March 28, 2011

Review: Philip Lindholm- "Latter-day Dissent: At the Crossroads of Intellectual Inquiry and Ecclesiastical Authority"

Title: Latter-day Dissent: At the Crossroads of Intellectual Inquiry and Ecclesiastical Authority
Author: Philip Lindholm
Publisher: Kofford Books
Genre: Religion
Year: 2011
Pages: 236
ISBN13: 9781589591289
Binding: softcover
Price: $24.95

I admit that I was totally out of the loop in September 1993 when a group of intellectuals now referred to as the "September Six" was "officially excommunicated or disfellowshipped from the LDS Church on charges of 'apostasy' or 'conduct unbecoming' Church members" (ix). Granted, I was eleven years old. I've had opportunities over the past few years to hear most of them describe their experiences in various symposia, publications, and youtube videos.1 Despite the availability of many of these stories elsewhere, I was glad to receive an advance reading copy of a forthcoming paperback called Latter-day Dissent: At the Crossroads of Intellectual Inquiry and Ecclesiastical Authority. The book gave me another opportunity to reflect on some of my own questions about circumstances which seem so distant from my own experiences in the Church and from my experiences within Mormon studies (somewhat limited experiences in a broad category, to be sure). I hope it's appropriate to adopt a more personal tone while reviewing a book consisting largely of personal stories.

Philip Lindholm, the book's editor, conducted retrospective interviews with five of the September Six in 2003, ten years after their respective Church disciplinary councils concluded (Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, Paul James Toscano, Maxine Hanks, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and D. Michael Quinn). Avraham Gileadi, the other September Sixer, is a biblical scholar who was subsequently rebaptized into the Church and declined to participate.2 Lindholm adds two more excommunicant interviews (Janice Merrill Allred and Margaret Merrill Toscano) and one interview with Thomas Murphy (an anthropology professor who was nearly excommunicated in 2002), ostensibly to bring the volume closer to the present. The Church's consistent position is typically public silence regarding disciplinary measures imposed upon members. This is the reason I found the epigraph Lindholm uses in the introduction he wrote somewhat ironic: "Audiatur et altera pars. Let the other side also be heard." In this book we hear the side we've been hearing, and we hear the full names of various local authorities who took part in the disciplinary proceedings without hearing from them. Lindholm was, however, able to conclude the book with an interview with Donald B. Jessee, a retired employee of the Church's Public Affairs department, bringing the interview count to nine.

Lindholm structured each interview around a few main themes while allowing for divergences based on where interview subjects led the discussion. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction of the individual and contains several subsections (see APPENDIX I of this review). Under the first subsection, "Excommunication" they relate their memories of being disfellowshipped or excommunicated. Most chapters include a section on "Church Hierarchy and Authority," a section on "Belief and Practice,"3 and a concluding "Reflection." Each interview only takes about thirty minutes to read.

Lindholm mercifully excises the "um's" and "ah's" of the interviews but fails to describe his methodology in polishing and editing.4 An important aspect of such interviews is their liveness; the imprecision and lack of direct quotes are sometimes offset by direct citations Lindholm adds in the footnotes. Cleaning up the transcriptions makes them appear as perhaps being better articulated positions than is sometimes the case, especially because much can shift in a live exposition. While Lindholm may have tried to capture some of this, only two examples stand out.

He introduces Paul Toscano as "a clean-cut, middle-aged man" whose "relaxed demeanor hid the vibrancy I would soon discover in the course of the discussion to follow" (22-23). At one point Toscano interrupts his own line of reasoning to say "I don't want to offend you because you're a very good person, and I'm raising my voice, but I'm so mad" (34). Lindholm tries to recreate the emotion with the editorial insertion of "[weeping]," which simply feels flat as Margaret Toscano describes her sorrow in ceasing to wear LDS Temple garments. Lindholm notes: "[At this point, we took a break]," but the interview in print picks right up; it simply can't carry the weight of video or sound (164).    

