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Critics Corner


Correspondence between Dr. Daniel C. Peterson and UMI Director Dennis Wright

UMI semi-regularly puts out a yellow-journalistic tabloid called The Evangel (formerly The Utah Evangel).  Every issue paints a false picture of the LDS Church.  In response to the most recent issue (Nov/Dec 1997), Dr. Daniel C. Peterson of FARMS has written letters to UMI Director Dennis A. Wright pointing out some of the errors.  Any reponse by Director Wright will be placed here, with his permission.  Dr. Peterson's letters follow:

Letters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Letter One

To: Dennis A. Wright
From: Daniel C. Peterson
11 December 1997 (e-mail)

Dear Rev. Wright:

Congratulations on your new, much more attractive format.  And I must also say, judging from the November/December 1997 issue, that you seem to be a better writer than some of those who have graced the Evangel's pages in times past.

Nonetheless, I would like to offer a few pieces of friendly criticism.  I have only read a couple of the articles so far, and merely skimmed the rest very quickly, so I may have more to offer you as time passes.  But here it is for now:

* So far as I am aware -- and I have worshiped in many of the Church's temples, in Hawaii, North America, and Europe -- there is no truth whatsoever to the rumor (recounted on p. 6) that paintings of Jesus and New Testament scenes are removed after temple dedications and replaced with paintings of Joseph Smith.

* Your ad on p. 3 for Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History is seriously misleading when it suggests that Ms. Brodie was "a faithful member of the LDS church" until her excommunication for publishing the alleged truth about the Prophet.  This is not so.  She had long been disaffected, not only from Mormonism but from religion altogether.  She was a thorough-going secularist, an agnostic or an atheist, and had been, so she claimed, since her teenage years.  She was every bit as disdainful of your form of Christianity as of mine.

* Colleen Ralson's article, "The Extermination Error," is not only historically misinformed, but -- much more importantly -- it is an extraordinarily offensive, morally repugnant piece of writing.  Her defense of Lilburn Boggs's "extermination order," her sympathetic understanding of a state governor's declaration of utter war against a substantial number of his own citizenry, is perfectly astonishing.  Even if the Mormons were unspeakably obnoxious and irritating, even if many of them were thieves -- which seems to me far, far from established, indeed highly dubious -- does this justify an order for the annihilation of the whole people?  Would you be willing to make the same effort to understand, say, the Nazis?  To muster sympathy for Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin or Pol Pot?  Don't you think many Germans had legitimate grievances and anxieties after World War I and the Treaty of Versailles and the coming of the Depression?  What would you think of a German in the 1930s or 1940s who said something along the following lines?  "The wording of Hitler's Mein Kampf or the official decrees calling for the extermination of the Jews sounds very harsh and almost causes one to think the Jews were indeed unfairly persecuted, as they claim.  However, if one reads the actual history of the events that led up to the 'Final Solution,' and not just Judaism's 'Holocaust-propaganda' materials, one would understand why it came about and why the leaders of the Reich, as well as the Führer, would think such a step necessary."  (You will notice the paraphrase of Ms. Ralson.)

* You might want to note, with reference to Marvin Cowan's Mormon Claims Answered, which is advertised on p. 9, that many passages from that book show up word for word, without any attribution or credit, in Ron Rhodes and Marian Bodine's 1995 book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons.  (I document this in a review essay on something by John Ankerberg and John Weldon, in the FARMS Review of Books 8/2.)  Potential buyers should know this so that, in purchasing Mr. Cowan's treatise, they are not unwittingly buying the same stuff a second time.  Truth in advertising, you know.

Well, best wishes to you.  If I have any other observations that I think might be helpful to you, I will certainly send them along. In the meantime, I will probably be commenting upon Ms. Ralson's defense of the "extermination order" in an essay that I am preparing for publication.  And I think I will share it with some others, including the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is a sad and revolting -- but also a revealing -- specimen of religious bigotry in late twentieth century America.

Letter Two

To: Dennis A. Wright
From: Daniel C. Peterson
12 December 1997 (e-mail)

Dear Rev. Wright:

I am disappointed not to have had any reply from you.  Perhaps you are out of town.  Oh well.  Another day, another article or two in The Evangel.  And, thus, a few more comments.

* At the time of its joining with BYU -- which is to say, now -- FARMS is not on the BYU campus (contrary to John L. Smith's statement on p. 9 of the current Evangel).

* At the time of its joining with BYU -- which is to say, now -- one member of the FARMS Board is not on the BYU faculty (contrary to John L. Smith's statement on p. 9 of the current Evangel).  Dan Oswald, a Swiss-born convert to Mormonism, is a lawyer and businessman.  During almost the entire time that I have served on the FARMS Board, there has been at least one person who was not a member of the BYU faculty also on the Board.  At one point there were three.

* The article touching on "a mother god" and mentioned in the Salt Lake Tribune is not a "recent" one.  As the Tribune article made clear, it has not yet appeared (contrary to John L. Smith's statement on p. 9 of the current Evangel).  I know, because I am the article's author.

