An Apology


A strictly irrelevant but serene and soothing image, from Switzerland, of my favorite kind of landscape


To illustrate a satirical quip in a blog entry that I posted yesterday, I hastily chose an image of mob violence from the web without recognizing its racial implications.  (The blog entry has absolutely no connection with race.)  Indeed, I had originally, mistakenly, thought that the victims were white.


1)  I should have examined the photo more closely, since, in many minds, the history of lynching in the United States is inextricably and understandably tied to the murder and oppression of, specifically, African Americans.  (Given my own region of origin and age, the word lynching instantly brings to my mind, not the Klan, but the typically white cattle rustlers and horse thieves of the American West.)


2)  Given the fact that I belong to a church with a perceived legacy of racial discrimination and work for a university that is sponsored by that same church, I should have been more than ordinarily careful and sensitive in dealing with anything regarding race.  But I was in something of a hurry and, in any case (as a reading of the relevant blog entry will plainly demonstrate), I wasn’t thinking about race at all.


3)  It is never appropriate, and will never be appropriate, to use a graphic image of a racial murder to make a satirical or humorous point.  I showed a lapse of judgment in this instance, and I am deeply sorry for any offense that it has caused.  I took the image down rather quickly, but I ask forgiveness, nonetheless, of those who have been offended.  No offense was intended, nor was any race-related point on my mind.  Those who have ever made a remark that they’ve instantly or soon regretted, or who have ever told a joke that went gravely wrong, or who have ever felt that their basic moral character has been misconstrued (perhaps because of something they themselves have done or said) will, I pray, be willing to pardon my relatively brief posting of that appalling image.  I hope they will show the charity that they themselves would hope for and that all of us routinely need.



  • Jeff Elhardt

    Abandon ship!

  • Don Bagley

    I’m a Californian, and I’ve never heard anyone here use the word lynch. It’s always hanging. Placerville, a nearby town, was originally called hangtown, on account of executions there. Is Mormonism “perceived” as having a racialist past, or did it really happen? I’m very pleased you recognize your gaff. But don’t try to shroud it in obfuscation and semantics. Man up.

    • MsJack

      That is seriously ungracious. Dan has admitted that what he did was inappropriate and offered a full apology. Perfection is the enemy of “good enough.”

      • Don Bagley

        Thank for replying. Now you can go back to fawning over a dishonest man.

        • MsJack

          If you think I’m someone who “fawns” over Dan Peterson, you don’t know jack (pun intended) about our history. I’ve never shied away from being critical of Dan (or, to his chagrin, his close associates) when I’ve felt it warranted. He wouldn’t even talk to me for the longest time because he felt our public encounters were too contentious, and we’re far from buddies now. But I’ve always tried to be fair to him.

          Before he posted this apology, I was busy pointing out to his defenders that all of his apologies up to this point were nonpologies:

          But this isn’t a nonpology. It’s the real thing, even if it isn’t up to your godly standards. The fact is that both you and Jeff Elhardt are being incredibly ungracious, and it reflects poorly on both of you. Dan has done the right thing. What you’re doing now is the wrong thing.

          • Jeff Elhardt

            Ungracious? Reflects poorly?

            Oh,okay. Forget those two poor souls hanging in that tree and the callous cartoonish caption Dan attached to it. Forget about any of their living relatives that might see Dan’s little indiscretion. Forget about any person of color seeing it and reliving the horror of their people’s history.
            Yeah, I’ve got to remember not to be ungracious when I look at two Americans being murdered.
            I do forgive Dan for the “cowboy excuse”, that was just plain stupid.

          • MsJack

            Newsflash for you: Dan Peterson is not the owner of a time machine. He can’t go back in time and undo what he did. All he can do is apologize for what he did, which is what he has done.

            When will you be apologizing for your crappy behavior?

          • Jeff Elhardt

            I’m sorry

            Sorry that most of us are sensitive people and we find his apology forced. Don’t bother lecturing me any on the subject. I find you quite obtuse.

