Thursday, June 30, 2022

Under the Banner of the Interpreter, episode 3

By publishing two lengthy articles written by a Book of Mormon Central researcher, the Interpreter has opened the door to a discussion about the state of LDS apologetics today, particularly in the citation cartel. First, we'll look at the authors of these articles, then the ringleaders that enable and encourage them. 

Since the days when FARMS disintegrated, the principals have learned a lot about how to manage perceptions. Their overall agenda hasn't changed--they promote M2C and SITH more stridently all the time--but they now have multi-million dollar budgets funded by donors who have little idea of what's going on. The principals have set up a clever facade of interlocking organizations that have different logos but a unified determination to impose their opinions through censorship and sophistry. 

I assume all the apologists are wonderful, faithful, dedicated Latter-day Saints. I also assume they are capable of changing course and adopting a more productive approach. Whether they will is up to them, of course. I'm optimistic and hopeful that things will improve, but I'm realistic enough to know that problems don't get solved until they are recognized and addressed.* 

Thus, none of this is an "ad hominem" argument. "Ad hominem is a logical fallacy that involves a personal attack: an argument based on the perceived failings of an adversary rather than on the merits of the case." Here, we focus on the merits. For good examples of ad hominem arguments, see articles published by the Interpreter.

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Maybe it's inevitable that a small group of scholars united under the banner of the Interpreter, with the byline "Supporting The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through scholarship," would conflate their personal opinions with the doctrines and beliefs of the Church they purport to support. 

Most Latter-day Saints ignore these foolish antics of the apologists in the citation cartel. We go about our business, helping our fellow Latter-day Saints and our local communities, attending the temple, teaching classes and serving missions, and generally rejoicing in living the gospel on a daily basis. We support our Church leaders and still believe what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said.

But we all know people in our wards and families and among our friends who have lost, or are losing, their faith because of the style and substance of the LDS intellectuals who have appointed themselves as the experts everyone is supposed to defer to. Because some of them are employed by BYU or work for the Church in another capacity, they seem to think they have been hired by Church leaders to "interpret" for other Latter-day Saints. Thus, in their view, if you disagree with them (especially if you offer a faithful interpretation of Church history that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught instead of M2C and SITH), you are an apostate--according to them.

It's a fascinating development. People both inside and outside the Church cannot understand why LDS apologists turn on their own. Many choose not to affiliate with the Church as a result.

The need for a course correction is apparent to everyone--except the scholars who have caused these problems in the first place. Or, if they are aware of the problem, maybe they just need a nudge.

Let's hope.

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For example, since the inception of the Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central, the growth of the Church has steadily declined. 

(click to enlarge)

Correlation is not necessarily causation, of course, and there are many factors involved with Church growth, but anyone who is active on social media (particularly English-language social media) knows that LDS apologists are flailing in comparison to the critics. 

The chart includes the Philippines and Africa, where most of the growth of the Church occurs today. Those areas are much different from the U.S., where LDS apologetics and critics battle it out and Church growth is far less. In 2020-2021, Church membership actually declined in 21 states in the U.S., plus the District of Columbia.* 

Recently, the Australian government released 2021 census data showing only 57,868 people self-reported as Latter-day Saints, compared with the Church's published figures of 155,383. Fifteen years ago, in 2006, 53,100 Australians self-reported as Latter-day Saints.

In light of these and related outcomes, many of us are perplexed at the way our LDS apologists are doubling down on their theories, including in particular those which directly impact the keystone of our religion; i.e., M2C and SITH. Critics use SITH as one of their main tools to lead people to question their faith, following the model set out in 1834 in Mormonism Unvailed.  We'll look at examples in a future episode.

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I've mentioned that I've been working on a book on LDS apologetics and apologists. Certainly the citation cartel has provided a lot of material. However, life is short--there is lots of golf to be played--and the record is public, so everyone can see what is happening. By now most people in and out of the Church realize that our apologists have led their followers into a dead end, both in style and substance.

Social media abounds with content that relies on the work of our LDS apologists to undermine and destroy faith. Two of the most popular critics are the CES Letter and Mormon Stories, both of whom happily and eagerly refer their audience to the work of the citation cartel.

Under the banner of the Interpreter, FAIRLDS, Book of Mormon Central, and the rest of the citation cartel, many Latter-day Saints experience a faith crisis. Lapsed apologists are active on social media, pointing out the logical and factual fallacies of their former colleagues.

