What the heck is going on with the Maxwell Institute? — A Timeline

You’ve probably heard by now that something just changed within the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (hereon MI). This post is intended to provide readers who may be unfamiliar with this topic with something of a timeline of events, for people who may not trust what they are hearing from other sources. Its purpose is to inform, not analyze.

Here are the events, provided with links and minimal commentary.

Thursday, June 14, 2012, 12:57 AM CST - A member of MormonDiscussions.com (hereon MDB) known as “Doctor Scratch” mentions that he was just “alerted to a potential ‘changing of the guard’ at the MI in the coming months.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012, 10:43 AM (MST?) - M. Gerald  Bradford, Executive Director of the MI, e-mails Daniel C. Peterson and notifies him that he will be appointing a new editor to oversee the Mormon Studies Review (formerly the FARMS Review of Books, hereon MSR), in order to take the publication in “a different direction.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012, 3:18 PM (MST?) – Peterson responds to Bradford, mentioning that the MI “leaks like a sieve” and that he has already read “on an apostate message board” about his impending termination. This was probably a reference to Doctor Scratch’s 6/14 post at MDB. His response added 18 other unknown recipients.

Friday, June 15, 2012, 11:42 PM CST – Former Mormon and former Mormon apologist Kevin Graham starts a thread at MDB wherein he says, “I have it on good authority that there is an influential movement of scholars who are unhappy with the current direction of polemics led by Peterson and his editorial team. Expect major changes in the near future.”

Friday, June 15, 2012, Time Uncertain – Dan Peterson says in a post at his blog, “[I]n order for us to grow, says the Bible, we had to leave the Garden of Eden and work and learn in a fallen, resistant, and often mournfully unpleasant world. There’s no reason for us to like diseases, financial setbacks, wars, betrayals by friends, interpersonal hostilities, misunderstandings, physical injuries, injustice, unmerited humiliations, and the like.  It must needs be that offenses come, but woe unto him by whom those offenses come.” Many speculate that this is a veiled reference to what had just happened to him with the MI.

Saturday, June 16, 2012, 3:52 PM CST – Doctor Scratch creates a thread at MDB wherein he posts Bradford’s 6/14 e-mail to Peterson.

Saturday, June 16, 2012, 7:30 PM CST – Doctor Scratch creates another thread wherein he posts Peterson’s 6/14 response to Bradford.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 9:24 PM (MST?) – William J. Hamblin confirms via a post on his blog (cross-posted at the Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Forum, hereon MDDB) that the leaked e-mails are authentic and Peterson will be replaced as editor of the MSR.

Thursday, June 21, 2012, 5:06 AM (MST?) – Peterson comments directly on the affair for the first time, in a post at MDDB, offering further confirmation of what has happened.

Friday, June 22, 2012, Time Uncertain – The MI posts an announcement about changing the editorial staff of the MSR, making Peterson’s release official.

Friday, June 22, 2012, Time Uncertain – Peterson responds to the MI’s formal announcement on his blog.

Friday, June 22, 2012, 4:15 PM MST – Peggy Fletcher Stack publishes about the “shake-up” in the Salt Lake Tribute.

I hope this is helpful to those who are unfamiliar with the message boards and blogs in question, yet trying to make sense of what has gone down.


What the heck is going on with the Maxwell Institute? — A Timeline — 25 Comments

  1. Speaking strictly for myself (and I am far removed from this issue), it looks as though the “different direction” the institute is trying to go toward might be characterized as “somewhat less paranoid.” I tend toward the hypersensitive myself, so I’m not judging, but some professions require a veeeeery thick skin.

  2. My opinion. Us apostates should at least rhetorically come to DP’s aid here. Because lets face it. When he was writing all those ad hominem attacks in defense of the faith. He was doing his job. That is literally what he was hired to do. The church can claim that he was this rogue apologist out there, not in step with the overall mission of the church. If that was the case he would have been shown the door a long long time ago. I’m seeing a lot of rhetoric saying its about time DP got his due. Lets not forget that the people who were writing his checks for all these years are still out there doing their harmful sh**.

  3. Thanks for breaking it down. Very helpful. Now, some analysis would be most appreciated. Especially from your insider outsider perspective. There aren’t many people situated like you.

