, and for purposes of this appeal we simply acknowledge the factual disputes between the parties.

I would bet money that the folks I knew in Orem are among those expecting the end of the world is coming this month. Me, I’ve never understood the attraction of these kinds of beliefs, but then there’s always someone out there who does. Hopefully, he or she isn’t in your ward.

An Apologist Reviews My Book

September 9, 2015

Over on a Mormon-themed message board, apologist Russell C. McGregor has posted a “review” of my book, Heaven Up Here. I’m not in the habit of responding to book reviews, but in this case, the review reveals much more about the reviewer than about my book:

I had the privilege of reading this book a number of years ago, in electronic format. I don’t know how closely the version I read matches the published version, but here are my impressions of it.

There is a tendency for people to praise books critical of the Church of Jesus Christ for their “honesty,” with the subtle insinuation that more positive views are somehow less honest. A number of people, not kindly disposed towards the Church, have offered that praise to this book. However, in this instance, I am inclined to agree. I think the book is indeed an honest one, if only for the reason that, to informed Latter-day Saints, it shows the author in a highly unflattering light; which is not usually a symptom of fabrication.

In the popular LDS phrase, a missionary is encouraged to “lose himself” (or herself) “in the work.” I have never seen a missionary reminiscence in which the work was more palpably lost in the missionary. So much of the book is dominated by expositions of the author’s internal state (often literally, as he treats us to medically detailed descriptions of his digestive woes) that it is easy to forget that any actual missionary work is even happening.

Heaven Up Here is, in large measure, a story of outraged privilege. We are never allowed to forget the author’s connection to the first generation of the Church, and the impression that he somehow deserves better treatment because of his ancestry is never far away. In the end, we are left with the clear sense that the Church cruelly abused this missionary by expecting his pampered American digestive system to cope, for eighteen whole months! with food of considerably better quality than what most of the people around him had to eat for their whole lives.

However, those people are rarely of very great importance. They are largely extras in a show that has been written, produced and directed by its star performer.

Perhaps the most disappointing episode recounted in the book was the case of the illiterate cook. The author and his companion had a lady who cooked meals for them. (Doesn’t everybody?) The quality of her cooking was not great, and the author subsequently found out why: she couldn’t read. Thus, she couldn’t follow a recipe, and simply guessed what ingredients to use, and what their quantities should be.

One can easily see how disastrous such cooking efforts would be; but once Elder Williams found the cause of the problem, he had an opportunity to devise a solution that would not only provide him and his companion with nutritious, palatable meals, but also benefit the lady and her family. He and his companion could have devised a program of teaching her to cook from the cookbook she was trying to use (after all, non-literate people are often very adept at memorising information and procedures) and, extending from that, how to read. This would have been a win-win solution. Here was a chance for Elder Williams to make a difference to his cook and her family; a chance to do some meaningful service (and even personally benefit thereby!) A chance, in Tolkein’s words, to “show his quality.”

So what did he do?

He fired her, and engaged another cook instead.

Without a word of apology or regret, he looked after el numero uno. Nothing could be more important than this American princeling’s pampered tummy.

Just in case anyone is wondering, I’m not a fan.

Anyone who has read my book knows that this hardly reflects anything in the book. Suffice it to say that our first cook was not “fired” for being a poor illiterate who couldn’t make food palatable to our “pampered tummies.” We got another cook because the lady in question was charging us twice the going rate and providing poor-quality food that was making us quite ill (my companion and I both had amoebas and 4 types of intestinal worms, and I had lost 30 lbs., dropping to a weight of only 114 lbs.). Only after failing to help her improve did we find someone else in the branch to cook for us.

But I figured something out about the “review.” Every complaint Mr. McGregor has about the book, and every misreading, intentional or not, comes from the beginning of the book. In short, he didn’t read the whole book, and it’s obvious. That’s why he didn’t realize I served a two-year mission; I was called for eighteen months, but you’d have to read about a third of the way through the book to learn that I was given the opportunity to extend my mission to two years, and I did so (clearly, because I felt my privilege was so outraged that I needed six more months of it). That’s why he thinks I constantly remind readers that I am a descendant of Frederick G. Williams, even though I mentioned it only once, again at the beginning, and in connection with feeling like being the first in several generations of Williamses to serve a mission was a tribute to him. That’s why he talks about my digestive issues as if they are a constant presence through the mission, but they aren’t. Again, they were the most severe during the first few months of my mission, when I got really sick and lost 30 lbs (otherwise known as having an upset tummy unbecoming of a spoiled princeling).

