While I was a regular attendee of the Logan Institute of Religion at Utah State University, it was commonplace for my instructors to use information and resources from F.A.R.M.S (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) to strengthen our knowledge base and provide a rigorous scholarship to our religious studies. I consider my conversion spiritual in nature; I am in a constant process of fortifying my faith through personal revelation and communion with the Spirit with the natural ebbs and flows of mortal life as they may be. Apologetics is a gift for believers, not a foundation upon which the faithless are converted. I find good scholarship interesting and love to read faithful defenses of our history and heritage.
During the last three years, I drove between 5000-6000 miles per month and found myself bored and disillusioned with political talk radio I’d been engrossed with during the 2016 election cycle. I subscribed to Deseret Book’s audiobook service and plowed through dozens of books. I found a few Latter-day Saint podcasts, not as many as I imagined, however. Some contained interesting material, but I found the more “scholarly” types apologized for our faith and culture more than advocate for it. I listened to what I could and kept the good while tossing out the bad.
It was during this search I came across the Maxwell Institute podcast. The host of the show was actually a guy I followed on Twitter, one of those types who I followed during the Utah Jazz season but tried to ignore otherwise as I previously described. I made it through a portion of two episodes before I had to turn it off. Elder Neal A. Maxwell mandated our scholarly institutions not allow any more “uncontested slam dunks.” When discussing the defenses of the Church, my personal philosophy is going on offense is our best defense. The Book of Mormon stands on its own. It has withstood the test of time, against unrelenting attacks, and continues to be strengthened as more “evidence” comes out. As a listener to the Maxwell podcast, I would describe it as someone on our team going on offense against us.
In June 2018, Blair Hodges, the host of the podcast, blocked me on Twitter after I disagreed with him on a political point. His immediate reaction was to call me a racist xenophobe and a “Trump supporter.” The irony of all this was not lost on me since my father and my wife are legal immigrants to this country and I didn’t vote for President Trump – and even actively opposed him during the primary and general elections. Immediately using ad-hominems during a debate isn’t exactly a sign of a person capable of rigorous scholarship, but here we are.
I found later on that this wasn’t a one-off for him. In February, Mr. Hodges began blocking a number of church members from the Maxwell Institute twitter account, some without any documented interaction. Like our friends at By Common Consent, it appears ideology trumps faith in matters of acceptable associations. I mean, so the podcaster/social media guy is a little squirrely, so what? That can’t surely mean we should cast a bad light on the Institution as a whole, right?
Others have used the Institute as the butt of the joke for BYU’s football failures:
Many have noted in their interactions on the #TakeBackMIBYU tag that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke at the Maxwell Institute last November and clearly stated the mission of the Church and the Institute should never be at odds with each other. Elder Holland also emphasized: “We want the Maxwell Institute and many others to contribute to that defense with solid, reputable scholarship intended as much for everyday, garden-variety Latter-day Saints who want their faith bolstered, at least as much as it might be intended for disinterested academic colleagues.”
Elder Holland argued faith and scholarship need not be in conflict with each other. I fully agree with this sentiment. When taking a college course on the History of Christianity, my professor warned at the beginning of class that he wasn’t responsible for our faith being destroyed because of the new information we learned. I found the class enlightening, and a faith-promoting experience, and haven’t encountered the problem of additional knowledge causing a trial of faith. Indeed, the difference between having a spiritual conversion and an intellectual conversion may be that additional knowledge doesn’t bring with it a “faith crisis.” Elder Holland emphatically reminded the Institute: “If it did come down to a choice, it would be faith, the yearning, burning commitment of the soul, that would always matter most in the end.“
There have been other troubling developments noted recently. Elder Holland mandated the Institution transition from “Mormon Studies” as the prophet has made emphasis on the correct name of the Christ’s Church. Here is an update on their progress ten months later:
In addition, the Institution’s recent hire of a popular Twitter personality has been noted with raised eyebrows. My only interaction with this person was friendly as I tried to feel out his exact views. He made it abundantly clear to me anything short of Celestial gay sealings in the temple was the cause of the Brethren’s shortsightedness and only he was enlightened enough to understand the will of the Lord in the matter. Shortly after our exchange, he blocked me and everyone else he found who disagreed with his viewpoint. Any careful examination of his feed by a faithful Saint will bring headshaking as he is constantly critiquing the leadership and general membership of the church. However, the Maxwell Institute found him worthy of their internship. Take a look.
Quite the fall for what used to be F.A.R.M.S. indeed. I remember reading a handout in Institute, a report from an Evangelical who toured BYU and lamented Latter-day Saint apologetics had far surpassed anything going on in the Protestant world. It was a source of pride for me reading that, and seeing what has become of the institute now brings sadness. I’ve seen countless people online ask if there are any good Latter-day Saint podcasts out there. They ask where to find good material. Latter-day Saints naturally thirst for knowledge and further light. It is a shame I can’t recommend BYU’s flagship Institution when I’m asked for recommendations.
I don’t pretend to be anything of a scholar. I have found some interesting and trustworthy scholarly sources such as The Interpreter Foundation, Joseph Smith Foundation, Book of Mormon Central, and Fair Mormon. I’ve recommended Conflict of Justice before, but I can’t sing praises enough of his work. I am the garden-variety Saint Elder Holland speaks of. I thirst for more knowledge and light. I defend vigorously and advocate for our faith. I expect and hope for the best of scholarship and apologetics to come from Brigham Young University. In the meantime, Teancum’s Javelin remains a refuge for simple saints with spiritual testimonies.
- “Be Faithful Desciple-Scholars Even in Difficulty” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, November 2018 at Maxwell Institute
- “Creating and Conveying a Christlike Culture: More Than a Job” – Elder Dale G. Renlund, August 26, 2019 at BYU
- “Of ‘Mormon Studies’ and Apologetics” – Daniel C. Peterson, 2012
- The Rise and Fall of FARMS – templestudy.com
You can follow Dustin on Twitter at @TheDMT1232.