John Dehlin’s Role
In Q&A format, I want to clear up some of the rumors that have been swirling around John Dehlin’s role in the changes at the Maxwell Institute. While I consider myself to be on friendly terms with Dehlin (who once proposed interviewing me, but it never came to pass), I do not consider myself vested in his cause or one of his defenders. I have friends who are NOMs; I have friends who are LDS apologists. I’m neutral. Like Switzerland.
Was the Maxwell Institute planning on running a critique of John Dehlin in the Mormon Studies Review?
Yes. The critique is said to have been quite lengthy and footnoted, and was authored by Gregory L. Smith. In the sole 2011 edition of the MSR, Smith published a critique of another Mormon known for her work online, Laura Compton of Mormons for Marriage. I assume this critique would have been in the same vein.
Did a General Authority intervene and order the Maxwell Institute to cancel the critique?
Yes. This GA sent word through the administration at BYU to Gerald Bradford that he wanted the critique canceled. Bradford was acting on orders, and he does not know who the GA was. I have heard rumors, but I have nothing solid on who this GA was, so I won’t report on that. It was Dehlin who had contacted at least one GA in order to ask for help.
Did any of the parties involved in cancelling Smith’s piece on Dehlin actually read it beforehand?
The apologists say “no.” Since they control distribution of Smith’s work, I have no reason to doubt them. UPDATE: Chris Smith has added in the comments, “this weekend I heard a credible report that the General Authority who stopped the Dehlin publication has directly confirmed that he read portions of the article before contacting President Samuelson.”
In any case, I don’t think any of the parties involved were obligated to read it beforehand in order to cancel it. As Chris has observed, “It’s kind of embarrassing how many of the apologists seem to think it’s appropriate for an academic journal, sponsored by a major university, to publish a 100+ page, ‘footnoted’ exposé of the religious views of the host of an Internet podcast. The tone of the article could be all hugs and kisses, and it would still be cringe-worthy.”
Did the Dehlin incident lead to Dan’s release from his position as editor of the MSR?
Not exactly. Rather, what the Dehlin incident did was bring to a head the growing divide between Dan’s vision for the MSR and that of Gerald Bradford and the university administration. Dan’s release would have happened eventually regardless. It was the culmination of a variety of factors that happened over time.
It also probably signals that there are at least some General Authorities who are sympathetic to the NOM community and want them to remain in the church. This does not mean that there are no GAs who are sympathetic to Dan and his brand of apologetics. I’m very certain there are.
Gerald Bradford’s Role
Much vilification has been directed at Bradford over on the Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board, where Daniel Peterson has over 13,000 posts and William J. Hamblin has over 3,300 posts. Some examples of this vilification from Dan’s supporters there:
“Mr. Bradford needs to be replaced because his conduct in this matter is not the conduct that a temple recommend holder should be engaged in. What is sad about all this is that he betrayed the trust of someone showing a lack of empathy and emotional understanding as one who went about hurting someone by his conduct. This is not okay for a temple recommend holder to do nor someone who should be in charge of a church sponsored orgainization.” ~ why me (No link or screenshot; comment preserved here.)
“I hope to hear, sooner or later, that this horrendous decision has been reversed, and that those who are attempting to silence LDS apologetics will be thwarted in their undertaking, and finally recognized for who and what they really are.” ~ William Schryver (Screenshot / Link)
“Last, Bradford’s actions were spinless! I hope he gets called on the carpet by his superiors for EMAILING you while on VACATION to fire you from a position you held for two decades. I would have expected better from the MI and I’m ashamed of their actions.” ~ alter idem (Screenshot / Link)
“Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Bradford had indeed been deceived by this canard. Would that make him an anti-Mormon? No; it would simply make him a ‘useful idiot’ for those who had deceived him. It is not unheard of for ivory-tower academics and/or institutional bureaucrats to be hopelessly naive about what is happening in the real world. Bradford may simply be adopting a far-too trusting posture towards the enemies of the Church, failing to recognise just how delighted they would be to see its defenders disarmed. After all, it does appear that he, or someone close to him, was deceived by Ms Jack’s utterly conscienceless smear campaign against Will Schryver not so long ago.” ~ Pahoran (Screenshot / Link) 
All of these comments except for the first have been allowed by the moderators on a forum that frequently employs heavy censorship. To my knowledge, neither Peterson nor Hamblin have ever spoken up to ask their supporters to keep themselves in check.
I have never in my life interacted with Bradford, but I think it is disgraceful for so many people to be insinuating that he is an anti-Mormon or an apostate or a dupe or a spineless coward who is willfully destroying the Maxwell Institute, all because his scholarly vision for the Maxwell Institute is different from that of Dan Peterson, and because he chose to release Dan from his position as editor while Dan was overseas (we’ll get to that in a minute). This treatment of Bradford is both unchristlike and uncharitable. The people doing it should be ashamed of themselves, and the people posting in that thread and not doing anything about it should also be ashamed.
Terminated or Resigned?
There’s been some dispute as to whether it’s proper to say Dan was fired by Bradford or resigned on his own. I think this is a difference without distinction. Bradford said he would be appointing a new editor, but wanted Dan to stay on as a member of the “soon-to-be-formed editorial advisory board.” I assume this new position would lack the prestige as well as the level of compensation that came with the editor position. So, the best middle ground we could find would be to call it a demotion. And many would rather quit their job than live with a significant demotion.
