Mormon Apologist Uses Photo of The Dead Bodies of Lynched Blacks As A Gag Prop [Updated With Screencaps of Scrubbed Images and Comments]

UPDATE: After I published this blog post and after my commenters and I discussed with Dr. Peterson the issues in the comments section below it, he issued an apology that recognized the validity of my key complaints and, to my mind, took sufficient responsibility. 

Dr. Daniel C. Peterson is a professor at Brigham Young University and a blogger on Patheos’s Mormon channel. He is tired of misinformation about Mormons. Apparently there is a popular rumor that Mormons are only charitable with other Mormons. So Dr. Peterson wrote a (subsequently redacted) post detailing various cases of Mormons investing charitably in notably big ways around the country and around the globe to predominantly non-Mormon populations, in order to anecdotally counter that charge. So far so good.

Then, in a postscript, Dr. Peterson described a credulous academic at a conference citing to him, with adamant belief, an appallingly vicious, slanderous rumor about the Mormon church, that the Mormon Church’s idea of welfare to other Mormons is to help them start businesses, but that if a business owner undergoes three bankruptcies the church demands that the business owner commit suicide. That Dr. Peterson is indignant that such a lie can spread and be blithely believed about his church is completely understandable. He has every right to push back hard against his church being accused of such monstrous behavior and against whatever climate of prejudice allows such accusations to sound credible to people who are educated enough that they should know better.

But that does not justify what Dr. Peterson went on to do in his anger.

To end the post, Peterson decided, with extreme tastelessness and racial insensitivity, to sardonically satirize the suggestion that his church seeks the death of failed business owners by using a graphic black and white image of blacks who were lynched with the caption: “‘Three strikes and yer out!’ Their corner hot dog stand failed a third time, so the members of their local church congregation got together and helped them, er, out. (The Mormon welfare program as viewed by at least one slightly deranged eastern academic.)”

This was the image he so captioned:

For the sake of charity, let me assume that Dr. Peterson is a decent person who does not intend to do anything racist here. Let me assume there are other people not offended by this who also do not intend to be racists and unpack for him and for them why this is such an outrageous photo to use as Dr. Peterson has.

1. The notion that the Mormon church might commit atrocities against black people is not some incomprehensibly absurd-0n-its-face notion. It was not until 1978 that blacks were allowed into the Mormon priesthood. Even more horrifyingly though, Brigham Young (for whom Peterson’s university is named), according to the New York Times “deemed black-white intermarriage so sinful that he suggested that a man could atone for it only by having ‘his head cut off’ and spilling ‘his blood upon the ground’”. Last year the LDS responded to a Brigham Young professor’s controversial racial remarks by stating that “The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form…We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”

So, the Mormon church is adamant to repudiate its infamous past racism. Part of that means taking seriously just how grievously the church treated blacks in the past and the consequences of its contributions to systemic disenfranchisement and terrorism of blacks with its theological support. It means understanding the Mormon church should understand itself as a guilty party that is repentent. It means that it should keep in its consciousness that it has not historically proved itself a trustworthy arbiter of what is just with respect to people of other races. It means that a prominent Mormon professor should not feel so sparkly clean in his conscience that he can suggest that the prospect of his church terrorizing blacks is laughably absurd and eminently satirizable. The perception that his church is racist is not of the order of slanderously ludicrous urban legend. It is a matter of history and possible legacy. It is a recent enough history that Dr. Peterson was himself an unabashed Mormon during his church’s period of excluding blacks from the pulpits. (He received his BA from Brigham Young University in 1977, a year before the ban on black clergy was lifted.) He should not feel that either he or his church are so assumably and obviously trustworthy on racial matters to outsiders to joke about killing black people.

2. Given this history of racism in the Mormon church–and by our broader white culture in general–it is especially upsetting that Dr. Peterson can find anything funny about a picture of lynched black people. That he can expect an ironic chuckle from a gruesome picture of violently murdered people and the nonchalant looking mob that conspired in good conscience to perpetuate the crime is upsetting in itself. But one suspects that there is some unchecked racist indifference to the reality of black humanity at work here, exacerbating the problem and making it worse. Would Dr. Peterson have found the graphic and disturbing images of white murder victims humorous in a gag too? It is all too frighteningly easy for us to Other and dehumanize people who are different from us such that their suffering is just not the same as ours in our minds. It’s more abstract. More conceptual. It does not cause the same outrage, horror, and visceral disgust that preempts all “irony” and humor. I assume with full charity that Dr. Peterson would not want to imagine himself a racist or someone who is callous to others’ feelings. But I suggest he do some serious introspection about his implicit biases and lack of compassion in the darker recesses of his brain.

