“Uh oh!” to “Ah ha!” in Apologetics: 20/20 Foresight for a Faithful Future in Defending the Church
by John Lynch
[Editor's Note: Presented at the eleventh annual FAIR Conference, 7 August 2009.]
I’ve got to tell you I am very appreciative of the fact that we had a prayer this morning. You know, I more than anybody need your sustaining thoughts and prayers and, it’s actually going to be a test of your faith how well I do today. So if I do poorly, I am going to blame it on you! I am reminded of a comment that was made – and I forget who to attribute it to – but they basically said that – as I understand it they stood up to speak and they said, “as I understand my assignment, it’s to speak for the next 20 minutes,” [in this case it's 50 minutes] “and your assignment is to listen. And all I ask is that if you finish your assignment before I finish my assignment, would you please raise your hand. ” So I ask the same thing.
The topic that I have chosen today is this idea of, “oh-oh” to “ah-hah” in apologetics and the idea of having some foresight instead of hindsight and what we’re trying to do to help defend the faith. If you think about it, a lot of times we come across information that becomes “oh-oh” moments, and the real idea and the concept behind what we’re trying to do here at FAIR is to translate that “uh, oh” moment into an “ah hah” where the light comes on and all of a sudden our confidence in the things that we already know remains intact.
I don’t think that there is anything more precious to our Heavenly Father than His children. We are His work and we are His glory. Of all the exalted titles that He could have chosen for Himself when He asks us to address Him, such as “Creator” or “Almighty King”, “All-knowing God”, the “Omnipotent One”, he has chosen the title of “Father”. And I think that reflects very strongly the precious view he has for each of us whether we are currently faithful or presently doubting. Nevertheless, we are all precious to him. Inasmuch as there are attacks on any of this children, he grieves and we at FAIR grieve with him.
In fact, we are here to fulfill our covenant made in the temple to both sustain and defend the Church and kingdom of God on the earth, or in other words, the testimonies of our father’s children. As Bob White mentioned yesterday, we are a line in the sand. To accomplish our goal of helping defend our father’s children, of necessity we must walk our own careful lines. In specific, FAIR has been very successful in carefully navigating the fine lines that delineate orthodoxy from fundamentalism and non-systematic theology from what I would call permissiveness. But let me be clear, we are decidedly partisans in the battle of defending the Church and its standards, and we proceed in our mission with the intent to maintain a confidence from the highest levels that we will appropriately navigate the broader path needed by some and the narrow path demanded by Church standards. We believe we will accomplish this because we cast off all concerns for what’s expedient in exchange for what is right. We only seek to do what is our Heavenly Father’s will.
The battleground where we fight is in the hearts of individuals who need to bridge these times of doubt until they discover renewed faith in the things that they already know. It is a tentative period for those that we seek to help and those who come to us often do so with varied backgrounds, and beliefs. As such, we often must cast a broad tent in terms of the information we provide so that seeds of faith from the struggling have room to grow. As we go about our mission, it’s appropriate to ask then specifically what is that really that we’re defending. This is my thought, you may have differing views (here goes that broad tent, right?).
So what is it we are defending:
- Principally, we are defending the foundational claims of the restoration of the gospel, specifically or principally, those that are relevant to the restored authority and canonized scripture that we hold dear. We also defend the canonized teachings, which include the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price and of course the Bible.
- We defend the priesthood authority, including (or perhaps even specifically) the principle of ongoing revelation.
- And of course we attempt to defend the good names and reputations of the General Authorities and the Church as a whole.
But we are not obligated to defend everything. We are not obligated to defend the personal writings or musings or lay members or even some of our general authorities. There is even some principles of doctrine which can be changed as our understanding expands and we receive additional revelation. The manuals published by the Church—I know, I know, they are almost perfect but they are not. I got a couple of stories, one of them Louis Midgley was kind enough to let me share a story of a gentleman in his ward. William Barrett, who was a vice president at BYU and was head of CES for a while, was teaching Sunday School in his ward on the Book of the Mormon and a sister in the ward repeatedly asked where was he in the manual, “where are you teaching from?” And he kind of kept putting her off and finally said, he wasn’t paying attention and had no idea. Finally, he admitted he wasn’t really teaching from the manual, at which point she began to chastise him for not teaching from the manual. His reply, “Sister, I wrote that manual and I can’t stand it! I have learned a lot of things since I wrote it, so I am teaching what I know.”
There is another story that Dan Peterson tells, and I just love this. Dan gave me permission to share this with you last night. He was on a committee for developing some of the church materials and one of them was a gospel doctrine lesson on the new testament and he had a particular section which was Paul when he was preaching and the story of when he preached and Euticus fell from the high wall and died. And, you know, they were under a lot of pressure and in a little attempt at humor, Dan thought it would be fun for those that would be reviewing his manuscript to throw in a little inside joke and whatnot, and so he wrote three questions. One of them was after this passage he writes, “Have you ever killed anyone with a sacrament meeting talk?”, “How did it make you feel?”, “What can you do in the future to avoid this?” The worst part is, it made it all the way through correlation and it wasn’t but Dan’s good conscious that caused him to make sure that that didn’t make it all the way to publication. I told Dan last night, you know, if he’d left it in there, he could have avoided having to be bishop.