Lynn Kanavel Whitesides was the only Sixer who was disfellowshipped instead of excommunicated. Like Margaret, Whitesides falls victim to traps of transcription, as hers is the most uneven interview in the book. On one page she describes a heart-wrenching suicide of an unnamed "friend from California who had nine children" and tried to do "everything the Church asked" until a one-night stand led to a confession to the Bishop, which led to her excommunication and subsequent suicide (17). These are not "Courts of Love," Whitesides concludes. But on the next page she describes her own excommunication as "a kick. It was really fun" (18). It's hard to tell how she went from relating a highly emotional excommunication to fondly recalling her own so quickly. The letter killeth. To be sure, there are always trade-offs with transcriptions. While personality is often best captured in free-flowing interviews, depth is often more elusive. For instance, Whitesides decries LDS prophets this way:

I believe that if the Church was actually receiving revelation then it would open its doors to homeless people, single moms, and people who are in pain. It would become an actual hospital [...] It would stop being a business, stop earning and spending money like it does, stop spending money like it does, stop proselyting like it does, and go help people instead (10-11). 

Lindholm doesn't allow such easy criticism to slip by unchallenged by pointing out that "the LDS Church is one of the world's greatest benefactors, providing humanitarian relief worldwide to Mormons and non-Mormons alike." Whitesides concedes, "but from what I understand there are often strings attached" (11). Thus ends what otherwise might have been an important and substantive discussion about the difficulty of striking a balance between funding a worldwide Church and providing humanitarian outreach including goods and service missionaries. A serious and complex issue being summed up in a few paragraphs of accusatory over-assumptions doesn't make for the sort of reading I'm usually interested in; I can get that for free in the online comments section of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Paul Toscano's interview, like Whitesides's, points to the problem of audience: who is this book trying to reach? Toscano derides LDS prophets whom he asserts are actually "making it all up as they go. It's a lie! You don't tell people whether or not to get tattoos or to use the missionary position [...] What they do is list off a bunch of things that personally offend them because they're old. These men are geriatrics who have forgotten the last time they touched their wives' breasts." Further, Gordon B. Hinckley has never said "one single illuminating statement about the atonement" (33, the interview took place before Hinckley's death in 2008) and certainly can't measure up to Toscano's own expositions, he being "a literary man" (35). By the time Toscano calms down enough to explain that "Mormonism isn't one single thing" and then point out what he liked about the Church, most LDS readers will have been turned off by his earlier flamboyant statements. Of course, his quote in the introduction comparing his disciplinary trial to being "gang-raped by the Care Bears," might have already lost him a few sympathetic ears (xxiv; the quote does not appear in the actual interview transcript).

Contrast Whitesides and Toscano's interviews with Maxine Hanks's, which is more likely to appeal to current students of Mormon studies. "I learned to evolve," Hanks relates of her life after excommunication. "I moved beyond the purge in 1999 when I became clergy [of a Gnostic Christian group] and began interfaith work" (75). Hanks since concluded graduate work in religion at Harvard Divinity School and still occasionally publishes material focusing on Mormon subjects. Like other interviewees she believes excommunication "is a category for criminals, child abusers, rapists, murderers" (62), but not for scholars, whom she believes ought to enjoy more freedom of conscience:

When scholarship differs with Church policy, it puts Church leaders in a bind. Yet scholarship isn't binding on Church members. It has no religious authority. It's secular discourse. So refuting or punishing scholars is unnecessary (58).

Hanks asserts that "the Book of Mormon is valuable for its spiritual messages and resonance...Spiritual experience is captured and recorded in the text, then reproduced in the reader, recreated anew. That's scripture" (72). Lindholm presses her about whether that means the Book of Mormon is literally historical or not but Hanks doesn't see an either/or: "Those who see only the divine voice in scripture miss the human voice, and those who see only human voices miss the divine. Like all scripture, LDS scriptures show the presence of both voices" (73).