At the same time, the citation cartel aggressively attacks faithful Latter-day Saints who don't accept either their style or their substance. In particular, there are still some Latter-day Saints who believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim. But, according to the citation cartel, such beliefs amount to apostasy.

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There are two men who could single-handedly correct the problems they've generated, but they refuse to do so: Dan Peterson and John W. (Jack) Welch. They run the Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central, respectively. 

They have done some top-notch research and teaching, with many years of experience and extensive contacts throughout the Church. They have millions of dollars at their disposal and hundreds, if not thousands, of devoted followers. In a sense, they are "untouchable." 

I've mentioned them before. Dan takes personal offense, as he has throughout his career, which may explain why he loves Peter Pan so much (see below). Ironically, the week before posting the two acrimonious, contentious articles by Brother Kraus, Dan published an article about avoiding contention! His article included this passage:

Here at the Interpreter Foundation, we seek to comment upon, advocate, defend, and commend the scriptures, doctrines, and claims of the Restoration. We do so strongly, and with commitment. Sometimes even (or so we imagine!) with wit. We don’t back down from what we’re convinced is true, good, and beautiful. But we also try to do what we do honestly, calmly, and with charity. Without cruelty or anger or malice. We would have little claim to be disciples of the Savior if we didn’t make a serious effort to behave as he has asked us to behave.

Compare that to the rhetoric in Brother Kraus' articles. 

Unlike Dan, Jack personally exemplifies the aspiration that Dan articulated above. I like Jack personally and greatly respect much of his work. Although I can't understand his obsession with M2C and SITH, I'm fine with him believing whatever he wants.

What I don't agree with is the way he imposes his beliefs on others through Book of Mormon Central (see below).

To repeat, now that they've opened the door, it's time to take a closer look, starting with their followers who wrote the two articles.

We'll discuss Dan and Jack in a future post.

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To begin, I don't know any of these authors/contributors personally. I assume they're all fine, devout, committed Latter-day Saints, great people, etc. Their personal animus is inexplicable to me, but that's the nature of modern LDS apologists. They take personal offense at every opportunity, even when (maybe especially when) no offense is intended. It's very strange not just to me but to outside observers.

Author Spencer Kraus is a student at Brigham Young University majoring in Computer Science and minoring in modern Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern Studies. He works with Book of Mormon Central as a research associate and also as a research assistant for Lincoln Blumell studying early Christianity and the New Testament. https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/author/spencerk/?journal

Undoubtedly, Brother Kraus, like the others, is a fine, devout, committed Latter-day Saint, a great person, etc. Nevertheless, as a research associate with Book of Mormon Central, Brother Kraus naturally (and necessarily) follows the direction of his leaders in the organization, as is evident from his articles. His bio doesn't reveal whether he is a volunteer or paid employee, but either way, he has to toe the party line or he couldn't work there.

I'm hearing complaints about Brother Kraus, but we can't blame him. Under current conditions, any Latter-day Saint who wants to engage in the intellectual defense of the Church has no alternative but to work for the citation cartel, which means supporting M2C and SITH. 

With a multi-million dollar budget, Book of Mormon Central is the largest employer of LDS intellectuals--particularly students who aspire to emulate their mentors. 

M2C is in the DNA of Book of Mormon Central. Its logo originated with the M2C-promoting FARMS and incorporates M2C. 

Its management vigorously refuses to recognize faithful Latter-day Saints who don't accept M2C. It shuns them as though they don't exist. Naturally, any prospective scholar seeking employment must agree.

Book of Mormon Central produces media, websites, and apps designed to promote M2C and SITH in competition with the Church's materials. For example, they developed the ScripturePlus app that competes with Gospel Library to promote its M2C ideology with appealing graphics and interactive features.

While the English-language website of Book of Mormon Central professes to follow the Church's policy of neutrality on issues of Book of Mormon geography, its Spanish-language website features an elaborate interactive map that promotes M2C and touts the expertise and credentials of its originators.

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2021/11/bmc-in-spanish-vs-english.html

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Brother Kraus provided this Author's Note at the end of his articles that identifies four individuals/groups who helped him.

[Author’s Note: I would like to thank Mike Parker and Gregory L. Smith for reviewing an earlier draft of this review and offering helpful suggestions, as well as my other family and friends (especially my father) who helped edit and offer clarifying remarks. I would also like to thank the pseudonymous “Peter Pan” who offered encouragement as I wrote this review.]