3. The history of black people’s oppression and images of their shackled or mangled bodies are not for your appropriation as props for your cause. What blacks suffered in this country was as cruel, inhumane, and systematic an attempt to degrade human beings as human history chronicles. Images of chained or hung black people should not be romanticized, used as political props, employed as symbols for far less serious injustices in a trivializing way, or (and this one should have been obvious) cavalierly used as ironic punchlines by white people with grudges. Using the provocatively upsetting value of images of chained or murdered black people to make people question abortion or Christianity (as an ill-considered Pennsylvania atheist group’s billboard did last year) is exploitative and trivializing and, in Sikivu Hutchinson’s judgment, participates in an  unseemly cultural pattern of objectifying black bodies in general:

The black body has always been an object of deep and abiding obsession in the American imagination.  Be it cavorting in “funky” abandon on a dance floor, vaulting off a basketball court in dunk mode, suckling apple-cheeked white babies, trotted out in a police line-up, or greased down, poked, prodded and staged on a slave auction block, the black body occupies that mystical place between corporeality and supernaturalism.

Read her whole insightful piece on last year’s offensive atheist billboard to get a deeper appreciation of the legacy of racist, dehumanizing leering at black people that Dr. Peterson’s choice of images today disgracefully participates in–however unintentionally and unwittingly insensitive we can charitably hope his mistake was.

Here is hoping that he, his church, and we as white people take more seriously our need to prove through our implicitly revealed attitudes, as much as through our explicit words, that we take the actions of repentance from, and disowning of, our forefathers’ racial atrocities scrupulously seriously.

UPDATE: In response to enough reader complaints–to which he was initially flippantly resistant–he has now taken down the offending photo and caption. Nonetheless he is quick to also point out that he is being attacked for the photo by people who regularly criticize him already, subtly and self-pityingly implying he is being treated unfairly. The rest of the post is identical to how it was in all relevant respects.

SECOND UPDATE: Now he’s scrubbing the comments complaining about the photo and his dismissals of their seriousness. I took screen captures for the record, so here they are.

THIRD UPDATE (7:37pm): He has now replaced the picture of the hanging men with the lynch mob with just a picture of a mob with torches–this one, from its title, being going after Frankenstein, rather than blacks. Here is the original image, followed by the new image, and then the scrubbed comments:

FOURTH UPDATE (5/11/13 7:45pm): Dr. Peterson has now apologized in a way that acknowledges the validity of many of the criticisms in this post.

Your Thoughts?

For more of my writing on what is and is not appropriate satire, see the posts:

No, Not Everyone Has A Moral Right To Feel Offended By Just Any Satire or Criticism

On the Ethics of Teasing and Mocking People, in Groups, in Friendships, and in Debates and Satire

Bill Maher on Rush Limbaugh, Freedom of Speech, and Misogyny

For my post criticizing an atheist billboard for how it treated images of oppressed blacks last year:

You Glance Out Your Window and See a Shackled Black Slave and a Slavery-Justifying Bible Verse. What Do You Think?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Josh Esplin

    I’m a Mormon, and I want to say that I was saddened by the posted picture and caption. This does not reflect my values at all. I believe that some things are sacred and you don’t make light of them. Human life is sacred.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Thank you Josh for condemning this. I appreciate it.

  • dmichae1

    While I agree with this article’s concerns, I can’t help but think that the Holocaust was “as cruel, inhumane, and systematic an attempt to degrade human beings as human history chronicles.”

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      They’re both up there. It’s not a competition.

    • Dafna Yee

      It is because I am Jewish and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor that I can identify with how outraged a Black person would be to see such a photograph used as a prop. I personally was sickened when I looked at those photos and I’m glad that the “joke” is no longer available.

    • DanielPeterson

      I’m not Jewish, but I’m the son of a Holocaust liberator. My father was a staff sergeant in the unit of the Eleventh Armored Division (in Patton’s Third Army) that liberated the Nazi concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria. It was a traumatic, pivotal experience for my Dad, the more so perhaps because he was ordered by his commanding officer to document, exhaustively, what they found there (includng the bodies, “stacked like cordwood” as he told me, and the still unemptied crematoria) in photographs (of which my family and I have since donated sets to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and the Simon Wiesenthal Museum in Los Angeles). He never forgot what he had experienced, and I grew up with his memory of the sheer horror of it all. Whenever I’m anywhere near in Europe, I always make a solemn pilgrimage to Mauthausen. Believe me, I am not insensitive to these things.

      I understand that racism is the modern secular equivalent of Christianity’s “unforgivable sin.” It happens to be a sin, however, of which I’m not guilty. There was no racial motive in my posting that image; there was (and is) no racial element in the relevant blog post whatever.