So it is not everything that we’re required to defend, and certainly not things like the conventional wisdom or folk doctrine that we have in the Church like the curse of Cain doctrine. These are really in some ways bad apologetics in some instances. The idea of pre-ordained families, three Nephite stories, you know, half the stuff that you get in that silly binder you can buy at the MTC that has every spiritual experience that every missionary that’s ever written down is collected. I don’t know if you’re aware of that but you can buy these binders at the MTC and they have got all these crazy stories in it.
So if you think about it, what it is that we’re really trying to do. What we’re about at FAIR is the idea of tending the gardens of the heart. And I want to kind of elaborate on this. I want to make this an important point because it’s so central to really what we’re going to do if we hope to be successful. Take Alma’s story and the planting of the seed. He goes into great detail, but there are two particular verses that I want to focus on. The first is verse 28 of Alma 32. It says, “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that you will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts”; and it goes on to expand on that and explained that when you feel the swelling motions, you know that it’s a good seed and your faith becomes dormant in that thing and you now have knowledge that it’s a good seed. But that’s not all. He doesn’t leave it there. It’s not just getting place for the seed and feeling that begin to grow, he says, “if ye neglect the tree, [verse 38], and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.”
There is a dual need here. We need to give room for the seed to take root. We need to weed it back, but it also needs to be nourished. Our real objective is the preservation of faith and not the presentation of definitive answers. To that end, it’s not enough to answer the arguments of the critics any more than is enough to weed the flowers in our garden. We must also nourish them and water them and give them ongoing light to reach towards. This means several things need to occur.
- Answers need to include not only refutation of false ideas, but affirmations of true concepts.
- We need to not only respond with evidences against the arguments of our critics but arguments in favor of the hope that is in us.
- We need to help members interpret their religious world in the light of true principles including those that allow for mistakes.
There is the old story that, you know, Catholics believe that their Pope is not infallible and nobody believes it—oops—or the Pope is fallible and nobody believes it. Mormons believe that the president of the church of the Church is not infallible and nobody believes it. What we should do is encourage people to really take responsibility for their own faith, but we can certainly be an assistance of the road through that process.
And keep in mind that ours in the LDS tradition is a story-based theology as Lou Midgley would oftentimes remind us. We have to find meaning and non-sensationalized means of replenishing the stories that inform us and inspire us. There is enough that is true and inspiring that sensationalized reports of fabricated facts do not need to play in our testimonies. I know that every single one of you here has received the faith promoting story from the brother in the ward of your neighbor’s friend’s sister, who was listening to a conference talk that heard somebody else deliver when he was visiting another ward that absolutely is true. You have all heard these talks, right? And they started these rumors and they propagate throughout the internet. We don’t need to sensationalize these types of things. We don’t need these things to boost our faith. There is enough that’s good and true for us to not need to rely on those things. But as people walk through their path of faith, as they navigate their life’s journey in trying to make their determinations as to how they will conduct their lives based on their religious practices and beliefs, it’s important that they be able to make clear and concise choices. So the ability to discern is absolutely critical.
So let’s take a look here. The idea of the ability to discern is absolutely critical. Without discernment, agency does not exist. I used to the tell the missionaries and the teachers that I worked with at the Missionary Training Centre that the reason why teaching is so important is because, as Satan is the father of lies, he attempts to blur the line between right and wrong, good and bad, good and evil, and by causing that confusion when you cannot discern which side of the line you’re on, you simply have no agency. You cannot make a choice, or at least it’s very difficult. So you have these “uh, oh” moments. When the lines get blurred, you don’t know which side of the line you’re on in any particular moment.
As Moroni said, “but behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, everything which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”
Our critics would like to blur the line. They don’t necessarily have to change black into white. They just need to add the shades of gray. So with clarity, we have choice. If we can delineate where that line truly is, then a person can make an informed decision whether to accept and follow or reject and find another path.
In Luke, he said the following: “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.” He is saying this – Christ is saying this – in Luke in refutation of the idea of people seeking after signs, the idea that they were double minded in some ways. And he says “the light of the body is the eye; therefore when thine eye is single” as Joseph Smith would say, when an eye is single to the glory of God, “thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” I find that very interesting that a light being within you could be considered darkness. Let’s skip down here to this next slide because I want to analyze that idea of light and darkness here a little bit more.
The first use of the term light in the scripture is Luchnos, and I have no idea if I pronounce that correctly, so if I did, forgive. But it’s the idea of a lamp or a candle, it’s what gives light to that which is trying to perceive or make it’s way. In this instance “eye” or Opthalmos, which metaphorically means the eyes of the mind or the faculty of knowing, or that which gives light or that which is the light to our choices is the faculty of knowing. So therefore when thine eye is single, meaning simple or focused, thy whole body is also full of light; and this is a different form of light, which is composed of a bright character, well lit. But when thine eye is evil, full of labors, it’s confused, you blurred the lines, thy body is also full of darkness. So this underscores the point that I want to make that again the more clearly we can delineate the lines for people, the more fully we can restore the agency that they really deserve and that the entire plan of salvation is based upon.
