The annual FAIR Conference is taking place today and tomorrow in Provo, Utah. (Streaming of the conference is available for a small fee here.) I plan to post a few brief summaries of the presentations from my notes here to give readers a sense of the proceedings. Although there may be a few editorial observations, for the most part I’ll just summarize what the speaker is saying. In other words, this is just some brief notes. Full transcripts and recordings should definitely be consulted when they become available. I’ll be adding notes as I go, so keep refreshing the page to see more. –BHodges
Michael R. Ash, “Shaken Faith Syndrome, Part Deux.”
Ash is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome, a book which addresses the relationship of doubt and faith, and offers apologetic responses to criticisms of Mormon belief, history, etc. He’s published articles in Dialogue, Sunstone, the Ensign, Mormon Times, and the FARMS Review. Ash is generally candid, acknowledging the real pain felt by people who come to doubt or disbelieve their religious convictions. He observes, citing D. Michael Quinn, that church leaders typically have the same knowledge of Church history that average Seminary graduates have, which isn’t very in-depth. He cited Hans Mattsson, the emeritus Area Authority recently interviewed in the New York Times, as an example of a higher ranking leader who did not have a deep understanding of Church history. He cites recent efforts by the Church to provide more specific understanding of Mormon history, including the Joseph Smith Papers Project, new curriculum developments, and online sources. He emphasized that doubting is not a sin, but a normal part of human faith development. If Ash overemphasizes the readiness of apologists to answer all criticisms of the Church, his emphasis on learning how to negotiate doubts through study, patience, and prayer—a process or faith journey as opposed to ingesting a collected body of provable answers—seems a good way forward.
Ronald O. Barney, “Joseph Smith’s Visions: His Style and the Record”
Barney was an archivist and historian for the Church History Department for 33 years, an associate editor of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and currently serves as executive director of the Mormon History Association, among other things. Barney’s presentation aims to offer a few insights from the documentary record that must be considered in any assessment of Joseph Smith, and his “discreet prophetic manner.” Barney is working on a book on JS and his prophetic style, and includes some brief illustrations from the book in this paper. He acknowledges his debt to LDS historians, but notes we also owe a great debt to critics who have demanded answers to hard questions, and have drawn conclusions that have provoked a response.
Barney: We can no longer assume that reliance on sincere testimony will be enough to allay serious charges. Belief in JS’s claims, and in God and Jesus, are matters of faith. But there are empirical things that can serve to disprove or corroborate faith claims. Fragments and shards from earliest documents substantiate the view that JS was a “truth teller,” not a “pious fraud,” and that he experienced the things he described. A distorted arrangement of evidence can make it seem otherwise. Fawn Brodie posited that JS’s first vision was a later invention, or a half-remembered dream, for instance.
Why didn’t JS immediately explain the first vision to everyone? The trust of Barney’s paper is that JS was adept at “keeping sacred confidences,” he was quiet about what he understood to be sacred experiences. Alma 12:9, it is given to many to know the mysteries of God, but they are under a strict commend only to impart what God allows. Initially, JS had personal instincts that precluded him sharing, though he shared with a few he thought would sympathize. After being rejected, he learned and protected his experiences. Refers to the various first vision accounts from 1832, 1835, 1838-9, 1842. JS was “induced” to publicize in response to many of the rumors which circulated about his claims. Pattern: JS told a few followers, the story spread, then he had to publicly tell the story, doing so with minimal description. The Church has come to proclaim it loudly as proof that JS was a prophet, but JS himself was not so open about it, as with other visionary experiences. Moroni had to insist that JS tell his father about his night visions. Later, Hyrum Smith asked JS to describe the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, suggesting that JS was being asked particularly about the translation process and the angel. JS said “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars,” etc. In preparing for the dedication of the Kirtland temple, JS instructed members to keep manifestations from God to themselves. The delivery of keys at the temple were not spread early on. No account of restoration of Melchizedek priesthood resulted from this tendency, etc. JS had other experiences he never really described. We have provocative statements without fuller description, like in the Wentworth letter, “after having received many visits from the angels of God…” without noting what they were; other examples given, like D&C 128. JS institutionalized this principle: Beware of what you teach; the mysteries of God are not given to all men, they should only impart what they are commanded to. Hyrum Smith, Times & Seasons. Also D&C 105:23.