  • DanielPeterson

    I’ve taken the image down and replaced it with one that, I believe, makes the point I wanted to make — which was merely a satirical one about a particularly stupid comment from an academic colleague, certainly not a racist one — without the offensive baggage that many were understandably seeing in the original image. I apologize for miscommunicating. But I don’t apologize for my supposed racism, because I’m simply not a racist. No racial point was intended; no racial point was relevant to my blog entry.

    I do think, however, that some of my usual enemies will — indeed, they are — take this as a glorious opportunity to beat me up for a few days, and perhaps even, in a few cases, to seek to do me real-world damage. I wish I were somebody, perhaps like them, who had never told a joke that was taken the wrong way or fell flat, or who had never said something that was gravely misunderstood, or who had never, ever, misspoken. But I’m not, so I deserve at least some measure of public crucifying, and I have no doubt whatever that I’ll get it. There are a number of folks out there who are eager to give me my just deserts. (Not, by the way, “my just desserts,” which would be quite a different thing.)

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Thank you for coming by to explain. I never called you a racist. But there are racist implications to what you posted and it sincerely troubles me that you are presently more concerned with feeling yourself a victim than showing any introspection about those effects or about how they come off within the seriously dubious racial history of your faith tradition.

      Are you trying to imply it is my fault for criticizing you? Is there something I said which you can dispute on its merits? Is there some specific place where I treated you unfairly and overstated my case about your motives or mindset?

    • DanielPeterson

      People are certainly capable of drawing plausible race-related inferences from my posting of the image, but those inferences are very likely to be mistaken because, in fact, I intended absolutely no racial implications. (I can say that with some considerable authority.)

      I feel myself a victim — to the extent that I do (which is much more limited than you seem to imagine) — because I regularly AM a victim. There are people out there who loathe and despise me, and are very vocal about it. (The overwhelming majority of them, I’m happy to say, don’t actually know me. I would be worried if that were otherwise.) But I certainly have no problem understanding the ways in which my use of the image can be misinterpreted. That’s why I removed it. Does such understanding require “introspection”? No. It requires a knowledge of contemporary American society and its characteristic racial dynamics over the past several decades.

      And no, I wasn’t faulting you. I have certain other implacable critics in mind.

    • Patrick Mefford

      Need any help getting up on that old rugged cross Dan, or can you manage it?

    • DanielPeterson

      “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”

    • Quickmere Graham

      “Listen,” Dr. Peterson replied, “I’LL tell YOU when I’m being racist. Got it?”

    • DanielPeterson

      Well, it does seem to me arguable that I have a unique perspective on my motivations and intentions.

    • spicyhippoplankton

      You can say and do racially insensitive things and be ignorant to that fact that you have done so. And it would seem that for some people even when it is pointed out in detail why what they have done is racially insensitive, they can still be ignorant to that fact.

    • DanielPeterson

      Very possible, indeed.

      And I think it can be plausibly argued that my use of the image was racially insensitive. Even I would grant that — primarily (though not solely) because race wasn’t even remotely on my mind, as a reading of what I actually wrote should make apparent beyond reasonable dispute.

      But actual racism is a rather different thing, I believe.

    • Quickmere Graham

      “Even I would grant that — primarily (though not solely) because race wasn’t even remotely on my mind,”

      Hence, the appropriateness of identifying what you did as racist. It was racist, full stop. Your motives, your intentions do not overturn the fact that what you did was racist. Plain and simple.

    • DanielPeterson

      You use the word “racist” in rather a loose sense. Since it’s so explosive a charge, I myself would think that one would be prudent and just to be exceptionally careful with the word. But your mileage clearly varies.

      I have to say, by the way, given your history of abusive rhetoric toward me, that it’s very good for my sanity that I haven’t set it as my realistic goal to win YOUR approval. I choose, rather, to appeal to reasonable and well-disposed people, if I can.

    • Quickmere Graham

      Right, appeal to people who don’t think you posting that photograph was racist. Well done.

    • DanielPeterson

      As I said, I choose to appeal to reasonable and well-disposed people, not to you.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      I believe your account and it is much as I expected. I understand your resistance to the charge of racism as “explosive”. I think the issue is this. Trying to be color blind and being certain of one’s color blindness (for perfectly understandable reasons–you absolutely don’t want to think of people according to what shouldn’t matter, skin color) means not raising your consciousness about black people AS black people. They’re just people. That’s all you’re going to see. And since you’re engaging with them just on that level and not thinking about them as some distinct Other, that’s how you are confident you have no racial animus and no racist obsessions with color.

      The problem is this. If we don’t pay attention to race issues, we don’t get it seared into our heads that there are a number of symbols and expressions and practices, etc. that have a long racist history behind them. If we don’t actively focus on learning about these things we risk hurting blacks and perpetuating (or advocating perpetuating) nasty things related to them. The problem is that in your mind there was not a tight link forged between lynchings and blacks. It means that this incredible legacy of racist terrorism was not impressed deeply enough on you. That means you cannot adequately be sensitive in advance to justifiably strong feelings that a lot of blacks who are acutely aware of the symbolism will feel. It means that you can have no idea how callous and cruel the cavalier way you employed an image of this paradigmatic atrocity as a joke.