So let’s look at few examples here. How would you feel if your 16 or 17 yr old pulled up in his car, are you excited? Maybe you’re thinking, at least he is not driving some clunker or a minivan or something like that, right? He is going to look cool, his friends are going to accept him. Or maybe you’re worried oh my goodness, this kid is going to be driving fast, the tickets, the insurance is going to go up, Heaven help us if anything bad happens. Well, I will tell you how you should feel. Look closely. You should be relieved, okay. They did nothing more than paint, an automobile, a speed racer, on the side of a minivan. Okay? As we with the claims of our critics, not everything is as it seems. In this case, we could not see the whole picture. In limited view, reality can be painted in such a way that it appears to be a poor opposite of these three conditions. In this case it’s a sports car, when in reality it’s a minivan.
Consider for example the issue of Christ and our pre-moral existence. When we discuss the conditions that led to Lucifer being cast out of Heaven, we see that he was a brother caught on a tragic choice and he fell from his status. However when painted by our critics, the association of our brother Christ with Lucifer actually is used to claim we diminished the divine nature of Christ with the sensationalistic paint of those critics for believing Christ and Lucifer are brothers. In this case the reality is painted such that, rather than Lucifer’s fall being the focus, Christ is diminished. It’s all a matter in how things are painted.
Now we are going to see if this one works.
Okay, take a look at that. I apologize; I tried to get an uglier silhouette. But which way does this dancer spin? Is it clockwise or counterclockwise? Everybody that says it’s turning counterclockwise raise your hand. Everybody that says it’s turning clockwise raise your hand. There is not—oh, it changed for you? It can change, okay. The way you can make it change is look up in the left corner and focus on the left corner while you’re looking at it and it should spin counterclockwise. If you look down the lower right, it should spin the other way. Now some of you might not be able to do it and it’s really an indication as to whether or not you’re in the inner circle. But as you can see, two people can look at the exact same thing and interpret exactly the opposite. Isn’t that odd? This simply requires that we change our perspective. How do we look at the things that challenge us? Do they spin us out of our testimonies? Can we hold fast to what we know until our confidence returns? When we’re faced with new information, the trouble in the information does not bother us if we’re able to break our rigid way of seeing thing and consider the larger picture. If we were actually able to see this in three dimensions where we aren’t just in silhouette, you would be able to much more easily determine whether or not she is spinning right to left or left to right, clockwise or counterclockwise, because you would be able to see when she is seen facing you versus her back being towards you. Critics don’t need to destroy the facts. They don’t even need to change them. They can often times impact it simply by changing how we look at the same material. Was the destruction of the Expositor, for example, in Nauvoo, the removal of a public nuisance or the efforts of a totalian individual and regime who is intent on hiding the evils exposed by that magazine of the imposter religion of Mormonism, right? So it’s a matter of perspective, how do we see it now?
Now let me give you one more. Lines – are they vertical and horizontal and how true are they to being squares? Take a look at it. Well, let’s take a look. Well, that’s straight and that’s straight. When we have reliable guides to help us judge what is before us, we can avoid their tainting our view by an inaccurate lens. Literally, if you just took those squares and you apply this lens over the top of it, all of a sudden you get the perception that what is straight and square is actually askew. Those who distort the teachings of the brethren take truth and filter it through a lens that cause us to see what is right and part of a straight narrow as crooked and askew. Those who leave us and seek to draw others after them – that follow practices and teachings that are far afield of what is acceptable – used such tactics.
Consider the fundamentalist Mormons who take the words and Joseph and Brigham and interpret their teachings in such a way to claim that the current leadership is in apostasy. I ask you what do we have as a guide to make sense of such? Quite honestly we have the collected decisions of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. When they speak in unison we can say we can rely on the guidance that they give. We see this with issues such as plural marriage and the extending of all priesthood blessings to all worthy men regardless of race. These were depolarizing issues in some regards because people rejected the fact that these 15 men all unanimously sustained the same decision and they called them all into apostasy, they claim they’re all apostates.
So as individuals, what can we do, looking forward – giving ourselves 20/20 vision. What are the things that we can do to make sure that looking forward, we’re not actually making mistakes, right? How can we now adjust our thinking to make sure that as we walk our paths and as we help those who are struggling in their paths that we do so appropriately? The first thing I want to point out and I really want to emphasize is that we need to engender trust in those that we work with. Anything that we do that violates trust will diminish our capacity to help. So we need to maintain our relationship of influence and I want to point out that often times how we react will be more important than we say when we react. As an example, I come in and, you know, I’m just – I’m such a kind and gentle person, I have no intensity about me at all, everybody here will tell you, I’m just a passive guy. So it will be really a shock to those of you to hear that I might walk in the room sometimes after telling my kids three times to pick up their toys and saying, [high tone)]“I told you to pick up the toys!”. Right. And when I do that, my message might be an accurate message, it might even be a good message but what my children learn is not to pick up their toys. What they learn is, when they get frustrated, pound your fist and get angry. It’s the same thing with when we’re helping those who struggle or when we’re dealing directly with those who would criticize. How we react maybe as important as the things we say for two reasons.
