For those of you who may not already know, during the last few months there has been a bit of an intellectual brawl going on among a handful of influential Mormon academics. The most recent verbal scuffles have revolved around significant changes at BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, formerly known as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).
I may make some observations about the Maxwell Institute controversies in a future post, but today I have some thoughts related to a specific essay by one of the contributors to the recent debates:
Brother David Bokovoy is a brilliant young professor of languages and literature with a speciality in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. On December 26th, he published a blog post entitled “How to Save LDS Youth in a Secular Age“.
He begins his essay relating an experience in which he attended a presentation for those involved in teaching LDS youth.
According to Bokovoy’s account, drawing upon the 2nd epistle of Peter in the New Testament as his text, the presenter encouraged the teachers to help the students “avoid the cunningly devised fables that often appear online and instead rely upon the prophets of Jesus Christ, who like Peter himself, are witnesses of Christ’s divinity”. The presentation concluded by citing two LDS historians who had asserted that they had “never learned anything in their studies that had ever caused them to have doubts that Joseph Smith was a true prophet”.
At the end of the presentation, Brother Bokovoy engaged with the presenter to express an alternative, dissenting approach:
“I’m not convinced that when LDS youth face challenges due to information they’ve learned through the internet that in most instances they’re struggling with ‘fables.’ What they’re mostly struggling with are fact; facts like Joseph Smith really did marry very young women and other men’s wives, or that Brigham Young was married to as many as 55 women, or that biblical scholars universally recognize that the author of 2 Peter wasn’t, in fact, Peter, an eyewitness to Jesus’ life and teachings.”
“Instead of worrying about fables, I believe that we need to do a better job helping our students process challenging facts into their religious convictions. I believe we need to alter our approach and stop giving students the impression that there is never any good reason to doubt or question their faith. Instead, we need to help students incorporate questioning as a meaningful contribution to a spiritual journey. We need to stop creating the crisis.”
Now, I actually agree with some of what Brother Bokovoy is saying here. We do need to help youth and young adults incorporate challenging facts in ways that are consistent with faith. But there are some very troubling things about Bokovoy’s assertions that deserve more careful analysis and consideration by faithful members and scholars. Continue reading