The most touching moment in the book for me is Lavina Fielding Anderson's story about her son's Temple marriage. As a non-member Anderson does not have a Temple recommend although she attends Church regularly and believes in the general tenets of Mormonism. As a consequence, Anderson was not allowed to view her son's sealing ceremony. In Temple sealing rooms there are two chairs for the official witnesses on one side of the marriage altar and two chairs traditionally reserved for the mothers on the opposite side. While Anderson waited in the Temple lobby "[my son] asked that my chair stay empty, so there was room for me there" (100). Another interesting excerpt is D. Michael Quinn's discussion of his experience as a homosexual in the Church, which was not discussed in-depth in Lavina Anderson's earlier published essay on Quinn (119-120). Anderson's essay, meanwhile, contains much more about Quinn's Stake President's efforts to meet with Quinn prior to the disciplinary council.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment regarding the book is its failure to situate itself within the context of current Mormon studies. Lindholm recognizes changes fostered by the Internet in making information more easily accessible to members of the Church today and he nods to various recent Ivy League conferences and funded chairs at several graduate schools in the US as signaling more openness (xxiv). Aside from that, he tells a story of two competing movements: the "Correlation" and the "Dialogical" (xiii). He tells the now-familiar story of the rise of the "New Mormon History" which ran parallel to the solidifying of the Church's "Correlation Committee" in 1961. As the story goes, the Church printed white-washed history while scholars printed the truth, until Leonard Arrington and his staff were released and sent to BYU. After various "alternate voices" became more available at conferences like Sunstone and in publications like Dialogue things came to a head in September 1993 when the six scholars were disciplined. How does this narrative account for intellectuals who were not disciplined? Lindholm chalks them up to being victims of consensual censorship while the Six's chief crime was publicly speaking out in a way perceived as too critical of the Church or Church leaders (xx). LDS sociologist Armand Mauss, who incidentally responded to Lavina Anderson at the 2003 Sunstone session on the September Six, is said to have "acknowledged the freedom to publicly dissent, but only at the right times, in the right places, and in the right ways" (xxii).5  

Crucial elements of these interviews seem foreign to my own experiences in Mormon studies and in the Church more generally. Actions of the past reverberate to the present, and Lindholm tried to bridge the twenty-plus year time gap by offering to interview Grant Palmer, a former CES worker who wrote a revisionist account of Church history and was subsuquently disfellowshipped in 2003. Palmer declined to be interviewed,6 so Lindholm turned to Thomas Murphy, an anthropologist who was nearly excommunicated in December 2003 for his statements and publications about DNA and the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Murphy is imprecise; on one page noting that the "genetic evidence clearly refutes the idea that people from the Middle East of any background were the principle ancestors of the American Indians," and later explaining that "science is never proven and you always have to keep other possibilities open" (190-191). Murphy is simply incorrect in claiming that because of him "FAIR and FARMS will now basically acknowledge openly that there is no genetic evidence to support the Book of Mormon [...] They weren't saying that before" (204). First, Mormon scholars who have written on the DNA issue are not simply "acknowledg[ing] openly that there is no genetic evidence to support the Book of Mormon." Murphy frames the circumstance to make his views appear normative and accepted and that other Mormon scholars were compelled by his proofs to accept his conclusions. This simply isn't the case and the articles published around the time of and since Murphy's interview only make this more clear. Second, John Sorenson had published an article on DNA and the Book of Mormon before Murphy's work appeared.7

By the time disciplinary proceedings for Murphy were underway he had already been considering removing his name from the Church records because he disbelieved in the Church's truth claims and wished to avoid conflict. His wife encouraged him "to take a stand. She said, 'Don't make it easy for them,'" so he hoped for a Church trial in order to make a "positive contribution to the Church" presumably by instigating reflection on what it means to be Mormon or by casting doubts on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon (203). Instead, after he sought much publicity, the excommunication proceedings were simply discontinued in 2003 (183). His interview simply fails to bridge the gap for me, not only because I disagree with Murphy's assessment of the situation, but because he doesn't share the fate of the September Six anyway.

Why didn't he? The landscape is more complex than this book depicts. Grant Palmer published a book saying the Book of Mormon is completely a 19th-century production and gets disfellowshipped. Sterling McMurrin believed similar things and David O. McKay defended him.8 Blake Ostler proposed a method of translation whereby Joseph Smith incorporated 19th-century ideas into the Book of Mormon, and does so prior to the September Six excommunications, but remains a member.9 Eugene England sparred with Bruce R. McConkie about whether or not God the Father progresses but doesn't get excommunicated, and even goes on to publish the contested scholarship in BYU Studies after McConkie's death.10 Clearly there must be more to these and other stories.

