PROVO — After 16 years of defending Mormonism against detractors on the Internet and elsewhere, the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research has announced a new name and a facelift to its brand mark and website.
Henceforth, it will be called FAIR Mormon — following the pattern of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which became KFC, and Federal Express, which was renamed FedEx — to match shortened forms that already had become familiar to the public.
The mostly volunteer organization is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though most FAIR members are devout members of the church.
The changes were announced on the first day of the organization’s annual two-day conference, meeting this year on Aug. 1-2 for the first time at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo.
Presentations covered the effort to understand the feelings of members of the church who are struggling with their faith, Joseph Smith’s visions, differing perspectives of Mormon feminism and “Mormonism and the New Liberalism,” among other topics.
FAIR president Scott Gordon told the Deseret News the name change was driven largely by public confusion about the word “apologetics,” which, in this context, means defense of the faith, not expression of regret.
The new name maintains the acronym FAIR, “which, in the industry, is called equity,” said Rusty Clifton, who, at the behest of the organization, worked out the changes with his colleague at Bonneville Communications, Neylan McBaine.
Like the former logo, the new one has a depiction of the LDS Salt Lake Temple, but simpler and more contemporary, Clifton explained, while displaying it in a projected image.
He said that the tag line on the mark, which had read “Defending Mormonism,” now reads, “Critical questions, faithful answers.”
“So it doesn’t use these kind of militaristic words about defending and defense,” Clifton said.
Displaying images of the new website, which will be implemented over time, McBaine said the new mark will be incorporated consistently on all the FAIR Mormon family of websites.
In the opening address at the conference, Michael R. Ash spoke of what he calls “shaken-faith syndrome” among Mormons who encounter challenges to their faith. He wrote a book by that title which has just entered its second edition.
“It’s important that we understand that questioning the things we do, believe or accept is normal and part of the process that leads from youth to maturity, as well as from maturity to wisdom,” said Ash, a veteran staff member of FAIR. “There would be no growth without questioning. Questions lead to answers, resolutions, solidifying convictions and even to discarding false assumptions. Many doctrines and teachings were revealed as the result of questions petitioned to God.”
Acknowledging that such questioning sometimes results in church members abandoning their faith, Ash said Mormons must learn to be flexible in their thinking about unresolved issues and to distinguish between what is doctrinal and what is not.
Mormon historian Ronald O. Barney countered criticisms from detractors about the authenticity of Joseph Smith’s visions of deity and visitations from angels.
Critics such as Fawn Brodie and Ed Decker have used a limited, 20th-century perspective to assume that any reasonable person experiencing what Joseph Smith claimed “would have run home and grabbed his diary to carefully describe in great detail what he experienced before running from neighbor to neighbor shouting, ‘Guess what happened to me,’” said Barney, a former staff member of the LDS Church History Department and a current executive director of the Mormon History Association.
In contrast, Barney documented what he said was Joseph Smith’s prophetic style, a tendency to regard his spiritual experiences as sacred and personal and not to share them unless divinely instructed to do so.
The topic “Charity Never Faileth: Seeking Sisterhood amid Different Perspectives on Mormon Feminism,” was explored by a panel of five women: Neylan McBaine, Valerie Hudson Cassler, Wendy Ulrich, Kris Fredrickson and Maxine Hanks.
“Feminism speaks to the equality of men and women, but that term equality is an important one to pin down,” Cassler said. “It does not mean the same; it does not mean identical. There’s equal regard, there’s equal respect, there’s equal power, in a sense. All of these things comprise my definition of equality, which I sometimes call parity, which is equality in the context of difference.”
Hanks, who recently rejoined the church after leaving it in 1993 as one of the prominent “September Six,” said there are two main camps: equality feminism and difference feminism.
“Mormonism is amazing because it’s one of the few religions, maybe the only one, that incorporates and institutes both equality feminism and difference feminism within one organization,” she said.
Ralph Hancock, professor of political science at Brigham Young University, spoke about “Mormonism and the New Liberalism: the Inescapability of Political Apologetics.”
“Mormon apologetics aims not to replace faith, prayer and obedience as essential to the pursuit of ultimate life-giving truth, but to preserve or create a cultural or intellectual climate in which belief may flourish,” Hancock said. One of the greatest obstacles to such a climate, he said, is the cultural prestige of the new liberalism, which he said denies the supremacy of morality over human self-expression.
“Indeed,” he added, “I would suggest that a rising young scholar or intellectual today is more likely to be excluded from the circles of cultural prestige for moral/political reasons” than for holding beliefs in ancient scripture or miraculous and divine events.
The conference continues on Friday with presentations about Joseph Smith’s first-vision narrative in context, “disenchanted Mormonism,” a panel discussion about the loss and rekindling of faith, and working “toward a more effective apologetics.”
Most conference presentations are eventually published verbatim on the organization’s website at www.fairlds.org.