August 8, 2008

Scott Gordon: Online Apologetics

Scott has been President of FAIR since 2001, and has since lost much of his hair (especially in the back).

On Dec. 15, 2007 Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a talk on LDS being more active online. Also due to the Romney campaign, discussion of Mormonism has taken off on the Internet. Biased, unscientific and unsupported views on online apologetics.

We are living in a time when we can define ourselves
-Start a blog
-Send articles to friends
-Download videos, etc.
-Write to news media online

This requires members to understand the basic and fundamental principles of the gospel. Many members of the Church have been eager to make arguments that are not Church doctrine. Members of the Church have left the church over various issues. Some analyze first vision accounts, or the translation methods. What disturbs people the most seems to be that they feel the Church has hidden these issues. Gordon says they have been hid very well, in a place maybe not many will look: the Ensign.

Still, he has been saddened to hear when people fall away.

Defining terms:

(like, Mormon Fortress, SHIELDS, etc.)

(real-time conversations in a room on various topics.)

-Message Board
(FAIR was born here. More rough and tumble. Discussions not in real time.)

(Web logs, popular in political arena. Personal or group, etc.)

(List-serve; e-list, where emails are sent to one address and distributed to every member of the list. FAIR maintains 5 lists, German, Spanish, Black, Journal, and Apologist)

(A group effort where many people can edit papers, etc. Wiki is a software, not wikipedia.)

-Social Networking
(MySpace, Facebook, etc.)

(Created in 2005, a video site where people can comment, etc.)

(A term meaning one who posts controversial messages with the intent of baiting an emotional response, or trying to ignite a fire.)

(One who reads things online but do not really participate in the conversations.)

FAIR began in 1996 on AOL on chat rooms and message boards. The same issues regarding the Church came up over and over again. It was impossible to become an expert on all the issues (unless you are Kevin Barney) so they wanted to make a place where all the questions can be answered. Critics online were becoming fed up with the people providing good answers. So FAIR began. A website was started and a message board created.

Lessons learned about Message Boards
Message Boards are sometimes looked at like boxing matches. One must keep in mind, though, that many anonymous users are watching the conversation. Also, controversial discussions draw the most interest. In your face debate was going on. Soon, people online were talking about FAIR saying this or that, some of which weren't even by FAIR members so they decided to jettison the message board. (Now

The FAIR Site became a portal where links to articles, etc. can be put together. A bookstore was also created, where many good books can be acquired. Bookstores haven't been entirely interested in carrying historical books, etc. Website, book store, conference were all managed by Scott Gordon. The FAIR journal is sent out monthly. Rene Olson and Juliann Reynolds wanted a site dedicated to blacks and the Church. was established. Gordon called this a life-changing experience. He found racism within the Church, and he found amazing black members of the Church. He also found that black Americans have been treated dishonorably. The FAIR wiki was created with articles responding to various criticism. Gordon believes it is FAIR's best work. Translations have been and are being made.

Joseph Smith DVD created by anti-Mormons had a response done in about one week. An advance copy was received and 150-page response went out the same day the DVD was released, and the answer was linked to on the Church website.

FAIR blog was created where members of FAIR post various thoughts in articles to answer criticism. The FAIR YouTube chanel was created as well with hundreds of clips. Ask the Apologist feature is available. 871 questions have been responded to so far this year (multiple answers in many cases.)

"Anti-Mormon" refers to those who actively fight Mormonism. There are 2 broad types:

First, Evangelical anti-Mormonism. 
It is typically done for boundary maintenance. Those most at risk are new converts and investigators. Common issues are becoming gods, Bible inerrancy, grace alone, polytheism, trinity, God had sex with Mary, etc.

Second, Secular anti-Mormonism.
Polygamy, marriage, polyandry, DNA, translation of BoM, First Vision, Kinderhook, Masonry, blacks and priesthood, bureaucracy, treatment of gays and women, etc.

The argument either way usually boils down to:
"Joseph Smith was a false prophet because..."

Loss of Faith
-Not happy with "plan of happiness" because they aren't happy
-Just want to fit in
-I am shocked by something I read
-Family trouble
-Word of Wisdom issues

If a person comes with one question, they've usually already been very bothered by a number of questions. Often they have already decided to leave the Church. This is similar to people who are beginning to talk about problems in their marriage, they may already be preparing for separation. Similarly, those who are severely doubting may already be prepared to leave. Some people in the Church just want a quick answer, others want all the facts. Some have the gift of being believing and others have the gift of being skeptical.