      And worse you need to seriously address the reality that you come from a religious tradition with an unambiguously racist history that it is trying to disown. I have not ever read you before today. Have you ever addressed how someone who is not a racist was in good conscience a Mormon when certain undeniably racist rules and beliefs were definitive teaching and practice in the faith? Have you ever discussed whether this caused you anguish of conscience? Again, has racism incurred against blacks mattered enough to you to learn about it and about how to not fall into it, even unwittingly and only unintentionally insensitively?

      These are serious issues. If I may be so bold I think your church and you as a prominent representative of it have to demonstrate a willingness to show that repenting means learning, not just denouncing racism but understanding it and how to root it out systematically. It means showing more consciousness and conscientiousness about things related to black people than you showed.

      I’m certainly not saying you are a racist. Racism functions through institutions and symbols and meanings and implicit biases and implicit sensitivities. It does not have to be at all a matter of explicit ideology or willfulness. Sometimes it’s a matter of passive, indifferent negligence. THAT’S what was revealed here and which you would do well to be a role model of owning up to and correcting for.

    • DanielPeterson

      I don’t think it’s necessarily racially insensitive to fail to connect lynching specifically with blacks. If I were from the Southeast, I certainly would do so. In the West, though, lynchings were commonly of gunslingers and horse thieves. Even so, as I say, I looked at the photo and, when I chose it (from a smaller exemplar), thought the face that I could see most clearly looked white. Hence, I thought race irrelevant. That was a mistake, but it wasn’t a moral failing.

      Sorry, but I won’t plead guilty to even indirect or oblique racism here. It simply wouldn’t be honest on my part to do so, however much I might welcome the beatific smiles of PC approval that would follow such a lie.

      Have I written on the topic of how a non-racist could be a believing Mormon before 1978? Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. One of my earliest blog entries was on that subject. I grew up in California, and I was delighted beyond words with the news of the 1978 revelation on priesthood.

    • spicyhippoplankton

      If an honest reply, and I have no reason to doubt your honesty at this point, I find it a shame that race wasn’t on your mind after selecting and posting that picture. I think that you have some reflecting to do.

    • DanielPeterson

      Here’s the fact, which Quickmere Graham, who regularly expresses his dislike of me in various fora, will immediately dismiss as a lie:

      A reading of my blog entry will show that it has nothing whatever to do with race. I was looking for an image of a mob. So I googled “lynching.” (Lynchings weren’t always, or even perhaps mostly, racial. Horse thieves, for example, were often lynched in the old West.)

      That was the first one to come up. I looked at a small version of it, and concluded (somewhat to my surprise) that the victims weren’t black. Thus, albeit jarring, the photo seemed acceptable for my purpose. So I put it up.

      When the outcry began and I decided that it was distracting from the actual (completely race-unrelated) point of my post, I went in to delete it. That was when I first looked carefully at it in a larger size and realized, rather to my shock, that the faces of the victims were, in fact, recognizably black. That made its deletion even more imperative, of course.

      There was absolutely no racial component to my use of the photo.

    • Quickmere Graham

      This isn’t true. A responder on Peterson’s website pointed out that the victims were black:

      “What does the horrific lynching of two African American men have to do with your attempt to make a joke about a professor’s misunderstanding of Mormon humanitarian efforts several years ago?”

      To which Peterson responded: “Precisely nothing. You’re looking at the wrong thing, and committing the fallacy of the perfect analogy.”

      The pictured stayed up for a while after that recognition. Peterson is trying to rewrite the story here.

    • DanielPeterson

      I still hadn’t looked at the larger image, and wasn’t sure that the photo was of a black lynching. It was only when I looked at the larger image that I realized that it unmistakably was.

    • spicyhippoplankton

      I see. It was a misunderstanding. Though I must say it is surprising that, in looking for an image of a mob, you chose the word “lynching” (a word synonymous with the appalling treatment of black people), and then posted that picture. I am not making any claims about intent, however. I just find in surprising that you weren’t more cautious about the possible connection.

    • DanielPeterson

      I wonder if this is a regional thing. “Lynching” might be “synonymous with the appalling treatment of black people” where you live, but, in the West (certainly to me, who grew up in California and now live in Utah), it commonly conjures up images of cattle rustlers and horse thieves.

    • spicyhippoplankton

      I live in northern British Columbia. I am wondering if my suggestion of reflection (and perhaps further discussion) might be useful.

    • DanielPeterson

      Well, I don’t know the associations up there. But, frankly, when I hear the word “lynching” the first mental image that appears is some kind of scene out of an old Western movie. My native habitat is California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, and — I’m very, very old — I grew up on cowboy and Indian movies.

