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Helping those with flagging faith

SANDY, UTAH

Understanding those who are struggling in the faith and being kinder to those who attack the Church were recurring themes at the 10th annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetics Information and Research (FAIR).

The stated mission of FAIR "is to address the charges leveled at the doctrines, practices and leaders of the Church ... with documented responses that are written in an easily understandable style." The primary vehicles in accomplishing that mission are a Web site (www.fairlds.org) featuring a topical guide with articles and links, a Wiki encyclopedia and blog; and the annual conference.

While FAIR supports the Church's mission, it is not owned or controlled by or affiliated with the Church.

The event held at the Southtowne Expo Center in Sandy, Utah, on Aug. 7-8 featured 20 speakers in 15 presentations including two panel discussions. Topics included ancient scripture, Church history, social issues and defending the faith. Typically, presentations from the conference are transcribed and put on the Web site.

Here are highlights from some of the presentations.

Mike Ash: "Shaken-Faith Syndrome"

Material critical of the Church can and has shaken faith and killed testimonies, said Mike Ash, a frequent writer in defense of Mormonism, in his presentation. He refers to such condition as "Shaken Faith Syndrome," the title of a book he recently published on that topic.

Having doubt is not a sin, and it is not abnormal, Brother Ash acknowledged. "The Church umbrella, thankfully, is large enough to include those who struggle with sporadic or even chronic doubt."

Why, then, does doubt cause some and not others to abandon their convictions? "It seems that those who are prone to fundamentalist, dogmatic or closed-minded perspectives about the gospel or early LDS history are more likely to suffer from shaken-faith syndrome when they encounter challenging issues," he observed. He defined fundamentalist as "rigid, uncompromising and unchanging approach to an ideology or belief system."

While everyone, not just fundamentalists, has at least some rigid beliefs, "some testimonies, quite frankly, are built upon sandy foundations, such as folklore, traditions or membership based on family pressure," Brother Ash said.

"Members who do have spiritual testimonies, however, are not immune to apostasy," he said.

"Unfortunately, we occasionally confuse peripheral teachings in the Church with rumors, traditions or personal opinions and think that they're LDS doctrines, but they're not," Brother Ash said. "Sometimes we're unaware of how to think outside the box of conventional LDS interpretations, even if those interpretations are based on tradition rather than revelation."

Daniel C. Peterson: "Humble Apologetics"

Church members engaged in apologetics (a term derived from a Greek word meaning "defense") "ought to be modest about what we can do," Daniel C. Peterson said at the FAIR Conference.

"We are not the Holy Ghost; the Holy Ghost will bring conviction to people, not us," said Brother Peterson, a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU and a prominent Mormon apologist long associated with what is now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

"We can't prove most things," he said. "The best we can do ... is to suggest that something is 'consistent with' or 'can be read in this light' or 'this makes sense."'

Apologists are in the business, usually, of offering indications, not proof, he said. "We can point you in the direction of things that point to the plausibility of a claim. We cannot beat you over the head with some sort of evidentiary baseball bat and make you admit that the Church is true. And the Lord doesn't want that."

Should apologetics be rejected?

"Innocent defendants still need a defense," Brother Peterson said. "You can't just say, 'The truth will out,' because the truth in this world doesn't always 'out.' Sometimes the truth loses if the truth isn't advocated, defended, argued for."

He suggested that the recent Mitt Romney presidential campaign opened the eyes of some to the prevalence of vitriol against Mormonism.

Matthew B. Brown: "The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians"

An occasional line of criticism against the Church's teachings is that Christ's Atonement made temple worship obsolete and that temple ceremonies never were part of the gospel of the Redeemer.

Matthew B. Brown, in his FAIR presentation, gave evidence that calls such claims into question. Brother Brown is the author of eight books, with two forthcoming, on disparate gospel- and Church-history subjects.

"Even after the Atonement took place," he said, "those people who personally knew the Savior still held on to a distinct temple ideology. But more than that, they were promised by the Lord Himself after the Atonement had taken place that the faithful could receive temple-related blessings that were experienced by the kings and priests of Israel."

He cited Revelation 1:6 and other passages that reflect temple-related teachings, such as Revelation 5:6 (compared with Exodus 27:1-2) and Revelation 4:6 (compared with Exodus 30:18).

"Liturgical practices of the Israelite temple found expression in some of the rites of the early Christians, and some of those practices are echoed among the orthodox followers of the Lord even today," Brother Brown said.

Brian Hauglid: "The Book of Abraham and Apologetics"

Speaking from personal experience, Brian Hauglid said the best way to help Church members with questions about the Book of Abraham and other issues is to work with them face to face.

"We can get much more mileage out of our visits with seekers if we treat them with respect and take their questions seriously," said Brother Hauglid, associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU and an avid researcher on the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price.

"We would do well to shy away from dogmatism and accusatory innuendo as this can engender misunderstanding and smacks of snobbery. Sometimes, we may even need to acknowledge with candor the reality of true facts critics bring up and also good arguments they might put forth."

However, he added, there is much more to the Book of Abraham than its origins. "At some point, hopefully the person can learn that the Book of Abraham fits well into the context of antiquity, contains powerful doctrines and is ultimately sacred scripture known only through the voice of the Spirit."

Scott Gordon: "On-line Apologetics"

Individuals leave the Church for any of a number of stated reasons, "but before you set up a full discussion with them, you might try to understand and empathize with the deeper issues that might be involved," Scott Gordon said.

Since 2001, Brother Gordon, a dean at Shasta College in Redding, Calif., has been president of FAIR.

In his position, he said, he has found that on-line anti-Mormonism typically is of two types: Evangelical anti-Mormonism — practiced by some adherents to other faiths — and secular anti-Mormonism, coming mainly from ex-members. He said it is the latter type that has the greater impact on LDS members.

Both kinds have something in common, Brother Gordon said. "Their arguments can generally be summed up by saying, 'Joseph Smith was a false prophet because...."'

A few examples of why members leave the faith, he said, are disillusionment because they lack happiness, the influence of a boyfriend or girlfriend, being shocked by something they learned about Mormonism, a feeling of failure in the home, and issues with the Word of Wisdom or other problems.

"If a member comes and says they have one question, I've found they usually have several, and they've researched them extensively," he said.

"Typically, they have already tentatively decided to leave the Church, but they want to prepare themselves, and maybe others, for that final move," he added.

He recounted that his stake president suggested he talk with a woman who was struggling with a question about the Church. His wife and he sat down with her and resolved the question to her satisfaction. But asking her if she had any other concerns, they were surprised to find that she had assembled a thick, looseleaf binder of anti-Mormon material obtained on the Internet.

"I swallowed hard and said, 'Well, let's go through that page by page and see what we find.' And she said, 'No, thank you.' She wasn't interested."

Brother Gordon warned that, with all the good that can be done with it, there are things to be cautious about the Worldwide Web: "There are 'exit counselors' on the Internet. These are people who have as their purpose to tell you their version of 'the truth' and to lead you out of the Church. Many of these are active LDS who no longer believe or only have a limited belief."

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