The Bad Old Days of Peterson at the Maxwell Institute

The Bad Old Days of Peterson at the Maxwell Institute March 21, 2018


Dan Peterson Selbstbildnis
Me, in an unusually benevolent mood
(Wikimedia CC public domain image)




John Dehlin has posted a new podcast interview (conducted on 13 March 2018) with someone named Bert Fuller, whom I don’t know and whose face and name ring no bells with me, about BYU’s Maxwell Institute.


Mr. Fuller is a former employee of the post-2012 Maxwell Institute and is now both inactive in the Church and a graduate student at the University of Toronto.


Kent Wallace called my attention to the interview, saying that Dr. Dehlin and Mr. Fuller discuss me, starting at about the 40-minute mark.  So—why not?—I’ve now listened to the first fifteen minutes of the interview and then, over lunch, specifically to the portion of it commencing after 40:00.  (When I get the time, I’ll listen to the rest.)


In the meanwhile, here are some quick reactions:


  • During the opening portion, I was struck by John Dehlin’s apparent cozy familiarity with “Morgan and Blair”—that would be Morgan Davis and Blair Hodges—of the Maxwell Institute. That in itself, I suppose, is a symbolic reflection of the deep change that occurred at the Institute in 2012.  Dehlin has been personally acquainted with me for many years now, but I don’t rate a friendly reference as “Dan.”  And they’re seemingly friendlier to him than to me.
  • Contrary to Mr. Fuller’s suggestion, as far as I’m aware my dismissal from the Maxwell Institute in 2012 had little or nothing to do with Dr. Gregory L. Smith’s lengthy essay on John Dehlin’s public activities, nor indeed any particular connection with John Dehlin at all.
  • Fuller is right that “the people at the Maxwell Institute” at the time of my expulsion in 2012 wanted nothing to do with “apologetics.” They made that clear by engineering my purge.  Of course, they weren’t the people who had founded and led the Maxwell Institute for almost all of its history—people like Jack Welch, Noel Reynolds, Stephen Ricks, and so forth.  They were the staff employees that the Institute’s founders and original leaders had hired, when sufficient funds were on hand, to help in carrying out its mission.  I was effectively the last man standing of the ancien régime, and I needed to go.  
  • Dehlin is incorrect in saying that I “commissioned” Greg Smith’s essay on his public statements.
  • Dehlin’s suggestion that the FARMS Review went after any book that “the Church didn’t like” is deeply misleading. The Church never directed us to puff or pan any book or author.  Editorial decisions were made by the editors alone.  Moreover, we never ordered an author to praise or criticize a book or an author.  We simply asked someone to review a book and allowed him or her the freedom to wholeheartedly or selectively endorse it, to critique, or to condemn it.    We didn’t even specify length or number of words.  Occasionally, as in the case of Greg Smith’s essay, we accepted submissions that we had not solicited.
  • No “tithing dollars” were devoted to critiquing Dr. Dehlin. Not anyway, at the Maxwell Institute.
  • According to Dr. Dehlin, I was asked not to publish the Greg Smith essay about then-Mr. Dehlin’s public statements and activities, so I “threw a tantrum and was fired.” Again, this false and misleading.  When Jerry Bradford asked me not to publish Dr. Smith’s essay—whether his request was to deep-six it permanently or simply to delay it for an indefinite time was never made clear—I immediately complied, without hesitation or protest.  As it turned out, Dr. Smith had another essay in the pipeline, a review of several books on evolutionary biology, that we could insert in place of the other one.  However, since, as it happened, no further issue of the FARMS Review ever appeared, that article by Dr. Smith eventually appeared in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture:  “‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’: The uses and abuses of evolutionary biology in six works.”
  • To the best of my knowledge, nobody ever donated money to the Maxwell institute specifically earmarked for critiquing Dr. Dehlin or anybody else. I never heard of such a thing.  We never critiqued (let alone “attacked”) any specific individual or any specific movement or group at the request of a donor.  Dehlin describes such donations as “seedy” and “gross.”  He would have been more accurate had he described them as “fictional” or “nonexistent.”
  • Yes, I’m aware of a relatively substantial donor to the old FARMS and the pre-2012 Maxwell Institute who really, really doesn’t like Dr. Dehlin, because he believes that Dr. Dehlin’s efforts did grave damage to his family. (I expect that Dr. Dehlin has that donor specifically in mind.)  But that donor never ordered or requested or even hinted for us to do anything in particular about Dr. Dehlin.
  • I can recall only one instance where a donor told me that I should write something.  I wasn’t interested in the subject, and I never did.
  • I reject Dr. Dehlin’s slanderous characterization of my writing (and of the writing done under my editorship at FARMS and the Maxwell Institute) as largely devoted to ad hominems and to “insulting” and “maligning” anybody who raised a “question” about the Church. But, in this regard, I freely acknowledge that opinions will continue to vary, and that they’re largely subjective.
  • Dr. Dehlin’s estimate of his importance to the Church in 2012, of his helpfulness to it, and of his value to the Brethren seems to me rather grossly inflated.
  • I feel that I need to point out that, in implicitly contrasting the “ad hominem” apologetics over which I allegedly presided with the solid scholarship of Maxwell Institute sub-units like the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) directed by Dr. Kristian Heal, Dr. Dehlin overlooks the fact that, besides founding and leading the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI) that the Maxwell Institute has now given to the Dutch academic publisher E. J. Brill, I served as the director of CPART before Dr. Heal assumed the reins, and I was involved very deeply in its work with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Herculaneum papyri, the Vatican Apostolic Library, the Maya murals at Bonampak, and so forth. In other words, my role as Dr. Jekyll should not be entirely ignored during laments of my supposed role as the malignant Mr. Hyde.  (Moreover, it should be noted that CPART, too, has now been closed down.)
  • I note without comment Dr. Dehlin’s dismissal of the work published by the Interpreter Foundation as not academically “credible,” but simply invite people to “come and see” (cf. John 1:39):


I’ve made a vow that I will not permit false narratives about the events of 2012 to go uncontradicted.  This blog entry—by no means the first (see this one, for instance)—is posted pursuant to that commitment.



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