Dehlin, Peterson, and Unsubstantiated Myths

By | February 12, 2015

On June 14, 2012, Daniel Peterson was unceremoniously removed from his position as editor of Mormon Studies Review, published by the Maxwell Institute at BYU. Peterson had held the position since the founding of the scholarly journal a quarter-century earlier.

peterson1It is reasonable to say that the move, in certain quarters of academia and the internet, was akin to an earthquake. The aftershocks are still being felt to this day and the events of that time are seared into the memory of many old-time internet denizens.

Without going into too much boring detail, one of the key players in the events surrounding Peterson’s dismissal was John Dehlin. Many believed that the Maxwell Institute’s failure to publish an in-depth review of Dehlin’s Mormon Stories podcast was due to intervention by an unnamed general authority—at Dehlin’s behest—and that intervention led to Peterson’s dismissal. (The review was subsequently published online, here.)

In fact, Dehlin was quick to point out that it was obvious to him that the changes at the Maxwell Institute were due to Peterson’s behavior, along with the behavior of others who worked with Peterson. Here is a small sample of the feelings that Dehlin had regarding Peterson’s ouster, in a comment made to one of Peterson’s friends, Bill Hamblin:

Bill–what if it’s as simple as this: you guys have failed at doing apologetics in a way that LDS church leadership is comfortable with. Clearly Gerald Bradford didn’t act alone. Clearly general authorities were involved. It’s clear to me that church leadership is uncomfortable with your (and Dr. Peterson’s) brand of apologetics. To blame Bradford for this seems like scapegoating. It’s LDS church leadership that appears to be uncomfortable with your style of apologetics. Unfortunately you can’t criticize them….but it’s not fair to lay the blame on Bradford either. Not fair at all. Try looking in the mirror.

maxwellDehlin credits the changes at the Maxwell Institute to the Brethren being uncomfortable with the way that Peterson (and others) practice apologetics (defense of their faith). Dehlin has contended, for years, that the apologists’ way of trying to help others, through apologetics, is destructive and it is recognition of this fact that led unnamed general authorities to step in and have Peterson ousted. This is the myth that was repeated over and over again by Dehlin, his supporters, and critics of both Peterson and the Church in general. This, despite the fact that Peterson and others have categorically denied, based on personal information, that any general authorities were involved with the change at the Maxwell Institute.

Fast forward to today and we find that Peterson continues his work in various online venues, including at Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, an online scholarly journal, without any repercussions to his academic position at BYU or to his membership in the Church. Other apologists also continue to do well, to varying degrees, in their endeavors. The myth, though, lives on, despite the evidence that the Church has not really slapped the hands of apologists.

During the past ten years Dehlin has—according to his own accounts—tried to help people in faith crises. In other words, he has tried to do the same thing that apologists claim to do, just in a different way. It is, he feels, the proper way.

During that decade, he has published countless podcasts and made numerous comments thorough social media. (So have Peterson and other apologists.) He has participated in and even sponsored conventions and symposiums. (So have Peterson and other apologists.) He has engaged in real-world outreaches, such as phone calls and e-mails to individuals. (So have Peterson and other apologists.) He has set up not-for-profit corporations and enabled others to join in his endeavors. (So have Peterson and other apologists.)

The list of similarities could obviously be longer. If Dehlin’s approach to those in faith crises is so much better than that of Peterson and other apologists, then what are we to conclude from the fact that Dehlin has been excommunicated from the Church ten years after starting down this road of help others while Peterson has not? What, indeed, are we to make of this statement by Dehlin earlier this week:

I knew when I bought that first microphone and recorded that first episode that this [excommunication] was probable if not a likely outcome.

JohnDehlinLet’s forget for a moment that Dehlin’s knowledge of where his actions would lead is directly at odds with his claim that he was “just asking questions.” The point is, if he saw his excommunication as the likely outcome of starting Mormon Stories and related endeavors, then why was he adamant that his way was the right way and that the Church was clamping down on apologetic efforts at helping others?

There is an apparent disconnect here; Dehlin believes his way is the right way to help others and the apologists’ way is the wrong way, but he also knew–all along–his way would lead out of the Church, as he now says.

There is also an apparent double standard at play. Dehlin and his supporters will, doubtless, still promulgate the myth that the Church clamped down on “Peterson and the apologists.” Yet, didn’t the Church just this week clamp down even harder on Dehlin because of his approach?