- 1. Because of the person who wants to have trust in us. They want to know that we are someone that they can rely on with their tender feelings.
- 2. Because there are other people watching. There are people on the sidelines who see what we do and how we do it. So make sure that we engender that trust.
And of course the other thing we have to do is, we have to maintain our own personal strength and I will talk about that more in just a moment. But one important point that I want to talk about here also is the idea that faith is the focus and not the erasing of doubts in apologetics. And I may be running contrary to some of my friends in this but I hope not, because really this whole idea of erasing doubts only goes so far because all it does is it trims back the weeds. That seed still needs to be nourished, watered and light needs to be given for the plant to reach towards. So we really need to make faith a focus, not just the erasing of doubts. It is a dual-pronged effort that we have to put.
And I want to encourage everybody when, you go out to find assistance in trimming back the weeds, that you use trustworthy resources. Be careful; we’re living in a very nuanced world today. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing and I want to bring up two specifically. One is an organization called MormonThink.com. Okay. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. I bring it up only as a warning voice. MormonThink.com presents itself as an open environment where we can discuss principles of the gospel and the teachings of the gospel from an open perspective where the truth is really found out, let the chips fall where they may. I will tell you right now that there is an agenda of those that operate that website. Their objective is not to give you the delineating line but to allow all information to come in to fuzz the line for you and allow you to raise your own doubts. Another one, perhaps just as dangerous is StayLDS.com. This is run by a gentleman I know personally, John Dehlin, and John for the most part I think is a sincere individual who likes to help people but I’ve got to tell you, in my opinion, he is way off the mark with this. Basically, what the organization is doing is saying “we want you to stay LDS even though you don’t believe. ” Why would you want to do that? Why would you want to have someone remain complacent in a state of doubt? It’s beyond me.1
So I raise it as a warning voice. Find trustworthy resources. Find those that stand firm. You know, let them be partisan. It’s fine if they’re partisan in the battle. If you want balanced information that’s fine but make sure that when you’re looking for the truth that you actually find those, at least on the part of the gospel, that stand up for what the Church believes in.
And then of course the other thing is become a peacemaking presence. I can’t emphasize more fully how significant this is. When you think about what being a peacemaker is, it’s basically one who absorbs offense, and I’ve got two quotes that I love from Brigham Young. One is he says, “Never take offense when offense was intended and only a bigger fool would take offense when offense wasn’t intended”. Now you think about that for a minute. There is no reason why we should take offense to anything. If it was intended, for crying out loud, let’s not give them the satisfaction of knowing they offended us. And if it wasn’t intended, why be offended anyway. Right? And I love that. The whole idea of absorbing offense is what makes us peacemakers, not returning reviling with reviling, but returning kindness even for that which is harsh and critical. Again, it comes back to this notion of how we respond more so often times than specifically what we respond with, and I say that without trying to diminish the need to actually respond because we do, or FAIR wouldn’t exist. We must give a good answer for the hope that is in us.
So what do I do when someone I love says I have serious doubts? Well, first of all recognize that by the time they get to you, they have already gone through a period of agony, a period of suffering of their own. They have been thinking about this. They didn’t wake up one morning and say, hmm, that’s a doubt, let me go talk to my friend. They sat there and they had this questioning of themselves. “Oh, is there something wrong with me? am I getting this wrong? Wow, let me think about this!” And they will mull it over and they will go back and forth and if the doubt lingers, it becomes painful. It’s like that little pebble, that rider, that gets in your shoe and won’t shake out. By the time they come to you, they are already in a state of pain. So acknowledge their feelings. Don’t make them feel like they’re any less of a person for that. Assure them that it’s natural to feel what they feel in light of what they’re interpreting and seeing. It’s absolutely fine.
If somebody came to me, it’s like Bob White said yesterday, you know, if the Salamander Letter is true, the Church is false. And so if you’re leaning in that direction, that’s going to be very disturbing and it will be a natural feeling for somebody to feel that. Acknowledge it and more importantly thank them for trusting you with their doubts! That is not an insignificant thing. It is a great sign of their confidence in you to even bring it up.
I would always reassure them that an answer exist, whether you know it or not because as Bob pointed out yesterday, the Church is true so therefore the Salamander Letter has to be false. So there will be an answer. We may not have it right now, but we will find it.
