Peterson is a member of the BYU’s Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), a contributor to the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), and the founder of the website Mormon Scholars Testify. He is the author of numerous articles and books on Mormon history and doctrine.
Helen Whitney’s interview questions are in bold, followed by Daniel Peterson’s response. Read the entire posted interview with Daniel on the PBS website.
[What are some positions that would justify excommunication?]
(This section included for context)
There aren’t many, really. Flat out saying Joseph Smith was a liar, I think, yeah, there’s no reason for you to be a Latter-day Saint. … It gets a little fuzzier after that. Advocating a nonhistorical Book of Mormon, for example, advocating it in the church, I’d probably say you can’t do that. If you believe it privately, that’s your business. …
If they’re not talking about it, if they’re not advocating it, then I would say leave them alone. Work with them, if nothing else, but leave them alone. So I don’t see a really clear line there. Obviously there’s no room in the church for, say, a vibrant Mormon atheist movement or something like that. …
To be a practicing homosexual – is that excommunicable?
… To be a practicing homosexual is something that will bring you into contact with the church court. To be a homosexual as such, to be of that inclination, there’s nothing excommunicable about that and there are lots of them in the church. It must be a terribly difficult road to walk.
But the standard for a homosexual is the same as the standard for a heterosexual. No sexual relations except within marriage. And if you violate that, that is one of the most serious things the church will look at. In that sense, there’s no discrimination; there’s a single standard that if a heterosexual male violates his marriage covenants, he’s likely to be disciplined, whether it’s with a man or a woman. …
As an aside, and indirectly related to the issue of homosexuality, Brother Peterson responds to Helen Whitney’s inquiry about a statement by President Packer that is often quoted – or referred to – in criticism of the Church or its leaders. In 1993, in his “Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council,” then-Elder Packer stated:
There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right.
The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals. Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them.
While Bro. Peterson doesn’t directly respond to the reference to gays, he does respond to the intellectual reference and the general threat of those who think they know more then Church leaders. I thought it might be interesting anyway.
Clearly some elders do feel intellectuals to be dangerous and a problem, and I’d love [for] you to respond to that famous quote … [that] there are three dangers in the church: feminists, gays and so-called intellectuals.
Well, as someone who aspires at least to what some call a so-called intellectual, that sort of worries me sometimes. Frankly, I see the danger, though. There is a danger that intellectuals will set themselves up as the doctrinal authorities in the church and try and supplant the leaders in the church. I think that’s an occupational hazard in a way, that we see ourselves often as: We know more, we’re brighter, and so let me run things. I know what I’m doing; you don’t.
But the church isn’t run by intellectuals. It’s run by a mix of people, some of whom are in fact intellectuals; others are not. I tend to think that’s probably healthy. My feeling is that a group of intellectuals might absolutely destroy the church if they were in charge of it. I like a line from William F. Buckley, who was once asked, given the choice, would he rather be governed by the faculty of Harvard or by the first 2,000 names of the Boston telephone directory, and he chose the telephone directory, because he felt it would be a more balanced view. …
I think the church has struggled over the years with a sense that intellectuals can be a threat. Now, I know there are intellectuals who kind of laugh that off and say that that’s just anti-intellectual. It can be. On the other hand intellectuals can be a threat. Our model of the apostasy of the early Christian church puts a lot of blame on intellectuals, some of whom I think intended to do well. The early Christian apologists meant to defend the church and make it respectable to fashionable Roman-Hellenistic society, but by doing it they transformed Christianity. They didn’t mean to necessarily, but they did. …