Two other quick features illustrating JS’s honesty and religious dignity, underscore veracity of his behavior as prophet. Gives insight to JS’s style. JS didn’t publish a single article in the Evening and Morning Star, a church newspaper, indicating he wasn’t anxious to dazzle his followers, etc. Second, of JS’s sermons (some 450 during ministry) none was captured verbatim, despite his prolific use of scribes for revelation, etc. Uncomfortable with writing skills, etc. Other religious leaders of the period had many sermons recorded, or published articles in papers frequently. [The evidence presented does not necessitate Barney’s interpretations; Barney does not anticipate objections. This shortcoming may stem from the demands of making a brief presentation. Barney’s paper highlights the problem of filling in gaps of historical reconstructions.]
Q: When does book come out? Q: What changed for JS, his reticence early to his later boldness in Nauvoo? RB: My intention here is to show that claims to the effect that JS made up his early stories later on fail to materialize because of demonstrable evidence that I think exists that he was careful about these things.
Q: Did JS only mention God in the first account? Why did it change? RB: That first account was forestalled, not complete, and it was written in the idiom which other people who had Christian experiences wrote. It wasn’t published, etc.
Panel Discussion on Feminism and Sisterhood, with Neylan McBain, Valerie Hudson, Wendy Ulrich, Kris Fredrickson, Maxine Hanks
McBain: I presented last year on how our speech and practices can increase women’s participation in the Church. Received 100+ emails from fathers and husbands detailing what members are doing to improve, there continues to be an us-versus-them attitude in many discussions about women. (The “wear pants to church” person received threats on her Facebook page. Elaine Dalton was attacked for emphasis on virtue, etc.) so it’s a difficult issue.
Q: Do the panelists identify as Mormon feminists, and why or why not?
Valerie Hudson: I wrote a piece on Mormon Scholars Testify called “I am a Mormon because I am a Feminist.” I don’t find a contradiction, but it depends on definitions of Mormon and feminist. Feminism speaks to equality of men and women, but equality does not mean identical. God’s creation includes diversity. We are a Christian religion that believes in a Heavenly Mother, and there couldn’t be a Heavenly Father without one. We believe Eve did not sin in the Garden. We believe that there are behavioral standards for men, General Authorities condemn violence and abuse, pornography, etc. Daughters are valued. There is a sense that this people, apart from all others, believe doctrinally that women and men are to be regarded equal. Everyone in this audience is actually a feminist already. Equality in the context of difference.
Maxine Hanks: I’ve been a feminist since high school, back then called women’s libbers. There are different types of feminisms which are adapted to different contexts. Two main camps: Equality Feminism: addresses ways men and women are equal, intellectually and spiritually. Difference Feminism addresses ways they are different with unique needs unique to different bodies. Both are needed. I’ve resonated with most types of feminism throughout my life at different times. I value them. Mormonism is one of the few religions that incorporates and institutes equality and difference feminism. The word itself has been polarizing, so you don’t need to use the term. Mormon women in the 19th century were on the forefront of women’s rights. If you vote, you’re a feminist; if you work outside the home , a life in the public sphere, using birth control, feminist.
Kris Fredrickson: Faith actually comes through a process of doubting, questioning, and wondering, so we should allow that to take place in the church today. Feminist is a troubled, complicated term, defined differently by all who identify with it. Sometimes used as a label to identify others. A working definition: if you classify a disciple of Jesus Christ as a feminist than I am a feminist. Quotes a source on Christ’s conduct in regard to women, submission to parents, filial duty, teaching of sacredness of marriage and duty of obedience to his law. Studying Christ’s life and words point to principle of equality of life of all humans, the basis of his social philosophy. D&C 25, Emma told to study, learn, teach, public roles for women. On the other hand, I think the broader spectrum of feminism has more problems. Too many self-labeled feminists in this country who are not interested in empowering all women, but a smaller group of women which denigrates women and family.