          • DanielPeterson

            Just for the public record: The apology wasn’t “forced.” Nobody in any position of authority in either the Church or BYU contacted me and ordered me to do anything. Only one person affiliated with BYU — a longtime friend and colleague — sent me an email regarding the matter and he neither issued a command nor offered a suggestion. (The image was already down by then, anyway.) Nobody else called or contacted me in any way.

            Of course, Mr. Elhardt may mean RHETORICALLY “forced,” or some such thing. If so, I don’t see it

          • MsJack

            Yeah, Jeff. I’m sure you’re a real champion for racial justice elsewhere in your life—which is why when I click on your Disqus profile, I find so many other comments from you on the subject.

            You know what I find ugly? Using the very real pain and turmoil that blacks in this country experienced to stick it to some guy on the Internet you don’t like.

      • Jeff Elhardt

        Yeah Don, put it on a shelf. Let’s move on to the next apology.

    • DanielPeterson

      I’m a Californian, too, and I’ve been very familiar with the words “lynch” and “lynching” for as long as I can remember. I also knew the verb “to hang,” of course, and was thoroughly aware of the word “hanging.”

      I grew up, partially, on John Wayne, Western movies, and television shows like “Bonanza” and “Rawhide.” I can’t account, Don Bagley, for your unfamiliarity with what was, to me, a quite ordinary word,

      • Don Bagley

        Thanks for replying, Dr. I suppose we shouldn’t argue semantics. I’m fifth generation going back to Nauvoo, and, as an ex-Mormon, I’m touchy about what I see as excuses and misdirection in your words as well as those of other apologists. My former church has a long history of discrimination against black men. The priesthood ban was fully in place in my lifetime, and I don’t like how you say it was “perceived” to be racism. It was racism. Can you ever admit that the church was wrong? Or would that be giving you too much rope?

        • R.Dale Jeffery

          Have the Jews been wrong, for the last 4000 years, for not giving their priesthood to non-Levites? Is this somehow racist, or unethical or unfair?

          • Don Bagley

            The Jewish religion of the Old Testament is horrifically wrong. Their priesthood restrictions were among the least of their errors. Read Exodus, chapter 21, which authorizes and codifies human slavery. Or try Numbers, chap 31, which describes procedural genocide with God’s approval. These are entire chapters, and I’m not cherry picking.

        • Jim Wright

          Long before the Church announced the Priesthood for all worthy men, I was criticized by my mother for bringing a black man (her description was less charitable) into her home. I was threatened with removal from a college social club for sponsoring a black man for membership. I was refused service in the south for having the temerity to want to have dinner with my black roommate. Did I dislike the Church limitations on blacks? Absolutely. Do I understand why the limitations were there? No. Do I believe those who lead and have lead the church are men of good will? Yes. Do I believe in continuing revelation and the doctrine of a just God? Yes. Asking if the Church was “wrong” is, to me, asking if God was wrong.

          • Don Bagley

            Jim, your last sentence frames my question exactly. How could God be wrong? The Mormon church was dead wrong. What does that say about the relationship between Mormonism and God? (hint: it’s not good).

    • Allen Lambert

      I am from the west and farming families. Lynching was a common account of hanging. One can see it in movies. Also see wikipedia entries on lynching:
      [photo of white man being hanged in a corral]
      “The lynching of a horse thief in Oregon, c.1900.”
      “Lynchings took place most frequently in the Southern United States from 1890 to the 1920s, with a peak in the annual toll in 1892. However, lynchings were also very common in the Old West.”

      [photo of white man being hanged]
      “John Wesley Heath was lynched in Tombstone, Arizona on February 22, 1884 for his involvement in the Bisbee Massacre.”

      • Don Bagley

        I stand corrected on this issue. It was my fault to emphasize it. My apologies to you and the good Doctor Peterson on this particular word. I was wrong. That’s called manning up.

  • Quickmere Graham

    Daniel, I appreciate this post. Well done.

  • Tracy M

    I’m with MsJack. Thank you for the apology, Dr. Peterson.

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

  • Guy Briggs

    I think that the sooner we call ALL look at a photo from the past, and see beyond the color of the skin, the better off we’ll be. I agree with Dr. M. L. King that we should, instead, examine the content of a person’s character.

