The ranklings, which came largely from evangelical Christians, began in 1992 when Brigham Young University philosophy professor David Paulsen organized the society's first Intermountain Regional meeting at the LDS Church-owned school.
"Some of us felt that holding the Society of Christian Philosophers meeting at BYU was in effect endorsing or abetting the LDS representation of itself to the public as being just another Christian denomination akin to Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists," said William Craig, a research philosopher at the Talbot School of Theology in Los Angeles, in a phone interview this week. "We felt we ought not to participate in this misrepresentation."
Still, BYU hosted the event again in 1993. But questions continued to be raised about the appropriateness of its involvement.
The national society has about 1,000 members, including 30 in the Intermountain region.
At the urging of Craig and others, the society's executive committee drafted guidelines for regional meetings on April 7, 2000, that excluded any institution "professing to be Christian while at the same time subscribing to a doctrinal position directly contradicting the ecumenical creeds accepted by all branches of the Christian Church, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant."
Under this plan, individual members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could still belong to the society, in keeping with the society's founding principles that membership be open to anyone who considered himself or herself to be a philosopher and a Christian.
But BYU and other church-affiliated schools, along with such groups as the Unification Church and Scientologists, were barred from hosting society gatherings.
Craig and many other Protestants believe that LDS teachings about the nature of God, Jesus Christ and the hereafter as well as its extra-biblical scriptures depart radically from mainstream Christianity.
The hosting resolution prompted lively Internet discussions among members last year, including those who raised strong objections to the ban.
Then last month a newly created executive committee adopted a revised guideline for regional meetings, recommending only that "care be exercised in the selection of sites" and that meetings not be held at "sites that are likely to be considered objectionable by a substantial number of members of the Society."
William Hasker, a member of the current executive committee that crafted the new guideline, hopes the hosting exclusions "will eventually disappear and people will not even remember what the fuss was about."
In the meantime, Hasker defends the revisions as being "neutral and fair."
"At this point there are a substantial number of members who would object to meeting at BYU," said Hasker, editor of the society's journal, Faith and Philosophy, from his Huntington, Ind., home.
But the statement does not single out Latter-day Saint schools, he said. "Other institutions may have racial policies that members find objectionable."
This year's revisions may have been spawned in part by the concerns raised last year by several past presidents, none of whom are Mormon but have lectured at BYU.
"This move runs contrary to the inclusive spirit in which the society was founded and in which it has thrived," wrote Marilyn Adams, who teaches at Yale Divinity School in an October 2000 memo to the executive committee. It also was signed by her husband, Robert Adams, chairman of the philosophy department at Yale University, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, another Yale professor.
They pointed out that the society opted not to use creeds as a membership test, since many Protestant groups view creeds as "man-made doctrines" yet are still seen as being biblically based.
The society will "get closer to the truth if we think of Christian belief as a family resemblance concept," they wrote.
They argued that meetings at the Notre Dame University "do not signify the society's support for papal infallibility" any more than Anglicans going to a fundamentalist Christian school "endorses biblical inerrancy."
Philosophers have "nothing to fear and much to learn from" faiths with "limited theism and low Christologies," such as Mormonism, they said. "We believe ourselves to have enough common ground to have a fruitful conversation and to help one another better formulate our sometimes contrasting Christian beliefs."
That view is shared by Paulsen, who intends to continue his participation in the society.
"Latter-day Saints hold many foundational beliefs in common with other Christians," Paulsen said. "If we get a chance to read papers and explain our points of view, we may find some of our differences are not as salient as some in the past have thought they are. It might help us resolve misunderstandings and build better relationships with other Christians."