Wendy Ulrich: A psychologist by training, I come to this question from that perspective. It seems that to admit you are feminist is to admit that you’re angry, don’t like men, or think the world has some basic unfairness. I’m troubled that we have that perception of feminism. Quotes Pres. Hinckley about women being abused and overlooked in history. Consider myself a feminist, not angry but dismayed, seeing negative experiences women I love have had, still happening in the world. When we see that happening in the church we may get angry and also confused, the church isn’t supposed to be that way. There isn’t a theology more empowering for women out there, we have an incredible history of feminist women in the church making a difference in the world and church, and I’m astounded by opportunities women have to exercise spiritual power, receive spiritual gifts, and be lauded in church for contributions. She is concerned that discussions on the topic sometimes get tangled in a war of words and tumult of opinions (quoting JS’s first vision account). We can know by asking God, who giveth to all men and women liberally, and doesn’t upbraid when we have questions or are confused.
McBain: Q: I’m impressed that we have theologian, historian, psychologist, etc. on the panel. Ask the panelists to dwell on the key tensions that exist among women in the church today, and why is there discord today, why can’t we do this on blogs, in the halls, etc.?
Hanks: So many. Reached a critical mass, which is exciting and interesting, fraught with conflict. First: clashing realities. My reality versus yours. Our lived experiences are different. There’s a feeling that others invalidate our experiences. Another tension: burnout versus engagement. So many say they are tired of trying to work with a circular problem that isn’t solved; dropping out. Others feel like we can work with leaders and with the church. Tension of working on inside vs. working outside through media, etc., difference in approach. Tension of equality versus difference, some say separate spheres good; others say leadership opportunities unequal, etc. Traditionalism versus reform desires is another tension. Motherhood vs. womenhood.
Fredrickson: I’m a mother of six, some not active, some struggling, 3 unmarried daughters, part of growing church. Church provides models, doesn’t play out in individual lives. Real tension is we don’t distinguish between LDS doctrine and LDS culture. Jesus reserved his worst condemnation for insiders. We can become a very judgmental community, this is harmful. Women who can’t or don’t want to have children are suspect. Christ encouraged “righteous judgment,” but not to judge and condemn other individuals. Be inclusive rather than exclusive community. Allow for difference, doubt, questioning, recognizing that these characteristics are critical to advance of faith. Judgmentalism not in keeping with Christ. Saw the new temple film, spoke positively of it. Teaching inclusivity rather than exclusivity.
Ulrich: A Relief Society president in Ann Arbor, Michigan, an interesting mix: women pursuing graduate degrees, women spouses of grad students, and others. Working women say stay-at-home moms don’t respect me, feel there is no room. The stay-at-home moms felt the same way. That tension exists, we judge ourselves and one another comparatively. The question we can ask is, how do I live as a person of integrity with my own set of experiences and revelations within this church, how do I fit? A result of feminism in the church is a wider array of circumstances and experiences being treated with respect. People with different perspectives can enrich our own, even if they do things the way we wouldn’t personally do things.
Hudson: I’d like to add another to all of these. I believe what we’re seeing in these latter days is the notion that, while we know the divine male, we still do not know the divine female. And yet, we recognize that the City of Enoch is in the presence of Heavenly Father and Mother. We see a collective growing “mother hunger,” to understand the divine feminine. We’re seeing incredible movement by the Church. Rather than have our culture shape our doctrine I think we’re at a time when they want our doctrine to reshape our culture. Women are involved in the World Leadership session recently, at the table with apostles, equality in the context of difference. I think more is coming. Allowing women to pray in conference, open and close, so no one can conclude that it’s either one or the other. It’s going to take the voices of women; not men telling women who they are, but women speaking of the divine feminine.
McBain: Q: What about our current culture dictates our doctrine, and how should the doctrine actually challenge cultural things?
