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Behind the Scenes on DNA Essay (Part 4 of 8)

Following his brush with Church discipline, Dr. Thomas Murphy was surprised to get an invitation to discuss his DNA research at BYU!  Tom tells more of this surprise meeting, and how BYU reacted to his scholarship.

Thomas:  I get an email asking me if I’d come to BYU and present an article on DNA and the Book of Mormon. Now, I remembered what happened back in 2002. I remembered that.

Thomas:  As I’m making this strategic move back into Mormon studies, do I want to be defined as the DNA guy?  I did not really.  I don’t want that to define me because my work is much broader than that. I also thought, “Well, I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of BYU editors editing my article on DNA and the Book of Mormon. So, my response was, “I’m not really interested in writing about DNA.” But instead, I proposed a different topic:  an article that was called “Other Scriptures: Restoring the Voices of the Gantowisas to an Open Canon.” So, this basically follows my Haudenosaunee ancestry, the Mohawk ancestry and the Seneca as well. It looks at the Book of Mormon through the lens of Mohawk and Seneca oral tradition. I proposed that instead of the DNA article.

Thomas:  Brenden Rensink and Jane Hafen actually enthusiastically accepted that. So then they turned to Ugo Perego, and asked him to do the DNA article.

Thomas:  Now, shortly after I had accepted this invitation to BYU, I get an email from Matt Harris and Newell Bringhurst…I get this invitation from [Newell], and now he’s asking me to write an article on DNA and the Book of Mormon, and I had just said no to BYU. I’m like, “Okay, I’ll take this one on.” But I gave them conditions.

Thomas had some interesting interactions at BYU.

Thomas:  Matt Harris and Newell Bringhurst were very patient with us. But that was not what they were looking for. Ironically, if we had submitted that same article–if I had accepted the BYU invitation, I think if we had submitted that same article to BYU, they would have accepted it. And I would have never predicted that. I would have never predicted that. I had misconceptions.

GT:  So is BYU liberal now? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?

Thomas:  I don’t–committed to engaging in the academic disciplines more broadly, I think is the way I would put it.

GT:  Because there is a movement that says BYU is going too liberal. They’re too secular and they need to become more conservative.

Thomas:  I can see why people might say that. It surprised me. I think that article would have been, as it was written, would have been acceptable, whereas…

GT:  You know the conservatives are going to watch this video and they’re going to say, “Look, even Thomas says that BYU is too liberal.”

Thomas:  I did not use those words. Those are your words. [Rick chuckles] But I do think there’s an opening to engagement at BYU that, I think is actually more difficult for people like Matt Harris and Newell Bringhurst than it is for Brenden Rensink and Jane Hafen. It’s puzzling and interesting why, and I’m not sure I know all the answers. They need to speak for themselves on these issues.

Is BYU becoming too academically liberal?  Check out our conversation….

Dr Murphy told BYU “No” about writing an essay on DNA & Book of Mormon before he said “Yes” to Matt Harris & Newell Bringhurst.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Murphy!

469: Untold Story of Indian Slavery in America

468: Religious Fights over DNA

467: Native American DNA Scholarship


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Maxwell Institute: A Religious Thinktank

What is the Maxwell Institute exactly?   I’m excited to introduce Dr. Christopher Blythe of the Maxwell Institute.  We’ll get acquainted with him, learn more about the Maxwell Institute.

Christopher:   I am the author of Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse that just came out. I’m also a research associate at the Maxwell Institute here.

GT:  Do you do any teaching at BYU here, or…

Christopher:  No, just if I want to. So I taught a class in 2019 for the Religion Department–what did they call it? [It was] sort of, Church History/Doctrine and Covenants merged together, I forget the name. [It was] Gospel Foundations. So I like teaching, but I also love having this time to write. So this is a great spot to research and write and they hook you up with great student researchers to help you with your projects and fund you to go visit different sites and different archives.

GT:  Sounds like a dream job!

Christopher:  It is a dream job, there’s no question.

GT:  So can we think of this as kind of a think tank? We have political think tanks. Is this a religious think tank?

