A revelation given to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon on Dec. 1, 1831, at Hiram, Ohio, commands the two men to respond both publicly and privately to critics and enemies of the still-young Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord,” counseled the divine voice. “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you — there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and if any man lift his voice against you he shall be confounded in mine own due time” (see Doctrine and Covenants 71:7-10).
I really appreciate many things about the organization now known as FairMormon. (Formerly, it was known simply as “FAIR,” or “The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.”) The first, of course, is its faithfulness in attempting to comply with that scriptural mandate. Another is its high level of energy. The enthusiasm, dedication and all-around good cheer of its volunteer leaders and workers are contagious. But I also value and admire its willingness to tackle the toughest issues head-on, with candor and competence. That’s why I’ve been involved with it, and supportive of it, since very nearly its beginning.
FAIR, now FairMormon, was born out of real-world encounters with critics who were posing harsh challenges and with troubled members raising difficult questions. That origin shapes it still today. It has never lost its focus on offering practical help to those who seek the truth and those who wish to defend it. Readers of a column that bears the running title of “Defending the Faith” will scarcely be surprised that I’m writing about this year’s conference.
FairMormon will have its 16th annual conference this year in Provo, on Thursday and Friday, Aug. 7-8.
The conference program for 2014 offers a great deal of variety. Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein, for example, will discuss “The Book of Abraham and Unnoticed Assumptions.” Barry Bickmore will examine evidence for “Restoring the Ancient Church,” drawing from his fascinating book by that title. Literary and Mormon studies scholar Robert Rees will evaluate a relatively recent book-length attack on the Book of Mormon.
There will also be a panel discussion — featuring Karen Lyons, Bob Rees, Roger Nicholson, Dana Anderson and a “mystery guest” — regarding how believing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should respond to and interact with “Family Members Who Left.”
Marriage and family therapist Ty Mansfield is scheduled to consider questions regarding Mormonism and homosexuality, on which he is a published expert. Russell Stevenson will speak about condemning racism, and Robert Smith will address “The Preposterous Book of Mormon: A Singular Advantage.”
Matt Roper and Paul Fields, who have published invaluable articles on their topic, will use both historical evidence and statistical analysis to weigh several alternative theories of Book of Mormon authorship. (Their presentation will include, but won’t be limited to, the zombie-like Spalding/Rigdon theory, which mysteriously survives in some quarters despite multiple fatal wounds.) Matthew Godfrey and Matthew Grow, both editors for the ongoing Joseph Smith Papers Project in the LDS Church’s History Department, will present on “The Story behind the Revelations: Using the Joseph Smith Papers to Better Understand the Doctrine and Covenants.” And attorney Hannah Smith, who has been deeply involved in several recent Supreme Court cases relevant to her topic, will speak about what Latter-day Saints need to know in order to preserve religious liberty.
As always, one of the high points of the conference will be its bookstore, which, when it’s in operation, is probably the best collection of books anywhere for defending the claims of Mormonism. Hundreds of titles regarding LDS history, doctrine and culture will be available, with a portion of the proceeds supporting the work of FairMormon.
“Always be prepared,” the apostle Peter exhorted the ancient Saints, “to give an answer (in Greek, "to make a defense," an “apologia”) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, New International Version). FairMormon seeks to do this itself, and to equip faithful Latter-day Saints so that they can do the same, effectively and knowledgeably, in their families and wards and as successful member-missionaries.
Specific information about the 2014 FairMormon Conference can be found at fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2014-fairmormon-conference.
Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU's Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs www.mormoninterpreter.com, blogs daily at www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson and speaks only for himself.