My apologies for the provocative title, but I believe it represents what I think is the worst of the online Mormon conflicts between apologists and dissenting/ex/questioning/open/cafeteria/whatever Mormons on the Internet. As I’ve mentioned before, John Dehlin is known for being open and listening to anyone he features on Mormon Stories – however, he reserves his harshest denouncements for Mormon apologists. Whether or not that is fair can be debated. However, it is also the case that Mormon apologists view John in much the same negative way. Well, now a very public “feud” has broken out between Peterson and Dehlin. But is it really a “feud” between individuals or is it something more fundamental about the Mormon church, politics, and contemporary apologetics?
In my personal navigation of the ins and outs of Mormon history, philosophy, and theology, I have tried my best to avoid the most negative and harshest polemics from both sides. To me, these just get in the way of truth instead of illuminating it.
However, since I have just briefly mentioned the dispute on this blog I’ve been getting a ton of search engine traffic from people who are curious about what exactly happened. Well, a recent overview of the events can be read at the Salt Lake Tribune. There were two major events that took place – one, Greg Smith wrote a piece for FARMS that was critical of John Dehlin and his online projects. Though John had never read the piece in question, he reacted to hearing about it (some might say over-reacted) by shooting emails to Peterson and many other friends (including an unnamed general authority who knows John), and eventually the piece was axed by Maxwell Institute Director Gerald Bradford.
The second major event was that Daniel C. Peterson was then fired from his editorship at the Mormon Studies Review by Gerald Bradford (via email, while he was overseas – ouch), and by extension, possibly his associate editors.
There’s no doubt much more going on behind closed doors than simply a change in management. While the two major events might not be as connected as people think, the timing will no doubt lead everyone to conclude that the latter was a direct result of the former. And maybe it was. I don’t know. Both the Tribune and Bill Hamblin believe that the change is happening because there has been a fundamental shift in how the LDS church wants apologetics to be done under its supervision. Dehlin thinks that Mormon apologists use “dirty tactics” to make their points – ad hominem attacks, evasion, “blaming the victim,” etc. Peterson has been (perhaps uncharitably) identified as the chief tone-setter of these tactics, and I was surprised to find out how much he is vilified by his opponents. In any case, it is clear that Bradford (and possibly his bosses) felt that the Mormon Studies Review needed a change in direction, and so expect big changes in the way that FARMS does things over the next few months.
As for my opinion, well, as I said before, I think this conflict just goes to show that the emotional stakes are very high in Mormon apologetics (especially in a year in which a very high-profile election will be taking place with a Mormon vying for the most important government office in the United States), and the result is very, very unreasonable people who are over-reacting, saying unkind things to one another, and screaming from the sidelines like soccer hooligans. And ultimately it ends up distracting from rather than adding to the actual issues, which are whether (and in what way) Mormonism is right or wrong. I think that everything I’ve read from the major players in this conflict – from Dehlin to Peterson to the many message board and Facebook group members who are cheering their constituencies on – has been mostly unreasonable, hot-headed, and intemperate. Hopefully things will cool off soon.