Release via E-Mail
Onto the matter of Bradford’s decision to release Dan via e-mail while Dan was out of town. This has been criticized by people across the spectrum, including those who are no friends to Dan Peterson and those who have been more balanced and respectful in their criticisms of Bradford. Some examples:
“[D]o you really think BYU supports Bradford firing Dan while he’s out of the country via email? Has BYU really sunk down to such an unprofessional level as that?” ~ Rameumptom (Link)
“Gerald Bradford didn’t seem to be able to muster up the courage to look Dan Peterson in the eye when he pulled the trigger on his 23-year tenure as Editor of the Mormon Studies Review.” ~ grindael @ the Mormonism Research Ministry blog (Link)
“It’s worth noting that Bradford fired Dan by email while Dan was on a multi-week journey in the Middle East—in part raising funds for the Institute—specifically so Dan could not be in Provo to defend himself.” ~ William J. Hamblin (Link)
I’m especially stunned by Hamblin’s claim that Bradford did this “specifically so Dan could not be in Provo to defend himself.” How can he know Bradford’s motives for a fact unless Bradford has said as much for himself? 
For my own part, I can think of several reasons why Bradford might have notified Dan by e-mail when he did, none of which have anything to do with lack of courage or a desire to prevent Dan from defending himself:
- Because people working under Dan were preparing material for the Mormon Studies Review, and Bradford wanted them to know as soon as possible that their work would not be published so that they would not waste their time and efforts any further.
- So that he could begin the process of finding a new editorial team and reforming the MSR. The review is, after all, three issues behind, which is not fair to the paying subscribers. Waiting several weeks for Dan to get back would have meant even more of a delay.
- So that Dan and the editors working under him could prepare for unemployment or a hit to their incomes as soon as possible. It is never a good thing to be spending money that is not actually coming in.
- Because he honestly felt that Dan deserved to know of the decision as soon as possible.
I have never spoken with Bradford, and I cannot speak for him. But those all strike me as eminently reasonable possibilities. There is no reason to assume malice or cowardice.
Furthermore, BYU has terminated employees via correspondence before. In 2006, they terminated visiting lecturer Jeffrey Nielsen by sending him a letter.  Therefore Bradford was not acting without precedent, and BYU does not seem to regard termination via correspondence as unprofessional.
Peterson’s Editorial Staff
Dan Peterson alleges that Bradford did not send the associate editors (Louis C. Midgley, George L. Mitton, Gregory L. Smith, and Robert B. White) any notice of their pending dismissal. They found out via Bradford’s e-mail to Peterson and the announcement posted on the MI Web site. Calls and e-mails to Bradford from these editors have not been returned.
I agree that this is bad form. Though I’m sympathetic to what a mess this has become for Bradford because of the leaked e-mails and the deluge of phone calls and e-mails to his office, I do think every employee who was being let go should have been personally contacted.
Many critics are alleging that Dan’s release as editor was ordered by the General Authorities of the LDS church. I cannot confirm or deny this for certain, but I am supremely skeptical.
Others have alleged that Bradford was acting entirely on his own authority. I can neither confirm nor deny this, either, but am also skeptical.
What I do know is, support for Bradford’s decision now goes much higher than Bradford. It is improbable that Bradford could reinstate Dan if he wanted to. So blowing up Bradford’s phone and e-mail box is not going to get this reversed.
How high does Bradford’s support go? Well, Hamblin stated on his blog: “It has been rumored that President Samuelson may have approved (not ordered) the decision, but I don’t know this for sure.”
It’s not just a rumor. Either it’s time to add President Samuelson to that list of “useful idiots” being taken advantage of by “anti-Mormons” and “apostates,” or it’s time for Dan’s supporters to just admit that reasonable people can disagree on this subject without being the patsies of people who want to harm the LDS church.
Why hasn’t Bradford made a further statement?
I suppose that he could. It would certainly help those of us truly interested in the specifics of his new vision for the Maxwell Institute and his stance on apologetics. However, in order to fully clarify the reasons for his decision, Bradford would probably have to cite problems with former issues of the MSR or Dan’s antagonistic behavior. He would have to lay out exactly what it is that the University no longer wants the MI to be associated with—because it is not merely polite and respectful “apologetics” that are the problem. And I don’t think he wants to embarrass Dan or the former authors of the Review. He wants to let them go out as graciously as possible. That is my guess, anyways.
Besides, Bradford lacks an Internet following of apologist fanboys (and fangirls) who can smear Dan on his behalf while he looks on and keeps his hands clean.
In any case, I’m glad to hear that so many of Dan’s supporters are suddenly interested in talking about the professionalism of Maxwell Institute employees and the ethics of keeping private correspondence private. I’ll turn to that in my final post.
 My “utterly conscienceless smear campaign,” as Pahoran’s personal attack on me characterizes it, may be evaluated on its own merits here.
 I recently made this same mistake myself (i. e. reading bad motives into someone’s actions) and was called out by one of my LDS readers on it. I’m encouraging others to not do the same to Bradford.