Ulrich: We have an opportunity to help shape the culture. I am not an activist, but when we look at challenges we face, we look for opportunities to heal. There is much in our scriptures that we miss because we’ve seen it with one set of eyes. I was looking at Sarah and Hagar, two amazing women. Sarah is the favored wife, educated, etc., while Hagar is a slave, no alternative than to work. Sarah’s offspring claims the offspring, Hagar writes “I have seen the one who sees me.” We need to open our imagination in our search for God. We shouldn’t be like the people who told Moses to go up the mountain for us, but should take initiative, as women and men.
Fredrickson: Tells story of a relief society president who worked outside the home. There came a point when the stake president decided to rescind the calling because she was working outside the home, thus setting a bad example. Compares this to an older story of a women in 19th century Utah with a longing for education to better improve health, welfare of women and children. Today we see women who are discouraged, depressed, tired, imposing so many cultural mores on women, be all things to all people. Many say bar is too high; heartbreaking. Be careful that we recognize that God gave us agency, we can all exercise it, and grant each other approval as God approves.
Hanks: I’ve wrestled with this tension between the inspired versus human understanding or cultural baggage. These things coexist in the church, and in us. We are inspired and we are flawed, spiritual and human. That’s our condition. This was JS’s hermeneutic; how important it is to search out all the teachings in many places, try to discern spiritually that which is higher, more pure, less cluttered by our human subjectivity. Spirituality and scholarship are partners. Analyze and deconstruct the social dimensions of our history. But it isn’t designed to spiritually discern God’s whisperings; you need a different methodology. Both are needed.
Hudson: When I was a new convert to the church I was upset that I was born into a home with a lot of dysfunction. After 20+ years as a professor at BYU I realized that even Mormon families have large problems. One student told me about excelling through High School, student body president, athlete, golden child, etc. Then went to BYU, 24 years old, unmarried, wants to go to grad school, parents no longer proud of accomplishments, seen as a barrier to me getting married, wished I was less than who I am. How can we do that to our women? We as a community should be facilitating such contributions, not discouraging them. This doesn’t mean all women have to follow this track, but we need to avoid the either/or life, either righteous or accomplished in the world. We need to emphasize they can be the “and.”
QUESTIONS FROM AUDIENCE:
Q: What mechanism is there for women to speak up about these issues within the Church?
Hanks: The priesthood quorums and relief society groups are parallel organizations, and you are supposed to counsel with your women’s leaders, who then counsel together with men in the ward counsel. Ideally, they would address each other as equals. 20 years ago my approach was wrong in that I didn’t love and respect the men and see them as equals and I put them off. Your biggest mechanism for success is your own approach and spirit.
Q: Do you honestly think the Relief Society honestly meets the needs of women today!?
Fredrickson: The RS is dynamic in scope and possibilities, hopefully they will be realized. I think RS is becoming a community to address the concerns and views of women in the church. In the past, (anecdotally) I remember before the block schedule, there were meetings all over the place, but we spent a lot of time connecting to each other. I think today the RS is starting to shape itself again as a forum where women can gather to share insights and interest in each others’ lives. I like the direction.
Q: Lack of women in the Book of Mormon an obstacle to seeing divine feminine?
Hudson: In my book, Women in Eternity, Women of Zion we tried to tackle that issue. The scriptures seem more like priesthood manuals, written by men to men, so absence is not surprising. I think leaders are starting to extend things beyond the gendered language of scriptures.
Q: It seems hard to emphasize one group without minimizing another. Emphasizing single members, etc., can seem like a de-emphasis on marriage, married people, etc.
Ulrich: A natural tendency is to compare our life experiences with others. Why didn’t my life go like that? Unfairness. But different life assignments and experiences are a part of life. Embrace variety, stop being competitive with other people’s experiences.
Hudson: This is a great time to be a woman in the Church. The 9th article of faith will be borne out. You’ll want to stay for it.
Hanks: Both/and is healthier than either/or. We need all these women in the Church, full time moms, working women, feminists, etc. The metaphor of the body of Christ is that all parts are needed. The seperate spheres come together in the temple.
Fredrickson: Doctrinal questions are typically to be addressed to Mormon men. What will change as all the young women return from missions with a better understanding of the gospel? Most important, though, is charity.
