Much of the conflict between leaders and scholars stems from the definition of authority. Iron Rodders would like all authority in the hands of the Brethren, the higher Church authorities, whereas Liahonas see individual choice and personal revelation as key. When members seem to follow the strange gods of other movements, there is concern. In an unpublished but widely discussed talk in 1993, Elder Boyd K. Packer listed as dangerous adversaries, "the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals." Packer's use of the phrase "so-called" cast suspicion on all intellectuals.
Despite the tension, the General Authorities need intellectuals. By the 1990s, most of the Apostles and many of the Seventies had graduate degrees, suggesting the importance of education. When critics try to undermine Church belief and practice, authorities do not object to-and many welcome-apologists' responses. Criticism still drives the apologists' research agenda. Much of the writing about Joseph Smith is still directed at No Man Knows My History, Fawn Brodie 's journalistic biography of Smith published in 1945. Stanley P. Hirshson's The Lion of the Lord, a biography of Brigham Young based largely on negative eastern newspaper reports, led leaders to charge Leonard Arrington with writing Brigham Young: American Moses, published in 1985. When Brent Lee Metcalf published a 1994 collection of essays critical of The Book of Mormon, FARMS amassed an army of scholars to refute every essay in a 550-page book review. The evangelical assault on Mormonism seen in the film The God Makers and the Presbyterians' denial of Mormons as Christian, finds its most scholarly expression in The New Mormon Challenge. One LDS scholar welcomes the anti-Mormon books. "They keep us on our toes."
Still, a few believing scholars are eager for the Church to set its own research agendas, a sign of scholarly maturity. They want believers to write of problems they devise themselves rather than reacting to the work of others. This involves rising above the orthodoxy wars to engage national and international themes. From an intellectual point of view, believing scholars have transcended the old style that admits of no blemishes in the Church's past and now include all aspects of the Mormon story in their histories, but they have not yet managed to place that story in a larger context. Only gradually are Mormon scholars beginning to pose questions with universal interest. Amid the contention and discouragements, there are reasons to believe Mormon intellectual life will flourish. An often-quoted scripture, "the Glory of God is intelligence," supports the divinity of mental activity.
Because of the emphasis on obedience, submission, and service, Mormon intellectuals may appear unduly docile and oppressed to outsiders. But under the surface of Mormon culture is a world brimming with intellectual activity. Some Mormons, under the influence of modern rationalism, question the Church's beliefs. In the name of scientific objectivity they dispute the old stories and object when Church leaders constrain critical thought. Other Mormon thinkers, while submitting to authority, write books defending the faith and exploring their religion. These camps, ever divisive, will doubtless continue the debate for years to come.