Throughout its existence until 2012, those who led and contributed to what began as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and eventually became the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship operated with something of an unofficial motto, drawn from an essay by the Anglican theologian and philosopher Austin Farrer, a close friend of C. S. Lewis — it was Farrer who took the last sacraments to Lewis just before the latter’s death — as well as of J. R. R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. It was a great favorite of Elder Neal A. Maxwell — see, for example, “Elder Neal A. Maxwell on Consecration, Scholarship, and the Defense of the Kingdom” — and it’s a great favorite of mine, as well:
“Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” (Austin Farrer, “Grete Clerk,” in Light On C. S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb [New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1965], 26.
I don’t know that the current Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship views itself in these terms any more. But I’m confident that FairMormon, and the Interpreter Foundation and Book of Mormon Central and Brian and Laura Hales — see LDS Perspectives and Joseph Smith’s Polygamy — do regard their missions in very much that light. In my judgment, they’re trying to move the original FARMS vision forward.
Now, these two parts of the post are clearly related to each other. On the one hand, Peterson is announcing what he knows has become a quite contentious series of articles. These articles have been greeted with much deserved criticism and unhappiness from some quarters (including me). And, I think that there is an implicit apologia for their publication in the second part of the post, the history of FARMS.
But, here's the thing, I don't believe it is at all accurate to say that the mission to defend LDS belief from external criticism has much to do with words of Austin Farrer. Austin Farrer's words, quoted by Peterson above, have mostly to do with defending the faith from its external critics. And, one can arguably extend them to their application to dissidents and internal critics.
I think, however, that it is a huge stress to apply Farrer's sentiment to the pieces written by Dr. Boyce. Think of this: In a Church that has no catechism, no explicitly articulated system of "right belief," Boyce has taken up the role of guardian of orthodoxy. Is there a Mormon orthodoxy? Only in a very general sense, as in: In keeping with the teachings of the modern prophets. But Boyce goes way beyond that, and his criticisms have been shown to be flawed.
So, I ask: Even if we grant that Farrer's words persuade us that there must be apologia for LDS belief, do they apply to the task of voluntarily criticizing fellow members for the sake of protecting the perceived orthodoxy of the critic?
I say, "No." And this is a real problem. DCP seems to associate these two tasks--apologia and the unofficial guarding of doctrinal purity--either explicitly or implicitly. It is as if he is saying to others, "Well, you may not like our publication of Boyce, but what we do is real important and someone needs to do it." OK. Sure. Arguably, someone needs to defend Mormon faith. That does not include, however, doing what Boyce has done. And I think it is misleading to publish Boyce on the basis of Farrer's charge to believers.