The only conclusion I can reach is that he read about one-quarter to one-third of the book, just enough to find a story he could spin in a way to demonize a 19-year old who later grew into me. I don’t know if I should find this pathetic or hilarious. Eh, probably both.

How BYU Destroyed Ancient Book of Mormon Studies

September 8, 2015

As I noted in earlier posts, Dr. William Hamblin of my alma mater, Brigham Young University, engaged in a rather one-sided “debate” with Baylor professor Dr. Philip Jenkins over the legitimacy of “Ancient Book of Mormon Studies” as an academic discipline. For more than two months, Hamblin continued to flail about, unable to provide a single piece of solid New World evidence that the events depicted in the Book of Mormon ever took place. In the end, Dr. Jenkins graciously ended the discussion, having showed fairly definitively that Hamblin had nothing to offer but postmodernist musings about the nature of reality and history as a discipline.

Instead of acknowledging his utter failure, Hamblin has now posted a follow-up in which he identifies the real villain in delegitimizing the “fledgling discpline” of Ancient Book of Mormon Studies: LDS-owned Brigham Young University.

How BYU Destroyed Ancient Book of Mormon Studies

Hamblin identifies the following key ways in which the powers that be at BYU killed a promising new academic endeavor:

  1. College and Department Politics. Hamblin explains how he was praised and given merit pay raises and promotions when he published in non-LDS fields of study but was reprimanded and denied career progress when he focused on the Book of Mormon. He appears to be mystified that, even at BYU, Ancient Book of Mormon Studies (ABMS) is not considered a legitimate field of study, but he explains rather clearly the university’s thinking: “you must publish outside the ‘BYU Bubble’—that is, BYU or LDS sponsored publications,” if you want your work to be considered legitimate scholarship, and that means you can’t publish anything in Ancient Book of Mormon Studies. But there’s nothing puzzling about this at all: BYU wants to be taken seriously as an academic institution, but that won’t happen if its professors turn inward and spend their time on topics that no one else accepts as legitimate. Surely, Hamblin understands this. What he is describing is not politics but part of any university’s quest to excel and build a reputation, and professors who publish on Nephite horses and smelting ore to create obsidian-edged clubs do not contribute to a positive reputation.
  2. Religious Education. Here he complains that the one department with a legitimate interest in ABMS is not allowed to teach it. No, the Religious Education department teaches what Hamblin calls “the ‘Three Ds’—doctrine, devotion, and daily application” to the exclusion of “serious academic study of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text.” I wonder what school he’s been teaching at because it has always been this way at BYU. Religion classes at BYU are taught out of the LDS Institute manuals and have always been intended to be devotional in nature. Sure, a few professors have sneaked in their pet ABMS theories (such as the course I took from Paul Hoskisson many years ago), but Religion classes are part of your General Education classes, not a serious avenue of academic study (see #1 above).
  3. BYU Curriculum and the Book of Mormon. This is really just an extension of #2 in that he’s complaining that BYU offers only two classes in the Book of Mormon. Instead of an in-depth study of “Book of Mormon geography, history, archaeology, linguistics, literature, theology, culture, language (ancient Near East and Maya), textual criticism, religion, law, warfare, apocalyptic, reception history, the Bible in the Book of Mormon, etc.,” he laments, “This cannot be an oversight or random chance.  This is obviously a conscious policy that implements curriculum decision which minimizes the opportunities of students to study the Book of Mormon as a serious academic discipline at BYU.  Which, for all practical purposes, means students can’t do ancient Book of Mormon studies at all, anywhere.” Of course it’s no oversight but a rational and obvious decision to avoid putting time, money, and effort into something that would damage the university’s reputation.
  4. Graduate Studies and the Book of Mormon. Hamblin is unhappy that the “only way that young LDS scholars can study the Book of Mormon in graduate school is to study it as a nineteenth century text in a secular religious studies program, or US history program.” Again, the reason isn’t hard to divine: the Book of Mormon is best seen in its historical context, which is 19th-century frontier America, not ancient Mesoamerica (see #1 above).
  5. BYU and the Destruction of FARMS. I think this section gets to the heart of the matter. FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) was near and dear to the heart of Dr. Hamblin and his friends, notably Daniel C, Peterson. For years it operated independently of BYU, raising funds and publishing without oversight. But that changed in 1997, when it was brought in as an official part of the university, which renamed it The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies in 2006. At the time, its absorption into BYU was seen as giving it legitimacy and the stamp of approval of not only the university but of its sponsoring church, but Hamblin describes it as a “hostile takeover” and says the university has broken its promises made to FARMS. In 2012 MI director Gerald Bradford fired Daniel C. Peterson as editor of the FARMS Review of Books and announced that the institute would henceforth avoid apologetics and instead focus on Mormon Studies, a broader, non-devotional, non-apologetic approach to the Mormon religion. I need not get into the details other than to say that Hamblin and his colleagues have not been happy with this turn of events. Again, the reason for the university’s actions isn’t difficult to understand.

