Some final Thoughts on Mormon/LDS Apologists (a la FAIR/FARMS)

John Dehlin Mormon Stories

I received an email today from a fellow I’ll call “enochville”, who provided some good clarification with regards to apologists. I would like to share it with you all (thanks so much, enochville!!!), to offer a small bit of closure to the raging post on FAIR/FARMS and LDS Apologetics of last week:


“In sifting through arguments pro and con for Mormonism, I have found the following distinction useful. In the future as you read positions on this board see if you can identify which arguments are apologetic and which are polemical. First, let’s take a look at the dictionary:

“apologetics – n.
1. The branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving
the truth of Christian doctrines.
2. Formal argumentation in defense of something, such as a position or system.

polemic – n.
1. an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles
of another
2. an aggressive controversialist”

The following comes from D. Michael Quinn:

“Not every believer is an apologist, but apologists take special efforts to defend their cherished point of view-whether in religion, science, history, or some other belief/endeavor. It is not an insult to call someone an “apologist”, nor is “apologist” an unconditional badge of honor. Like drivers on a highway, some apologists are careful, some are careless, some unintentionally injure the innocent, some are Good Samaritans, and a few are sociopaths. Like drivers, even good apologists make errors in judgment and occasionally violate the rules. The same is true for those who do not think they are apologists.

In a tradition as old as debate, polemics is an extreme version of apologetics. Defending a point of view becomes less important than attacking one’s opponents. Aside from their verbal viciousness, polemicists often resort to any method to promote their argument. Polemics intentionally destroys the give-and-take of sincerely respectful disagreement. In the resulting polarization, “all are punish’d.” Moving beyond apologist persuasion, LDS polemicists furiously (and often fraudulently) attack any non-traditional view of Mormonism. They don’t mince words-they mince the truth…”Polemicist” is a dishonorable vocation, and I use the term only where I believe it applies” (Quinn, D. Michael, “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View
– Revised and Enlarged”). enochville”


I have only affection in my heart for the folks at FAIR/FARMS. And I’m not angry or resentful in the slightest that they chose to “excommunicate” me from their internal email list last week–though I am a bit saddened by it…mostly because I believe that dissent is usually very healthy for an organization. I believe that FAIR would be a better organization with folks like me involved, even if I do feel strongly about candor and public (not private) discourse. That said–I’m sure that they model their organizational structure at least in part after the LDS Church, and so I can fully understand why private discourse, and excommuniation are natural impulses for them. Those are human impulses, actually–though (I’m proud to say) that they are impulses that organizations like Sunstone can proudly claim to have avoided (for the most part).

Perhaps I could have handled the matter differently. Perhaps I could have benefitted a bit from the type of distinction offered by enochville above. To those who I offended, I am very sorry. I sincerely share FAIR’s desire to help keep people from leaving the church (with the slight distinction that I only want to help them stay if it is in their best interest to do so, and I believe that occasionally, it is not). The intent of my public criticism was for FAIR to become a better organization–and to remove the stained reputation it has developed both for for polemics, and for lacking credibility in the minds and hearts of the sincere, thoughtful people I speak to on a weekly basis (many of whom are the exact “customers” FAIR is trying to service).

However, if what happened last week ends up moving FAIR even an inch farther away from polemics, and helps motivate them to moderate their discussion boards, and to develop a culture of compassion for the disaffected (vs. resentment and judgment and harsh mocking of folks like Jeffrey Nielsen, Fawn Brodie, Grant Palmer, Simon Southerton, Michael Quinn, George P. Lee, Steve Benson, Martha Beck, Bob McCue, Tal Bachman, etc.), then I feel it will have been worth it. In my experience, those disaffected from Mormonism deserve nothing short of love, compassion, and (at times) even respect for the paths that they have chosen to follow. Some of those listed above have been guilty of polemics as well–but for the most part, their decisions to leave the church, or speak out against it, have been rooted in a sincere desire to pursue, find, and share truth, and healthy cultural norms. FAIR should remember that even behind the protection of their internal e-list, the tone, and the level of compassion (or lack thereof) that is allowed within the inner sanctums cannot help but shape the overall feel and culture of the organization. I believe that FAIR/FARMS will blossom as a rose if they learn to show Ghandi- (or dare I say) Christ-like love for their “opponents.” If they fail to learn this lesson–I fear that they will remain discredited by those they seek to help most–thoughtful LDS seekers of truth.

I know that organizations (like the church) strongly seek to avoid the impression that their decisions are affected by external pressure–and perhaps, in this case, what happened last week (and this blog post) will only PROLONG their willingness to meaningfully change this unfortute aspect of their culture–but I remain positive and hopeful that they will. And so I’ll ask one final time: FAIR and FARMS, please consider working extra hard (maybe even discussing this openly in a keynote at your upcoming conference) to develop a culture that both avoids polemics, and “goes the extra mile” to show love, compassion and respect for disaffected Mormons. Once you do–I believe that you will not only begin to repair your soiled reputation among the thoughtful, but you will also begin to truly live (as I am trying, and often failing) the teachings of Christ.

John Dehlin

P.S. I tried allowing comments to this post, but it quickly became clear that it would only lead to the type of discourse I’m trying to avoid….so I had to pull the comments. Apparently this topic, and my treatment of it, has really struck a nerve. I hope that it (in the long run) will improve FAIR.