* When, on p. 8, John L. Smith pronounces that "the debate is now officially over" as to whether or not Mormons are Christians, who is it who has spoken "officially" on the subject?  What makes that person's verdict "official"?  Could you please explain?

* On p. 7, you note that "the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum on June 27, 1844, didn't occur until after Joseph had fired upon the so-called 'mob'."  Of course, Joseph was hardly likely to have fired upon "the so-called 'mob'" *after* his death, but are you seriously suggesting that the group of men that killed Joseph and Hyrum were (a) *not* a mob, and that (b) they killed Joseph in self-defense?  Was Joseph under some sort of obligation to allow the Carthage militia to kill not only him, but also his brother and the two friends who were simply visiting with him in the jail?  I would be very interested in your comments on this matter.

* On p. 1, John L. Smith says,  "If a Christian witnesses to a Mormon he is called an 'Anti-Mormon.  ' Would it not also be appropriate to call a Mormon who attempts to convert a Christian an 'Anti-Christian'?"  This is mistaken reasoning.  A person whose message is chiefly a negative one against Mormonism is an anti-Mormon; if, by contrast, he is simply arguing or testifying affirmatively with regard to his own faith, he is not -- at least, at that moment, in that capacity -- an anti-Mormon.  Thus, clearly, a Mormon who attempted to convert a Protestant by affirmatively arguing for or testifying of the truth of his own beliefs would not be an anti-Protestant.  On the other hand, if that Mormon dwelt more on the deficiencies of Protestantism than on the truth of Mormonism, he could quite fairly be termed an anti-Protestant.  (A believing Mormon Christian cannot be an "Anti-Christian" in any sense, of course, so I have had to reformulate Mr. Smith's comments somewhat in order to make them less unreasonable.)

Looking forward to your response, I am

Sincerely yours,

Daniel C. Peterson

Letter Three

To: Dennis A. Wright
From: Daniel C. Peterson
15 December 1997 (e-mail)

I’m a bit disappointed that I still haven’t heard back from you.  I imagine that you are on some long, out-of-state lecture tour, or something of the sort.

I should mention that I am posting my letters to you to a group of internet readers.  I will happily circulate to them any response that you eventually make, if you wish.

Anyway, continuing my careful reading of The Evangel:  I haven’t looked at the list of books that you advertise on your next-to-last page for a long, long time, but, this time, decided to take another glance.  Herewith, a few observations (from among the many that could be made):

* p. 11, col. 1 -- Are you people really serious in calling John L. Smith the “Master of Mormonism”?  That sounds a bit proud to me, and, to be completely candid, I am not at all confident that the title is merited.  Do you mean to suggest that he *runs* Mormonism?  Probably not.  That he knows more about Mormonism than any other person?  That he has mastered every detail of doctrine?  That he has mastered every historical fact?  Just what do you mean?

* p. 11, col. 2 -- Do you really believe that Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Archaeology and the Book of Mormon “proves beyond question that there isn’t any archaeology of The Book of Mormon”?  Rev. Wright, have you read Prof. William Hamblin’s review essay on the Tanners’ book, published in the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon?  Have you read Dr. John Sorenson’s works on geography and archaeology as they relate to the Book of Mormon?  Have you read Dr. Hamblin’s article, in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, on the methodological errors in anti-Mormon approaches to the archaeology and geography of the Book of Mormon?

* p. 11, col. 2 -- I hadn’t thought about Vernal Holley’s little attempt to resuscitate the Spaulding theory for years, but your advertisement brought it back to me.  (Are you aware that the Tanners reject the Spaulding theory?)  It also reminded me of Ara Norwood’s damaging review of Holley’s booklet, published in the very first volume of the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, clear back in 1989.  Rev. Wright, have you read Norwood’s review?  Any comments on it?

* p. 11, col. 2 -- Rev. Wright, do you have any explanation for the fact that reputable academic historians of Mormonism -- whether or not they are members of the Church -- rarely if ever cite Bill Hickman?

* p. 11, col. 3 -- Rev. Wright, do you have any explanation for the fact that reputable academic historians of Mormonism -- whether or not they are members of the Church -- rarely if ever cite John C. Bennett?

* p. 11, col. 3 -- “Letayne C. Scott” should read “Latayne C. Scott.”  By the way, what kind of position did she hold as a “staff member at BYU”?  To the best of my recollection, she was simply a student at the University, and served as a student staff member in student publications.  That would, of course, be a far cry from serving as a member of the BYU faculty.  You wouldn’t want to give a false or misleading impression, would you?

* p. 11, col. 3 -- Whatever Jerald and Sandra Tanner may claim, the best evidence now indicates that Joseph Smith was acquitted, not convicted, in the 1826 Bainbridge, New York, trial.  You have read Gordon Madsen’s analysis of the data, haven’t you?

