My Disillusionment with Much of Mormon Apologetics
I first became aware of Dan Peterson in the late 1990s, at about the time that I became aware of LDS apologetics in general (see Part 1 of this series). I cannot remember where I first heard of him at, but I know that my aunt gave me James White’s Is the Mormon My Brother? for my seventeenth birthday in January of 1999, and I know that I soon found some correspondences between White and other LDS apologists (Peterson among them) on the SHIELDS Web site. At the time, I did not believe that White came off very well, and I thought the apologists were witty as well as amusing. I found myself mesmerized by their “in-your-face” style of snarkiness, to the extent that part of me even longed to emulate them.  I also felt intimidated any time I interacted with one of them, afraid of ever crossing them and becoming the target of that snark. Besides this, I read the Review and other LDS apologetics materials quite regularly. The materials presented in apologetic writings spurred me into studying the scholarship on a number of issues that I had never considered before. When I arrived at Brigham Young University to work on my undergraduate education, I looked Dan up and asked him for an interview for a paper I was writing, which he kindly granted. He is very congenial and friendly in person.
In the past decade, my mesmerisation with LDS apologetics began to crack. Some factors in that disillusionment:
- In 2002, FARMS published a very negative critique of a personal friend’s book. The critique branded my friend an “anti-Mormon,” suggested that his book was just a regurgitation of the materials found in other critical evangelical Protestant books on Mormonism (few things could be further from the truth), and utilized ad hominem by insinuating that my friend was “disturbed” by How Wide the Divide?. As my friend stated in his reply, “What place is there in a professional journal for this sort of psychoanalytic treatment?” Dan served as the editor of this article and, as of 2010, stood by it.
- I began to note that the Review goes out of its way to call evangelicals who engage Mormonism “anti-Mormons” or to characterize their work as “anti-Mormon.” Even evangelicals who are overwhelmingly professional and respectful in their scholarly interactions with Mormonism have met this fate. For example, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen’s famous “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?” paper was described by the Review as a “call for better anti-Mormon attacks by evangelicals.” In general, the Review’s practice of frequently labeling those who disagree with its authors’ views with charged terms such as “anti-Mormon,” “Korihor,” “cultural dissident,” and “apostate” is problematic for its aspirations to academic respectability. 
- I witnessed numerous occurrences of highly unprofessional public behavior from Mormon apologists associated with the MI, including Dan Peterson.  The very antics which once mesmerized me as a teenager began to make me cringe as an adult. Along these lines, Dan once posted private correspondence from me onto the Mormon Apologetics & Discussion message board without my permission, making the recent complaints about his own leaked correspondence rather ironic.  Another MI author was previously utilizing a line from a private correspondence with me in his signature at MADB/MDDB, though he removed it when a mutual friend asked him to. 
In my view, had the issues which involve Dan listed above constituted Bradford’s only reasons for removing him as editor of the MSR, he would have been fully justified.
My final disillusionment came at the realization that many apologists (Dan included) only seemed to respect opinions that are favorable of Mormonism, apologetics, and apologists. In my case, when I was reproving the countercult ministry and steering unknowing LDS scholars away from disingenuous “interfaith dialogue” encounters, I was good enough to speak highly of, to put on the stage at the FAIR conference. When I’ve had critical things to say about Mormonism, apologist arguments, or apologist behavior, I’ve been treated in a very hostile or dismissive fashion  and branded an “anti-Mormon” or an “enemy of the church” or an “evie bigot.” To me, this behavior is little different from that of the counter-cultists who have denounced me as a non-Christian for critiquing them or for offering a favorable view of historic strains of Christian deification. It’s a matter of labeling someone “the enemy” over intellectual, theological, and social disagreement. If the only way I can maintain friendships with certain people is by not saying how I truly feel on some issues, then I do not think those are friendships worth culturing.
As I hope is clear by now: I do not have a problem with the concept of apologetics. I do have a problem with the behaviors I have listed in this post. If the Maxwell Institute has to be one of the following: (a) a place for BYU-sponsored scholarship, or (b) a place for BYU-sponsored scholarship plus BYU-sponsored apologetics plus BYU-sponsored ad hominem attacks, well poisoning, & unprofessional behavior, then I would prefer it to be (a). Hence I potentially support the Maxwell Institute’s new direction. There is a certain tragedy in this, because I believe apologetics can be done without the problems I listed. I know many apologists who do just that. But key apologists are not acknowledging that these things are problems and pledging to correct them.
I need to make a final comment on Dan Peterson: he is down right now, but not out. Many of his longtime critics are enjoying this time of humiliation for him, leading to some very unkind things being said about him in certain quarters. Their “victory” over Dan reminds me of this scene from the phenomenal first season of Desperate Housewives, wherein the once-affluent Gabrielle Solis has been forced by financial hardship to take a menial job at a cosmetics counter in a department store. Her erstwhile maid, Yao Lin, enters the store as a customer in order to force her former employer to serve her. But Gabrielle turns the tables on Yao Lin with this speech:
That’s the difference between you and me, Yao Lin. Our dreams. … You see I dreamed of pulling myself up from nothing, and I did. I dreamed about the things I wanted and I got them all: a high-powered career, a handsome husband, an extravagant house. So, this is just a blip in the radar for me, because now, I know what I’m capable of and if I did it once, I can do it again. I’m never really down, Yao Lin, even when it looks like I am. So, enjoy this moment, enjoy your dream. Because for you, it doesn’t get any better than this. 
Even as somebody who supports the MI’s recent decision, I believe Dan Peterson is capable of very great things. If he wants to, this whole thing can simply be a blip for him, and he can return to implementing his own contributions to Mormon studies. For many of his detractors though, it will never get better than this.
 Representative examples of this include “Metcalfe is Butthead” (here, here, here, here), smearing Egyptologist Robert Ritner (here, here), misquoting Camus and lack of a correction (here, here) and the TIME Lightbox fiasco (here).
 When I first saw it, I used my “report” button and politely asked the moderators of the forum to respect my privacy by removing the quote. They ignored my request and promptly banned my account. The person in question later removed it when he was notified via other means. While I appreciate that the MI author in question removed the quote of his own accord, the actions of the MADB/MDDB moderators shows that there are other apologists and supporters of apologists who apparently have no qualms about posting private correspondence without permission.
 An example of this can be seen in smallaxe’s respectful critique of Dan and praise for the MI’s new direction, and Dan’s dismissive response to it.
 You can watch this scene from the show here.