  • spicyhippoplankton

    Glad to see this.

  • Sam Smith

    Well said Dr. Peterson and next time I screw up I hope I handle it as well as you did in this post.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Dr. Peterson offers a sincere, heartfelt apology and you respond with ridiculous nonsense and potty mouth.

    When I was young, there was this mean little boy who would constantly swear, hit, bite and wipe boogers on those who didn’t see things his way. He would get red faced and yell a few swear words and even hold his breath till he passed out and we’d all have to go and make sure he revived.

    I’ve witnessed some of your past shenanigans. Lighten up and you might make some friends who can help you.

  • Chana Messinger

    So very very good on you for this gracious and thoughtful apology! Thank you, and much admiration for what is very difficult to do.

  • Ryan

    I was the first person to leave a comment on the blog entry that contained the picture in question. I had remarked that I thought it was distasteful to pair a humorous caption with a picture of an “actual lynching.” Shortly after I posted my comment I went back and “deleted” it because I figured I’d leave well enough alone. I knew that Dr. Peterson intended no offense.

    Unfortunately, I soon realized that “deleting” a comment doesn’t actually make it go away, it just re-labels it as a “guest” comment. Oh well.

    In any case, my comment had nothing to do with race. If I had said “actual suffering” instead of “actual lynching” my point would have been the same. How some people have turned this into a discussion of Mormon history regarding blacks is beyond me.

  • Collin Simonsen

    Why is your heart filled with hatred?

  • kiwi57

    Weren’t you supposed to have accomplished Dan’s social, professional and possibly actual destruction by April 1st or thereabouts? Or was that bluster merely an April Fool’s joke on your good self?

    • kore kosemou

      good one you shitty fucking lawyer

      • DanielPeterson

        I’ve debated whether or not to remove Kore Kosmou’s recent posts because of his language. Thus far, I’ve preferred to allow his comments to stand, as representative of his peculiar eloquence and character. They don’t make ME look bad.

      • kiwi57

        What a witty retort. I don’t really know how you come up with them.

  • GeorgeLocke

    Thank you for this heartfelt apology. It’s difficult to admit error, and you deserve a lot of credit for handling this so graciously.

    That said, I have to point out that in at least one spot, you’re attempting to minimize the damage in a mildly dishonest way.

    Given the fact that I belong to a church with a perceived legacy of racial discrimination

    The Mormon church has a very real and rather recent history of racist discrimination. What exactly do you mean to communicate with this word “perceived”? The word is often used to indicate a misconception, so your use of it here is disingenuous at best.

    • Daniel Peterson

      Thanks for your generally charitable comment.

      No, it’s not disingenuous. Perhaps I’ll explain why in a blog post somewhere down the line.

      • GeorgeLocke

        I would be interested to hear what you have to say. I’m sure your knowledge of the Mormon church and its history far surpasses mine. (I’m sure I know more about Mormonism than most Americans, but I’m afraid that that isn’t saying much.)

        Anyway, I like to nitpick. In particular, I suppose I don’t really like my use of “disingenuous” because of its implication of deliberate deception, and I want to be clear that I don’t believe there is any of that happening here.

        If you or someone else can explain the difference between Mormonism’s perceived legacy of racism and its actual legacy, I would be interested, as I said.

        • Daniel Peterson

          Really, I’ll probably post something on this in a relatively short while. But I think I’ll wait for at least a week, lest it be seen by my less intellectually honest critics — they are legion — to walk back this apology by justifying racism.


    It in strange to me that you think that only if the people being hung/murdered were “white” would it be offensive and okay to use as a humor piece. Using the hanging of two people to make a funny joke is rather twisted, regardless of race.

    Also, if you say “Given the fact that I belong to a church with a perceived legacy of racial discrimination ” you seem rather unaware of the past. It isn’t just perception, it is reality that the Mormon church discriminated against black people. That is NEVER up for debate and is incredibly, objectively true. There was discrimination. Don’t lose sight of that! You may believe the discrimination was justified, because God was the author of the discrimination for “his timing”, but please don’t ever, in any way, imply that the discrimination did not occur or is just “perceived” by some people. I think the BYU religion department professors do more to continually damage BYU and the church’s racial past than any other group of people!