The “clear signals” that Dehlin and others received regarding the reasons for Peterson’s ouster all of a sudden don’t seem as clear. Based on the latest signals, perhaps it is time to relegate the critics’ myth about Peterson and the Maxwell Institute to the scrapheap of unproven hypotheses.


10 thoughts on “Dehlin, Peterson, and Unsubstantiated Myths

  1. Mat

    What’s interesting is that you explained exactly what the differences and problems are with apologetics Vs someone like Dehlin; and you didn’t even realize it. Yes, it is true that they both are similar in ways. But the main difference is the style that one uses, while the other uses something completely different. Plain and simple: Dehlin does not fabricate or stretch or misuse or nuance or just plain lie, in regards to Mormon history, doctrine, scripture and gospel. Peterson does all of those things. Example? Sure, I’d be happy to. One word, Tapir. Peterson has, in the past, tried to stretch the idea that perhaps the word horse meant Tapir. Then, in a later comment, Peterson stated he never said such a thing. So not only did he attempt to obfuscate the reality of a legitimate problem with the BoM, by pretending there is a sort of relevance between two animals so un-similar that they would run away from each other with cringed faces (“Holy Crap, did you see how ugly that weird creature was?!). Then, after someone called him out on it, he stated he never made that similarity; to which he was quickly notified otherwise. When questioned by Dehlin himself, Peterson was unable to give logical, reasonable explanations for certain things; including the entire Book of Abraham. The only explanation we ever get from apologetics is, ‘Well, just because there isn’t evidence, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; because I have received a spiritual witness; and my personal favorite, ‘we are really excited about some upcoming information that is about to come out about this very topic in the upcoming months by a real professional that is going to really bring the whole package together so that we can better understand the entirety of the situation since now we only have pieces of it that truly, factually and literally don’t even exist. At all. But stay tuned to the next vague upcoming undisclosed and open-ended time frame that will never come to a close in hopes that everyone will realize that we never had anything to go with in the first place’. I challenge any of you to find me 3 things that Dehlin has lied about or stretched in to something it is not. I know I can find a TON of those from LDS Apoletics. A TON. I am more than willing to listen if you find them. Dehlin doesn’t have to nuance. He doesn’t have to purse words. He listens and questions. He never claims to know anything. Can you same the same for you?

    1. Allen Post author


      And, yet, we are left with the fact that the Church completely rejected Dehlin’s vision of helping members, are we not?

      I doubt seriously, based on the tenor of your comments, that you are open to considering Dehlin’s stretching of facts or outright lies with an open mind. (Would “he never claims to know anything” be one of his lies?) There is a simple lie pointed out in my post—if he knew from the beginning that Mormon Stories would lead him to excommunication, it was a lie to tell his listeners that his was a path that would lead them to an acceptable life in the Church. Or, looked at another way, if he honestly thought his path was one that would lead to an acceptable life in the Church, then he lied by saying he knew from the beginning his path would lead to excommunication.

      That is just the latest lie. There are many, many others. See Dr. Smith’s review of Mormon Stories and the accompanying timeline for many more documented examples.

      1. Loran Blood

        Yes, Mat, see Dr. Smith’s “hit piece” on Dehlin’s long, winding, and crooked road to his present state. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it (or, perhaps you’ve read both Smith’s papers as of this posting?)

    2. Daniel Peterson

      Mat’s comment is itself largely a mass of . . . distortions. (Disposed to be charitable, I won’t accuse him of lying, as he accuses me.)

      For instance, on the matter of tapirs: What I’ve denied is that the the “tapir idea” is something with which I am, or should be, particularly associated. I’ve said in print, though perhaps only twice, that the hypothesis that the Book of Mormon’s “horses” might not have been Equus ferus caballus but, rather, Baird’s tapir strikes me as linguistically plausible. Perhaps twice in print, I’ve briefly defended its plausibility with analogues in historical linguistics. But I didn’t originate the hypothesis (the anthropologist John Sorenson did that, so far as I’m aware), I haven’t been its principal advocate, and I haven’t even said that it’s my preferred solution to the question of references to horses in the Book of Mormon. (I routinely mention another one, as well.)

      Some critics nonetheless insist, as Mat does here, that my supposed devising of the “horse = tapir” equation proves my incompetence and/or my dishonesty. A few of the more serious minds among them even call me “Tapir Dan,” which simply tells me — rather redundantly, given the fact that they rarely if ever engage the actual arguments advanced for the idea or state it accurately — that they haven’t really paid much attention to the discussion.