    • Sam Smith


    • Namakaokona

      Speaking of cattle rustlers, what you are saying smells like BS from here. Just as I said: absolutely no ability to admit wrongdoing.

    • DanielPeterson

      There are physicians, I suppose, who treat olfactory disorders. Perhaps you need one.

      The fact remains that, in the American West, lynching isn’t primarily or even perhaps ever a racial thing. Insulting me isn’t going to change that.

      Chalk it up to my absolute inability to claim wrongdoing where there wasn’t any. Or, more efficiently, to an unwillingness to lie. Not even for your gratification.

    • Feminerd

      Have you heard the term “white privilege”? You didn’t think about race one bit, I believe that. You haven’t ever had to, because ‘white’ is the default. That careless non-thinking is a privilege you never earned but have had all your life. Non-whites always have to think about their race, because they are reminded of it every. single. day by the people and media around them. The fact that you could see a picture of a lynching and not know immediately the racial implications of it is … well, disturbing, really.

      I know you’re a professor, but sit in on a few classes or read some papers on race, gender, and politics. You’ll learn a lot about privilege, minorities, oppression, and more that will greatly benefit your understanding of the world around you and your place in it. It’ll be uncomfortable- learning about unearned advantages always is, because we always want to think we did it on our own. It’ll stop you making this sort of insensitive mistake, though, because once the scales fall from your eyes you’ll never be able to put them back on again.

    • Quickmere Graham

      To the author of this blog: Daniel Peterson cultivates his enemies. Most of them are inconsequential anonymous internet posters. He has, over the years, enjoyed bantering with them, citing their words with an air of braggadocio, using them to depict himself as a besieged innocent defending the Truth. He’s a victim to the extent that he, himself, has cultivated his victimhood. When you disagree with him he not infrequently simply lumps you in with all his other “enemies.” This is his typical online behavior.

    • DanielPeterson

      This is almost certainly too much “inside baseball” for Dr. Fincke and his readers, so, unless something substantive shows up here, I’m going to opt out of the conversation. Best wishes to all!

    • Quickmere Graham

      Fincke just posted substantively.

    • DanielPeterson

      And, having just noticed his post, I’ve responded.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      As a matter of full disclosure, I’ve met Patrick in real life and we’re pretty friendly online and he was the one who alerted me to your piece. But you were essentially new to me and I responded with all my own thoughts and without any suggestions at all about what to write from him. As far as I saw it he was interested in me addressing you and my assumption was that it was because we shared a network. That was at least what made me feel SO impelled that I wrote the piece.

    • DanielPeterson

      Thanks for the full disclosure. I’m not surprised that Patrick would be a factor in this. Under a pseudonym, on a rather virulently anti-Mormon message board, Patrick’s been an extraordinarily harsh (sometimes acute, but often acutely unfair and personally abusive) critic of mine for many years now.

      Anyway, I have no ill feelings toward you whatever. It’s blazingly easy to see how my use of the image can look very bad. Still, I insist that there wasn’t the slightest racial element in my action earlier today. None whatever. I’m guilty of many things, no doubt, but racism isn’t among them.

      One other note: In your initial post, above, you characterize me as being “angry” about the nonsense that that eastern professor was saying about my church. I might have been angry then, but that was years ago, and I’m certainly no longer angry, if I ever was. I just think what she had to say was ridiculous. And that she insisted on it over my denials was even MORE ridiculous.

    • Namakaokona

      You hit the nail right on the head. While I do not know Dr. Peterson well enough to know (or to care) rather or not he is a racist or simply was insensitive, what I can tell you with absolute conviction is that Mormons are almost incapable (with some wonderful exceptions) to abide criticism of any kind. They alone are right, they alone are moral and they alone possess the final moral answers to all questions, and thus are above and immune from all criticism. Dr. Peterson’s complete inability to offer any contrition, introspection or to even entertain the thought that he was wrong is in no way surprising to us Ex Mos. Can I get an ‘amen’ in the house?

  • Sam Smith

    Dr. Peterson’s colleague, Dr. Randy Bott, was given early retirement after he told a Washington Post reporter the Mormon church’s pre-1978 rationale for not ordaining African American men (the church still does not ordain women.)

    Whether that will be Dr. Peterson’s fate remains to be seen. He was recently let go as editor of a couple of on campus projects and forced out of his position at an on campus institute, returning to teaching only. His field is Islamic Studies.

    For information about a lynching in Utah, home of Dr. Peterson’s BYU, and the community’s failure to come to grips with it see here

    For a photograph of the Utah lynching see here

    • DanielPeterson

      Sam Smith’s account of recent events involving me at BYU is highly partisan and tendentious. Wrong, in fact. But there’s little doubt that he would very much LIKE me to get in trouble with the Deseret News, etc.

