Lawrence Foster's Response to Our Last Newsletter
September 17, 1996
Dear Jerald Tanner,
Thank you for allowing me to respond to your comments in the most recent issue of the Messenger. Since it is difficult in a single page to address more than a dozen pages of comments, induding some serious distortions of my Mormon history scholarship over more than two decades, let me ask those interested in an accurate statement of my complex views to read my two articles on your work in Dialogue (Summer 1984) and Differing Visions (1994): the relevant sections of my two books, Religion and Sexuality and Women, Family, and Utopia; and the personal statement of my approach to Mormon history in Dialogue (Fall 1983).
On the question of why I would have drafted a press release critical of what I took to be your unwillingness to meet with me when I was attempting to prepare a serious scholarly analysis of your work. I have only this to add. I came up with that idea immediately after talking with Michael Marquardt more than a month after not receiving an answer to my two written requests for an interview (I wrote rather than called you because I did not want to open the possibility that anything I might say on the phone could subsequently be reported in a distorted form in your newsletter). Michael told me, though he does not remember his specific statement more than a decade later, that you were uneasy about meeting with me and had not yet decided whether or not you would agree to an interview. Immediately after Marquardts comments, I drafted the statement you have reproduced. I was quite frankly fed up that after all the times you had berated Mormon leaders for not responding to you, you were apparently not willing to meet with a non-Mormon scholar interested in trying to write a serious analysis of your work. If I was in error on this point, I apologize for the error.
The larger issue here is relevant to my fundamental critique of your work, however. You and Sandra are accomplished debaters, but your analysis is ultimately unconvincing because you refuse to apply consistent standards to assessing both Mormonism and your own faith. I have repeatedly pressed you on this point to no avail. Despite the importance of your research in various areas of Mormon history, my fundamental assessment thus still stands: Until the Tanners are prepared to use consistent standards of judgment for their own faith as well as for that of others, their stance cannot be taken seriously by scholars or by the general public. This weakness is one that both you and many Mormon apologists associated with FARMS both share.
I am similarly concerned that your discussion of my work in the Messenger seriously misrepresents some of my most important conclusions. For example, the key point of assessment of the origins of Mormon plural marriage was that the motivation for introducing the practice was enormously complex and could not simply be reduced to the argument that Joseph Smith had an excessive sex drive. Similarly, my analysis of the complex sources of Joseph Smith's genius (Dialogue, Winter 1993) never refers to him as 'mentally ill' but instead stresses the complex psychological dynamics that may have contributed to his exceptional creativity. Whatever the sources of that genius may have been, the ultimate issue is, in Jesus words: By their fruits shall ye know them.
(signed) Lawrence Foster
NOTICE: Since Dr. Foster took over four months to prepare his rebuttal, we were unable to respond in this issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger.
Go to our response in the next newsletter.
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