I hoped Lindholm's interview with Donald Jessee, the former Church Public Affairs employee, would resonate more with my own experiences in the Church but more often Jessee simply confirms some of the problems described in the interviews. The disconnect depicted between the September Six and Jessee embodies Lindholm's narrative: embattled scholars see things one way while outdated, often less educated figures of Church hierarchy see things another way, and they talk right past each other's experiences. For example, Lindholm asks Jessee for a response to criticisms that the Church is sexist because leaders encourage women not to work outside the home while also withholding the priesthood from them. Jessee's reply is curt: "If we're sexist, then God is sexist, because that's his plan" (212).

I took comfort in Jessee's added disclaimer that he is relating his own opinions and not speaking for the Church (208), but I also regretted that the attitude he reflected is more common in the Church than I feel comfortable with. But will this book help things? I'm not sure it can if readers don't have the patience or inclination to separate the wheat from chaff—if they encounter this book at all. As for younger Mormon scholars, they may be too interested in their own areas of research to identify with the September Six as readily as Lindholm might suspect, or at least not for the same reasons he gives. Current up-and-coming Mormon scholars envision new possibilities overshadowing older polemics, hoping that cultural comparisons and interdisciplinary analysis can rise above even the heights of the New Mormon History. The vibrant work seen in the pages of The Journal of Mormon History, in recently released and forthcoming books, and in various graduate schools is missing here, as is the Joseph Smith Papers project, produced under the institutional Church apart from the Correlation committee, with an eye to the finest critical scholarship on the founder of Mormonism. Moreover, Quentin L. Cook, current member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has blogged alongside academic scholars, including Kristine Haglund, current editor of Dialogue, as part of the "Future of Mormonism" series at Patheos.com. Topics in the series include feminism, scholarship, and twenty-first century directions for the Church. Again, this suggests more of a complex story than Lindholm captures (and makes for good reading too!).

Current anxieties existing among practicing Mormon scholars (and to be sure, there remain some anxieties) may simply be exacerbated by the ghosts of the past and these flesh and blood Saints who were surprised to see themselves defined outside of their faith community.11 Questions about the intersection of intellectual inquiry and ecclesiastical authority still deserve exploration. But in Lindholm's approach the new developments in Mormon studies alluded to in his introduction—scholarly conferences, academic chairs and so forth—are basically overshadowed by the events of twenty years past. Consider Patrick Mason, recently named the next Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Mason's perspective on scholarship and the institutional Church is highly relevant to current practicing members of the Church who may feel disconnect between their academic studies and their Church life.12 Oddly enough, the very appearance of Lindholm's book from a publisher (Kofford Books) who publishes works by practicing Mormon scholars like Brant Gardner, Mark Staker and Robert L. Millett, seems to belie aspects of Lindholm's overall narrative.  

To the objection that Lindholm's book simply seeks to give voice to the September Six I would answer that there is already quite a bit of material for us to examine on that score. The book's title implies a wider discussion on the "Crossroads of Intellectual Inquiry and Ecclesiastical Authority," and does not confine things to the September Six. I hoped a new book would add something substantially new to the discussion. At the same time, I'm happy to have read the book. Some of the interviews are quite sympathetic and engaging. They convey very effectively the personal emotions involved in religious exclusion and exploring what it means to be a "Mormon." Personal stories carry power, as members of the Church understand when they bear personal testimonies or do missionary work. In that regard the book can evoke much sympathy and personal reflection.

Ultimately, though, I believe Lindholm comes across more as preaching repentance to the Church than presenting a more detached analysis. He concludes the introduction with vague hopes that the Church will one day cease "enforcing doctrinal conformity in public" and thus allow a "vibrant spiritual community" to flourish (xxv). Of course, leaders in the Church are imperfect people and certainly they are not free from the need for repentance. Further, I'm not personally convinced that excommunication based on published views which differ from official Church positions (especially when including a disclaimer that the person does not speak for the Church) is an optimal resolution. The discontinuance of Murphy's disciplinary council implies that at least some Church leaders tend to agree. Lindholm's hope seems to be that relationships will improve by calling attention to those who are hurting or who have been hurt. At the same time, Latter-day Saint readers might wonder what interests Lindholm brings to the discussion, he not being a member of the Church and presumably having his own questions about the negotiation between religion and scholarship.13 Some such readers might also object to some of the blanket accusations leveled at the Church as a whole. Others might hold up the book as the next piece of definitive evidence that the Church has no room for intellectuals, that Church leaders are oppressive and bent on suppressing the truth. Some leaders might perceive it as the latest in an extended attack on ecclesiastical authority by renegade scholars who want to publicly air dirty laundry.

