A new Web site, MormonScholarsTestify.org, gives scholars an opportunity to make the record clear on their thoughts, feelings and testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"There are some who may feel that people of education and learning can't be religious," the Web site states. "It is hoped that these testimonies will help dispel that myth, educate, and give insights into the thoughts and feelings of LDS scholars."
The Web site is the brainchild of Daniel C. Peterson, a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU. The site's roots are in Peterson's experiences on his mission in Europe. The attitude of many people was that Mormons were just shallow westerners — uneducated rubes. "Well, I may still be a rube," Peterson said with a laugh, "but I'm no longer uneducated."
When Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve gave a speech in 2007 encouraging Mormons to use the Internet to spread testimony, Peterson saw an opportunity. "I had the general feeling that we were under utilizing the web," Peterson said.
And so, MormonScholarsTestify.org was born, with some technical help from Tanya Spackman at FAIR (the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research).
Twelve scholars had placed their testimonies on the Web site at the time this story was written. Peterson's intention is to add one or two a week — although many of the scholars who have expressed an interest are currently in the middle of grading papers.
The Web site has drawn some attention from anti-Mormons, according to Peterson. Statistics show that so far, some of the most engaged viewers of the site clicked over from anti-Mormon sites. "The critics absolutely loathe it," Peterson said. But they can't stop reading it.
Peterson, however, is aware that some might think that limiting the site to "scholars" is a bit elitist. He doesn't think so, however. For him it is just one possible site and is mostly populated by people he knows — the scholars he works with and meets in his career. He'd like to see other people open other similar Web sites. "This is my niche," Peterson said.
A sampling of the posted testimonies shows a variety of approaches:
"As I have studied, taught and written about the law, I have been impressed that true religious and ethical principles foster better relationships among people and improve the quality of our lives. I have seen the positive effects as people strive to live these truths," James D. Gordon III, a law professor at BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School, wrote on the Web site. "The gospel of Jesus Christ gives purpose and meaning to life, and it increases our happiness and joy."
Cynthia L. Hallen, an associate professor of linguistics and English language at BYU, wrote about her journey of conversion and the miracles of people God placed in her life: "My quest for love and truth has led me here, to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, a journey of faith and intelligence, a career of scholarly and spiritual dimensions that I never could have imagined as a child seeking answers to important questions."
Royal Skousen, a professor of linguistics and English language at BYU, compared what he learned intellectually in his monumental work as editor of the Book of Mormon critical text project with what he learned spiritually. His testimony came, in part, about 30 years ago, when he read a passage in the Book of Mormon. " As I was reading this passage, the Spirit witnessed to me, 'This really happened,'" Skousen wrote.
But Skousen later learned that one of the words in the passage had been changed from "clapped" in the earliest manuscript to "clasped" in all printed editions (see Alma 19:30).
"It simply means that the Lord witnesses the truthfulness of this book irrespective of the minor errors that have crept in," Skousen wrote. "There is no error, awkward expression, or ungrammaticality in any of the printed editions of the book that will prevent the honest reader from gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon."
Peterson also shares his testimony on his Web site. "From the outset, my conviction that the startling claims of Joseph Smith and the church he founded are true has rested upon a mixture of intellectual analysis, empirical evidence and what many would call flashes of intuition."
Other scholars currently featured on MormonScholarsTestify.org are Elder Clayton M. Christensen of the Seventy, Hans-Wilhelm Kelling, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Bart J. Kowallis, D. Morgan Davis, John L. Sorenson, Kent P. Jackson and Thomas Rogers.