  4. Bridget, I think this is very useful.

    I wish there was a related chronology of the events around the Greg Smith paper about John Dehlin that DCP wanted to publish and that was apparently somehow involved in the eventual decision to fire him. As it is I’m not quite sure how much the issues about this yet-unpublished paper were involved in the decision. Was it the major factor? Or was it just the latest in many events? Is it actually a factor at all?

    Since it appears to be involved, I’d like to understand better.

  5. Thanks so much for providing this timeline, Jack. It is most useful. If only we knew all of the factors that converged to bring this about. If Kevin Graham’s source is correct, and this was in the works for some time, then the Dehlin paper could have only been a kind of ancillary contributing factor that may have impacted the timeline, not the ultimate outcome. What was behind this? Were there other longstanding BYU politics and clashed that brought this about? What was the relationship between CES, Religious Education, and FARMS like? I note that they had overlapping personnel at times, but they had quite different institutional cultures.

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  7. Pretty much I guess. Except you’re missing all the grandstanding that John Dehlin has been making over how this is “obviously” a vindication of his life mission and a refutation of apologetics in general. And repeatedly claiming official LDS Church support for the change (though he never backs that up with proof).

  8. Sanford ~ An analysis? We’ll see. I’d been trying to avoid publicly analyzing the situation because it isn’t a secret that Dan and I had a public row in 2010, and I’m pretty sure he’s been feeling no love for me since I inadvertently helped get William Schryver’s publication(s) cancelled last year (he mentions this event in his leaked e-mail to Bradford).

    Not that an analysis from me would be entirely uncritical of Bradford. There are some things that I think he has not handled well.

    Kent ~ I didn’t pay careful attention to the Dehlin event and don’t have a clear timeline of what happened in my head. All I know is: the MSR was going to run a lengthy critique on Dehlin authored by Greg Smith, Dehlin contacted a GA about it (an apostle or Seventy, I’m not sure which), and the article was cancelled because of orders from higher up. Doctor Scratch got wind of this as well and another public spectacle was made.

    Seth ~ Did Dehlin actually contribute new information, and if so, where? I’m trying to report on confirmed details, not speculations and assertions about what happened. The closest thing I have to speculation in this post is my note on Dan’s 6/15 blog post.

  9. Jury is still out on whether any GAs actually did give a toss about John Dehlin one way or the other. Dehlin seems to like implying that they were.

  10. Seth – If Dehlin hasn’t contributed new information to the event, if that’s just assertion without proof on Dehlin’s part, why are you bringing him up? Like I said: I didn’t create this post to report on rumors or analyses of the situation.

    I commented on the FAIR blog post. Comment awaiting moderation.

  11. It’s rare to see Mormons in-fight publicly. Utah politics is an exception as evidenced by the Orrin Hatch Dan Lillenquist senate race. My very Republican neighborhood has ward members who are deeply committed to opposite sides, and yes, it gets personal. But a fight between Republicans and Democrats around here? Not particularly interesting. Likewise, the fight between Dehlin and FARMS is business as usual, it’s uber believers fighting the fringe, nothing new here. But the fight between the expelled FARMS clique and Bradford (and others farther up the ladder possibly) is fascinating. Contrary to what Hamblin surmises on his blog, this fight feels like more than an academic face-off. So while I appreciate the position you’ve taken to stick to verified facts, I can’t stop myself from wondering how high up the ladder the decision was made to distance BYU and the Church from FARM style apologetics. And no, I don’t believe Dehlin caused this. I wonder if it has more to with Romney and the Mormon moment, something the Brethern are certainly tuned into.

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  13. Sanford – I certainly don’t believe it was the Dehlin incident alone that caused this.

    It may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. It may not have been.

    But I’m sure that the decision to remove Peterson as editor of the MSR was the result of a lot of different factors that accumulated over time.

  14. I think there’s a bit of a tendency among certain quarters to assume that every decision at BYU had General Authority approval. But it really doesn’t work that way at BYU. Rarely does even the President at BYU get involved in departmental decisions – let alone members of the Quorum of the Twelve, or even the Seventies.

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