Cody Anderson was an exemplary young member of the Church. As a teen, he was an Eagle Scout, a quorum president, and had experienced a spiritual conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But as he began to encounter opposition and sin, he became discouraged and developed a sense of shame and unworthiness. He began to attend church less frequently and he gradually stopped reading the scriptures and praying. Eventually, he encountered anti-Mormon literature and found a rational justification for his disaffection from the Church. For a number of years, he pursued a lifestyle that was simply guided by his base desires. While some people like Cody never return to the Church, he instead returned to full activity, became sealed in the temple, and now volunteers for FAIR. In this interview, he explains what it was that brought him back into the Church and provides some insight into why some people leave the Church, and what friends and family members can do to help them return.
This is the second part of the two-part interview with Michael R. Ash.
As a young, faithful member of the Church, Mike Ash found his faith to be shaken by the anti-Mormon book The Kingdom of Cults. He worked through that experience and later found his faith to be challenged once more by the movie the God Makers, and later by Church historical documents that were being “discovered” by a man named Mark Hoffman. In this interview, Brother Ash discusses how he was able to overcome doubts that were created by his encounters with anti-Mormon material and the Hoffman forgeries. He talks about the role apologetics played in strengthening his faith, how he became involved in FAIR, and he offers advice for family members and friends of those who are struggling with their faith.
Michael R. Ash, is the author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FAIR Bookstore.
Often, doubt and uncertainty arise not from facts and evidence that actually undermine what we thought was true, but rather from assumptions we might be making about those facts. Our confidence in the gospel can be strengthened as we adopt more sound assumptions. However, we do not necessarily need to be alarmed in the face of uncertainty and doubt.
In this fireside presentation written by Terryl Givens, we find that in order for us to experience growth in this life, and to engage in an authentic test of our true desires, there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief.
This is the first episode in the Keeping the Faith series of podcasts. This series explores ways in which our faith can be challenged, and ways in which we can overcome those challenges.
This episode, is taken from a fireside presentation by Professor Terryl Givens given to the Single Adult Stake in Palo Alto, California in October of 2012. Brother Givens is a professor of religion and literature at the University of Richmond and author of many books and articles, including The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, which he co-authored with his wife, Fiona. This presentation is entitled, “Letter to a Doubter,” and is read by Steve Densley, Jr. This address is presented here by permission of Terryl Givens. The full text of the address can be found here.
If there is an issue that you have been wondering about, you can often find the latest answers at the FAIR wiki, found at fairmormon.org. If you can’t find your answer there, feel free to pose your question to the FAIR apologists by visiting the FAIR contact page.
Tell your friends about us and help increase the popularity of this podcast by subscribing in iTunes and by writing a review.
Music for this episode was provided courtesy of Paul Cardall.
The opinions expressed in this podcast are not necessarily the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FAIR.
I want to take a brief break from the present focus on critical evidences of the restoration, and turn momentarily to another topic.
I recently attended a conference for religion news writers in Bethesda, Maryland, and it left me with some pointed thoughts. For 3 days at the Religion Newswriters Association annual conference, religion and politics were discussed amongst strangers (sshhh! some of us became friends). Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Buddists, Islamists and secularists met and discussed a variety of topics in the news – all relating to religion. Except for a single panelist who singled out a solitary religion for criticism (guess which?), all religions were treated with respect and deference.
During the conference, we were told we live in the “Mormon Moment” – a time when there is an extraordinary amount of attention being placed on the Church. Culturally, we are highlighted in popular programs, stage plays, and political arenas. Our sacred beliefs are introduced to others through secular channels, and the world around us is beginning to notice us and, in some ways, to accept us.
Some of this attention is welcome. More people who are familiar with us are recognizing the positive traits developed from faithful living within a gospel context. They highlight these in articles, blogs, commentaries, documentaries and editorials. Some of the attention is less welcome. We are harpooned and satirized on stage, stereotyped on film, and misrepresented on the internet. We are sometimes mocked by comedians, patronized by secularists, and put down by critics. Such less-welcome attention is not new to us, and in fact may have felt like the norm since the days of Joseph Smith when he said:
D&C 127:2 And as for the aperils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small thing to me, as the benvy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; . . . nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me;
Like Joseph, we may feel that dealing with the secular mocking of sacred things, or that polemic preaching against us, is the deep water we are wont to swim in. We accustom ourselves to a constant expectation of clarifying, educating, explaining, correcting, and testifying. For some of us, I am sure there is a hope that the “Mormon Moment” will prove to be a tidal wave of positive pressure within society to accept us on our own terms; to recognize our good, to overlook our shortcomings, and to accept us as one of their own.
