2023 was the 10th anniversary of the Faith Crisis study and the ensuing Gospel Topics Essays that have promoted SITH (the stone-in-the-hat narrative) and have given critics plenty of material.
Former and non-LDS critics. In my book The Rational Restoration I included a section on apologetics.
There is a lively ongoing series of debates and podcasts about topics related to the Restoration, with perspectives varying widely. People are easily confused by the back-and-forth because most parties avoid the simple principles of clarity, charity and understanding.
I like to think everyone is trying to make the world a better place, and I hope that will lead more people to seek clarity, charity, and understanding.
But we also must deal with the real world.
I assume people are acting in good faith (charity), but in my view, much of the debate is driven by economics and academic pride. People make money doing popular podcasts. The so-called "Grievance Grifters" elicit disgruntled members, former members, and former critics to come on the podcasts and tell their stories. The more sensational the stories (and the titles), the more money the podcasters can make.
The stories typically follow a standard format. Someone is disturbed by reading a version of Church history that contradicts what they have believed, or someone was mistreated by another Church member(s). The grievance grows into an interesting narrative that becomes the topic for a podcast.
Mistreatment is endemic in human society, of course. Wherever I've traveled in the world, I've observed grievance grifters that profit from the misfortunes of others, whether religious, political, interpersonal, familial, socio-economic, or otherwise. None of this is new or unusual. I think the Church offers an exemplary program and setting to alleviate the incidence and impact of mistreatment, but human nature being what it is, problems persist. So there is plenty of material for the grievance grifters.
With regard to Church history problems, the sources and solutions are more easily defined.
In the book I discussed the background of the Faith Crisis study and the Gospel Topics Essays. Essentially, the Faith Crisis study, spearheaded by John Dehlin, claimed there was a "gap" between traditional Church teachings about history and the "actual" history. A principal "gap" was between the narrative that Joseph translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates (as he always said) and the narrative from others that he actually put a stone in a hat and read the words which appeared on the stone.
Anyone can read the faith crisis study here:
It was a clever play. Dehlin produced the study, then certain LDS scholars wrote the Gospel Topics Essay on translation which doesn't even quote what Joseph and Oliver said but instead gives credence to their detractors, and then Dehlin and other non-LDS critics use the Gospel Topics Essay to create doubt and undermine faith, using the tactics they learned from the Faith Crisis study.
As if that's not bad enough, even faithful LDS quote the Gospel Topics Essays as if they supersede the scriptures, the teachings of the prophets, and authentic historical documents.
Which leads to the second category.
The reframe that I propose reinterprets all the historical sources to support and corroborate what Joseph and Oliver always said. IOW, I propose that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates to translate the engravings. Not only did he (and Oliver) always declare that, but this is the most parsimonious explanation for the Book of Mormon. Plus. Joseph as actual translator explains the so-called anachronisms and other "problems" that critics such as the CES Letter rely upon.
The problem: my reframe contradicts the teachings of certain LDS scholars, particularly those involved with the Gospel Topics Essays and their peers.
Consequently, some of them have apparently become offended because I criticized their work in the process of offering the faith-affirming reframes.
I'm happy to engage anyone on any topic because I value clarity, charity and understanding. I don't refuse to talk with people. I don't refuse to meet people. I personally like the LDS scholars and intellectuals I've met, as well as the critics. It is interesting to learn how and why people think the way they do.
I'm told that my training and experience as a lawyer has conferred an element of detachment that makes it easy for me to separate ideas from personal life. I'm happy to change my mind in the face of a better argument and/or new information and I don't feel threatened by disagreement. However, apparently that's not the case for others.
Academics and intellectuals apparently are notorious for "owning" their own research and conclusions, to the point they feel personally threatened if their ideas are challenged or rejected.
I'm hoping that in 2024 and moving forward, everyone, including critics and faithful LDS, will incorporate the principles of clarity, charity and understanding to achieve the "no more contention" described in Mosiah 1:1.
And here: www.nomorecontention.com
But because this is a retrospective on 2023, we need to document a bizarre development during the year.
One unique aspect of the Restoration is the concept of vicarious ordinances for those who have died.
One of my critics applied this principle to apologetics by getting offended on behalf of other scholars. He was vicariously offended.
He used the pseudonym of Peter Pan and wrote what is apparently an extensive blog criticizing my work. People told me about it, so I read a post a few years ago and thought it was so ridiculous and juvenile it wasn't worth the time to respond.
People also related their suspicions about the identity of Peter Pan but I didn't care because the pseudonym seemed apt to me: a boy who refused to grow up writes a goofy blog. I figured the whole thing would blow away.
But one prominent LDS scholar promoted the blog. Then, in 2023, the identity of Peter Pan was exposed. I offered to take him to lunch to get to know one another, but he refused, apparently because he was offended by something. A grown-up man wouldn't have refused, so I figured he was living up to the pseudonym.
I asked AI about grown men wearing a Peter Pan suit and got this:
It turned out that the situation was even more absurd than this image.
The individual and his friends had created yet another false identity, this time a fictious Black Latter-day Saint commentator. It's a complicated story that was the subject of a podcast or two, so I blogged about the whole thing here:
There were also reports that the person who created "Peter Pan" had entered a pawn shop seeking one of the prominent non-LDS critics.
I asked AI about it and got this:
I won't venture to discuss the psychology behind all of this, but here are some of the graphics from the podcast that explain the situation.
Prominent LDS apologists in the citation cartel
who promoted the "Peter Pan" charade
(click to enlarge)