Liveblogging from a distance — I am streaming it here in Wyoming. The conference runs all day Thursday and Friday in Provo; the conference program is posted at the FAIR site and speaker bios are also posted. Below are the speakers and topics for the Thursday session, along with short notes giving my summaries, or at least highlights, of their remarks. That's based on a spotty live feed, so I might not get every point quite right; consult the video for 100% accuracy. I will be in and out during the day, so I won't get everything. The regular text is my summary of the speaker's remarks. If I have my own comments to add, I'll put that in italics in a paragraph following the summary.
Michael R. Ash — Shaken Faith Syndrome
Ash briefly described the revisions and upgrades to the second edition of his book Shaken Faith Syndrome. After the obligatory nod to Hans Mattsson, Ash stated that he advises the bishops he speaks with about faith issues that doubt is more likely the result of sincere concerns than the result of sin or transgression. He put up a nice quotation to the effect that faith is the affirmation of a set of beliefs in the presence of doubt rather than a certain knowledge, the opposite of doubt. He reviewed some theories of psychologist Daniel Kahneman about how we form beliefs and make judgments, then discussed how some LDS faith issues are covered (or not) in LDS history. LDS history in the 19th century was generally designed and edited to promote faith — as almost all 19th-century history was written to promote the writer's national or social views, whether done consciously or not. What we think of as professional history did not emerge until the 20th century. Ash noted that "LDS General Authorities may not be well versed in LDS history." We need better inoculation! Avoid the rigid black-and-white approach to belief employed by fundamentalist Christians. Learn to be flexible in your approach to gospel issues, and modify views about peripheral issues (Noah's flood, the papyri, etc.) in light of new information. He closed citing Alma, asking that we give room for the possibility of a spiritual witness. Plant the seed and see if it grows.
In a short Q&A following the presentation, Ash fielded several questions submitted by conference attendees and from online viewers. He restated his view that issues weren't hidden in the LDS curriculum, they just weren't central to what the LDS curriculum was intended for. How much inoculation is too much? Ash said it varies by individual.
Has anyone read his book Shaken Faith Syndrome? What do you think of it?
Ron Barney — Joseph Smith's Visions
Barney, an editor on the Joseph Smith Papers Project, said he is writing a book on Joseph Smith's prophetic style. His main point today: the documentary record and the contextual circumstances support that Joseph in fact experienced visions. He quoted Alma 12:9 and a couple of verses in Moses 1 and 4 for the point that those who receive divine communication are directed to *not* share all they receive. After being rebuffed by those with whom he initially shared his 1820 vision experience, Joseph became more circumspect. Later, well after the Church was organized, Joseph recognized the need to counter contemporary critics and then provided written accounts of his visions, first in 1832, then 1835, then again in 1838-39 and in 1842.
Barney quoted an Oct. 25, 1831 entry in the Far West Record in which Hyrum Smith invited Joseph to give the particulars about Moroni's visits and the translation of the plates. Joseph replied it was not intended to tell the world all those particulars, and it was not expedient for him to share these details. "God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourself," Joseph later advised his associates on Nov. 12, 1835. Barney noted that Joseph did not initially publish or even disclose the visions now related in D&C 110. This material did not appear in the Doctrine and Covenants until Orson Pratt's 1876 revisions that added it as section 110. That text is ultimately based on the final entry in Joseph's 1835-36 journal, recorded by Joseph's scribe at that time, Warren Cowdery. Barney likened this sort of delay in disclosing spiritual experiences to the directive Jesus Christ gave Peter, James, and John following the Transfiguration: "He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead" (Mark 9:9). He closed with an interesting discussion of Joseph Smith's sermons, 450 or so, only 20% of which we have any record and none of which were recorded verbatim. Unlike Christian contemporaries, for whatever reason, Joseph did not circulate written texts of his sermons.
Q&A: The book will hopefully come out next year. Only the 1832 account of Joseph's vision is in his own hand. Joseph chose to speak from the pulpit rather than disseminate written accounts.
For more information on what was added to the 1876 revision of the D&C, see Robert J. Woodford's surprisingly detailed 1984 Ensign article "The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants." I'm sure there are other more recent and more detailed treatments, including the JSPP.