      As for my supposedly not having “come to grips with lynching in American history,” that’s pure hostile bunk — and it’s rather obviously too much weight to base on the slender reed of the now-deleted image.

    • DanielPeterson

      For what it’s worth, by the way, one of my earliest blog entries — and, for a very long time, my most popular entry — was a denunciation of what my “colleague” Randy Bott (whom I don’t think I’ve ever met) had said.

    • MsJack

      “Dr. Peterson’s colleague, Dr. Randy Bott, at Mormon owned BYU, was given early retirement after he told a Washington Post reporter the Mormon church’s pre-1978 rationale for not ordaining African American men (the church still does not ordain women.)”

      This is somewhat tangential to the issue addressed in this post, but I just want to point out that I thought then and still think now that all of the uproar directed at Randy Bott was beyond unfair to him. In part, the article from The Washington Post read:

      “In his office, religion professor Randy Bott explains a possible theological underpinning of the ban. According to Mormon scriptures, the descendants of Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, ‘were black.’ One of Cain’s descendants was Egyptus, a woman Mormons believe was the namesake of Egypt. She married Ham, whose descendants were themselves cursed and, in the view of many Mormons, barred from the priesthood by his father, Noah. Bott points to the Mormon holy text the Book of Abraham as suggesting that all of the descendants of Ham and Egyptus were thus black and barred from the priesthood.”

      The still-current LDS Doctrine & Covenants Student Manual—the one last updated in 2002, the one that’s used to teach BYU Doctrine & Covenants classes today—reads:

      “From the dispensation of Adam until the dispensation of the fulness of times, there has been a group of people who have not been allowed to hold the priesthood of God. The scriptural basis for this policy is Abraham 1:21–27. The full reason for the denial has been kept hidden by the Lord, and one is left to assume that He will make it known in His own due time.

      On 1 June 1978 the Savior revealed to President Spencer W. Kimball that the ban on this lineage pertaining to the rights of the priesthood was lifted.”

      So in other words, a Doctrine & Covenants instructor at BYU was thrown under the bus by his church and his fellow Mormons for telling the press things that are still found in the church-sanctioned curriculum that he is *supposed* to be teaching in his classes. When the WaPo article hit, everyone acted like the idea of blacks being descended from Cain and Ham was some outdated and discarded teaching that Mormons don’t hold to anymore, and Bott was a rogue for still championing it. But that was far from the case.

      Sure, the part comparing blacks wanting ordination to a child who isn’t ready to drive wanting the keys to the car was Bott’s own homespun take on the situation. But it was only about as infantilizing and offensive as any number of explanations that are still offered by Mormons today for why women don’t need to or should not be ordained. In both cases, Bott was used as a scapegoat for very real problems in LDS doctrine and culture that have yet to be addressed.

  • Cynthia L.

    All this talk of horse thieves reminds me of another clueless “accidental racist,” Chris Buttars (former Utah state legislator). Why is it so hard for the older generation to get informed about race? I despair of the state of our church’s membership that we have such ignorance among us.

    Story about Chris Buttars:

    • DanielPeterson

      I’m neither a racist nor an “accidental racist,” Cynthia L. But you seem to be a harshly judgmental woman. Consider the beam in your eye.

      You presume to judge me as “uninformed” and “ignorant” about racial matters, and to publicly denounce me as such? On the basis of what, exactly? Our long acquaintance? Our many hours of deep conversation? Your reading of my many treatises on the subject? Your careful study of my biography?

      You know essentially nothing about me, lady. You know absolutely nothing about my associations with people of different ethnicities. If I were to despair of the state of our church’s membership — which I don’t — it might come because of precisely such casual public character assassination as you’ve just committed.

      Fortunately, I don’t believe you or your attitudes to be typical of the Latter-day Saints.

    • Quickmere Graham

      Why do you think it’s alright to address someone as “lady”?

    • Guest

      Racism is Mr Peterson’s canonized scripture. He can’t depart from it.

  • DanielPeterson

    What, exactly, is the nature of my errors?

    Do you actually know? Do you even really care?

  • DanielPeterson

    So you’re saying that all those cattle rustlers and horse thieves in the West either were black or weren’t really lynched?

    Yes, I’ve noticed the reaction. It doesn’t make you seem more reasonable to pretend that I’m stupid or completely dense. What would make you seem reasonable would be an attempt to hear before you condemn.

    Have YOU thought, perhaps, of slowing down and listening?

    • Namakaokona

      Uh, sorry. You didn’t post any pictures of cattle rustlers or horse thieves.

    • DanielPeterson

      I posted a picture of a lynching. Which, to me, has no necessary connection with race. As my post had — indisputably — no connection with race.