The Challenges of a Public Church
It may be true that we are turning a corner of sorts. We may be finding that, at least in certain circles, we are finding less resistance and more acceptance. Some of it may be because we are feeling more comfortable in our own societal skin, as is evidenced by the very deft treatment by the Church of the popularity of the Broadway play “The Book of Mormon.” Rather than criticize or complain about the crass content of the musical, the Church took advantage of the attention the Tony award-winning presentation placed on the Church. They put up posters in New York and in the playbills in Denver, inviting those who have seen the play to now “read the book.” In fact, the Church’s only comment regarding the play was a single sentence reply that read:
“The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”
Of course, if acceptance comes about because the world is indeed receiving us on our terms, then we should feel grateful for the change in sentiment. If it is because we are turning more to be like the world, then a caution is perhaps in order.
There are efforts afoot in some circles to reshape the Church more into an identity than a faith. Individuals who welcome what they feel are the positive aspects of participation and identity want to separate these elements from what they perceive as negative aspects. Many of these individuals want freedom to criticize and even decry the Church while maintaining their cultural identities as Mormons. They want to be able to maintain their friendly associations even while disassociating themselves from that which makes us unique. Indeed, rather than be “in the world, but not of the world” they want to be “of the Church but not in the Church”. Perhaps they desire to simultaneously be accepted by the world and their LDS friends and family while they side with the world against much of what the Church holds sacred.
This is a dichotomy that is not easy to maintain. It places tremendous pressure on the individual and their associations. Too often they are unable to restrain their critical views, and they find that Church members whom they associate with become uncomfortable having one close to them trying to draw them away from the Church. The result, not surprisingly, is that once close associations sometimes become weak or even broken.
For the believing member, this is a great challenge! On one level, they love the person who is critical, and want desperately to help them maintain whatever association they can with the Church. They are their friend, and want to continue to associate with them, and enjoy their company.
Keeping the Faith
On another level, they are appropriately cautious of the need to safeguard the witness they have personally obtained of the truthfulness of the gospel. They are mindful that constant criticism and negative influences can debilitate their own efforts to maintain the spirit and to live a gospel centered life.
Some of these people often reach out to FAIR, desperately seeking help and assistance as they struggle through their crisis. They ask for information, help, and perspectives to enable them to manage such situations. It is deeply unsettling for me to witness their hearts torn by the inability of someone they love to “keep the faith.” I recognize in their written “voices” a hopeful longing that the Lord would give their loved one a “light and voice” on their personal road to Damascus, which would turn them in a single experience away from their meandered path to the straight and narrow one we all try to maintain.
In my own efforts to counsel such individuals, I have sought to emphasize three critical points. First, our primary concern must be towards building upon the things we know to be true as we work through the questions that we have not answered, such as might be raised by our close acquaintance critics. Second, if we are to ever help our loved ones return to faith, we simply must maintain our relationship, which might mean an armistice on religion where we both agree to leave the subject alone. Third, we must be faithful in our own lives!
I could write a lengthy treatise on the first two points, but what do I mean by this last one? What does it mean to be faithful? Is it possible that we might prove ourselves worthy to convey a single spiritual experience that would turn back the progressive hands of degenerated faith and restore in an instant that which has likely been lost over a lengthy period of time? Perhaps, but in my experience, it is seldom that easy.
I would argue that the faith we need to develop or maintain is not some singular powerful influence with an undeniable force to change others, but a quiet constancy of behavior that exemplifies the inner assurance that we have that our path and purpose is correct.
Many years ago, I was thinking about the term “faithful,” as in the dog that proverbially retrieves slippers or newspapers, or the geyser that spouts an impressive display on a regular interval. As I thought about the constant, unwavering nature of the behavior associated with the term, I realized that such constancy of the “faithful” is what makes the same reflective of one who is “full of faith.” I realized that great faith is not so much manifest in singular events that move mountains, but in the constant, unwavering loyalty to a pattern of behavior borne of deeply held beliefs. I was so impressed with such a realization that I wrote the following.
Faith as a Seed
Two on a journey were stopped at a hill.
The Lord said “remove it”. They each said “I will!”.
Then one set to praying, whose faith he thought strong –
Who said in himself “This shouldn’t take long!
I know in my heart, if I merely have faith
That I can move mountains like this from their place.”
Thus all the day long and into the night
This man knelt in prayer, and prayed with all might.
But begging with fervor the mound remained still,
‘Till slowly it weakened, then broke the man’s will.