You also have to set some realistic expectations. The answers that they’re seeking won’t come all at once. They’re not going to sit down and have a series of doubts that they built up over a period of time and you’re going to sit down and in a five-minute reply give them the assurances, and now happily they’re on their way. It’s going to require study. It’s going to require effort. Once they have kind of broken through the veil, as it were, of the information that might be troubling, it take some time to get back that confidence and they have to work at it. They have to own the process. They have to persist on their own to search for truth. It’s important to understand that virtually all instances of doubt arise from a sense of violation of trust. As I mentioned, often how we react has more of an impact on our ability to help our family or friends than anything we might say, at least in the earliest stages. We need to preserve our ability to influence those we love despite the heartache we might feel.
I want to share with you a post that was put on a blog that I did a few weeks ago. This person said, “Thank you for writing this post. I went through my own period of disaffection, and your summary fits my experience as well”. I had written about my experience trying to visit a website where people who had left the Church sit and commiserate and I was actually trying to understand why some of the people—what they experienced on their departure and how—so that I could understand better how I could help them, and he says, “Your July 15, 11:48 post is as insightful as your original post.
To the commentators who are insisting that people ought to be able to ignore the behavior of people they trust, I would just say that people who are questioning are hurting a lot. Hurt leads to anger, and most see the anger and forget that there’s a lot of hurt under there. Quite plainly, I wasn’t strong enough to ignore hurtful behavior. You’ve got to have a fair amount of emotional and spiritual strength to ignore a violation of trust. Just scolding us for being weak doesn’t make anyone strong. Reaching out with patience and charity builds strength.
“Incidentally, the online Mormon community is where I turned after people in real life ostracized me for having questions. There is a lot of kindness and patience in the Bloggernacle (yes, I know there are spats and arguments too). It made all the difference for me. I hung around the FAIR message boards a lot during that period. Just the kind tone of the faithful Mormons did more for me than all the clever arguments did.”
So what do you do? Excuse me, one point I wanted to finish down here is the idea of when you’re dealing with somebody, capture their concerns,. Be a listening ear before you try and be an answer. It’s natural for us to say, “oh, that’s an easy one, I can answer that one” or, “oh, I just read that” and try and interject an answer as they’re bringing out the concern. Resist the temptation to do that. Let them unburden themselves. Capture all their concerns. And there is another reason for doing that. It is not just for the therapeutic nature that you’re going to be for them, okay? There is more to it than that. What you want to do is, you want to get them all on the table so you can consolidate the issues and the larger concerns, okay? For example, Joseph Smith married a young woman, a 14-year old, calls into question his prophetic calling. Brigham Young, making remarks that may seem racist, calls into question his prophetic calling. Book of Mormon anachronisms, calls into question it’s authenticity as a divine religious text. Proposition 8 calls into question integrity of separation of church and state and causes people to question whether or not the brethren were on the right path. These are the big picture issues. Proposition 8 in itself is really a minor issue in the big scheme of things. Joseph Smith’s marriage in light of the bigger picture is a small issue in light of (contrasted against) his prophetic calling.
You also have to help them remember that our critics have specific tactics to confuse, distort and overwhelm. Just like the illusions that I showed you earlier, they have logical illusions that they try and hit people with. Point it out to them so that they can recognize it. Just as we point out to them so they can feel and recognize the spirit, we want them to feel and recognize the tactics of our tactics. So let’s point those out. To that end, people like Michael Ash from FAIR has written a book, for example, Shaken Faith Syndrome. It goes through and outlines in absolute perfect clarity, I would encourage anybody who is dealing with friends or family to get a copy of this, okay. Because it really does lay out at least for you what are the tactics that are being employed in our critic’s attempts to undermine the faith of our friends and family.
So just a couple of examples here as far as Joseph was a prophet. He married a 14-year old, okay, so what do we know about that and does it impact his calling? All right? When we start to delve into it, what other evidences do we have about his calling? It allows us to add the principles of faith about him being a prophet. The rules of evidence change when we changed the focus from that specific incident to the larger issue. You can then introduce what spiritual confirmations they have already received and you can even help them think, “is this specific concern sufficient to destroy what you already know.”
Book of Abraham as scripture is another one that comes up often. What do we know about that? Did Joseph Smith get it right? What teachings do we have that inform our earthly endeavors? Are they precious to us or worthy of abandonment? Do we cast out the baby with the bath water simply because we don’t know where the text was from which Joseph translated? I don’t think so. So once you have the focus on a larger concern, its emotionally okay to introduce any evidence on the larger subject. So you can look at items and information that affirms the truthfulness of the Church’s claims.
If you ever find yourself in one of these situations where you’re talking about, you know, a particular criticism and you’re finding, “wait a minute, you know, we keep going in circles about this one criticism,” it’s because you’re stuck on one little focus of evidence. Bring it to the larger picture. Was Joseph a prophet? If Joseph Smith is a prophet is the question, I can introduce not only what his marriage status was at any given point in time, but I can look at everything that he produced – all of the statements and comments, the Book of Mormon and the sublime truths that came from it, my own personal witness when I prayed, your personal witness when you prayed. All of these things come into evidence and we begin to develop the ability to breach that moment of confidence through the channel of doubt back to where our confidence is restored again.