Overall for myself, I hoped for more analysis than Lindholm provides, or at least a more diverse collection of views. Instead, Lindholm frames this story as a spiritual murder mystery with an ultimate conclusion coming only at the mercy of "the Church" in the distant future, rather than as an ongoing struggle wherein practicing Mormons currently seek to feel at home in the Church and the academy, with their minds as well as their hearts, not forgetting some of the lamentable casualties lost along the way.  



Footnotes: 

1. Unfortunately the book has no bibliography, which would be a really useful tool to help readers locate what's already been said. For instance, youtube videos include "The Mormon September Six, 10 Years After," with Michael Quinn and several others (see the "Related Videos"). Other sources include Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel. The Lord's University: Freedom and Authority at BYU (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 258–301; Richard and Joan Ostling. Mormon America (San Fransisco: HarperOne, 2000), 351–370; "Tidying Up Loose Ends?: The November 2000 Excommunication of Margaret Toscano," 2001 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, Sunstone Magazine; Lavina Fielding Anderson. "DNA Mormon: D. Michael Quinn," in Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters, edited by John Sillitoe and Susan Staker (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 329-363; Anderson, "The Church and Its Scholars: Ten Years After," Sunstone, 128 (July 2003), 13-19; Peggy Fletcher Stack, "Exiles in Zion," Salt Lake Tribune, August 16, 2003; Helen Whitney, Interview with Margaret Toscano for the PBS documentary "The Mormons," 27 January 2006; Terryl L. Givens, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (Oxford University Press, 2007), 226-227. Givens's chapter, which examines the paradox between searching and certainty, faith and the intellect, science and religion, seems a more fruitful and relatable framework for me compared to Lindholm's. 

2. According to Lindholm, Gileadi's lack of response to Lindholm's invitation only demonstrated "the lesson" learned by the rest of the September Six: "The Church insists upon keeping divergent views quiet," so Lindholm concludes: "Gileadi had conformed" (xvi-xvii). Gileadi's translation of the book of Isaish is available at http://www.isaiahexplained.com

3. The subsections were somewhat inconsistent based on the nature of transcribed interviews. Some chapters discussed the status of women in the Church under the subsection of "Belief and Doctrine" whereas others had their own subsections called "The Status of Women in Mormonism." Length did not seem to be a consistent factor in the divisions. Though most interviews cover much of the same topics, single chapter subsections include "Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon" and "Censorship at BYU," see APPENDIX I below.

4. A note at the beginning of Donald B. Jessee's transcript explains that it has been "reviewed, edited, and approved by Mr. Jessee," who also asked to include a disclaimer that his comments do not represent the institutional Church (209).

5. I think Lindholm reads Mauss incorrectly here. Mauss is not acknowledging "the freedom to publicly dissent" as much as he is talking about pragmatic and caring ways in which such dissent might be embodied. Mauss argues that "freedom," if hinging on the american idea of liberty in a democracy, is perhaps not the best model for understanding one's relation to the Church. Lindholm does not include a reference to Mauss's affectionate response to Anderson: "Seeing the Church as a Human Institution," Sunstone, 128 (July 2003), 20-23. Their exchange is good model for disagreeing on certain matters without becoming disagreeable.

6. Palmer has since given multiple interviews about his experiences, most recently he makes brief appearances in "Transitions," a multi-media Evangelical resource produced by the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies seeking to help Mormons transition to Evangelical faith. In May 2006 Palmer also gave an extended interview on the "Mormon Stories" podcast, episodes 30, 31, 32 and 33. See http://mormonstories.org/?p=92.