    • DanielPeterson

      You may well be right about those BYU religion professors. From my vantage point, in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages in the College of Humanities, it’s sometimes difficult to tell.

      And you’re certainly right that I’m twisted.

      Thanks, though, for your charity. I wish that I, too, had never made a mistake, told a joke that failed, or said something that I wish I could take back.


        Dan, this is the problem. Instead of making it about how you characterized the discrimination as “perceived” or about how you seemingly still think that only if the people hanging were black it was an issue you simply make it about me vs you.

        And this is the very problem, even when pointing out some objective, discussable things that STILL seem wrong with how you are addressing this you make it only about a personal slight against you instead of addressing the real issues.

        Using the word “perceived” only implies that the lesson has still not been learned concerning the objectively racist past.

        Thinking that “if only” the people hanging were white it would have been okay to mock the situation is still a troubling way to think of the deaths of two people.

        But instead of thinking about those two points you just make it about protecting your image and about giving charity to you!

        • DanielPeterson

          The problem is that you want to judge me negatively. You’re zealously eager to do so. Yes, it’s about me and you.

          Your notion that I take the deaths of others lightly is grossly insulting and false. It’s putting the worst possible spin on this now-six-month-old incident. Really, an inconceivably negative spin. And it’s a fundamental misreading and misapplication of the intended joke, even if you don’t think the joke was remotely funny. That’s about you, not me.

          Your understanding of the term “perceived” as meaning “ONLY perceived” is putting the narrowest possible construction on a word in order to view it with maximum negativity. I perceive snow outside my house right now. And guess what! It’s really there. It’s real, perceived snow.

          • BYUCOLORADO

            Hopefully the continued feedback you receive from others, from many sources, about the exact types of things I am mentioning here will encourage you to think that maybe everyone isn’t out to simply personally attack you, and that MAYBE there are some legitimate issues with how you are viewing things.

          • DanielPeterson

            You don’t actually know how I’m viewing things. Your idea of how I view things is false.

            Perhaps you’ll learn, someday, that judging the thoughts and motivations of people you don’t know and may never even have met is more difficult, even for you, than you imagined.

          • BYUCOLORADO

            Continually addressing the “you vs me” dynamic instead of the implications of how you view the racism of the past (“honey, did you notice that perceived snow fell on the ground?” It is clear nobody would use the word like that who isn’t try to draw attention to the fact that what is perceived may not have existed).

            I was very plainly addressing the actual words and images you used in your writing. That has been clear from the beginning. You could have simply said “I hadn’t thought of that, maybe using the word “perceived” could make people think I am trying to communicate something that I am not and cause damage. I like to clearly communicate with people and can see how that is not great communication.” Or “I can see how using a picture of two people hanging, regardless of race, for a satirical quip could be considered inappropriate and offensive.” But you took a different path. And the path that you take is consistent and predictable. You consistently try to protect your image and seem less concerned with being very cautious about who/what you represent and how you are representing it.

            Honestly, I will stop commenting on it though. Not much point of having a conversation where the meat of the matter is ignored or dismissively pushed to the side.

          • DanielPeterson

            You have not the slightest idea what I actually think about racism and the Church’s past. You certainly can’t derive it from that word.

            I’ve told you that, as clearly as I’m capable, and you still insist on your superior insight into my views.

            And, yes, obviously a photo of two hanging people can be seen as offensive. I recognize that. I’m neither so morally insensitive nor so stupid as you plainly believe me to be.

            I appreciate your decision to stop commenting on this six-month-old matter. There’s not much point in your continuing to ignore and dismiss my actual position and thinking in order to condemn the position and thinking that you falsely impute to me.

          • BYUCOLORADO

            It is less the thoughts and motivations and what words and images convey. People who are concerned with good writing are more worried about what a reasonable person would gather from their words and images used than if that person knows their innermost thoughts and desires.