Ulrich: I’m grateful for a Savior who is not opposed to portraying himself as a mother, the hen that gathers her chicks.
Ralph C. Hancock, “Mormonism and the New Liberalism: The Inescapability of Political Apologetics”
I want to put some things out there for discussion as opposed to presenting a more developed piece which anticipates objections, etc. We typically separate political and religious discussions to reduce conflict. This separation has served us well. The LDS Church has a stated position of political neutrality. (Refrains from endorsing candidates, allowing church buildings to be used for campaigns, etc.) This distinction can never be an absolute separation because certain basic commitments are central and shared between both. Religion and politics spring from the same source. Politics raises the question of justice, the right order for man, quote from Elder Wood, an emeritus Seventy. Quote from James Madison, Federalist 51, justice is the end of government. The question of the right is tied to the idea of the good, the ultimate purpose of life. The church’s neutrality cannot be absolute, then. Encourages members to play role in civic life, and reserves the right as an institution to address issues with significant community or moral consequences. John Stuart Mill: in all political societies that endure, there has been some fixed point, held sacred, beyond discussion. Even “secular” regimes hold something sacred.
What is liberalism? Classical = Equal liberty, individual rights, limited government, which American conservatism seeks to conserve. Practical liberalism presupposes traditional morality. What is “New liberalism,” or theoretical liberalism? Attempts to replace traditional view of what is sacred with a new view. The founding fathers agreed on an indirect role for religion within American politics. A Christian morality which sustains family stability is needed to sustain a strong country. (Quoting Alexis de Tocqueville and Elder D. Todd Christofferson). Political freedom depends on moral discipline according to these two. [He continues on this track, has not brought up apologetics yet. He notes that many liberals would object to these caricatures, but goes on to reiterate the descriptions. New liberalism is not compatible at all with basic LDS beliefs. Sexual expression is up for grabs, family is not important, etc.] Concludes by observing that the cultural strength of the “moral authority of the new liberalism may hinder testimony more than textual or historical arguments against their faith.” “Bright minds must not be forced to choose between reason and faith.” Mormon apologists must make it clear in the area of moral beliefs that our intellectual integrity isn’t to be sacrificed, but to recognize our own limitations, and thus the necessity of obedience to commandments and leaders. “Rational apologetics can deflate new Liberalism’s claim to the authority of reason.” “Mormon apologetics must equip itself to demonstrate the irrationality of the New Liberalism.”
Q: How do you square the outrage at Mormon polygamy with the ideals you described? A: I’m not sure I have to account for that. The constant is that both of these are opposed to the new liberal ethic of free sexual expression. What is new under the sun is the idea that human life and society can be healthy and fulfilling without any moral authoritative idea about sexuality.
Q: Distinguish the quote from Justice Kennedy about people not doing whatever they want with 11th Article of Faith about allowing all the privilege to worship, etc. A: I don’t claim a systematic and authoritative knowledge about good and evil, but our duty is to seek out divine standards, not to express ourselves by making up our own.
Q: Specific actions do you suggest citizens take to push back against this liberalism? A: I’m not an activist, not running for office, organizing demonstration. I would say it’s important to fight battles even though we may lose. Frustrated by defeatism intimidated by notion of progress. Might as well give up. Well, that could be self-fulfilling prophecy.
Q: Defending religious values with non-religious arguments? A: If religious arguments could be established by rational arguments alone, wouldn’t need prophets.
[Note: Following this paper, FAIR President Scott Gordon noted that no FAIR speakers represent FAIR, noted there is political diversity among the FAIR volunteers. He said although Hancock’s presentation was directed to a particular political segment they would like to have more political diversity going forward.]
Morris Thurston, “‘Kidnapping’ at Palestine Grove: Missouri’s Final Attempt to Extradite Joseph Smith”
[Missed much of this presentation, in which Thurston talked about the last attempt to extradite Joseph Smith from Illinois back to Missouri.]