The reality is that Ancient Book of Mormon Studies never was a fledgling academic discipline. One need only look at the long list of FARMS publications over the years to see that the institute was never academic in nature. Serious academic work develops a hypothesis based on the evidence and then tests that hypothesis against further evidence. Apologetics comes to the question with the answer already provided, and then works backwards to fit the evidence to that answer. Hamblin can complain until he’s blue in the face, but the hard truth is that BYU understands the difference between scholarship and what FARMS was doing. Even if you ignore the controversies about personal attacks in FARMS publications, it was always going to be apologetic in nature, and BYU made a conscious decision not to do apologetics, whether Hamblin likes it or not.

Apologetics has its place, certainly. I am not saying that what FARMS and its supporters (now publishing the Mormon Interpreter) did is illegitimate or dishonest, but it is by nature partial and often polemical. Universities are supposed to be in the business of promoting knowledge wherever it comes from, and that’s not what apologetics does. As a BYU alumnus (2 BAs and an MA), I’m happy that BYU has walked away from the pursuit of Book of Mormon apologetics. It just seems very strange for apologists to complain that a university is refusing to engage in a pursuit it finds academically illegitimate.

Arkansas DMV Clerk Stands Up for Religious Freedom

September 4, 2015

Salt Lick, Arkansas (URP)

Tyson County DMV clerk Jason Durgess is garnering praise from around the country for his principled defense of his religious rights. Durgess, a member of the Apostolic Regeneration Brethren Church, announced Thursday that, in keeping with his religious beliefs, he could no longer in good conscience issue driver’s licenses to female residents.

“The scriptures are clear,” Durgess said today while sitting at his closed clerk’s station. “‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.’ I didn’t make that up. Jesus said it, and Reverend Gary says I can’t do anything that undermines the authority of the man, who is ‘the saviour of the body.'”

When applicants complained that Durgess was approving licenses only for men, he had a change of heart. “I knew I needed to be just and fair, and it wasn’t right to single out women.” Accordingly, Durgess decided to refuse to issue licenses to anyone, male or female.

“I just feel like my right to freedom of religion needs to be respected, and I shouldn’t be forced to do things that the Bible says are wrong.”

Supervisors at the DMV tried to accommodate Durgess by assigning him to the vehicle registration department, but he quickly found his conscience wouldn’t allow him to register vehicles that might be driven by women. “This is a life-or-death matter for me. I cannot condone or approve of behavior that goes against the central teachings of the gospel.”

When supervisors told Durgess he had to resume issuing licenses or be fired, he called on the Libertas Counsel, an organization that supports religious freedom for all.

“When Jason called us, I was shocked,” said Cleophas Stemmelbow, lead counsel at Libertas. “It’s appalling that in the 21st century we are threatening people’s livelihoods if they don’t violate their most cherished religious beliefs. This isn’t Nazi Germany or Massachusetts. This is America, and this sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen here!”

Fearing a lawsuit, supervisors agreed to allow Durgess to continue his employment without any responsibilities. “Yeah, he just sits there playing games on his iPhone all day, but what are we supposed to do?”

As lines grew longer, patron tempers grew shorter. “I don’t know what this guy’s problem is,” said an exasperated Tiffany Meadows, who was trying to calm a fussy infant while waiting in line. “I’ve been here almost 2 hours, and that guy’s just sitting there on his butt, doing nothing.”

“Look,” Durgess said, looking up from Angry Birds, “if you are that desperate, go to another clerk or another county, and they’ll fix you up just fine.”

Local pastor Robert McDowell approached Durgess’s clerk station while his wife, Barbara McDowell, recorded the conversation on her phone. “Son, you have a legal responsibility to issue me a driver’s license,” said an obviously irritated McDowell. “I and every other taxpayer in this county are paying your salary. You can’t just sit there. Do you really want us to beg you? This is just humiliating!”

Durgess dismissed the complaints. “These are just whiners who are looking for attention. They claim they’re humiliated, but it’s all fake. If they were really humiliated, they wouldn’t have recorded anything and published it. Get real. They’re just some angry losers who want to sin.”

As more people filed past Durgess’s station, he smiled wistfully and said he felt proud to stand up for the values that have made this country great. “I’ve had a few phone calls from Republican presidential candidates, and there’s even talk of a Lifetime movie. Life is good when you trust in the Lord.”


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