7. See John L. Sorenson, "The Problematic Role of DNA Testing in Unraveling Human History ," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies vol. 9:2 (2000): 66-74. This is information Lindholm could have included in his footnotes but does not. The Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship has provided an abundance of materials bearing on the question of DNA and the Book of Mormon. In my view these responses adequately overturn Murphy's attempt to discredit the Book of Mormon using DNA research for the present. See Daniel C. Peterson, ed., The Book of Mormon and DNA Research (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2009). More recently, researcher Rodney Meldrum advanced a theory purported to prove the presence of Nephites in America through DNA evidence. Ugo A. Perego (PhD in Human Genetics from the University of Pavia, Italy) responded to the claim and peripherally to Murphy in "The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint," 2009 FAIR Conference, fairlds.org. A succinct summary is Michael R. Ash, "DNA doesn't prove Book of Mormon historicity, either," Mormon Times, 17 May 2010.

8. Gregory A. Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 170-171.

9. Blake Ostler, "The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20:1 (Spring 1987): 66-123.

10. See Eugene England, "Perfection and Progression: Two Complimentary Ways to Talk about God," BYU Studies 29:3 (Summer 1989): 31-49.

11. Surprise is actually one of the interesting contrasts between the September Six versus Margaret Toscano and Thomas Murphy. The former were quite surprised when they or their colleagues were called to trials whereas Toscano saw her excommunication as an overdue extension of 1993 and Murphy hoped for excommunication to bring scrutiny upon the Church.

12. Mason recently discussed his new position at juvenilleinstructor.org: "It was clear from the beginning that in order for the university to sponsor the endowed chair, the person filling the position would have complete academic freedom and not be beholden to the Church or even the foundation. However, the members of the foundation are faithful Saints who care about the Church as well as advancing Mormon studies at Claremont. Their investment in this endeavor is a significant trust that I do not take lightly. Without wanting to sound naive, I am confident—or at least hopeful—that there will not be any significant difficulty in navigating my overlapping identities as a faithful Latter-day Saint and as a serious, credible, even critical scholar," Matthew Bowman, "Patrick Mason answers your questions," 24 March 2011. Because the book was produced earlier, Mason would have been off the radar for Lindohlm, but other engaged Mormon scholars who were practicing their craft in the early 90s would have helped bring the book more balance. Armand Mauss, whose work is quoted by Lindholm, has briefly discussed online the state of Mormon studies and ecclesiastical authority as of 2004. See Greg Call, "12 Questions for Armand Mauss, part one," timesandseasons.org, 26 April 2004. Hot off the press is an essay by Ben of the Juvenile Instructor blog reflecting on recent trends in Mormon scholarship, see "Where Heaven Meets Earth; Or, the Importance of the Joseph Smith Papers," 27 March 2011.

13. The back cover notes that Lindholm obtained a doctorate in philosophical theology from the University of Oxford and several masters' degrees. He is also a musician, and a manager of an international production company called 24/30 Cinema. See http://www.philiplindholm.com/. Lindholm also appears in the anti-Mormon DVD The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon by Joel P. Kramer and Scott R. Johnson (Brigham City, UT: Living Hope Ministries, 2005). There Lindholm appears baffled that evidence of Jesus's mmortal ministry is available in Palestine but he is unaware of any archaeological evidence of a post-mortal visit of Jesus to the New World. Lindholm appears on the youtube version at 40:35, 41:37, 42:30, and 44:12. From 58:48-59:55 he offers his personal testimony regarding faith and scholarship with information not included in this book: "When I Investigated the Mormon faith I did it originally because I wanted to see if it was true. If this was God's real revelation to Joseph Smith I wanted to know about it. And I set time aside, I read the Book of Mormon, I attended Church, I went to classes at the local Institute, I did everything one should do if they wanted to learn more about the Mormon faith, and what I found was that I was growing farther and farther away from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 'Is my faith based upon something historical?' is a very important question to ask. And for me, I found that the more that I've delved into philology and delved into archaeology, and all the historical aspects of the faith and of the text, my faith is only grown stronger and stronger. What we have in our Bible is sufficient for salvation. And so it's important not to be scared of trying to learn more. Because for me I know especially, the more I've learned, the more I've come closer to Jesus Christ." Incidentally, Thomas Murphy also appears in the film. See Brant Gardner's review of the film, "Behind the Mask, Behind the Curtain: Uncovering the Illusion. A review of "The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon," FARMS Review 17/2.