      By the way, I’m curious to know exactly when it was that, as Mat claims, I was “questioned by Dehlin himself” — regarding tapirs, or the Book of Abraham, or any other topic. I can’t recall any such incident. Mat probably knows that I did an interview for “Mormon Stories,” and assumes (a) that the interview was conducted by John Dehlin and (b) that he grilled me about tapirs and, in return, got only the evasive and inadequate answers that Mat himself attributes to me.

      But the truth is that my “Mormon stories” interview was with my friend Dan Wotherspoon, not with John Dehlin. Mr. Dehlin had sought an interview with me for years, but I had always turned him down. And I don’t remember, though it’s possible, that the question of tapirs and horses ever even came up during that lengthy interview.

  2. Smith

    Not saying that this “proves” the BOM or even that if the BOM is true that horse=Tapirs, but just for honesty sake in the discussion of the similarities between a horse and tapir… Here is a zoologist

    “Whenever I saw a tapir,” notes zoologist Hans Krieg, “it reminded me of an animal similar to a horse or a donkey. The movements as well as the shape of the animal, especially the high neck with the small brush mane, even the expression on the face, are much more like a horse’s than a pig’s [to which some have compared the smaller species]. When watching a tapir on the alert . . . as he picks himself up when recognizing danger, taking off in a gallop, almost nothing remains of the similarity to a pig.”

    Don’t want to turn this into a debate forum about the historicity of the BOM, but someone brought up horse and tapirs

    1. Red

      Also, the horse/tapir connection mentioned in non-LDS Michael Coe’s book “Breaking the Maya Code”. Funny how that never enters the conversation when a critic is mocking apologists on the horse/tapir issue.

  3. Andrew Sargent

    Dehlin is every bit the apologist that he derogatorily claims Peterson and others to be. Dehlin is a staunch apologist for the opposite position, sticking with claims about the book if Mormon and Joseph Smith, even when Richard Bushman and Brant Gardner directly and clearly refute his hypotheses to his face while being interviewed on Mormon Stories.

    Dehlin has outright lied regarding many of the “facts” and when someone can intelligently and in a reasoned manner challenge his claims in any forum that Dehlin controls, he blocks, them it simply censors their comments and they never see the light of day.

    In his interview with Brant Gardner Dehlin while trying to push the “View of the Hebrews” theory for Book of Mormon source, admits to having never read view of the Hebrews, Brant (having read both books) then goes on to outline how a deeper analysis of both reveals they have parallels but no intersections. This was years ago.

    Dehlin still pushes the view of the Hebrews theory probably still having never read it, instead basing his knowledge of it off an obviously slanted Wikipedia page.

    Gardner & Bushman both present sound logical, unspeculative reasoning for the differences in the first vision story. Dehlin still tries to push that it evolved and Joseph made it larger later despite being shown historical evidence to the contrary.

    Heavens sake the first missionaries sent out were claiming Joseph had seen God and Christ, and Moses style prophets were again on the earth so to say the first vision was invented after the church started is such a disingenuous denial of documented history it is unreal

    Dehlin is an apologist for his opinions often employing the same “harmful” techniques he claims Peterson and others use. He stretches, speculates, employs heavy conjecture, all unabashedly and the hypocritically derides others, all the while acting as though he is just giving the “facts” when no real fact has been presented

    1. Loran Blood

      “Dehlin has outright lied regarding many of the “facts” and when someone can intelligently and in a reasoned manner challenge his claims in any forum that Dehlin controls, he blocks, them it simply censors their comments and they never see the light of day.”

      This can be confirmed experientially. Just try to engage Dehin on his Facebook page on any issue whatever – your choice – and see how long you last there. Unless one is a thoroughly convinced sycophant, he will not discourse with or respectfully debate various subjects with all.

      I have found the same to be true with Kate Kelly, the Young Mormon Feminists, The Feminist Mormon Housewives et al. The second they suspect your are an LDS apologist and will not contribute to the overall echos in the chamber, you will be shown the door.

      I welcome and invite challenges to my own views on my personal Facebook blogs. They, on the other hand, seem much more interested in creating more of a support group atmosphere in their own.

      Fascinating, in many ways.

  4. Lance Starr

    Mat said: “He never claims to know anything.”

    With this sentence, I agree wholeheartedly: John Dehlin doesn’t know anything.

  5. JRSG

    Dehlin’s supporters are typical hypocrites. Accuse others of the very thing they themselves are doing.
    What I noticed is the mental gymnastics and cognitive dissonance it takes to support someone like Dehlin.

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