Once More, Briefly, on Martin Luther King


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


My blog entry about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., posted yesterday, has thus far earned me accusations of “sophistry,” “racism,” dishonesty, sympathy for segregation and slavery, ideological alliance with the Ku Klux Klan, and having led a “little,” “arrogant,” and essentially worthless life.


Such responses have fascinated me, since the point that I was making was simply that flawed people can, despite their failures and failings, be great — and that Dr. King, whom I admire in very many ways, was genuinely great.  I thought it an appropriate tribute on a day meant to commemorate his legacy.  Some have disagreed, which is fair, but the intemperate and often personally insulting quality of their disagreement has been striking.


Here’s the kind of thing that I had in mind:  I’ve always been impressed by this quotation from Lorenzo Snow, who, as a young man, lived in the Smith household and observed Joseph Smith at close hand:


“I saw the imperfections in [Joseph]. . . .   I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had those imperfections the power and authority He placed upon him . . .  for I knew that I myself had weaknesses, and I thought there was a chance for me. . . .  I thanked God that I saw these imperfections.”  (President Lorenzo Snow, private journal entry, quoted in Neal A. Maxwell, “Out of Obscurity,” Ensign [November 1984], 10.)


My post ended, yesterday, with a refusal to pronounce final judgment and an expression of hope for mercy from a merciful Heavenly Father.  That wasn’t just window-dressing.  And I explicitly included myself in that hope for mercy,


Incidentally, the coincidence probably means nothing, really, but it’s noteworthy to me that Joseph Smith and Martin Luther King lived to almost precisely the same age, and that both were cut down by gunfire from cowardly bigots.



On California today
New Testament 194
When will the super volcano under Yellowstone erupt again?
"ISIS opens new front in Egypt"
  • Stephen Smoot

    “Incidentally, the coincidence probably means nothing, really, but it’s noteworthy to me that Joseph Smith and Martin Luther King lived to almost precisely the same age, and that both were cut down by gunfire from cowardly bigots.”

    Ooh, now you’re gonna get it. Brace yourself for the MDB crowd to come out of the woodwork (or skulk in anonymity on their board) and lambast you for daring to compare Joseph Smith with Martin Luther King in even seemingly trivial ways, you racist, bigoted, KKK sympathizing goon!

    (Incidentally, your economic theories aside, I got what you were trying to say in both of these posts, and think you’re right. Great people can do great things and still have character flaws. Too bad your point was missed by zealous anti-Petersonites who can’t seem to not hyperventilate at the mere sound of your name.)

    • kaph

      Well, don’t let them know about D&C135:3 in that case!

      But, seriously, what’s MDB

      • Stephen Smoot

        “But, seriously, what’s MDB”

        A particularly unpleasant message board which consists mostly of atheist ex/anti-Mormons who relish hating Dan Peterson in particular and “apologists” in general, in addition to heaping scorn and contempt on anyone who professes admiration for or belief in Joseph Smith or the Church. A poster who sympathizes with Dan or who defends the Church or Joseph Smith can expect a good dose of personal insults, vulgarities, and the like direct at them in a breathtaking quantity.

        MDB reminds me of something out of an H. P. Lovecraft novel, if Lovecraft possessed a deranged enough imagination to conjure such a monstrous hell.

        • JohnH

          In my opinion it is best to ignore those places on the internet where insults, vulgarities, and the like are the common or accepted response to disagreement. There are always plenty of other places to go online and even plenty of places where actual discussion is possible and encouraged.

  • http://realintent.org Bonnie

    That was exactly what I got from your post: that one of the most hope-ingraining practices of our God is to call people “of like passions” to do his work. I can honestly say that my testimony of Joseph Smith was sealed in bedrock when I read Rough Stone Rolling. There before me was the evidence: God could work with great material in an unpolished form – perhaps he can work through someone so flawed, unintelligent, inexperienced, and irritating as me (even if it’s a considerably greater stretch.) Ah well. I suppose we all have our detractors somewhere.

    • danpeterson

      Precisely. Thank you.

  • Ed Ludeman

    I agree with everything said in both posts on this topic (just so you know you’re not alone :) ). I think these posts have served well to show that we are all, to borrow a great phrase, “Rough Stones Rolling”.

  • Wade Davis

    You know, I guess we can all dream of the day when people can read the good intentions of our hearts and credit us for them. Until that time, we struggle to express ourselves in ways that get across our meaning. Dr. Peterson, I appreciate your attempt to smooth over the disagreement about your post by further clarifying your intentions. But, in answer to Stephen Smoot, I would say this: a negative reaction to the first post cannot be reduced to so-called “anti-Petersonites” roaming the land waiting for any pretext to attack your hero. The memory of Dr. King is done even less service by you when you attempt to trivialize the reaction in this way. My point, which I no doubt made poorly, is that we all ought to exercise greater care in how we navigate our brothers and sisters’ sensibilities regarding the contributions of their great heroes, whether those accomplishments be those of Joseph Smith, Jr. or Martin Luther King. I respectfully disagree with Dr. Peterson when he contends that Martin Luther King Day is the time to reflect on the faults of King first, just as I think he would hope that others would not open their remarks on Joseph Smith in a very unflattering way on the anniversary of his birth.

