Last week, I published a response to remarks that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland delivered on the evening of 10 November 2018 on the campus of Brigham Young University:
In its turn, my own little essay has now begun to attract replies — some of which, I’m afraid, require comment.
First of all, my essay is being portrayed by certain folks as part of a continuing war on the Maxwell Institute waged by the Interpreter Foundation. This is not true. Had we wanted to go to war against the Maxwell Institute, the warfare would have been unmistakable. Those who want to see such antagonism are reading it into places where it simply doesn’t exist. I’m said to be positively drooling in anticipation of a purge at the Maxwell Institute. There are several clear problems with this idea. One is that it’s not true. Another is that I wrote absolutely nothing that can be reasonably construed as saying that.
Moreover, we’re said to see ourselves as competing with the Maxwell Institute. This is also simply false. I wish it were true, but it isn’t.
Am I altogether pleased with the course taken by the Maxwell Institute since June 2012? No. And I’ve been candid about the fact. I think that the “change of course” announced then was a significant and quite unforced error, and that it has done grave damage. Do I think that I personally was treated fairly or well? No. Have I continually harped on either of those subjects privately, let alone publicly? No, I have not. I have, as the saying goes, moved on. (Interpreter is surely one example of that.)
I’m also being described, in at least one place, as an enemy to Terryl Givens. That’s a rather odd claim, not only because my essay has absolutely nothing negative or critical to say about Terryl but also because I esteem him highly and consider him a friend. A few months ago, for instance, he sat for a lengthy filmed interview to be included in our Witnesses project. I understand that he and his wife, Fiona, will be joining the Maxwell Institute — which I regard as very good news indeed.
What prompts me to write this, though, is the insinuation – surfacing yet again, hoary with age, and still lacking any actual basis in fact – that I was shown the door of the Maxwell Institute by order of the Brethren.
This is not only false but, in a very real way, defamatory.
I wearied long ago of being portrayed as under condemnation by the leaders of my church. I hope that people of fairness and good will stop spreading the claim. It is groundless slander.
At their own initiative, not at mine, I have been directly assured by several individual members of the Twelve that they did not order my dismissal, and that, in fact, it caught them by surprise. Several members of the Seventy have expressly confirmed much the same thing, based on conversations that they have had with members of the Twelve. (I can’t imagine that they’re lying.) Moreover, I think it fair to say that my relationship with the Brethren, including current and former members of the First Presidency and the Twelve, has remained quite good since the events of 2012. (I could point to specific illustrations of that, but I’ve resisted the temptation to do so in the past and will continue to resist it. Because I’m a historian, though, they will ultimately go into the archival record.)
Moreover, I’ve been fascinated to see myself implicitly characterized as espousing an ugly fundamentalist literalism that has destroyed testimonies and that, for the health of the Church, needs to be rooted out. The events of 2012 are said, in that light, to have been a long overdue step in the right direction.
I’ve never thought of myself as a fundamentalist literalist. (My moral and physical ugliness is accepted dogma in some circles, but I’ll leave it unchallenged for the moment.) It’s true, however, that I do believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that the resurrected Moroni really appeared to the young Joseph Smith. If believing in Christ’s resurrection and in Joseph’s angelophany makes me a fundamentalist and a literalist – the specific person who so describes me explicitly rejects both propositions – I suppose that I’ll have to plead guilty to the charge.
A first final note: One odd fellow, my anonymous Mini-Stalker, who (among many other malicious fictions) claimed for more than a year – demonstrably falsely — to have accompanied me to Israel on a tour while he was serving as a secretly unbelieving bishop and to have personally witnessed my bizarre and ludicrous behavior there, is now publicly but anonymously wagering $1000 that, when the full transcript of Elder Holland’s remarks finally appears, it will demonstrate me to have completely misrepresented what Elder Holland said. Plainly, one of the great advantages of making anonymous bets on a transient message board with nobody in particular is that, while doing so lends specious passing weight to the asserted claim, the person asserting the false claim will never actually be obliged to fork over any money.
A second final note: Some are saying that a new campus building is to be constructed for the Maxwell Institute and that this illustrates the enthusiasm and complete support of the Brethren for the course that the Institute has taken since 2012. Well, let’s not overstate this. The Maxwell Institute has been housed in University buildings for decades, since before it had the name Maxwell Institute and since long before it adopted its new course. (I had an office in its third campus building that I was ordered to clear out and to leave immediately upon my return to the United States from the Middle East in June 2012.) Significantly smaller now than it once was, the Institute has recently been moved to temporary housing in another university building – which is its fourth. And, when the new West View Building is completed, the employees of the Maxwell Institute will be among its various tenants.
A third and final final note: I see that the tiny group of my most obsessive critics is now inventing an entire new narrative in which the Brethren (who seem, in these critics’ minds, alternately to despise and reject me and to regard me as a valuable if sordid weapon against goodness and truth) are now funding Interpreter and directing our every move. Or something like that. If these critics weren’t so predisposed to fantasies and conspiracies and so certain that everything I say is a lie, they could simply ask me questions and I would answer them. I’m a pretty transparent fellow, and I have nothing to hide. But they seem to love the devilry that they’ve invented and ascribed to me and to prefer it to the truth. They’re blissfully happy with it. Thus, at least for now, they apparently can’t be helped.
Posted from somewhere on the Nile north of Aswan, Egypt