Thus far, four (very) different people have written to tell me that I’ve come under rather sharp criticism today on a podcast by a well-known professional ex-member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At least two of them judge me to be guilty, to deserve the attack.
My understanding is that the criticism primarily stems from my alleged involvement in a video or series of videos, put out wholly or in part under the auspices of FairMormon, that many people, both faithful members of the Church and critics of the Church, seem to have found distasteful and inappropriate. I haven’t listened to the podcast in which I’ve come under fire, and I probably won’t. But I’m told that, among other additional things, it also faults me for taking cruises and for spending $1M a year on “other expenses.”
I’ve been challenged to provide a “rebuttal.”
I’ve decided to do so, and to make it fully public.
I’ll respond separately to the three different criticisms, as I understand them
First, with respect to my alleged lavish spending, my rebuttal is quite simple: I don’t have $1M annually to spend on “other expenses.” (Wouldn’t it be nice to have such money?)
I expect that that figure stems from a garbled misunderstanding of the $1.5M or so that we’ve raised and mostly already spent on the Interpreter Foundation’s Witnesses film project. Not annually, but in total.
The suggestion that I spend a million dollars each year on vague “other expenses” may possibly be intended to portray me as corrupt. However, my personal finances are entirely above board, as are those of the film project, and I have received and will receive no salary or commission from the Witnesses project and no share of any profit that it might perhaps make.
Second, with regard to going on cruises: I actually haven’t done many cruises. Most of my trips are land tours. But we won’t quibble. At least once each year for roughly the past decade and a half — in normal years (which is to say in years that aren’t 2020) — I’ve accompanied tours to Israel, and a number of times to other places (e.g., Egypt and/or Jordan, as well as Peru, Greece, England, the Baltics, etc.) for the Cruise Lady company. I suppose that I’ve been asked to do so because, in the possibly flawed judgment of the company, I add value (e.g., provide decent commentary and/or attract customers) to the enterprise. Typically, my accompaniment of these tours has had, and continues to have, no connection whatever with the Interpreter Foundation. I’m not paid for accompanying these tour groups, but the company picks up my food and lodging and travel expenses for doing so. To put it another way, I don’t profit from these trips, but I also don’t go too deeply into debt on account of them.
My principal motivation for doing these tours is that I love the places to which I take people, and I love to talk and to teach about them. That’s it. I could make much more money by staying home and working as a greeter at Walmart or, for that matter, by setting up a twenty-five-cent-per-cup curbside lemonade stand in front of my house.
If the plan was ever for these trips to make me rich, it doesn’t appear to be working especially well. President Dallin Oaks tells a story about a couple of farmers who raise watermelons for sale. They figure that the melons cost them a dollar each to raise and drive them to market, so they sell them for a dollar per melon. At the end of a year, they find that they’ve made no profit. “Plainly,” they decide, “we need a bigger truck.”
That pretty well sums up my illustrious and lucrative career as an international travel guide.
And now — third — on to the controversial video series, which was apparently created by Kwaku El and one or two associates of his and which has some sort of affiliation, in whole or in part, with FairMormon:
The most salient fact is that I’m no longer on the board of FairMormon. I haven’t been on the FairMormon board for a couple of years, or thereabouts. I’m now an “advisor,” although, to the best of my recollection, I haven’t yet been asked to offer any advice.
This is not, however, because I’ve had any “falling out” with the leadership of FairMormon. My relationships with them are still very good. (I’ve seen baseless and false suggestions to the contrary already today). In my capacity as president of the Interpreter Foundation, I meet with them and with the leaders of Book of Mormon Central and the More Good Foundation once a month to discuss issues of common interest. (These videos never came up, by the way. The Interpreter Foundation has absolutely no connection with them.)
I played no role in approving the video project. I was not consulted about it or them.
I have had nothing whatever to do with the videos. At any stage. I have nothing to do with them now.
In fact, I had never heard of the videos until this little controversy flared up over the past day or two.
I still haven’t seen the videos and I probably won’t see them. I know about them only what I’ve seen online, and I’m not sure how far to trust even that.
But I have no desire at all to watch them. I don’t watch or listen to many podcasts or videos generally. I rarely have the time. And, from what I’ve heard and read about them, these videos simply aren’t my style.
So, bottom line, what is my connection to these recent videos? I have no connection to them. None.
I apologize to all of those who eagerly hope that I will prove myself to be corrupt, mercenary, hypocritical, and mean-spirited. I’m sorry to have let you down yet again. I’m also sorry that that podcaster evidently felt the need to publicly malign me on the basis of little or nothing. It’s a pity that he didn’t behave more responsibly.