FAIR Conference

Last Thursday and Friday I attended the FAIR Conference in Sandy, UT, for the second time. The purpose of FAIR is explained well in their flyer:

mormon missionaries sistersWhen people first encounter the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, or FAIR, the first question they often ask is: “Why are you apologizing for being a member of the Church?” To aid in answering this question a formal definition is in order:

Apologetics is the “branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of the Christian doctrines.” …

Far from apologizing for the Church, LDS apologists are seeking to defend the Church. (source)

Among the speakers and attendees were several Church employees, BYU professors, and other friends of the Church. I found the talks, most of which are scholarly in nature, to be both interesting and faith-promoting.

Apologists don’t attempt to prove the truthfulness of Mormonism but, rather, prevent so-called scientific or scholarly attacks on the religion to go uncontested, thus preserving faith. Apologetics makes faith in unseen things plausible.

One of my favorite presentations was by Darius Gray and Margaret Young. They are creating a documentary on the experiences and stories of Black Mormons, a project similar to our own Mormon Testimonies. The trailer for their film was excellent.

Mike Ash’s article Hard Questions and Keeping the Faith is one of the best I’ve seen on the role of apologetics in preserving and defending faith.

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We’re your friends

We’re your friends, we’re part of the community

In his Utah Policy newsletter, Deseret News columnist LaVarr Webb points out that the Mitt Romney presidential campaign has brought the Church into the national spotlight and asks whether the Church should respond to the increased attacks. “Romney obviously will have to deal with these matters forthrightly and aggressively…but what about the LDS Church?” He answers his own question by giving two suggestions to be implemented by Church members:

Mitt Romney Mormon1. Create an anti-defamation organization.

[P]erhaps some Mormon version of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League could be established. This organization could be more aggressive than the church itself in pointing out error and bigotry. Such an entity could also conduct a grassroots education effort outside the formal church organization.

2. Church members could run ads in their local newspapers.

Local Mormon groups could purchase full-page ads in their local newspapers with a message something like:

“We’re the Mormons. Because so much is being written and discussed about our church, some of it not fully factual, we want to tell you a little about ourselves and who we are. We’re your neighbors. We’re your friends. We’re doctors and plumbers and lawyers and carpenters and business people and housewives and school teachers. We’re part of the community fabric here in Omaha.”

The ads would include names and photos of local Mormons who are leaders in the community and also names and photos of prominent national Mormons, such as major business leaders, sports figures, politicians, entertainers, etc.

Along these lines, the More Good Foundation helped create LDS News Watch to point out inaccuracies in media reporting, and I’ve blogged previously about similarities between anti-Semitism and anti-Mormonism. But the Mormon Anti-Defamation industry is a tough industry to be in, since anti-Mormonism hasn’t been entirely pushed outside the realm of political correctness and we’d have to be careful not to embitter ourselves in a victim mentality. Maybe it could be pulled off, but it would be tough.

On the other hand, I very much like the idea of reaching out as Church members to explain our beliefs. (Sounds like a neighborly thing to do.) Many prominent Church members have already done so — Clayton Christensen, Donny Osmond, Glenn Beck — as well as many “locals” from across the globe.

The Internet is the next frontier of member missionary work.

UPDATE: I should point out, however, that any group effort by Church members may be construed as an official act of the institutional Church, which we may not want. It’s probably best that Church members focus on being good neighbors and on personally sharing the Gospel, including on personal blogs.

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