Seth Payne, “Why Mormonism Matters: Pastoral Apologetics and the LDS Doubter”
Bio here. I never imagined I’d be speaking at a FAIR Conference, so this is exciting. Hosted a barbecue at his home a few years back. Cleaning up afterward, a non-LDS friend said all you Mormons talk about is Church! I laughed, but knew there was some truth behind the joke. The Church is an important life anchor for Mormons. Career, schooling, hobbies, etc. based in Mormonism. Tight social bonds. The LDS doubter thus feels alone, frustrated, possibly angry, uncertain of future, worldview in shambles. By the time they come forward they’ve already reached zenith of frustration after forming new ideas in isolation. I ask: Why moving from certainty to doubt in LDS context is painful. I propose framework for pastoral approach to apologetics, to address social and spiritual aspects of doubt, more than intellectual.
Importance of narrative. Help human beings make sense of the world, a means of communicating effectively, can be therapeutic. The “Truth narrative,” as per William James, is an overarching narrative, synthesis of experiences, constant with minor adjustments, new information is difficult. For LDS, the plan of salvation is the common narrative. In James’s essays on pragmatism, he says new experiences strain one’s views. Contradictory facts, other people’s views, etc. All are extreme conservatives, seeking to retain worldviews. Every member of the church responds differently to new or surprising information. Some end up leaving the church.
Emotional and spiritual difficulty. Some Mormons compose narratives relating to their exit; they need a new narrative. I began studying ex-Mormon narrative in graduate school. I expected stories about history, etc., as primary drivers. Cerebral issues. But I didn’t find this at all.
Exit narratives are composed in sociological contexts. Three main types of social organizations: Allegiant (organizations which ft into society); Contestant (don’t fit in perfectly with wider society, has allies and opponents); Subversive (seen as opposed to wider society, may be extreme racists, etc.). Armand Mauss has noted that the LDS Church has shifted from highly subversive, to highly assimilated, and more recently, through retrenchment, moved back between the poles. There are different types of exists people make from these organizations. Allegiant groups produce “Defector”; Contestant produce “Whistle-blower”; Subversive produce “apostate.” The latter often create “captivity narratives,” which depict themselves as being captive to a bad org., only to later escape, etc. (Apostate used here as a sociological term.)
People leave the LDS Church through various roles. Some leave as whistle-blowers, leave-takers, etc. Those who come to see Mormonism as subversive generate ex-Mormon narratives with 4 core elements. 1) Establish credibility through callings, ancestry. 2) Apology for having been Mormon. 3) List or recitation of troubling issues. 4) Express satisfaction for being free. Bromley, the sociologist whom Payne is following, described a more acerbic or emphatic brand of apostate than what the LDS Church tends to generate today, but the captivity narrative still occurs. The list of issues were there as afterthought. More time spent on emotional feelings, spiritual issues. Such narratives are creative reconstructions, not strictly accurate, but we can get a reliable sense of the author’s views at the time of composition.
Former Mormon testimonies teach us that 1) doubt is painful; 2) Some view church as subversive; 3) Doubters suffer and struggle in silence, thinking there is a binary choice to be made. Stay or go; 4) Spiritual and social issues drive the narrative. If I asked you why you were Mormon, you would likely talk about its blessings in your life regarding family, spiritual experiences, etc. Not a description of a Book of Mormon geography model.
I’ve received much correspondence from members wondering how they can remain Mormon if they no longer believe certain claims of the Church. Helped to generate my views on Pastoral apologetics. Pastoral and traditional apologetics are not necessarily at odds. Focused on spiritual and social needs or desires. An expression of hope, and an example of Christian charity. With gentleness and reverence is the mode, as per Peter’s declaration about defending the reason for the hope in us. 1 Peter 3. The pastoral apologist: Understands and can articulate why Mormonism matters to them. Is kind, empathetic, non-judgmental. Provides spiritual support.
Understanding how the church is viewed can help guide efforts. If a person sees the church as socially subversive they likely have no interest in maintaining a positive relationship to the church.