Things to be cautious about online:
-There are "exit counselors" who wish to lead you out of the Church. Some of them still want to embrace the Church as a nice place for kids, etc.
-Anti-Mormon narrative, is similar to a testimony. It seeps over into active members where they begin saying similar things.

Some common anti narratives:
 "There is no peer review at the Maxwell Institute."

"Scholars who write for BYU Studies, FAIR or FARMS are not recognized in their own fields."

"As people come to be more educated they will leave the Church."
Conversely, studies show that more educated folks are likely to stay.

"It is bad to be an apologist because they are not objective scholars."
Those who say this may be trying to poison the well, or may be misunderstanding what an apologist is. If you argue for a side or a point you are an apologist. There can be bad apologists and bad apologetics, it doesn't follow that all are wrong are bad. Those who claim apologists are bad are arguing for a position in an apologetic capacity.

"FAIR is mean, FAIR is ad hominem"
"FARMS is even more mean"
Both of these accusations can actually be indulging in ad hominem ("against the man") themselves. Some people say this without even having read the FARMS Review or FAIR articles. We currently have people trying to remove any snarkiness. Scott has seen this among students who think a teacher hates them because they get a bad grade. The teacher actually likes this student and feels bad that the student didn't do the work to get the grade. It feels personal to the person involved because of all they put into it. This is similar when someone points out flaws in a position. Talking about a person or their credentials is not always an ad hominem. For example, if one claims a special status or claims false things it may be good to point out that it isn't so.

"FARMS or FAIR causes people to leave the Church"
This goes back to an earlier point, FARMS and FAIR may be used as a last resort by those on their way out.

"Does the Church know about you? They would shut you down if they did!"
"Don't listen to FAIR, they are not official, etc."
FAIR has been linked to from the official site, they must not be all to opposed.

Are Online Apolgetics Efforts Effective?
FAIR receives e-mails every month from people who are thankful for the efforts of FAIR. This is almost always the only payment these volunteers receive.

Cynthia, a non-LDS "generic Christian," former Jewish agnostic
Apologetics is what got her to the point where she could consider God. Growing up with her doctor father she remembers much agnosticism. In her Jewish background also there was a certain aversion to Christianity. In Dec. 2005 she was approaching Christmas and said to a friend of hers named Jeff that he is the wisest person she knows but wondered how she could believe. He gave her Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. From there she looked into Messianic Judaism and other things but was very impressed and interested. She began praying as well. She received an answer from God and gained a faith of Jesus Christ based on spiritual experience. Apologetics got her on the road. Meantime her friend Jeff became LDS. FAIR became her "invisible missionaries." She then got through the Book of Mormon and began reading much of what FAIR has written. She read anti-Mormon material as well which didn't particularly impress her. Apologetics didn't give the faith, it created the space where it could grow. She believes that the Book of Mormon has "God's fingerprints on it," she believes she might be baptized in the future. For her, she said  it has to go through her brain before getting to her heart and she feels that is happening.

Jan, baptized in 2001, prior agnostic, scientific minded.

When investigating Mormonism her hairdresser gave her an Ed Decker tract which led her to think that it may be different than she thought. She went online and found FAIR. She received answers there. So FAIR didn't cause the conversion but created the environment where the seed of faith could grow. It let her dare to hope that it might be true. She read many apologetic works seeing that some intelligent, reasonable people could give at least plausible reasons for faith. From there, she moved to a spiritual foundation.

"We need you," he tells the audience. Mormonism online is growing fast, and our resources are limited. We need people to link to us, to view and comment on blogs and YouTube vids. The more comments the better, rankings will rise. On the other hand, don't link to and blog about poor videos. It isn't a problem to leave a correcting comment, but try not to increase their popularity. Make people aware that FAIR is here, and that the Maxwell Institute is available, among other fine places. FAIR also needs donations.

Online Etiquette comment by Elder Ballard:
"As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of New Media, remember who you are–Latter-day Saints. Remember as the Proverb states that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that “contention is of the devil.” There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven" (See "Sharing the Gospel On the Internet" by Russell M. Ballard).

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