Friday, September 24, 2021

The Sorry and Sad Decline of BYU Studies

By Dennis B. Horne

            Since Jack Welch left his post as editor and Steven Harper took over, we have seen a steady decline in the quality and soundness and strength of BYU Studies Quarterly. BYU Studies has long had a deserved reputation for strong academic rigor beautifully blended with belief and faith and loyalty. While there were occasional exceptions, this has long been mostly true. I think Jack Welch is largely creditable for that former success. Sure he made some mistakes and poor decisions at times, but by and large he did a great job for three decades plus selecting strong pieces for publication therein.

            Then Welch retired and someone made the decision to replace him with an unorthodox liberal, Steven Harper. (I wonder if it was the same person who made the decision to destroy NAMI by hiring a liberal unorthodox director for that formerly fine organization.) Since then, clue after hint after shout have now arisen that BYU Studies has gone into a sharp decline in quality and doctrinal soundness. This has been a result of BYU’s highly public troubles with their poor administration hiring liberal activist (even some dissident) faculty and staff.

            Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has twice gone to BYU in the last five years to rebuke and correct erring administration, faculty, and staff. They seem deaf to his message and continue pouring out publications that do not reflect the teachings of their sponsoring institution well, sometimes outright contradicting gospel truths and foundational events.

            But in this case we are specifically looking at BYU Studies, that Steven Harper is subtly sabotaging with unorthodox liberal paper selections and publishing (and guest editor selection—unorthodox liberals like Terryl Givens and Ben Spackman).

            So what are the hints and shouts found in recent issues that unmistakably portray this decline?

 

- A book review in issue 60:2 that lauds and applauds a couple of books written by a dangerous dissident historian that denigrate President Ezra Taft Benson’s life and teachings. These books label him an “ultra” conservative that spouted political rhetoric instead of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Church and acting as an inspired watchman on the tower. I am a student of Pres. Benson’s life and teachings, and while it is true that he became somewhat obsessed with Communism and was told by the First Presidency to back off it in speeches or be dropped from the Quorum, by and large his teachings, from the beginning of his apostleship to his death, were inspired, truthful, prophetic, and best of all, what the Lord wanted said to the Saints.

            Many of Elder Benson’s 1960s and 1970s general conference addresses are almost more applicable today than the day they were given, containing warnings for that day that also fit our later day like a glove. He came in his true identity as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and warned the Church of the evils of the world as the true and authorized prophet of God. If one digs, one can find a few extremist discourses relating to some political matters, but those are the exception, not the rule, and are not what most church members are familiar with or have access to.

            Liberals today (like Matt Harris) try to paint Pres. Benson as a racist and (again) as a runaway ultraconservative extremist that tried to lead the Church into his own (somehow evil) political views. This is absurd nonsense. This great Apostle received revelation, lead a clean, upright and moral life, was highly thought of by most, including some political enemies, and did a great work for both his church and government. (See what Pres. Hinckley had to say about Pres. Benson here.) Shame on those who say otherwise and on BYU Studies for publicizing and commending their slander. What they are attempting to do is this: by making Elder Benson’s politics look scary, to thereby marginalize and weaken his gospel teachings. I hope it won’t work.

 

- Issue 60:1 has a few really poor articles. “Event or Process?: How “the Chamber of Old Father Whitmer” Helps Us Understand Priesthood Restoration” is a false title in the first place. It is not an “or” proposition. The restoration is a combination of events that taken together became a process (or sequence of restoration events). It is an “and” proposition. The author of this piece uses the false conclusions of another mistaken author, Jonathan Stapley, to reach further erroneous conclusions about the priesthood. The priesthood is what the scriptures and the prophets and apostles say it was and is, not what some alleged historian’s book says it is. Anyone that piggybacks off Stapley’s interpretive blundering will reach their own false conclusions. No!, there is no such thing as a “Cosmological” priesthood, and Stapley doesn’t get to define priesthood (wrongly) for the Church. There have been many apostles and prophets that have already defined the priesthood (correctly) and I encourage all to stay with their definitions and teachings on the subject, instead of looking to imperfect and incomplete historical research and problematic and erroneous conclusions found in BYU Studies or elsewhere (like Stapley’s book).

