The first of three local LDS-related conferences scheduled this month began Thursday in Sandy, with speakers touching a broad range of topics including the faith's former priesthood ban for blacks and a retrospective on myths surrounding forged documents.

The eighth annual FAIR Conference is convened in the South Towne Expo Center through Friday, drawing scores of participants interested in the organization's mission, which is embodied in its title: The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.

The group "is dedicated to standing as a witness of Christ and his restored church," and addresses charges leveled at the doctrine, practices and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though it is not affiliated, owned or controlled by the church.

Marcus Martins, chairman of religious education at BYU-Hawaii, said he is often approached concerning his feelings on the LDS Church's priesthood ban on black members, which was rescinded in 1978 by then church President Spencer W. Kimball.

Martins is a native of Rio de Janeiro, and after his conversion to the LDS Church in 1972 became the first church member of black African descent to serve as a full-time LDS missionary when the priesthood ban was lifted.

"In my mind, the priesthood ban and its associated rationales were never a part of the everlasting gospel," but part of a "mortal law" that early church leaders felt "was the best approach at the time," he said.

His father, Elder Helvecio Martins, was the church's first black general authority, and was promised by President Kimball on two different occasions in the 1970s that at some point he would enjoy "all the blessings of the gospel," including the priesthood and LDS temple ordinances.

Though he has been subjected to some of the excuses perpetuated for the priesthood ban, including the idea that blacks were "less valiant" in pre-earth life or the "seed of Cain" who was cursed by God in Genesis, Martins maintains that some Latter-day Saints used the former ban as a "cover" for their own racist views. Such theories were simply "way off the mark," he said.

"Some of us even today harbor racist feelings. Conversion is a process . . . and to be converted to the notion that we are truly all brothers and sisters may take longer for some people than for others."

As Joseph of Egypt was sold into bondage by his brothers in the Bible, so African Americans were sold into slavery by their spiritual brothers, he said. "Yet my existence, and the blessings and privileges I enjoy today, were the result of some of my ancestors being brought from somewhere in Africa as slaves."

He said he sees no reason for church leaders to apologize for the former ban, as some have suggested. "I've been telling people this is the time for activity, not activism." The world is full of people "unable to let go of the hatred of the past," he said, referencing religious conflicts in the Middle East.

For those who hang on to past hurts over the ban, he suggested they simply "be an example of the believers," as Paul taught in the New Testament.

"The church is governed by revelation. The ban was rescinded in 1978 and not any earlier," though he said there is evidence at least two church presidents before President Kimball had considered ending the ban.

"What falls on us now is to perpetuate whatever is good and improve it, if possible. We need to teach the lessons of the past without reopening old wounds."

During a session Thursday morning, former Salt Lake City Police forensics expert George Throckmorton and former colleague, Steve Mayfield, addressed several myths that persist some 20 years after convicted forger Mark Hofmann murdered two people with pipe bombs to cover his crimes.

Several of Hofmann's forgeries involved phony documents that questioned the origins of the LDS Church, and speculation ran rampant at the time that church leaders were trying to purchase them to keep them from public scrutiny.

"Whenever someone says that, I remind them that matches and paper shredders have been around for a long time," Mayfield said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. "If they were so intent on keeping them from the public, why would they buy and keep them?"

Some also believed that top LDS officials were pushing investigators to offer Hofmann a plea bargain to spare church authorities from having to testify at trial. Mayfield said that was not the case, and Throckmorton said he never had any contact with President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was then a counselor in the church's First Presidency.

Two other long-standing LDS conferences are also scheduled this month: the Sunstone Symposium Aug. 9-12 (see accompanying story) and Education Week at Brigham Young University, Aug. 21-25.