APPENDIX I
Interview Subsections in the Advance Reading Copy

*Whitesides:
-The Excommunication
-The church hierarchy/authority 
-Belief and Doctrine
-The Status of Women in Mormonism
-Reflection

*P. Toscano:
-The Excommunication
-The Church Hierarchy/Authority 
-Belief and Doctrine [talks about status of women in mormonism, not a subsection though]
-Reflection

*Hanks:
-The Excommunication
-The Status of Women in Mormonism
-Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon
-Reflection

*Anderson: 
-The Excommunication
-Church Hierarchy and Authority
-Reflection

*Quinn:
-The Mission
-Censorship at BYU
-The Chase
-The Excommunication
-Apostasy
-Living as a Homosexual in Mormonism
-Reflection

*Allred:
-The September Six
-The Excommunication
-The Church Hierarchy/Authority (note the stylistic divergence)
-Reflection

*M. Toscano:
-The September Six
-The Excommunication
-The Status of Women in the Church
-Reflection

*Murphy:
-Seeds of Doubt and the September Six
-The Research
-The Near-Excommunication
-Apostasy and Doctrine
-Reflection

*Jessee:
-Mormon Identity
-The Status of Women in Mormonism
-Excommunication and Intellectual Freedom

25 comments:

BHodges said...

Tip of the cap to my friend aquinas from thepierianspring.wordpress.com for his suggestions about this review.

dltayman said...

Awesome. I was wondering about this particular title. Thanks for the insightful review.

Justin said...

Is the editor the same Lindholm who appears in the Bible vs. Book of Mormon video?

Christopher said...

Thanks for the review, Blair.

BHodges said...

Justin, good catch. I hadn't made the connection, I haven't seen that DVD in several years. I updated footnote 13 with the requisite info.

Thanks Christopher.

Sione said...

Is there a contrast made by the author or the "Six" between the intellectual climate of the Church then and now? It is my belief that this contrast should be of the utmost importance if the book is going to be relevant in any way to the modern membership.

Big UP!

Sione

BHodges said...

I think Lindholm leaves things up in the air on that question Sione. He nods toward some of the newer developments in Mormon studies, he very briefly talks about a few factors which will lead to further adjustments (like the Internet, access to information, etc.) but he doesn't capture the recent goings-on in Mormon studies at all, really. The internet has allowed for a lot of anonymous fomenting, for example, although some people elect to use their names online even when criticizing or taking issue with various Church positions, etc.

Overall I'm interested in how the events of Sept. 1993 reverberate in scholarship today, because I think they really do, but there is no real analysis of that question in this book, it doesn't seem to be Lindholm's intent. Instead he is giving voice to a few people, including a retired Church employee, and sort of leaving it at that. There is a lot he could have done to look into echoes of Sept. 6. He could have looked at publications on Heavenly Mother stuff then and now, for instance (Kevin Barney had a piece in Dialogue a little while back), or a lot of other things, really. There are just a few thoughts on it. I hope to hear from other folks currently interested in Mormon studies on this review, and on the book itself. People who were aware at the time and people like me who were not.

BHodges said...

Updated the review with Lindholm's testimony from the "Bible vs. BoM" DVD. See footnote 13.

Jorell Young said...

Blair, you are the Mormon Studies Fox Mulder; and your reflections on the books analytics are thorough and dynamic.

I have not read the book, but your review alone made me consider boundaries on my own views that I forgot were there.

I've never quite felt comfortable being challenged in matters of my religion without giving them due diligence; and being lazy will often resort to familiar spiritual trappings rather than take up the challenge.

It's refreshing and inspiring to read your resolute attitude for finding the truth, with no regard for being offended or treating your personal experience as a flower, too delicate to examine.

Thank you, and keep up the good work.

BHodges said...

Thanks Jorell, I really appreciate that bro.

matt b said...

This is interesting. I think it's worth thinking more broadly about some of the issues involved in this period and poking at the assumptions behind common narratives a bit: faith and reason, authority and conscience, and so on. This is one topic in which historical claims lend themselves to interesting theological issues that still, I think, remain largely unexamined.