      You’re certainly welcome to keep trying, though.

    • 3lemenope

      I posted a picture of a lynching. Which, to me, has no necessary connection with race.

      To the rest of the known universe, however, posting a picture of a Southern white mob lynching two black people has just a bit to do with race. Why on Earth would it matter that it doesn’t mean that to you? Are you trying to communicate with yourself?

    • DanielPeterson

      I might as WELL be trying to communicate with myself, I suppose — at least as far as YOU’RE concerned.

      As I’ve made perfectly clear already (and as you would have seen, if you had troubled yourself to read the relevant comments here, I didn’t recognize the mob as a “Southern white mob” and I didn’t see that the two victims were black. In the West, where I live, lynching was typically white on white.

      Believe it or not, those are the facts.

      Why would it matter that the photo, as I first understood it, didn’t involve racism? That’s easy: Because I’m the one being accused of racism for having posted it.

      Incidentally, what disturbance in the Force has suddenly led 3lemonope and Namakaokona to reactivate a thread that’s been dead for two months? Is this coincidence? Inquiring minds want to know. At least a little bit. Well, really, not very much.

    • 3lemenope

      Incidentally, what disturbance in the Force has suddenly led 3lemonope and Namakaokona to reactivate a thread that’s been dead for two months? Is this coincidence? Inquiring minds want to know. At least a little bit. Well, really, not very much.

      Honestly, I just saw Namakaokona’s comment and your response in the “recent comments” scroll, not realizing it was a necrothread.

      I have no opinion on the plausibility of not noticing that the lynching was a racial one. That aside, what I was attempting to point out was intent is not magic; that it does not become magically not racially tinged simply because you didn’t notice the implication. If you are communicating with others, many if not most of whom have a conception of lynching that tracks racial categories, then you can’t plausibly complain when you invoke that image and people take it racially, and what you personally meant by the image or commentary couldn’t possibly matter less, except possibly as mitigation for the charges of being an actual racist instead of merely socially unaware.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      except possibly as mitigation for the charges of being an actual racist instead of merely socially unaware.

      Which is understandable though, as being merely socially unaware is leagues less morally blameworthy than being an actual racist. In his follow up apology on his blog, Dr. Peterson, having now been alerted to the cultural implications and connotations of using a lynching image as he has done, took responsibility for those implications, consistent with his story that it was unintentional. You can read and assess his apology for yourself here

    • 3lemenope

      Thanks for the link. It does put all this in a bit more context that I was missing.

      I feel somewhat uncomfortable assessing an apology not directed at me because I was not a wronged party, nor can I legitimately claim offense at what occurred. As a white guy in America, I’ve often felt weird at the somewhat ready indignation on behalf of others on the topic of race that can emote their displeasure on their own with great efficacy; to me, that a word or phrase or notion is offensive to someone else indicates that it is most likely a foolish and counterproductive thing to say/do, but I feel it personally dishonest to elide the middle step and say instead that the act directly offends me.

      What originally attracted my attention to the kerfuffle, though, was what still seems to run through the character even of the apology, that to use a vulgar construction, “intent is magic”. An act may be racist even if the person acting is not racist, and the fact that the racism is unintentional doesn’t make it not exist. Pleading innocence of intent is insufficient to erase the effect of the expression at issue, not least because the people consuming it, at least originally, are unaware of intent for good or ill. I don’t think it bears upon the sincerity of the apology at all, and I definitely didn’t want to give the impression that I was questioning that. I merely find it interesting (and worrisome) not because of anything it says about Mr. Peterson or the apology, but simply because it’s a species of reasoning about acts that I’ve been running into quite a lot lately, from many different folks (to the point where I quipped yesterday on another site that I desperately want a bumper sticker or a t-shirt that reads “Intent: Still Not Magic”).

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      What did you think of my thoughts on intent and magic from last month?

    • 3lemenope

      I think…a lot, actually. There’s a heckuva lot there in your post, and it’s all pretty interesting. Lemme organize my thoughts a bit, and I’ll have a response for you.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Thanks, I appreciate it.

  • johndulin

    As to the question of what the intention was, I think the
    intention does not matter. Anyone engaged in public discourse would have their
    reputation severely damaged by displaying this degree of racial insensitivity.
    They would be expected to show contrition that is proportional to the act. Most
    white people, including myself, have blind spots when it comes to race. It’s
    just part of being white. We don’t know the experience of being a racial
    minority, so we are prone from time to time to display that ignorance. The best
    we can do is be contrite and try to learn from our mistakes. To use this photo in this way displays more than a typical white man blind spot—it is extremely offensive, whether or not it was intended to be. It’s about as offensive as one can be without making overtly racist statements. I would hope the Mormon community, including Dan Peterson’s friends, not just his enemies, will demand serious contrition. I have followed Dr. Peterson and appreciate his work on Islam, and tend to want to think the best of him. I have no desire to judge his intentions or defame him.
    It’s just the nature of the act. It doesn’t matter who you are, if we are to
    hold our racial discourse to any acceptable standard, we need to demand more
    than a casual apology for this kind of thing. The self-defense to contrition
    ratio needs to be heavily weighted to the latter.

