What began in 1997 as an Internet conversation about how best to defend the LDS Church from its critics is now a national nonprofit organization of Mormon apologists.
A handful of participants, each with expertise in a different aspect of Mormonism, found each other on message boards that dealt with controversial aspects of LDS philosophy and history including polygamy, the banning of black men from the faith’s all-male priesthood until 1978, the role of women in the church, homosexuality and problems with the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Writers in various states found themselves answering the same questions and criticisms over and over. So they pooled their respective research and thinking at one Web site, which became the nucleus of The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR).
FAIR is not sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and takes full responsibility for its authors’ positions and perspectives. But it does require that its writers refrain from calling their opponents names.
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“We ask them not to make negative comments or attack anyone personally,” Scott Gordon, FAIR’s president, said Wednesday, from his home in Redding, Calif.
On Thursday and Friday, FAIR will hold its eighth- annual Mormon apologetics conference at South Town Exposition Center in Sandy. Organizers expect about 300 attendees, including people from as far away as New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.
At the conference, many of the same topics hashed over on the Internet will be discussed face to face.
Speakers will include:
Renowned Mormon feminist and historian Claudia Bushman will explore the role of women in the church.
Marcus Martins, chairman of the religious studies department at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and the first Latter-day Saint with black African ancestry to serve a full-time mission, will offer his thoughts on being ”a black man in Zion.”
David Stewart will look at the charge that DNA research undermines the Book of Mormon claim that American Indians descended from a family that traveled to the New World from Jerusalem.
George Throckmorton, a Utah forensics expert, will look at Mark Hofmann’s Mormon document forgeries.
“We are hoping these speakers will give us unique ways of looking at these same issues,” said Gordon, a professor at Shasta College of Business and Technology. “And there are always new people who haven’t heard this before, people who are encountering it on the Internet for the first time.”
But this year’s program offers at least one new development – a look at the LDS Church’s problems internationally.
– What intractable problems face the Book of Mormon?
Kim stman, a native of Finland who has studied Mormon history in his country, will explore its relationship to the Finnish society from the 1800s to the present.
“Kim is a member of our FAIR volunteer list who spends a lot of time answering questions from people in Finland,” Gordon said. “He has heard all the accusations about the church’s CIA connections. The view that Mormon missionaries are spies is pretty prevalent in Finland.”
At the conference, FAIR will announce a new Web site to deal with issues that arise for the LDS Church in Germany – http://www.deutsch.fair.lds.org. It will be staffed entirely of German members who will decide what issues are the most relevant to them.
“Sometimes we get so myopic in our looking at Mormonism,” Gordon said. “It’s nice to get a different perspective.”