            All priesthood was restored by Peter, James, and John to Joseph and Oliver. After that, further keys or rights of directing (presidency) and specific work or usages were restored on subsequent specific occasions. President Joseph F. Smith was so strong on that point. So first the complete priesthood itself, and then rights and authorization regarding how and when and where it could be used were given. People can mess with the semantics, and how language was used then and today, but that is how it worked. Let us not buy the theories being peddled by authors making suspect interpretations. It is the Spirit that guides our understanding and use of priesthood in this church (from the top down), not some historian’s interpretations of various historical documents or occurrences.

            In this same issue, another terribly troublesome piece is “Remnant or Replacement?

Outlining a Possible Apostasy Narrative.” This is a clever title for saying—"we are going to tell you that the great apostasy never really happened and that the church has been wrong to teach it as it has.” Well then why did the Church need to be restored? Anything with Joseph Spencer’s name attached to it immediately raises and then confirms suspicions. He is a philosophy teacher masquerading as a religion teacher (same thing Terryl Givens does). Here is a reason why the BYU Religion Department has recently had to adjust their hiring standards and processes.

            Yes, there really was a complete apostasy (among the Meridian Saints in the old world, among Book of Mormon peoples, and among the lost tribes of Israel); and yes, the true Church of Jesus Christ really did need to be completely restored. Spencer and others can wrest Nephi’s words (in 1 Nephi) all they want to concoct an interpretation that there was no great and abominable church, and no great apostasy, but they do so at their spiritual peril and in opposition to the long-settled teachings of the Church. Always compare any liberal unorthodox writer’s interpretations of the scriptures with that of approved church publications and general conference reports to see the wide and alarming disparity involved—then believe the church produced and approved materials. Believe the doctrine taught in the Restoration of the Gospel Proclamation by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

            Yes, BYU Studies really is publishing articles saying there wasn’t an apostacy: “To be sure, we fully recognize that the picture of the apostasy we have drawn up here is different from traditional ways of imagining what occurred.” The “traditional” way (not ways) are not “imagining” but settled doctrine and history. And yes, they are teaching “different”  imaginings (to use their word) or falsehoods, in BYU Studies.

            Regarding the “Gospel Ethics” piece in this same issue, I have only this quotation to share, from Pres. J. Reuben Clark: “These students fully sense the hollowness of teachings that would make the gospel plan a mere system of ethics. They know that Christ’s teachings are in the highest degree ethical, but they also know they are more than this. They will see that ethics relate primarily to the doings of this life, and that to make of the gospel a mere system of ethics is to confess a lack of faith, if not a disbelief, in the hereafter. They know that the gospel teachings not only touch this life, but the life that is to come, with its salvation and exaltation

as the final goal.” Amen and amen!

 

- Steven Harper, in issue 59:3, writes a glowing eulogy for Armand Mauss, a dissident that died in 2020. Harper extolls this dissenter as having been a great mentor to him. All one has to do is glance over some of Mauss’s writings and one quickly finds his pieces anything but faith-building. I first read something by Mauss in Sunstone, a dissident/apostate publication, in 1988, and found Mauss giving counsel to fellow Sunstone dissidents on how to write articles critical of the church while also avoiding excommunication. And Harper loved the guy and extolled him as his mentor? And let’s be clear, a person can be a nice guy and shoot some pool and go bowling and tell some great jokes and buy you dinner and dessert afterward, but still be a subtle wolf in sheep’s clothing. So many alleged “theologians” today are marvelous and clever teachers of the philosophies of men mingled with a little scripture; they are philosophers masquerading as Religion teachers; spiritually dangerous to be sure. I wish there were none employed by BYU, but some have infiltrated the school (even the Religious Education Department).