Panel Discussion — Charity Never Faileth: Seeking Sisterhood Amid Different Perspectives on Mormon Feminism
On the panel: Neylan McBain, Valerie Hudson, Wendy Ulrich, Kris Fredrickson, Maxine Hanks.
Ralph Hancock — Mormonism and the New Liberalism: the Inescapability of Political Apologetics
Hancock, a BYU political science professor, presented an extended critique of "the new liberalism" and a brief defense of traditional marriage and gender complementarity (as opposed to gender equality). He extended the critique to those he rather confusingly labels "new Mormon liberals," who he sees as being in irresolvable conflict with the Church, the gospel, and especially the Proclamation on the Family. He sees the rising generation of young Latter-day Saints as being particularly vulnerable to the perspective and morality of "the new liberalism." LDS apologetics has a proactive role to play here.
It is always helpful to distinguish between Mormon liberals (those who are political liberals and happen to be Mormon) and Liberal Mormons (Mormons who favor a more progressive or liberal approach to religious doctrine and practice). So one can be both a Mormon conservative (politically) but a Liberal Mormon (religiously). But Hancock doesn't make any distinction between the two uses of the term "liberal" when paired with "Mormon," which seems likely to cause confusion.
Morris Thurston — “Kidnapping” at Palestine Grove: Missouri’s Final Attempt to Extradite Joseph Smith
Thurston, quite a storyteller, recounts in considerable detail the June 1843 arrest of Joseph Smith by two lawmen from Missouri who intended to return him to Missouri to face charges of treason. Thurston first reviewed earlier events that led up to this episode, the 1838 Battle of Crooked River in Missouri and the May 1842 attempted assassination of former Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs. Thurston then recounted how the arrest episode played out: lawmen, attorneys, and Joseph trekking around Illinois to resolve the habeas corpus petitions that were quickly filed, appearing before various judges before eventually being released from the custody of the Missouri lawmen when the petition was heard on the merits and decided by the municipal court of Nauvoo. Mormons in Illinois were of course pleased with this outcome, but it generated considerable controversy among those less sympathetic to Joseph. Thurston was careful to show both sides of this complicated and controversial historical event. It generated political opposition to the Mormons in Illinois which contributed to the violent events of June 1844.
Seth Payne — Why Mormonism Matters: Pastoral Apologetics and the LDS Doubter
Payne, who has an MA in religion from Yale and blogs at Worlds Without End, addressed "the narrative adjustment process" and LDS exit narratives. He discussed the sociological terms defector, whistleblower, and apostate, used for those who leave organizations. Which term applies depends on the status of the organization within the broader society. Defectors leave quietly, whistleblowers with a bit more of a fuss, and apostates produce "captivity narratives." Payne likens LDS exit narratives to watered-down captivity narratives (watered down because there are also elements of defector and whistleblower, who make easier exits, in the LDS exit experience). Exit narratives are generally unreliable for establishing or refuting actual facts or events. Which doesn't mean we can't learn something from them: they show that doubt is painful, that doubters feel alone with no one to talk to about their concerns, and that spiritual and social concerns drive the person's experience.
Some doubters want to stay. This calls for pastoral apologetics, which is directed at those who are within a church but who are having social or spiritual issues. The pastoral apologist is kind and non-judgmental, provides support, and can tolerate criticism. The pastoral apologist can articulate why Mormonism matters to them, personally. Those looking for reasons to stay aren't looking for metaphysical answers. They need and deserve Christian love and support, not ostracism or attempts at social shaming (often noted in LDS exit narratives and given some credence by Payne).
Q&A: Payne notes that about 25% of the Christian-affiliated LDS exit narratives contain blatant falsehoods, but almost none of the agnostic/atheist-inclined narratives did. So he finds some of the LDS exit narratives fairly credible, at least for relating the feelings or views of the exiting doubter. His advice to active LDS on how to deal with doubters: be compassionate and understanding; be a good example of what you believe. Payne himself returned after a period of church inactivity; he was pleased to be treated like any other member of the ward, not like a project. To doubters: respect has to go both ways. Don't be a jerk in Sunday School class, then complain when other Mormons don't show you any respect.
Robert Kirby — Why It Is Important to Laugh at Ourselves
Very funny, as always.