On “the arrogance of the intellectuals behind the Interpreter.”

On “the arrogance of the intellectuals behind the Interpreter.” June 12, 2019


Tom Lovell's Moroni with the plates
Moroni buries the plates of the Book of Mormon in a hill near modern-day Palmyra, New York
(Tom Lovell, LDS.org)


Jonathan Neville, a prominent and extremely vocal advocate of the “Heartland model” of Book of Mormon geography, has taken aim at the Interpreter Foundation, of which I’m the president, and against those involved with it in a new entry on his blog.


“[T]he very name,” he says, “reflects the arrogance of the intellectuals behind the Interpreter.”


And he puts us in our religious-historical context, too:


“In Jesus’ day, the scribes and pharisees [sic] claimed the right to interpret the scriptures for everyone.  They were the ‘Interpreters.’  Today, those involved with the Interpreter (and their interlocking affiliates FairMormon and Book of Mormon Central) claim that right.”


I have to quibble just a bit here, though:  I don’t know of anybody involved with the Interpreter Foundation or with FairMormon or with Book of Mormon Central who “claims the right to interpret the scriptures for everyone.”


We do, of course, have a perfect right — as does Jonathan Neville, who regularly and publicly exercises it — to express our opinions about scriptural interpretation.  But we claim neither the right nor the authority to “interpret the scriptures for everyone” in the place of the prophets and apostles called by God to lead his restored Church.


“They even claim,” declares Brother Neville, referring yet again to those of us at Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, and FairMormon, “[that] they are above criticism because they have been hired by the prophets to guide the Church.”


Now, I have to admit that I’ve never heard any of us claim to “have been hired by the prophets to guide the Church.”


Nor have we been “hired by the prophets.”  And, once again, we assert no right “to guide the Church.”


We also don’t believe ourselves to be in any way “above criticism” — criticism is one of the means by which progress is made in scholarly discussions — though, obviously, we hope that any criticisms directed against us will be civil, thoughtful, and fair.


“They brag about their “close relationships’ with the Brethren, their financial support, and their overall influence over employees at BYU, CES, and COB (Church Office Building).”


I have, on the whole, tried hard not to cite relationships, close or otherwise, with the Brethren.  I don’t boast about financial support, from the Brethren or from anybody else, though I do freely acknowledge the fact that we need donations in order for Interpreter to continue to exist and to thrive.  Nor do I claim, let alone boast of, any particular influence over people at Brigham Young University, the Church Educational System, or the Church Office Building.  I’m sure that we have some influence with some folks in those three organizations, and that we have little or no influence with many.


I’m saddened by such posts as this one from Jonathan Neville.  I’m all for substantive discussion and debate, but, from the start, I’ve objected to the tendency on the part of at least some Heartland advocates to brand those who fail to agree with them as, effectively, opponents of the living prophets.  That’s unjust, it’s divisive, and it’s profoundly uncivil.  It’s essentially a charge of apostasy.  Such accusations should not be lightly made.



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