"Is this an academic or an evangelistic conference", asked Douglas Davies in his Welsh lilt, irritation rising in his voice. (Imagine a grumpy Tom Jones.) The end of the Joseph Smith conference was a little interesting, to say the least.
Mr. Butterfield has already posted his reaction to the conference in general. I just want to say something about the tone of the conference.
I really enjoyed myself. Kudos to everyone involved. Highlights belong to Bushman, Givens, Mouw, and Davies.
Things got a little tense at the end, however. Professor Davies had laid out what he thought a World Religion was and showed that in his opinion, no matter how big the church became, it will not qualify. He then suggested that decentralization and de-Americanization would help the church become a World Religion, if indeed that is what it wanted. (“World Religion” being a religion that is not only worldwide, but one that also adapts to a worldwide culture, e.g. Catholicism.)
Roger Keller took this as a criticism of sorts, and proceeded to, in effect, bear testimony of the uniqueness of the LDS church and its authority. In other words, we are the One True Church, and will not change our core doctrine of authoritative leadership.
Davies visibly bristled at this. "If you want World Religion status as a missionary tool, as a badge of credibility, you must play by the rules", he seemed to suggest. I think Keller misunderstood, thinking that it was being suggested that the church should change to suit some ideal model. Davies knows we won’t change and respects that; he just wishes we wouldn’t therefore talk up our World Religion status at the same time.
So Davies asked, "is this an academic or an evangelistic conference?" It was both. Of course it was both. The Church is always evangelizing. So it was brave of the organisers to invite people like Balmer and Davies who they knew, whilst respectful, would not simply tow the line. It got a little hairy there at the end. Academic approaches to Mormonism that involve Mormons are always fraught with anxiety, but all-in-all it worked pretty well.
(Will LDS.org really stream this stuff?)