 

- Issue 60:3 is where the deviousness and falseness really shouts out loud. Harper has here turned over the editorship to guests, a couple of liberal dissidents trying desperately to appear innocent and sheepish (pun intended). Almost every paper they selected for inclusion, including their own, is by an unorthodox liberal/progressive that has a modern liberal agenda to push. Name after name with bad reputations for incorrect teachings is found herein. And most of them have connections to BYU. A who’s-who of people one would expect to see in Sunstone, Dialogue, and/or Signature Books, but not in BYU Studies. All of the subjects are about doctrines the editors and authors think are speculative and for which nothing has been revealed—which is rot. These unorthodox liberals and semi-believers may not know the answers, but capable studious orthodox gospel scholars that have studied the scriptures and how they are interpreted by apostles and prophets know otherwise.

            Remember, just because Eliason and Givens say something is NOT YET REVEALED doesn’t mean they are right or have a clue what they are talking about. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect they are trying to open these old questions up again so they can come to the rescue later with their own (wrong) answers and solutions, taken from the philosophies of men instead of the revelations of the Lord.

            Sound, stable, orthodox, well-read gospel scholars who are steeped and soaked in the teachings of apostles and prophets know things these poor academics don’t and won’t. A quick survey of selected bits of church history on these issues, that these papers supposedly provide, along with some bias and spin, is insufficient and not very helpful. But Harper has allowed and approved and published it.

 

- In some coming months or year, whenever it is, BYU Studies will unfortunately be publishing an issue on evolution, basically proclaiming it as true. Harper has already said he believes evolution instead of the teachings of prophets and apostles, on the subject of the origin of man.

 

            I suggest one of two solutions, the later being preferential to the former. 1) rename BYU Studies Quarterly to BYU Sunstone. That way the title will reflect the journal content accurately. Also, allow no tithing to be used for anything connected with it and move it all off campus).

            2) Put in an editor that can select papers to publish that really are informed by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ instead of by the theories and philosophies of men and poor theologians. Select papers that don’t try to revise settled doctrine and church history using the liberal ideologies of these professors and academics so steeped in the notions of modern society. Their attempts to make the Church look respectable to the world and match its doctrines to that of modern society are pathetic and foolish and dangerous.

            I therefore recommend that instead of wasting time on BYU Studies, that readers consume materials that have been approved by Church Correlation; by reading old and new general conference talks; by studying church manuals, both for Sunday classes and for use by CES. Go to materials that have the stamp of approval of the prophets and apostles or that are privately published by them. Such is where the undiluted gospel can be found, instead of the imaginings of theologians looking to change the church into their own beliefs and thinking. All of the universities of the world already look like that, we don’t need or want BYU to reflect the world/Babylon. Elder Holland said BYU should not have a “Mormon Studies” program like other universities.

            I recommend following Elder Holland’s counsel given in August 2021, as he sought to rebuke and correct erring BYU administration, faculty and staff, including those in NAMI and BYU Studies, who have been shooting musket fire at the church instead of defending it. Study and follow the counsel given in other recent apostles’ talks to the same BYU people, who keep ignoring it. That is where spiritual and doctrinal safety lies, not in the notions of academics publishing in BYU Studies since 2019.

            Elder Holland said that if BYU doesn’t get its act together, BYU might end. In that case, BYU Studies will end also (and NAMI), and its false teachings will be gone. So one way or another, I hope we can hope for major solutions soon.

            I for one would prefer a return to the days previous to 2019 when we could (normally) count on a decent journal that contained some interesting articles that were doctrinally and historically sound; that brought out fresh discoveries or knowledge or insights while also remaining orthodox and loyal to the scriptures and the prophets.

            This new BYU Sunstone Quarterly is headed down the path of disaster and demise, whether it be sooner or later.       

           

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