So, soon discontented and fearing the task
This man left the mountain – returned on his path.
The other man humble, with faith no less strong –
Who heard the Lord’s will but thought the task long –
Delayed not a moment but did as God asked.
Thus grabbing a handful he set to the task.
So, trusting in God, though hard it might be,
He carried by handfuls the earth to the sea.
Yes, daily he labored, though weak in his skill
To move the great mountain and do the Lord’s will.
‘Till days turned to weeks, and weeks became years.
But still the man labored despite all his fears.
So slowly the mountain by handfuls did flee
From one of great faith ‘till it entered the sea.
And thus came the saying, of faith and the seed –
That man can move mountains, if he but believes!
John Lynch, 1995
This is perhaps a bit too lyrical for some, but for me at least it illustrates what I believe a profound truth. Greatness lies not so much in the singular events that rise above all others, such as a mountain moving en masse to the open ocean, but in the constant, often unnoticed daily decisions that form our character and reinforces our personal faithfulness to gospel truths.
In this poem the daily simple efforts of small progress, persisting over a lifetime, resulted in the remarkable accomplishment of a mighty mountain being subdued by a humble, obedient servant. In the monumental efforts some of us might face in helping those we love struggle through the seemingly insurmountable task of helping them regain a lost testimony, we would do well to take such an example to heart. We should not expect that some singular event will turn the tide of disbelief and convert the Sauls in our lives into Pauls, although this might happen. Rather, we should expect that our own constancy in behavior and dedication to gospel teachings and our own fidelity in seeking and obeying prophetic counsel, will serve as a template of example that will work by “handfuls” to remove the mountain of disbelief from the hearts of those we love.
We should remember that the “Mormon Moment” that seems to be upon us in an instant has been over 182 years in the making! The prejudice and criticism we have experienced in the past is not likely to disappear any time soon despite improvements we see in some quarters. Progress we make in one arena is likely to be offset by a rise in opposition in another. Like the man moving the mountain, we need to constantly and consistently deliver handfuls of positive examples from the mountain of opposition and place it into the sea of understanding and acceptance.
In our personal relationships, and in our Church-wide relationship with society, we need to maintain our own fidelity to gospel principles. Constant in our conduct, bold in our beliefs and humble in our service, we can move mountains! Those we love personally, but who struggle, may yet be moved by a handful of doubt we cast into the ocean some many days hence by some small faithful act we perform. Some group in society who looks critically upon us today may yet convert criticism to acceptance if we but remain unwavering in our collective personal lives and public comportment.
In the end, however, how much faith we personally have is not reflected in how big of a mountain we can move in a single prayer, but in the daily devotion we give in simple tasks given us by God. Indeed, through simple and small means, great things can be brought to pass by the “faith-full”!
This article also appeared in Meridian Magazine.
Over the last couple of days I’ve seen a number of comments around the Bloggernacle and on Facebook that reflect some fundamental misunderstandings of Mormon apologetics in general and FAIR in particular. (Such as a confusion of material on the Mormon Dialogue Board with FAIR, and such as attributing material from the FARMS Review to FAIR.) I thought it might be worthwhile in light of this kind of persistent misunderstanding to share my comments on apologetics from this past summer’s Sunstone Symposium. Kaimi organized a session on the topic, featuring him, me, Bridget Jack Jeffries and John Charles-Duffy. Below I have attempted to produce a rough transcript of my comments. At the end I have reproduced the questions, followed only by my own comments (not those of the other panelists). (To hear the entire session, you may order a download from Sunstone for under $3.00.)
Hi. This is my vacation so I didn’t really prepare anything to say. I plan to just talk off the cuff a little bit. First of all, let me tell you a little bit about what apologetics is. As Kaimi said I’m involved with FAIR, which stands for the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. I was not involved in the formation of the organization or the choice of the name, which name is somewhat unfortunate. For years we have gotten e-mails asking us “Why are you apologizing?” Because apologetics is a word that is not really native to the Mormon tradition. It is well known in other traditions, but not in ours. It comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “defense,” and refers to that branch of theology that has to do with defending religious faith by rational means. There are Mormon apologists, Evangelical apologists, Catholic apologists, Jewish apologists, and Muslim apologists. If you’re a religious group that seeks to interact with the wider world, you need apologists. So that’s the first thing.
Second, in Mormon discourse a lot of times the word apologist is thrown around as a slur. I personally don’t perceive it that way. Jack and I both have a background in classics at BYU, and I remember reading Plato’s Apology, in the original sense, not the modern English sense. So to me being an apologist is a perfectly honorable thing, not something one has to ashamed of.