And once that faith begins to return, we need to encourage the practices that will fortify the spiritual strength of the individual. They must pray if only to humble themselves, but more specifically to maintain that relationship with their father in Heaven where the process of revelation can be enacted in their lives. They need to continue to study. They shouldn’t take your answers or the answers of the guy on the internet. They need to make their own decisions. And also I might add, they should serve, and I bring this up because I think that humility is one of the greatest things that will help us gain perspective. And I will share an experience from somebody here in just a few minutes outlines that.
We have to engender trust by answering the questions that they have. The church has tried in the past and there have been individuals who would say, “look we don’t need to answer these critics, we can just let them go, we’ll just go on our own way and we will build faith by teaching the truths as they stands. We’re not going to give an answer to all these critics.” But as Elder Maxwell said, no more free rides! That’s my opinion. I join with Elder Maxwell in that opinion. We must answer the questions. But it’s much easier when they are back on a proper perspective, when you’ve got these other influences that can help them make an informed decision.
Important in this process is to recognize that if you don’t know the answer, you shouldn’t claim to, because they will find somebody that will tear apart your weak argument. Okay? So if you don’t have an answer, don’t pretend. Admit it and then go find it. There’s lots of resources. FAIR has ask the Ask the Apologist,. It’s a little spot on our website where you can actually send in a question. Have them send us a question. We have got over a 100 volunteers who, if they don’t know the answer, they know people and know where to get the answer. And we have gone through a lot of these questions. We have had over what, 4000 in the last couple of years – questions that have come through to us and I don’t know, there’s probably been two or three at least answers to every single one of these questions. We can help. FARMS, you know, the Maxwell Institute at BYU, has tremendous information – great scholarly works – that address many of these issues,. the FARMS Review. If you have not read the FARMS Review, shame on you. The FARMS Review is great. Louis, I’m plugging it. Are you still awake Louis? Okay, he is awake.
The FAIR Wiki a great resource; it’s constantly updated so even as information changes you can get more information. LDS.org is another resource. Find these faithful resources that have good information. And of course, I don’t want to leave out – there is one that I didn’t put in here but I want to bring up, and that is your own testimony. It is important that they know that despite the criticisms and the doubts that might be engendered by these criticisms that you still have faith. And I can tell you, working with FAIR, I don’t know that there is a criticism yet that I haven’t encountered and none of them have been sufficient to shake my faith. I am a convert to the gospel. I have a very powerful witness. I have seen the tender mercies of the Lord. I felt them in my life, and there is no way I am going to abandon all that I know simply because of a few things that I don’t know. And I have been blessed to be patient enough that even when there’s been doubts, things that I wasn’t sure about, if I was patient, in time, I got the perspective. I got the information and it was answered.
And of course the last thing is the power of prayer. This is from the same blog that I mentioned earlier. Somebody said, “I was inactive from the Church from my late teens until the age of 31. When I finally returned my righteous mother told me that she always knew that I would come back. I asked her how she could have known that. Her reply was, “I never once went to bed without asking the Lord to watch over you and bring you back.” When she said that I had flashbacks of several situations that I had been in during that time that should have totally destroyed me ether physically or spiritually. The Spirit told me that I was preserved and guided back because of the faithful prayers of my righteous, loving, mother. The faithful prayers of a loving parent, relative or friend has great power.”
How do you stay strong? Balance the faith-affirming influences in your life against the negative influences that you might have to wade through. The FAIR members obviously they have to deal with a lot of challenging information,. Sometimes you come out and you just feel exhausted. You feel drained. It’s important to replenish yourself. Stay consistent in your won scriptures and prayer. Stay worthy of the guidance of the Spirit. Serve yourself. No I don’t mean serve yourself. You yourself should serve.
Get support, okay? The great thing about FAIR is that we have got all these people that, you know, are strong in and of themselves and it’s a collective body. It’s the whole idea of the fire. You pull out one ember and it dies. You put it back in with the larger flame and it reignites.
Make sure that you don’t ever let what you don’t know obscure what you do know. If you received a witness of something that is true, don’t let go of that. Even though something may seem to counteract it or contradict it, hold on to it because the answer will come.
Focus on your relationship with your Heavenly Father. Make sure that you’re square with him. Don’t let the daily ups and downs of what we don’t know and don’t have answers to affect your relationship with him.
I like the idea of having a question shelf, things that you don’t know that you put up on a shelf. Great! Have that. Take those things down when things come along that can answer it.
Do those things that provide spiritual experiences. The old saying that if you want to feel the spirit, you have to follow the spirit. Well what that means is that when the spirit leaves, so do you. That’s what it means to follow the spirit. Okay? Go where the spirit is. Do the things that will invite the spirit.
Also this is an important. Avoid fundamentalism and skepticism. These are kind of polar opposite in some way. One is believing too much, the other believing too little. Don’t doubt everything and question everything. Have a believing heart but don’t get to the point where you prescribe for others what they must believe. You must have flexibility in your perspective.