Mike Parker is a host of the Interpreter's Radio Show, a contributor to FAIRLDS, and a long time promoter of M2C and SITH. We discussed Gregory L. Smith previously (he's the one whose 2010 article about John Dehlin apparently led to Dan Peterson's dismissal from Mormon Studies Review), but here's another example of what he's written that sounds great but isn't followed in practice at the Interpreter:

Should apologists for Mormonism (and apologists for Mormon Stories) refrain from ad hominem and gratuitous personal attacks? Unquestionably. But, any such problem at FAIR or the late Mormon Studies Review is and was not present in the vast majority of their published materials. Even its occasional existence would not be license to ignore everything else that the maligned apologist group says, does, writes, or publishes.

Page 20, https://interpreterfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SMITH2-Return-of-the-Unread-Review.pdf

Brother Kraus' unnamed "other family and friends (especially my father)" are undoubtedly all awesome people, faithful Latter-day Saints, etc. How that explains (or justifies) their contributions to these articles is unknowable.

Peter Pan is a good example of the worst of LDS apologetics, which may explain why he's also a favorite of Dan Peterson's. He's basically Dan's alter ego, given how frequently Dan refers his readers to Peter's work. 

I've had people tell me Peter Pan's identity, but I respect his wish to remain anonymous because what better better epitome could there be of the worst of LDS apologetics than an individual (or group) so ashamed by his (their) work that he (they) remains anonymous while publishing a blog named after their chosen nemesis? 

Even better, that blog is a tutorial on logical and factual fallacies. 

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In a way, Peter Pan symbolizes one of the serious problems at FAIRLDS and Book of Mormon Central. With the Interpreter, at least people own their work. Brother Kraus, in this case, takes responsibility for his work (although he lays off some of the blame on others in the guise of credit.)

At FAIRLDS and Book of Mormon Central, most material is published anonymously. For example, unsuspecting readers don't know that Jack Welch writes, edits and/or approves all of the "Kno-Why" articles. That way, Brother Welch can convey whatever messages he wants without taking responsibility for them. 

He remains "above the fray" by hiring employees to promote his M2C and SITH agendas on social media and to attack fellow Latter-day Saints who disagree with those agendas, all the while keeping his hands clean in the view of the public.

This "plausible deniability" tactic allows a Book of Mormon Central researcher (Brother Kraus in this case) to publish misleading, angry reviews in the Interpreter to prop up M2C and SITH, while Jack avoids responsibility and his donors remain oblivious to what is going on.

Likewise at FAIRLDS, contributors remain anonymous to avoid responsibility (including possible career damage) for their work. 

While I agree with the concept of focusing on facts and interpretations instead of people, that only works when everyone leaves people out of the conversation. But, as these articles demonstrate, the citation cartel has a long reputation for focusing on people instead of issues. 

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There is much more that could be written about the citation cartel. 

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See below for a list of states and the District of Columbia ranked in order by biennial membership growth rate for the two-year period of 2020 and 2021. The biennial membership growth rate is reported because the Church did not publish state-by-state membership statistics for the year 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 10 states with the most members in this list are indicated in italics:

South Dakota 6.48%
Arkansas 5.32%
Tennessee 4.79%
Missouri 3.93%
South Carolina 3.73%
Kentucky 3.32%
Oklahoma 3.20%
Alabama 2.86%
North Carolina 2.74% 
Florida 2.68%
Texas 2.48%
Idaho 1.98%
Wisconsin 1.68%
Utah 1.66%
Montana 1.46%
Mississippi 1.33%
New Hampshire 1.07%
Kansas 0.86%
Vermont 0.69%
Indiana 0.66%
Ohio 0.61%
Georgia 0.57%
Rhode Island 0.56%
Arizona 0.40%
Maine 0.26%
Virginia 0.26%
Michigan 0.25%
Iowa 0.24%
West Virginia 0.21%
New Jersey -0.03%
Louisiana -0.13%
Nebraska -0.17%
Hawaii -0.20%
Maryland -0.23%
District of Columbia -0.25%
Pennsylvania -0.27%
Massachusetts -0.39%
Wyoming -0.41%
New York -0.51%
New Mexico -0.56%
Illinois -0.62%
Delaware -0.69%
Alaska -0.73%
Colorado -1.00%
Nevada -1.16%
Minnesota -1.24%
Oregon -1.56%
Connecticut -2.01%
Washington -2.03%
North Dakota -2.28%
California -2.84%



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