A unique Web site that aims to present gospel testimonies from Latter-day Saint scholars is now accessible on the Internet.
Daniel C. Peterson, a BYU professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic, said he launched "Mormon Scholars Testify" as a "personal missionary enterprise." The Web site is not sponsored by or affiliated with the Church.
Brother Peterson is a prominent and vigorous defender of Mormonism, primarily through his association with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (formerly known as FARMS) at BYU and his yearly presentations at conferences of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR).
"I hope to gather up testimonies from, well, Mormon scholars," Brother Peterson said. "I'm trying, thereby, to comply with a request made about a year ago by Elder M. Russell Ballard and reiterated by other authors in the October Ensign that we use the Internet as a way of sharing our testimonies of the gospel.
The address for the Web site is mormonscholarstestify.org.
"Eventually, I hope to have many scores of such testimonies, if not many hundreds, and to keep adding them on a regular basis," he said. "I want to have the voices of converts and life-long members, men and women, from a wide variety of disciplines and professional backgrounds. I'm particularly keen on securing contributions from people beyond Brigham Young University and the United States."
Besides Brother Peterson, contributors thus far include Marcus H. Martins, former chairman of the Department of Religious Education at BYU-Hawaii; Clayton M. Christensen, the world's foremost authority on disruptive innovation; Hans-Wilhelm Kelling, a former chairman of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages at BYU; Kent P. Jackson, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU; and W. F. Lionel Walters, an aircraft and electrical engineer and retired Church Educational System director in Australia.
Brother Peterson said the site is partly aimed at supporting missionary work. "This Web site can be seen, I suppose, as a sort of permanent, on-going testimony session. I hope that members will be strengthened by it."
He added, "I'm not looking for academic arguments for belief, but I genuinely appreciate it (and I think the readers will appreciate it) when authors include in their testimonies something about how their own studies, research and/or intellectual and cultural life has interacted with (perhaps even reinforced) their spiritual lives or their lives as believing members of the Church."
In his own case, it is something that has been on his mind since his full-time mission to German-speaking Switzerland, where Mormonism was sometimes dismissed as an inconsequential sekte, which in German has the connotation of a "cult." Even in the United States, he noted, Mormons are occasionally characterized as "ignorant, unsophisticated, provincial simpletons whose faith is too silly to sustain an educated, thoughtful person.""I assume that others besides myself reject that view, whether or not they share my irritation with it," he said. "I don't necessarily ask that it be directly rebutted, but I do see 'Mormon Scholars Testify' as potentially, at least in part, a refutation of it."
What does he hope to accomplish? "I want to build the kingdom," he said. "I want it to be known, too, that many intelligent, reflective, highly educated people find the message of the gospel both true and satisfying. That fact, in and of itself, won't convert anybody. But it might lead somebody to take the gospel more seriously, and that can provide the opening for a spiritual testimony."
The new Web site has been enthusiastically received, he said, though a few on-line critics have misread it as saying that because smart, accomplished people believe in Mormonism, that proves Mormonism true.
Others have seen it as elitist, suggesting that scholars' testimonies are somehow more valuable than those of non-scholars.
"But I don't believe this at all," he said, adding parenthetically that he comes from a non-academic family. "Academia simply happens to be my territory; I know lots of academics, and they know still others. I think there ought to be similar on-line collections of testimonies from athletes, executives, farmers, housewives, morticians, retirees, chess players, stamp collectors, everybody. The possibilities are endless, and I hope many others will take to the Web with their expressions of faith."