Pastoral apologetics is an end in itself. Not judged by retention, but on whether we extend unconditional hand of fellowship. Many people report ostracization from families after expressing doubts, etc. Some may be exaggerated, but I have witnessed it happen. Seeing others struggle, especially the strong, reminds us that we are also subject to doubt and disbelief. This is why articulating our own individual truth narratives is important. Never make doubter feel stupid, unwelcome, unwanted, because of doubts. Such social shaming is not vested in Christian charity. Attempts at shaming would create reluctant and unconverted people. Respect their views. Family and friends who react negatively aren’t trying to be mean, but are unsettled. Those who leave the church and have come to feel the church is a social danger may benefit from being offered alternative explanations for various criticisms. Not to convert them, but to help them understand our reason for Christian hope.
I have benefited from such pastoral apologetics. In 2007 I met David Bokovoy and Mark Wright at a conference at Yale. I walked away from that conversation with greater appreciation for the Book of Mormon because of Bokovoy’s enthusiasm and care for the book. My own love and appreciation for the book has grown as a result. I talked with Mark Wright about Mesoamerica and Book of Mormon. He acknowledged problems in such a model and suggested potential responses. Throughout, it was clear how much he cared for the book. He hoped to convince me of the book’s historicity. We see differently on that point, but he still impacted my faith. I met with my own bishop about my own doubts, he said he hoped that would change but expressed love and gladness that I was in his ward. Put our faith into practice as examples of the hope that is in us.
Q: How often is the apostate’s journey and story authentic if they follow such a structure? A: Well, they are influenced by “oppositional coalition,” a group that has started a narrative that can be adopted. Ex-Mormon.org, groups like that, very antagonistic. Keep that in mind. However, there is credibility in these narratives, I compared exit narratives between the ones that became atheist, those that went to other churches, evangelical, etc. Interestingly, the Christian oppositional coalitions contained blatant falsehoods about 25% of the time, could convince a non-LDS but not LDS. The atheist/agnostic don’t contain that type of thing. Their value resides in telling us how it feels to leave, not the exact details as to why.
Q: How to fellowship doubters and also answer criticisms? A: Sharing testimony, being an example, following standards, etc. There are certain metaphysical truth claims from the church I couldn’t accept 6 years ago that I could today because of the compassion, respect, and love of friends.
Q: How to practice pastoral apologetics without making questioners into a project/patronize? A: Referring to my own experience, after I met with bishop to explain my thoughts, he called me to high priest instructor. Wanted to stir it up. Of course, Richard Bushman was a member there, so it’s a bit different. I had home teachers, I home taught, I taught gospel doctrine, they assigned subjects I could speak to genuinely. I never felt like a project.
Q: I think a lot of people who leave claim to do so because of intellectual reasons, but instead they leave because of unresolved sin. A: I don’t doubt there are some cases based in some sort of sin or problem with standards. In my experience, this is the exception to the rule. Nothing is more frustrating for a doubter than to be told they are sinners. Something wrong with you. That is not effective.
Q: Is it ok to distance oneself if the doubter is being such a pain in the..yeah. Last year I spoke at Sunstone to doubters, driving the point that if you’re outside of the mainstream, that’s fine, but you can’t expect everyone to adopt your ideas. Respect has to go both ways. Causing trouble in Sunday school isn’t OK. If you know a person who just tries to antagonize, you might remind them that respect is two-way.
Q: Best way to prevent loss of faith? A: Inoculation or strengthening faith? A: Both, but the latter takes precedence. I knew about controversial issues early on, but it was other things that kept me in. I recalled enjoying sacrament meeting, surrounded by LDS, home teaching, etc. Bushman once said he felt JS’s greatest accomplishment was the creation of the Mormon people. That strengthens my faith. It is my spiritual home.
Q: Lifelong member, but ongoing participation is exhausting. Is it possible to live a more relaxed way? A: It’s OK to give ourselves sometime or space. Maybe it’s a good idea to just go to a meeting here or there, etc. It all can overwhelm especially if doubting, etc.
Robert Kirby, “Why it is Important to Laugh at Ourselves”
[I think short notes of humorous presentations usually fall flat. So you’ll have to wait for the recording of this one. Signing off for the day.]