As readers here know, for many years I've advocated a more inclusive, open, and candid model for LDS scholarship. Ideally, everyone should be encouraged and enabled to make informed decisions by comparing alternative interpretations of Church history, the teachings of the prophets, and the scriptures.
It seems to me that the ideal way to achieve unity in diversity, and to avoid and eliminate contention, is to seek to understand one another without insisting on conformity to dogma, particularly when the dogma is based on someone's personal interpretations. It is liberating to (i) feel confident and happy with one's own worldview, (ii) be willing and able to share and explain that worldview (give a reason of the hope that is in us), and (iii) not take offense when others disagree or even criticize.
Unfortunately, many (if not most) LDS scholars do not agree. They act as gatekeepers who insist on conformity with their own views. That is an ongoing problem that I attribute to the citation cartel framework they have established. One prominent example is the Interpreter Foundation, the very name of which reflects an assumption of authority by its principals to "interpret" history and doctrine for the rest of us. The editors there have assumed a role reminiscent of the biblical Pharisees known for their "insistence on the validity of their own oral traditions concerning the law."
The name of this blog--Book of Mormon Central America--reflects the sad reality that Book of Mormon Central has chosen to promote its Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory exclusively, thereby excluding alternative faithful interpretations of Church history and the teachings of the prophets. Years ago, when Jack Welch told me he was offended by the name, I explained that I would gladly change the name and even remove the blog from the Internet if he would change his editorial approach by recognizing alternative faithful interpretations of Book of Mormon origins and setting. All I ask is a fair and accurate comparison of the alternatives, including the New York Cumorah.
To this day he has refused to do so. Thus, the blog endures.
Back then, as editor of BYU Studies, Jack used the journal as a vehicle to promote his M2C agenda. After he left, though, BYU Studies has improved significantly. I've discussed this before, such as here:
From time to time, some LDS scholars pay lip service to a more serious approach.
BYU Studies recently released a volume on the Book of Abraham. In the Conclusion, the authors make a statement that, if actually followed by LDS apologists and historians, would mark a sea change for LDS scholarship. Such a paradigm shift would benefit everyone, LDS or not, who is interested in the Restoration. The paradigm shift would also benefit those who read and follow the critics of the Restoration, who adhere just as rigidly to their own critical dogma as does the LDS citation cartel.
Although it should be evident that we tend to favor certain theories over others when it comes to explaining the nature and translation of the Book of Abraham, we do not presume to impose our understanding on others as an article of faith. We are happy to acknowledge that Latter-day Saints can in good faith come to different conclusions about the nature of this book of scripture and “pursue a faithful study of the Book of Abraham from different backgrounds and approaches.” In fact, we welcome these different approaches and encourage a multitude of voices to contribute to the conversation.
Imagine how much healthier LDS scholarship would be if LDS scholars generally, and Jack Welch specifically, adopted such an approach.
We note first that such a declaration probably could not have been published while Jack Welch was editing BYU Studies. For whatever reasons, he has long been opposed to alternative faithful interpretations, and his approach remains in effect at Book of Mormon Central.
We note second that at least one of the authors credited with this paragraph, Stephen O. Smoot, has a well-earned reputation for eagerly and fiercely attacking anyone who reaches different conclusions than his.
Smoot "is currently an adjunct instructor of religious education at Brigham Young University and a research associate with the B. H. Roberts Foundation." We are left to speculate whether this paragraph marks a sea change for him personally, or whether his authorship was attached to this conclusion by accident.
Time will tell on that question.
The larger point is that, with this declaration in BYU Studies, we can hope and expect we are entering a new phase of LDS scholarship that extends beyond the Book of Abraham. Maybe there is a new generation of LDS scholars who are actually "happy to acknowledge that Latter-day Saints can in good faith come to different conclusions about the nature of this book of scripture [and the Book of Mormon] and “pursue a faithful study of the Book of Abraham [and the Book of Mormon] from different backgrounds and approaches."
While we can't hold out much hope for Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FAIRLDS, Meridian Magazine, and other members of the citation cartel, BYU Studies is moving in a positive direction.
Let's all encourage this more diverse and open direction, and let's hope it will break down the walls surrounding the citation cartel.