    • Stephen Smoot

      “a negative reaction to the first post cannot be reduced to so-called “anti-Petersonites” roaming the land waiting for any pretext to attack your hero.”

      My (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) remarks were solely based on the quoted text in my first comment, and not based on the past negative reactions to Dan’s last post.

      What’s more, however, you’d be surprised the kind of things Dan’s enemies use (sometimes even fabricate) to attack him with. Even innocent observations like the one above don’t escape the jaundiced eyes of his Malevolent Stalker, for example, and are quickly warped into some grotesque and bizarre conspiracy theory about how Dan must deep down be racist, or sexist, or elitist, or sociopathic, etc. I’d be willing to wager dollars to donuts that right now on that contemptible board a gaggle of Dan’s enemies are snickering to themselves at how much of a fool Dan is making himself out to be, and sanctimoniously shaking their heads at his alleged racism.

      It’s truly a bewildering spectacle to behold.

    • danpeterson

      Wade Davis: “I respectfully disagree with Dr. Peterson when he contends that Martin Luther King Day is the time to reflect on the faults of King first.”

      Where on earth have I ever made such a “contention”?

      Please stop inventing obnoxious nonsense and blaming it on ME.

  • David Kent

    Dan, your original post was perfectly clear. You spoke a message of hopeful mercy for the imperfect. I suspect these people understood exactly what you meant. They choose to be offended because it was you who said it.

    • danpeterson

      Thanks. I thought it was quite clear, too. The people attacking me for racism and for Klan-like rhetoric seem, to me, plainly to be reading things into what I wrote that I absolutely didn’t say. I can only presume that the occurrence of my name, coupled with anything even slightly less than adulatory of Dr. King, evokes in them a Pavlovian response that shuts down their reasoning capacity and their ability to read. If there’s another explanation for the weirdness, I’d like to hear it.

  • Erich Zann

    Dr. Peterson,
    Some of the negative responses to your original post were clearly reaching for a meaning that wasn’t there. If I’d been teaching a college course and asked my students to simply identify the intent of your post and they had given responses such as some of these (i.e. that you meant to attack King, that you were stating racist views or supporting slavery, etc.), they would have failed the assignment. Whether or not you secretly hold racist views, applaud King’s assassin, or act as Grand Dragon in the Klan, your entry said none of this.

    • Wade Davis

      “Whether or not you secretly hold racist views, applaud King’s assassin, or act as Grand Dragon in the Klan, your entry said none of this.”

      Judging by your sloppy interpretation of the critical posts, I am relieved that you do not teach a college course.

  • Erich Zann

    Mr. Davis,
    Clearly you can’t interpret posts yourself. I never said anyone accused him of these things. My point was that even if he were such an extreme racist in his private life, his original post did not suggest that.

    • danpeterson

      Thank you for your reasonable posts. I appreciate them. You get it.

    • Wade Davis

      A note from Imperial Wizard Daniel Peterson:

      Dang. I’ve several times inadvertently clicked the “edit” button rather than the “reply” button. Just so in this case, again. So some of Wade Davis’s criticism of those who don’t criticize me sufficiently has, alas, been lost. For which I apologize.

      But some, quoted immediately below with my response, does:

      “Just because his fans “get it,” and are willing to come to his aid, does not mean that others are wrong for concluding that he might have framed his comments with more care.”

      Just because you DON’T “get it” doesn’t mean Erich Zann and other, better, readers aren’t correct.

      • Wade Davis

        OK. So, rather than respond to my comments maturely in your own post, you have decided to 1) delete my comments, 2) call yourself “Imperial Grand Wizard,” and 3) respond to my comments over my original comments. Poor form, Dr. Peterson. If you won’t respond to the comments in full, you would be better off deleting them entirely rather than hijacking them. Indeed, why allow comments at all, if you are going to show your willingness to manipulate and stifle the comments of others? Please delete my above comment, if you won’t allow it to remain in its entirety.

        • danpeterson

          Wade Davis:

          I’ve already explained that it was inadvertent, and I’ve apologized.

          If you want to insult me and to accuse me of lying, go ahead and do so, plainly. I’ll let it stand.

          But then — I have to be frank — I’ll delete every subsequent post from you. (And, given your record, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of them.) I simply won’t engage in conversation with somebody who can’t abide by the minimum standards of civility and respect, who refuses to allow that those who disagree with him can do so in good faith. (You’ve been walking a fine line for quite a while now, what with accusing me of “racism,” dishonesty, and the like.) And, since this is my blog, I don’t have to provide a platform for such people. If you want to defame and insult me, do so elsewhere.