Now, as an organization, fair is looking forward with how we can help you as you are effective in your efforts. I changed this slide after last night’s presentation. It used to say providing something other than transfusion materials. But we’re addressing potentially troublesome issues within the context of faith. Oftentimes, that’s one of the things that FAIR wants to do – produce information that addresses the issues but all within the idea of these larger concepts or issues, right? Joseph Smith was a prophet, let’s examine that. Well some people criticized this and criticize that. What evidences do we have in favor? We lay that all out so that by the time you’re done, the person who has been through it has an affirmed testimony of the gospel but no longer has information that might shake their faith that’s lingering out there. We’re doing this through our productions at YouTube and the DVDs. This is a DVD, The Bible vs The Book of Mormon; A Closer Examination. There was a video put out sometime ago by Living Hope Ministries and this is just put out. We actually announced it two years ago, so shame on us for taking so long. It wasn’t for anybody’s fault but our own but it’s a great resource, it’s for sale in the back back there. There is my plug.
We’re also doing local chapters. The idea is that you don’t have to join our central list or feel like you’re an apologist in order to participate. We want to make it to where you can actually participate on a local level and help bring the resources that we’re producing down to the local level. We started doing international firesides. We have actually done them for several years but we want to kind of make that more accessible to people. Conferences, maybe one day conferences on the East Coast, that type of thing.
We’re doing some segmented attention on certain groups. So for example we have for quite some time now, blacklds.org. On the back table on the back here, if you guys could stand up. Our FAIR’s Rising Generation. This is our youth group, headed by Eric Slack. These are faithful youth who want to help young people who are formulating their testimonies and who are facing challenges to their faith and their ability to live the gospel. And so it’s focused a little different, of course, from the types of information that we would put up on the FAIR site.
Obviously we’re doing things in new languages so there are the language sites, German and Spanish, etc.
We’re staying current with the technologies. We have got a Twitter account, we’ve got Facebook, we’ve got blogs, YouTube, podcasts we’re going to start. All these types of things. So if any of those are confusing to you, you’re old! Get with somebody that’s younger and find out what it is.
We’re going to continue to publish and produce things like videos and books – and I have got some typos in here. One of the things we’re going to start is news alerts, so you will be able to sign up for getting news alerts. We’ve got a service that one of our volunteers does where he scans the news of LDS in the world and produces it into a quick read where you can just scan and see what’s out there about the church. And we have got the FAIR journal, which has been out for sometime.
Now, I want to close with two examples of people that have written to us unsolicited to tell us how we have helped them. And this really is our only reward. Nobody at FAIR is paid—well we have a bookstore manager, actually, that we pay to make sure that you get your books on time and stuff, mainly because we just can’t find anybody to volunteer for 20 hours a week! But I want to read this to you. This is from a young man, he said,
Hi my name is [name deleted]. I am 19, I formerly attended the University of Utah and originally I’m from [someplace in] Utah, and I am preparing to serve a mission. I would like to personally thank everyone at FAIR for all they do. For the past few months, I was struggling with my testimony mainly because I ran into some anti-Mormon claims. At the time, I only had access to one viewpoint—theirs. I know the Spirit had testified to me the truthfulness of the gospel in the past but being a logically minded person and any claims that made the Church look as though it couldn’t be true, became real stumbling blocks for me. I admire those who possess such great faith they are unaffected by such claims and arguments but unfortunately, I am not one of them. I am sorry to say that at one point, I almost wrote to the first presidency to reject the call the Lord had issued to me to serve a mission. It just didn’t work in my mind and consequently I hardened my heart against the spirit of God.
I then ran across FAIR and for months read extensively the articles published that deal with the key claims of the critics. Once I had information from both sides, I began to see that the Church could be true. After humbling myself and approaching the Lord again in faith, He was so willing to reaffirm the spiritual witness I needed. I know that the anti-Mormon works are poignant and extremely effective in their design. They have deceived even the very elect. I am thankful for your organization that helps clarify and present information the other side leaves out. I have contemplated changing my major upon returning home to study church history as I had developed a newfound love for it. I hope someday I may be able to join and/or contribute to FAIR and other such organizations both with my time and resource. Thank you so much for making a difference in my life.
I am reminded by the way of the story of Christ when there were 10 lepers that were healed, then only one returned. So we’re hopeful that there is maybe a parallel here for us that even though we only receive a few of these letters that there are many more examples that we don’t hear of.
