Writing in 1957, Catholic sociologist Thomas F. O’Dea devoted a chapter of his important work, The Mormons, to what he saw as “sources of strain and conflict” in the Latter-day Saint church. The most significant of those sources of strain, according to O’Dea, was the unsettled issue of the relationship between the institutional church and the growing number of “liberal intellectual” Mormons who had encountered “modern secular thought.” While admitting that “the situation of the intellectual is likely to be somewhat ambiguous in any society,”  O’Dea felt that especially in the paradoxical Mormon church, which emphasized ecclesiastical authority and revelation but also encouraged education and intellectual pursuit among the rank-and-file, the intellectuals’ dilemma was especially enigmatic. After briefly tracing the history of the strain, conflict, and compromise in the early 20th century between the conservative church and the liberal intellectuals, O’Dea ended by suggesting that the matter was far from settled.
We can only conclude that the encounter of Mormonism and modern secular learning is one that is still taking place. It is a spectacle of the present, of which no history can as yet be written. Upon its outcome will depend in a deeper sense the future of Mormonism. A final loss of the intellectual would be a wound from which the church could hardly recover. A liberalization of belief and an abandonment of traditional positions in faith would transform, if not destroy, Mormonism. These potentialities slumber fitfully and insecurely within the present state of prolonged but regularized crisis. 
The 50 years since O’Dea made his observations have confirmed his thesis that this conflict is anything but resolved. In that span, the church has witnessed (endured?) the age of Camelot and the New Mormon History, the ecclesiastical discipline of scholars for publishing works deemed controversial and inappropriate, and most recently a renewed effort by both the church and academia to take Mormon scholarship seriously, with a diverse view of the future and potential success of these renewed efforts. As a young scholar seeking to be a part of this history and its future, I remain optimistic of the eventual resolution of the tension that satisfies all (or at least most) parties involved.
Somewhere and somehow in my mind, I had decided that, in general, the younger generations were relatively more open to critical, and sometimes difficult, engagement with serious questions surrounding Mormon history, philosophy, theology, and culture. Perhaps it is my interaction largely being confined to a university setting and the bloggernacle that has conditioned this notion in my mind. Two recent events have challenged and forced me to rethink that notion.
The first took place three weeks ago. I received a surprise call from a counselor in my stake presidency, inviting my wife and me to join the stake presidency and their wives, as well as the bishops from my stake and their wives, for their “quarterly retreat.” This retreat consists of dinner and conversation, followed by the stake presidency and the bishops retiring to a separate room to discuss stake and ward matters and concerns, and the women usually spending that time talking amongst themselves (one woman explained that usually it consisted of what she called “the typical relief society gossip” and “discussion of the difficulties of being a bishop’s wife”). This time, however, they invited me to discuss with the women the subject of Joseph Smith and my involvement with the JSP. (My bishop, a wonderful man and good friend who has taken a genuine interest in my academic interests and research, apparently recommended the stake presidency invite me). The result of my preparation ultimately ended in me presenting a semi-autobiographical talk on my interest in and experience with studying Mormon history, the difficulties I faced (and face) when encountered with difficult and challenging issues or events, and the ultimate meaning of studying LDS history to me. The reaction I received was surprising to me. The women, most of whom were probably between 45 and 75 years old, responded enthusiastically. One quiet, humble woman tearfully told me that for the past two years she had struggled with the difficult issues she encountered in reading Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, and that I was an answer to her prayers. She now knew, she said, that others, including those actively involved in researching and writing on Mormon history, struggled with the difficult issues. She afterwards gave me a big hug and another tearful expression of gratitude, an experience that has crossed my mind nearly everyday since. Another woman, this one older than the others, thanked me for my comments, and expressed her optimism that the church has come a long way since her days as a youth in the church 50 or 60 years ago. She explained that it was refreshing to “see the church come to grips with its history” and tackle some “of the tough issues.” I left surprised, edified, and encouraged that the rank-and-file of the church of all ages and backgrounds were prepared, willing, and excited regarding the prospects of more rigorous and serious engagement with difficult issues facing the church.
More recently, at a get-together with some old roommates and our spouses, one of the women asked if any of us were familiar with “some show on PBS called ‘The Mormons.'” She had seen the recent re-broadcast of the film. I responded that I had seen it and owned a copy, and offered to let her borrow it sometime. I also explained that much of the film could be seen on PBS. She asked if it was good, to which I responded, for sake of simplicity, “yes.” When she asked what it was like, I told her it was an attempt by a filmmaker who was not LDS but interested in the church from an observant point of view. I told her I thought it was, overall, a success, despite some personal criticisms of the film. She said, “Oh, good. So they don’t bash on the church at all?” I explained that they did not shy away from difficult and controversial issues, but generally discussed them in a manner that was relatively fair and balanced. Her expression changed to a look of confusion and she replied, “But I thought you said it was good!” My wife interjected (sensing my growing frustration), kindly explaining that she rather ejoyed it, and although there were things discussed that confused her and challenged some of her notions of LDS history and culture, overall she thought it was a fine documentary. With an intensifying expression of seeming incredulity, this friend concluded by boldly telling us that it clearly wasn’t worth her time to watch something that was critical of Mormonism in any way, shape, or form. This produced within me a feeling of sadness and pessimism that, combined with the first experience, has resulted in a state of confusion.
I am no longer sure where to stand in attempting to gauge to the general church membership’s attitude toward recent developments in Mormon studies and the continual strain between intellectuals and the church. While I feel secure in the ground I have personally staked out in regard to the matter, I no longer feel comfortable labeling groups within the church based on education, age, or activity as more or less open to academic interest in Mormon history and the difficulties that accompany it.
 Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 224.
 O’Dea, The Mormons, 240.