* p. 11, col. 4 -- For reasons I have already mentioned to you, if I were in your position, I wouldn’t be carrying the work of the avowed atheist and militant humanist Fawn Brodie.

* p. 11, col. 4 -- Aren’t you just a little bit ashamed of carrying The Godmakers?  The local Christian bookstore here in Provo refuses to carry any books by Ed Decker, on the grounds, as the person behind the counter once explained it to me, that Decker “seems to have a hard time telling the truth.”  He was right, of course.  So why do you carry his sensationalistic film?

Well, it was interesting to go through the list again, after so long a time.  Thanks for providing it.  I guess that about does things for today’s installment, though.  In the meantime, would you consider retracting the false statements that The Evangel has made about The Book of Mormon name “Alma”?  (If you are not familiar with this interesting episode, let me know; I will be happy to send the relevant materials to you.)  Now, with The Evangel under new management, seems an opportune time to make a fresh start, and to come clean on an issue that has damaged UMI’s reputation among a number of observers.

Best wishes to you.

Daniel C. Peterson

Letter Four

To: Dennis A. Wright
From: Daniel C. Peterson
16 December 1997 (e-mail)

Dear Rev. Wright:

Tonight I finally got around to looking at your review of the Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult, by Mather and Nichols. It might be worth a look.

But I have a few questions for you:

* Which "New York conviction for 'glass looking'" do you have in mind? Are you referring to the 1826 Bainbridge, New York, trial, for which the best available evidence strongly suggests that Joseph was, in fact, acquitted? (Read Gordon Madsen in BYU Studies. Don't fall behind on the issues, as it will damage your credibility.)

* On what basis do you claim that "'Reformed Egyptian' . . . is a non-existent language"? Just for starters, have you read Prof. William Hamblin's paper on the subject?  (It is available from FARMS, at a nominal cost. You should read it. You should also be warned: Now that you know of it, you will have no excuse to go on with inaccuracies like this. You will be held accountable for what you know.)

* Do you really, seriously, actually believe that it is "murder" to defend oneself and one's friends against an armed, homicidal mob -- particularly after that mob has just killed your unarmed brother? I can't imagine any court or legal system in the world that would agree with you, if you do.

I look forward to your comments on these and the other matters I have raised in my earlier communications to you. I assume that you are still away from the office. I cannot imagine that you would be refusing to answer my mild and gentle inquiries for any other reason.

In any event, I continue to share my questions with a number of others, including the Home Missions Board of the SBC, via the internet. Some of them, I am sad to report, tell me that you simply cannot reply, and, so, are opting for silence as the safest alternative. I am confident that they must be mistaken.

Letter Five

Date: Tue, 06 Jan 1998 22:56:52 -0700
From: Daniel Peterson <>
Subject: Lost Key

6 January 1998

Dear Reverend Wright:

It is now going on a month [since] I first wrote to you, and nearly three weeks since you briefly replied, promising me a response to the questions I had raised.  I don't mean to be impatient, but I have been holding off on raising other questions, not wanting to overburden you, and I do have so many questions I want to ask and so very many observations I want to make!

Just today, I was given a copy of Dr. Thomas Key's The Book of Mormon in the Light of Science.  A preliminary scan suggests that this will be one of the most enjoyable things I have read in a long, long time. Not many scientific treatises are illustrated with genuine cartoons.  And even fewer can boast of cartoons by the inimitable Coleen Ralston.  (I notice, too, on its title page, that the work was published by UMI, in Marion, Oklahoma.  Is that anywhere near Marlow?  It seems to have the same zip code.)

Permit me to comment on just one item in the Dr. Key's book:

"Alma 5:19," writes Dr. Key on p. 7, "describes certain faithful people as '. . . having the image of God en-graven [sic] upon your countenances."

For as long as I have been around in the Church, on four continents, in various teaching and leadership positions, etc., etc., every Mormon I have known has, so far as I can tell, taken Alma's remark to refer to the joy and the peace and the indefinable beauty that is often to be seen in the faces of those who have come to faith in God and the Savior.

Such sentimental religious flimflam will never cause a real scientist to lose the scent, however.

In rebuttal, Dr. Key quite correctly points out that "We never see the faithful with God's image engraven in grooves or scars on their faces."

Wow.  That is devastating.  Without a doubt, that has to be exactly what Latter-day Saints expect to see, since Alma 5:19 is clearly to be taken in the most woodenly and indeed bone-headedly literal way possible. And, since we don't in fact see people with godly grooves on their faces, and since we don't in fact meet any people whose righteousness has scarred them with reproductions of God on their cheeks or perhaps with little divine images smackdab in the middle of their foreheads like Hindu caste marks, Mormonism is proven to be false.  Q.E.D.  What could be more simple?

But, not content with so formidable an argument, Dr. Key presses his advantage and goes for the kill, noting that "Leviticus 19:28, 21:5, and Deuteronomy 14:1 strictly forbid any such cuttings in the skin."

I can't wait to read the rest of this valuable book.


Daniel C. Peterson