Let me give you another example and I will paraphrase some of this. “On September 28th, I was baptized and on the 30th I was confirmed as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am 32 years old. FAIRlds.org played a key role in the step by step process that led up to my decision. Ultimately, my decision was based upon prayer and faith and that which cannot be seen but I feel in my heart is true.” Now, he went on to explain that he had basically met his wife, she was LDS, he wasn’t. They decided to explore each other’s religions. Because of the anti-Mormon rhetoric of his family, they kind of let it slide. They got married, did not attend any church and he fell into periods of sin. He almost lost his marriage until his wife came and said that she wanted religion in their lives again or she was going to leave him. And he said it was like a tiny spark was lit when she made that suggestion and “to my wife’s and my surprise, I felt a desire or a sense of pulling to investigate one church above all others, you can guess which one”. He says “I am absolutely amazed how many of the aspects of my life have been affected by turning my eyes back to Jesus and finally being soft of heart enough to follow the Spirit’s promptings to find his gospel and Church. My marriage has done a tremendous amount of recovery, my children are happier, I feel good with purpose and I am defiant” – I think he has meant – “definitely” doing a better job as a husband and father. I don’t think he is defiantly doing it. He might be, I don’t know. “All this has happened in an amazing short period of time. Wonderfully, now my children are being raised in a home where the good message is taught. Thank you at FAIRlds.org. You at FAIRlds.org played a serious part in that process. Thank you, please keep up the work you’re doing. I have no doubt that I will be back to your site. I am presently the only member of my side of the family who has found Jesus’ true church and true gospel. I will change that if I can, knowing my family, apologetics will play a role and I will need the aid of minds greater than my own”.
In the end, brothers and sisters, it all comes down to a witness of the Holy Ghost. We need to provide room for those seeds of faith to grow so that the Spirit can bear witness. We can weed around the seeds and we can do everything we can to give nourishment, but ultimately it’s the Spirit that bears witness. And as King Benjamin experienced after he delivered the great talk that the angel had delivered to him, when he asked for a confirmation as to what the people thought of his remarks, they all cried with one voice saying, ye we believe all the words which thou hath spoken unto us and we also we know of their surety and truth because of the spirit of the Lord omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us or in our hearts that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually”. And I note when the spirit touches, doubts depart. I want you think about that. If you can bring the spirit into the environment, all of the confusing doubt will dissipate. As they continue, “we ourselves also through the infinite goodness of God and the manifestations of his spirit have great views of that which is to come and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.” They became profits in their own right, and it is “the faith which we have had on the things which our King has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.”
I have had many opportunities to serve and help individuals who were seeking the truth of the gospel. I have had the opportunity to serve in missionary capacities and leadership positions in the Church and all I can tell you is that it has been a great privilege of mine to see the tender mercies of the Lord even though there might be thousands of doubt. The Lord is there – just as with Peter walking upon the water when he had his moment of doubt, – the Lord is there to reach out and hold us up and sustain us if we will but reach out to him. We as individuals can be a refining influence, a strengthening influence, we can be part of that hand. We can be the Lord’s hands here upon the earth to help support and sustain those around us. We can do it and we can be effective at it, if we ourselves are humble and if we keep ourselves strong, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Question: “Somebody said I don’t think you know the purpose of StayLDS.com, I understand your concern.”
Answer: Maybe I don’t. All I know is that I think it’s a dangerous thing for someone to tell you that’s it’s okay to remain—first of all, let me take a step back. I think that if you want to stay in the church, you should, okay? But I think it’s a dangerous thing to encourage somebody to stay and to give up their seeking for getting the answers and to say it’s okay to be a social Mormon, to get the benefits of association with the church and not seek to gain an affirmation of it’s fundamental claims, of its claims as a restored gospel and authority upon the earth.
Question: What is your source on Brigham Young’s quote on taking offense?
Answer: Brigham Young, it was a quote that somebody else said I have to look it up on the internet. If I want to see me in the back, I’ll dig it up for you. So I’ll have to get that for you. And it looks like there is one more.
Question: Curriculum has the name of the church stamped at the back. We can call it official or First Presidency approved?
Answer: Yeah, sure we can. I think you can call it approved but I don’t think you can call it definitive. I don’t think you can call it infallible. I don’t think you can say that it is all inclusive. I think the manuals are fantastic but keep in mind that the manuals are not trying to teach you the history of the Church. They’re not trying to be definitive in terms of all points of doctrine. They’re here to help lead people to Christ. It’s a very singular focus and so because of that in, that process some of the things that come from our history and things like that will be subject to correction. Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, he has got it in there and he is thought very fondly of this. You know, between the first and second editions, there were changes made of necessity because there were errors made and that was written by a man who became an apostle of the Lord. If he can make mistakes, I guess even Dan Peterson can! Right?
Anyway, that’s all the questions. That’s my time. Thank you.
FAIR published a review of the staylds.com website prior to John Lynch’s remarks. The review expressed serious concerns based primarily on specific content in one of the foundational documents at staylds.org, which content was the instigation for Mr. Lynchís remarks. Following Mr. Lynchís remarks, John Dehlin (founder of staylds.org) contacted FAIR and asked that the review be withdrawn pending an opportunity for staylds.org to address FAIRís concerns. To the credit of staylds.org, virtually all of the concerns from the original FAIR review have been addressed, corrected, or removed. While still cautious of staylds.org based on the original content on the web site, Mr. Lynch no longer feels it is appropriate to characterize staylds.org as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”