Christopher:  Yes. I think that’s probably right. We all have our own different projects. Then we meet together, brainstorm together on–read each other’s writings. Sometimes, there’s a project that comes from above that those that actually work here might be part of or might not be. So, right now, brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon have been the big thing. One of us wrote a volume for it. These are these wonderful little 30,000 word books, each on a different book in the Book of Mormon.

We will also find out more about their collaborative relationship with the Interpreter group. Check out our conversation….

By the way, here is a link to Dr. Blythe’s book, Terrible Revolution.  It’s currently over 40% off, here’s your chance to get a good deal!

The Maxwell Institute has changed over the years.


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Race, Priesthood, & Randy Bott (Part 6 of 7)

During Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign for president BYU professor Randy Bott made headlines in a Washington Post article discussing racial teachings.  It turns out that the LDS Church’s silence on racial issues contributed to a misunderstanding of racial teachings, and embarrassed Bott, Romney, and the LDS Church.  Dr. Matt Harris and Dr. Newell Bringhurst tell us more about this unfortunate incident.

Matt:  The Church is on high alert over two issues during the Mitt Romney campaign, one is polygamy and one is race.  These are two issues that they had been rehearsing about. They had been talking about how to deal with it to the media when these inevitable questions would come about polygamy and race. Randy Bott is a well-respected BYU Professor.  He made a fateful mistake in the spring of 2012, when he opened up his door to entertain a Washington Post reporter named Jason Horowitz. I interviewed with Horowitz actually and I said…

GT:  Oh really?

Matt:  Yes, I have him on record. I quote him in my next book.

GT:  Oh, nice.

Matt:  So I said to Horowitz. I said, “Tell me, How did you come across Bott?” He said, “Well, I just went to BYU, and I didn’t have an appointment.” He probably should have let the administration know that he was coming because this is a high-profile campaign.  This is a BYU graduate, a high-profile Mormon person, Mitt Romney. So, Horowitz didn’t do that. He just went to the religion building and started knocking on doors.

GT:  No way.  (Chuckling)

Matt:  There’s a policy at BYU that you’re supposed to go through this protocol to talk to people about certain high profile issues. This certainly would have been one of them, a Washington Post reporter. This wasn’t from the Provo Daily Herald. This is the Washington Post. So, he knocks on a door and one of the professors opens up the door. “I’m Jason Horowitz, Washington Post. Can I interview you about Mitt Romney? I just want some stuff about Mitt Romney.”  The first professor says, “Oh, I can’t talk to you because you didn’t go through the protocols.”  He knocks on another door. He went through a handful of this door knocking when they just said, “No, we can’t talk to you.” Randy Bott says, “Sure, come on in.”  So, keep in mind, it wasn’t a gotcha story. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I heard Mormons have some weird things to say about race. Let me try to get them on record and embarrass their candidate.” It wasn’t that at all.  Horowitz flew to Provo because he wanted to do a story on Mitt Romney. That’s all it was.

Matt:  So, he told him “We’re just going to do a story of Mitt Romney.” Bott said, “Okay, fine.”  He said, “I want to ask you about his faith,” all of that.  So, the first part of this story that Horowitz told me, he said it was pretty normal. We were just talking about Mitt Romney and the Mormon faith and what Mormons believe and all of this stuff. Then Randy Bott starts talking about race and how black people could not hold the priesthood. It would be like giving keys to a child to drive a car. They weren’t ready. I mean, it was so humiliating. I asked Horowitz. I said, “What did you think when he started telling you about black people being cursed and comparing their inability to hold the priesthood to a child driving a car?” He just said, “Oh, I knew there was a story.”

Check out our conversation….

Randy Bott made unfortunate headlines in the Washington Post over his comments about the race policy before 1978.

Here is a link to the book:

Don’t miss our other conversations with Newell and Matt!

457: Racism in Mormon Scripture

456: Pros & Cons of Race Essay

455: Critiquing Polygamy Essays & Sources

454: Are Gospel Essays Hidden or Public?

453: Swedish Rescue & Gospel Topics Essays