        • Erich Zann

          Mr. Davis,
          Dr. Peterson’s use of the term Imperial Wizard was clearly a reference to one of my comments. You mention its use as though it offends you. Why on earth should it?

          • Darren

            “Imperial Wizard” is not desirable. That represents low life bigotry. But “Pinball Wizard”? Now that’s something.


            (Sorry for the open shirt on Roger Daltrey. Such immorality)

  • Rodney Ross

    Dan, I admire your blog and am a groupie and am not a groupie for many things. FAIR, BYU sports and your blog are about it. How boring it would be if we always agreed, but you are always well reasoned.

    I congratulate you on your courage for putting yourself out there and thereby invite the inevitable criticism from small minds. It amuses, yet saddens me when I note that the name-callers cannot handle it when one asks them for something substantial. But that is another issue. Keep up the great work.

    Thank you!

    • danpeterson

      Thank YOU!

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    It is ironic that people who attack Dr. Peterson and others for defending Joseph Smith can jump all over him for giving an honest historical appraisal of Dr. King. It suggests thst they don’t regard anyone–King, Smith, or Peterson–as a real person, but only a caricature to be manipulated for their own purposes.

    Frankly, in his many instances of pointing good people among the many Muslims in the world, Dr. Peterson has been fighting against racism and prejudice with zeal and fortitude in the face of ignorant masses who think their patriotic duty is to throw Muslims under a train.

  • Ryan

    Where did all these professional outrage artists come from? Do they travel in a troupe?

    Dr. Peterson, thank you for the thoughtful, informative, and (by any reasonable stretch of the imagination) inoffensive posts.

    • danpeterson

      Thank YOU. It’s good to know that there are people out there who aren’t so programmed, politically, that they lose their capacity to read and think reasonably — let alone to behave in a civil manner.

  • Manuel Villalobos

    Well! Joseph Smith has been brought into the mix. I guess they do have a thing or more in common. Including the adultery and the plagiarism, but that is probably material for another post. ;)

    • Darren

      Eh, you cannot possibly support either charge against Joseph Smith without substantial doubt to you claims. MLK, however, ummmmm, even his wife knows of his adultery as well as family members who love him and cherish his accomplishments. As for his plagiarism: http://www.snopes.com/history/american/mlking.asp (#2)

      Were these investigations wrong?

  • Manuel Villalobos

    I wanted to add that I personally respect the tone and facts shared by the author of both this and the original MLK post. I do not find them offensive but I do find them provocative. Historical icons are difficult to address with objectivity and emotions (which happen faster than reason in the human brain) will fuel reactions, some unfortunate.

    While one ought to expect civility on a discussion of this matter, one must also not be surprised at reactions fueled by raw emotion and not moderated by reason. The same thing happens when Joseph Smith’s character is talked about in objective ways flaws included, immediately, those who are under the beacon of his legacy tend to react in similar emotionally raw ways. It is simply the nature of these types of subject matter.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Mr MV I have no idea who Joseph Smith was supposed to have plagiarized from. There is no contemporary written work comparable to the Book of Mormon. Certsinly paraphrasing the Bible is not plagiarism, or rvery Rabbi and pastor would be guilty of doing it every sabbath day.

  • Manuel Villalobos

    Mr Swenson,

    My comment was actually unfair in that there is no evidence that proves beyond a doubt that Joseph Smith plagiarized any materials. Nevertheless, I subscribe to the notion that there is heavy evidence that materials generated by Joseph Smith such as the Book of Mormon and the translations of papyri and the bible that now compose the Pearl of Great Prices do not have the roots that he claimed. Similarly to presenting work as being one’s own but which is not really one’s own, I think the way Joseph presents these works (which he claimed to have translated by the gift of God) to the world is a bit short of truth. That is why I stated that is material for another post.

    I will not respond to further comments regarding this issue since I realize they will undoubtedly be a long threadjack that in the end will lead nowhere. I am a Mormon, but I am very well aware of the difficulties in trying to view the Book of Mormon exactly as Joseph Smith claimed it to be. While not fully, I partly support the theory that the Book of Mormon is conceptually linked to View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith. Although I don’t think this amounts to plagiarism, I do think the way Joseph claims the book came about is not completely honest. This is a complex subject and I am really not going to expand any more on it.

    • JohnH

      Have you happen to have read View of the Hebrews?

      • danpeterson

        I have. Can’t say I was impressed, or that it seemed an obvious source for the Book of Mormon.

        • JohnH

          Which is my point; it seems very common for people to take an opinion on a subject which is completely dependent on an available source material without ever having read the source material in question. Often times reading the source material leads to a different conclusion then the popular one.

          Maybe he has read the View on the Hebrews and thinks that it is a source for the Book of Mormon, which leads directly to the question of when was the last time he read the Book of Mormon. Assuming he has read both then he is entitled to have an opinion on the subject, otherwise he is just parroting back what someone else told him without checking it or forming his own thoughts.

      • Darren

        Did Joseph Smith read it?