    • DanielPeterson

      On the contrary, I think that intention is vitally important, not irrelevant.

      And since, as I say, race played no part in my decision to post the image, and since, as I say, I thought that it was likely the lynching of white men, I don’t really see why I need to show dramatic contrition and submit myself to a reeducation camp on, specifically, the issue of race.

      I understand full well the potency of the charge of racism, accidental racism, inadvertent racism, unconscious racism, and the like, but the fact is that I’m not guilty of any of them, and I won’t enter a dishonest guilty plea, no matter how intimidating and suffused with self-righteous anger the tribunal may be.

  • DanielPeterson

    I’ve wasted too much time on this — there seems little point in trying to defend myself before a tribunal that shows no real interest in such a defense but has already reached its verdict (with the honorable exception of a few, including Dr. Fincke himself) — so I’ve resolved to stay away over the weekend. Just so you know. I’ve got a lot of things to do and deadlines to meet, and today’s brouhaha set me back several hours. Best wishes to all here. Even to the most hostile.

    • Kittens and Jesus

      You’ve already claimed to be leaving the conversation before. You revel in this. You think highly of yourself and are sure that you’ve performed well here. You, sir are a clown who is most admired and amused by yourself. I have a friend with a doctorate who told me that part of the reason he went for the degree was to find out how many morons have one. He insists that there are more than a few. You are a piece of evidence in favor of his assertion.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Kittens and Jesus, please refrain from calling people names here.

    • Kittens and Jesus

      Good golly! Sorry if I offended someone looking at an article with a picture of a lynching.

      Welcome to the interwebs.

  • chrishenrichsen

    Thanks for helping to shed light on this. I know that many others that blog at the Patheos Mormon Channel, my self included, are appalled by this.

  • chrishenrichsen

    Here is one response:

    People like Margaret get me through these moments.

  • Denis Robert

    Sometimes you have to ask yourself why people are so willing to believe your church is able to commit atrocities like that. It may be ignorance. But in the case of the Mormon church, ignorance is not likely the culprit. Maybe it’s because it’s well known that the Church leadership is very much run like a corporation, and that successful mormons (like Romney) have to either shell out a very large portion of their wealth to the Church, or find ways to keep their money away from the Church’s long arms (again, the Romneys did that by creating fake charities whose funds would be nearly depleted by the time control reverts back to the Church).

    The Church’s charities are murky at best, and although I can never condone the slide into sheer bigotry (the accusations of forced suicide, for example), it’s entirely understandable that one would believe that the Church puts undue pressure on its cash cows to produce. Organized religions are not very different from the Mob.

    The Church can dispel all of this in a flash: all it has to do is open its books. All non-religious non-profits have to do so, why is it so unthinkable for religious ones to do it as well, if they truly are non-profit?

  • Sam Smith

    The West is part of the United States, and in the United States, as anyone with an ounce of basic knowledge knows, lynching was a principal instrument for the terrorization of African Americans. The mere fact that a few non-African American might have been lynched does not distract from this fact.

    Thus, even people from California and Utah know the role lynching played in the African American experience.

    This former Utahn and heir of Utah & Wyoming cowboys and damn near everyone else knows that cowboys shoot cattle rustlers and horse thieves, not lynch them, movies or no movies.

  • MsJack

    Dan has offered a full apology for the image he posted. I think this should be noted in the original post and everyone should drop it.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Yes, I saw, I’m very gratified, and have already edited the post to put a link to his apology at the top. He acknowledged the most important problems very well. I hope to write a follow up post about this.

    • MsJack

      Thanks, Dan. I think you wrote a very irenic and even-handed post and I appreciate you updating it to note the correction.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Thank you, MsJack.

  • Margaret Young

    My response to the images and the LDS past–also at the Mormon channel:

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      I saw this earlier today and linked to it on Facebook. Thank you for your efforts.

  • Margaret Young
    • Margaret Young

      I had planned to blog about the Mormon Church’s difficulty dealing transparently with its past and returned from a conference just in time to learn about the awful “visual aid.”

  • Jim Terwiliger

    All Christian morality is based upon slavery and guilt. This is why Christians, and now Mormons are catching so much heat.

    Without the complete submission of will you can’t be ‘saved’. just another power grab for the greedy.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Jim, that’s too broad a brush you’re painting with.

  • Shira Coffee

    Another white guy who “doesn’t see skin color” (as Stephen Colbert so often — and satyrically — observes.)