Jenny said...

Very interesting. I agree, there has to be a lot more we don't know about the Sept. 6's experiences.

WVS said...

Nice analysis and great digging Blair. I agree with Matt b. that there are unexamined issues here.

Don Kauffman said...

Thanks for the review. I appreciated brief overview of the academic landscape within the church, and how it complicates the typical assumptions about the September 6. It’s too bad Lindholm didn’t do the research requisite to ask questions that could’ve furthered the discussion. I would be interested to know why the Sixers think they caught the attention of church leaders, and McMurrin, Ostler & England didn’t. There is a lot to discuss on this topic, and it seems like the book is mostly a missed opportunity to contribute to the discourse.

Anonymous said...

Good review.

In in his selections, and exclusions, his emphasis and neglect, I'm reminded that establishing a paradigm is all about deciding which examples to generalize from. Take a few stories and say, "This sample applies to the culture as a whole. This bit of past illustrates the present. These voices map the territory." I see their experiences as exceptional, rather than general, as distinctive incidents, interesting and instructive, but not typical.

Having lived through that era, what I think of as the Great PR Coup of 93, having met Anderson and M. Toscano, and having heard the rest speak and having read articles and interviews, I do have some personal background for understanding what happened. I've heard and read so much, in fact, that I find the notion of them having been silenced somehow, to be absurd. And Gileadi has let his re-baptism and continued publications speak for him.

I've long thought it fascinating to consider the very different experiences of others passing through the same period, who have written on the same themes, yet who never became lightning rods for controversy or discipline. For instance, besides writings of Allred and Toscano on the Heavenly Mother idea, I've also read important essays by Kevin Barney, Alyson Von Feldt, Daniel Peterson, Eugene Seaich, and have dabbled myself. One very striking different in outcomes is that the latter set of writers did not write speculatively or politically or confrontationally, but rather offered research and contextualization in ancient studies. So none of us got in trouble or were treated like we'd violated some taboo. And criticisms of our work have been offered within the framework of academic debate. The existence of criticism does not mean persecution or silencing. Just discussion.

Kevin Christensen
Pittsburgh, PA

Ben S said...

Excellent review Blair. It doesn't sound like this book moves the ball down the field as much as running around laterally with it.

J. Stapley said...

Strong review, Blair. Thanks.

BHodges said...

Thanks Kevin. On the "silence" issue, reading this book highlighted the concept of what it means to be a "Mormon," or a member of the Church, a Latter-day Saint, etc. When it came to the Sept. 6 it seems to me they believed they could be safe to offer various perspectives, criticisms, etc. from the inside while maintaining that Mormon identity. Most of the interviews includes a side-discussion of that question, some of them distinguishing between "Mormon" and "LDS," pointing to cultural considerations, etc. I plan to do a blog post at faithpromotingrumor about what it means to be a "Mormon," the cultural baggage/prestige along with it, and they way it intersects with formal action like Church discipline.

Thanks Ben and J. Stapley, I appreciate the comments.

BHodges said...

Don: I suspect if those other folks caught the attention of Church leaders we just don't know about it. I know Ostler sat down with Elder Maxwell at least once and talked about some philosophy or theology, which Ostler has written about somewhere. It would be interesting to look at his experience and circumstances compared to some of these.

matt b., I agree that this stuff remains largely unexamined, and partly because we're still living it I think.

Jared T. said...

Thanks for the review, Blair.

Mormon Heretic said...

Very interesting review Blair! Thanks for letting me know about it.

Philip Lindholm said...

Thanks for your thoughtful review, Blair. Your insights and criticisms alike are well taken. Continue the discussion. It's one worth having.

BHodges said...

Thanks Philip, and best wishes for your future projects.

Dave said...

BHodges, nice review. I don't know how I missed this the first time around -- I followed the link here from Mormon Heretic's recent review.

I think the September Six is a story that's here to stay. I expect that a book titled "The September Six: Fifty Years After" will be pubished in 2043.

Blair Hodges said...

Update: Maxine Hanks was rebaptized last year.

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/54514350-80/church-excommunicated-faith-hanks.html.csp

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