            What you wrote conveys something that is either sad for you to think, or something that you don’t mean. You seem to think my reading of your words is an unreasonable reading. I disagree with that point. I don’t pretend to be able to know people’s desires, but I do believe I can use words to figure out what people are conveying. The images and words used (even if they are not black people hanging, which is what you apologized for) imply that you, TO SOME DEGREE, believe the racism of the past was a matter of perspective and that, TO SOME DEGREE, you think that posting a picture of two white fellows hanging acceptable for a satirical quip. Both of those things saddened me, especially considering the position and influence you hold in a faith that my family attends.

          • DanielPeterson

            You’re showing yourself not to be a reasonable person. (And I’m not surprised to learn that you’re apparently no longer an active member of the Church; I’ve had too much experience with critics and the disaffected to imagine that that plays no role in your reaction to me and your insistence on continuing this.) Reasonable people who aren’t determined to be hostile listen carefully to the explanations of others and, unless compelled otherwise, give them the benefit of the doubt.

            I’ve told you what I didn’t intend. You discount it. This is six months old. You insist on raising it again.

            You claim that I think that race is the only problem with the one-time photo — which has long, long since been removed — but, in fact, it was the critics who wrote to me who, on the whole, made it an issue of race.

            And didn’t you say that you were going to stop commenting here? This begins to look a bit obsessive on your part. Do you have a job? I do. I’ve just created a final exam, and I need to leave for campus soon.

          • BYUCOLORADO

            And about the snow you would never look out the window and say to your spouse, “I perceive that it is snowing outside” when it actually is because that would be a ridiculous use of the word. You would simply say “it is snowing.” “Perceived” is used when people are trying to draw attention to the fact that what they are viewing is a matter of perception. But I think we both know that, and you are simply trying to defend your image.

            Also, if you use a picture of two people hanging in any way in “a satirical quip” you are taking it lightly. But you only imply that the race of the people hanging were what was wrong.

          • DanielPeterson

            Actually, with my background in philosophy, I might WELL say “I perceive that it’s snowing outside.” In fact, I’ve probably said it.

            And you haven’t a clue as to what I was trying to say with that picture. I regret my use of the photo now, of course — primarily because it has led to misunderstandings such as yours. They were understandable, at the first. They’re not so easily understandable when I’ve apologized and clarified.

            What I find objectionable in your comments here (and found objectionable in a few others, months ago) is your insistence that you know what I was thinking (or not thinking) in choosing the photograph, when I’ve explained that, in fact, that isn’t what I was thinking. Your determination to override what I say because of your superior knowledge of my motives and attitudes and your superior moral sensitivity is uncharitable, to say the least of it, and has the appearance (at a minimum) of arrogance.

          • BYUCOLORADO

            Dan, it is unreasonable to say that people use the word perceive, even if have a background in philosophy, unless they are trying to draw attention to the fact that one’s perception of the event/thing is a matter of perspective. The Mormon church’s treatment of blacks was based on race, and therefore, under every sense of the word “racism” it would apply. The use of the word “perceived” draws attention to the fact that for some they may not view it is racism or see it through that lens. And that is what can be very offensive to people, that anyone would even imply that the racism did not occur.

            “To illustrate a satirical quip in a blog entry that I posted yesterday, I hastily chose an image of mob violence from the web without recognizing its racial implications. (The blog entry has absolutely no connection with race.) Indeed, I had originally, mistakenly, thought that the victims were white.”

            It is very clear from the above statement that you thought the main problem was the race of the people in the photo. You say later that it somehow would have been lessened had they been horse thieves. It is inappropriate to use the deaths of any people to illustrate a satirical quip. Does that really need to be said?

            The words and images that you use to communicate your ideas imply, by their usage and meaning, how you view things. It doesn’t take an incredibly uncharitable person to draw that conclusion.

          • DanielPeterson

            I’ve told you how I was using it.

            Call me a liar, if you choose, or drop the matter. (You said you were going to do so.)

            This is seven months old. I appreciate your attempt to teach me about writing and ethics. But it’s beginning to look a bit obsessive.