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Mormon Scholars Testify: David Peterson

TitleMormon Scholars Testify: David Peterson
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsPeterson, David
Access Date2 April 2018
Last Update DateAugust 2011
PublisherMormon Scholars Testify
KeywordsBook of Mormon; Early Church History; Education; First Vision; Moroni's Promise; Prophet; Scripture Study; Smith, Joseph, Jr.; Testimony

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David Peterson

Daniel Peterson’s request to contribute to “Mormon Scholars Testify” has weighed on me for several months, and as I now prepare for a new Church assignment in Brussels, Belgium, as diplomatic representative to the European Union, it seems an appropriate time to comply with his kind invitation.

A little background. I was born in San Francisco, California, and grew up in the shadow of Stanford University where Elder David B. Haight was my stake president and a family friend. I received my B.A. degree from Occidental College in Los Angeles after serving in the North German Mission with President Percy K. Fetzer, and as European Mission Secretary to Elder Alvin R. Dyer and Elder Theodore M. Burton. Graduate studies followed, leading to the J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from George Washington University, an M.P.A. degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. I have been admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court and was privileged to edit the fifteen-volume Digest of International Law while a special assistant to Marjorie M. Whiteman, the Counselor on International Law at the U.S. Department of State. Interestingly, as I departed following completion of that work, I was presented with a 1929 photograph showing the entire State Department staff in front of the Old Executive Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, with Under Secretary of State J. Reuben Clark front and center next to Secretary of State Kellogg. The gift of the photograph was their recognition of “another Mormon lawyer” whom they had come to know and respect.

Most of my career was in Washington D.C., where I was the senior policy adviser for economic affairs and director of Congressional Relations at the U.S. Department of Commerce, serving for twenty-five years as the United States Representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. I was also a professorial lecturer in law at the National Law Center, George Washington University, during those years, and served on the interdepartmental Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CIFIUS) and as senior adviser to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC). This was a time which found me as stake president of the Mount Vernon Virginia Stake, and afterwards as president of the Hungary Budapest Mission and director of the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center.

I married the former Darelyn Servoss in the Salt Lake Temple while in law school. We are the parents of seven children and enjoy seventeen grandchildren.

The actuality of the First Vision to the Prophet Joseph Smith has burned brightly since I was a young boy growing up in California. This was brought home to me by the Holy Ghost while a youth of ten. It has never waivered, never faltered, and has been a cherished possession even in light of later profound spiritual experiences. My father loved the Prophet Joseph Smith, and listening to him speak with power and conviction about the Prophet made a lasting impression. I saw myself as being much like Joseph, who described himself as being quite exuberant about life, which, he said, “will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament” (JSH:28). I have testified of him many times, and exclaim once again: “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet!” The life of Joseph Smith is a remarkable lesson in fidelity, sacrifice, and receptivity to the inspiration of heaven, while in the midst of sorrow, calumny, and trials of great magnitude.

The Book of Mormon is a treasure. Nothing compares with it in scope and magnitude as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” My experience was very similar to that of Parley P. Pratt, who wrote: “I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when night came, for I preferred reading to sleep. As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 37). This is the great witness borne by the Book of Mormon to the hearts of honest seekers after Truth who will trust in the promise of Moroni found in its final pages (Moroni 10:4). I have followed his counsel and found it true.

It is especially important in our day of preparation for the millennial reign of Jesus Christ, for it tells us how to prepare for that glorious day when He returns to the earth. I have marveled at the clarity and specificity of the Book of Mormon with regard to the exceptionalism of the land of America: “. . . it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof; and that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord” (Ether 13:2-3). Our great blessing is to live faithful lives, teach the Gospel, and worship Him at a particular time and generation wherein the Lords says “they (the inhabitants of the earth) have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; they seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:15-16). We have a great preparatory work to do.

I have experienced a long line of prophetic leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during my lifetime: Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson. Each has assumed his sacred stewardship in an orderly and inspiring manner. Each was prepared through a long tutorial by the Lord “to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses . . . to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet” (Doctrine and Covenants 107: 91-92). I have known most of them on a personal basis and have sustained all of them since I was a child. Why have I done this? Because I have received a witness from the Holy Ghost that each has been the Lord’s anointed servant, in fact the Lord’s mouthpiece and prophet.

When I think of “higher education,” I think of the Temple and its ability to consistently teach the Truth about man’s journey and ultimate destiny. It is a place of calibration with the infinite and a sure standard of behavior, thinking, and values. I learned long ago that spiritual truths, taught by the Holy Ghost, are of much greater certainty and clarity than those things taught by and through the learning of men. The Apostle Paul was exactly right when he wrote: “For what man knoweth the things of man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the word which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2: 11-14).

In these perilous times, we must be “as sheep in the midst of wolves . . . wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16), taking the Spirit as our guide, and following the wise counsel found in the scriptures and in the words of the Lord’s living Apostles and Prophets. Therein is safety and the spiritual strength to overcome the world. We are taught many things in schools and universities that are at variance with the revealed word of the Lord. The Lord has not left us alone. Our prayers of faith are heard and answered by our Heavenly Father. The Holy Ghost is a reliable and constant companion if we will seek to be worthy and apply the Savior’s Atonement in our daily efforts. It is a great period in which to be on the earth and living in joyous anticipation of the future seen by prophets in all ages since the beginning of time.


David Peterson (M.B.A., J.D., George Washington University; M.P.A., Harvard University; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University) currently serves as diplomatic representative for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the European Union, in Brussels, Belgium.

Posted August 2011