Also, I think apologists often wear different hats at different times. I know I certainly do. I sometimes act in the role of an apologist and wear that hat. Sometimes I wear the hat of a scholar. (I’ve published some 30-odd articles in Mormon studies, some with an apologetic slant and some without.) I wear the hat of a regular member as well; I teach Sunday School in my home ward. I sometimes wear the hat of a social critic. Some of you are aware that I blog at By Common Consent, and in that forum I often have occasion to critique the Church and its policies. Among apologists there is a spectrum, and I think it’s fair to say that I’m very liberal in the world of apologetics; probably about as liberal as one can be and still wear that particular hat. Kaimi mentioned LGBT rights. I’m there with Joanna; Ralph Hancock is not, if you read his post on Times and Seasons. So there is a wide spectrum of belief and practice within the apologetic universe.
What I’d like to do now, in the wake of what happened at the Maxwell Institute, my friend Russell Arben Fox sent around an e-mail to about 15 of us, asking for our thoughts on apologetics. And I want to use my response to him as a framework for this address.
I think of apologetics as operating within three different spheres. First is what I call (these labels are just my own) “engagement apologetics.” What I mean by that is when you engage directly with the critic. That’s like debate, the aggressive style people think of. Rhetorical combat in the octagon; two people enter, one leaves, that kind of mentality. Today a lot of that takes place on message boards; that is the venue for this style of apologetics. Personally that’s not my style and I don’t do it. That is partly because I know myself well enough to know I wouldn’t be any good at it. A lot of that is just a personality issue; I’m a very empathetic person. Kaimi mentioned Dan Peterson and Lou Midgley; I know those guys, I’m friends with those guys, and I don’t view them as the Anti-Christ. But I know and am friends with everyone else, too. I really don’t want to roll around wrestling in the mud with someone; it’s just not my style. I don’t care much for message boards; I’m much more of a blog person. I’m a live and let live kind of guy.
There is also what I call scholarly apologetics. John Charles-Duffy in his lengthy Sunstone article was not only insightful but perhaps prescient in a way we wouldn’t have known in 2004. He talks about a number of tensions. There is an anti-contention tradition in the Church, and that style butts heads with that. There is also an anti-intellectual tradition in the Church, and apologetics by its nature uses scholarship, in a way that traditional Mormonism hasn’t, so in many ways apologetics has been a progressive influence in the Church. I agree with his conclusion there. I mention this article because he talks about “orthodox scholarship,” which is a good label, but I’m going to include this under the rubric of apologetics.
What I mean by scholarly apologetics is sort of classic FARMS. FARMS stands for the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, a foundation established by John Welch in 1979. It was eventually absorbed into BYU in the 90s at the request of GBH (hard to say no to him!). I’m not part of FARMS but I know those people, and I know there was a lot of concern at the time with going into BYU, and there was concern that what has happened would happen. Scholarly apologetics is applying the tools of scholarship assuming Mormon faith claims. It involves things like peer review and cite checking and footnotes and linguistic tools and dead tree publication. So FARMS would put on a conference on the Allegory of the Olive Tree, a two-day conference, and they would invite scholars and then publish a book with the proceedings. That was not directly engaging anyone but providing a scholarly apparatus around Mormon faith claims.
The third kind of apologetics is what I call educative apologetics. And that is what I see as the role of FAIR today. Now FAIR originated almost exclusively as an engagement apologetics organization. FAIR originated as an internet-based group in the late 90s (I wasn’t around then). What happened was that there were religious discussions on the old AOL message boards, and the Mormons were getting pushed around. They were the 98 pound weaklings because they didn’t control the venue. The people that did limited their access and things like that. So FAIR originated as a group of people banding together electronically for self defense. And so FAIR created its own message board. And in those early days it was very much this engagement style, let’s arm wrestle over this stuff. Then after a few years it changed its focus and gave up its message board. Some people still refer to that board as the “FAIR boards,” but FAIR has had no control over those boards for about a decade now. FAIR’s mission became one of educative apologetics. Its focus is inward, on members of the Church.
So a Primary teacher goes to prepare a talk, opens up google and enters some innocuous search term. Somehow she goes down a rabbit hole and she finds out some weird thing about the church she’s never heard before and is freaked out. So what does she do? Well in the Mormon tradition you go talk to the bishop. But the bishop has a degree in engineering from BYU; he’s never heard of this thing and is of no help. Probably no one in her ward knows anything about it. So where does she turn? That’s where FAIR tries to help. FAIR has a wiki it has developed over time, using wiki software and collaborative editing, crowd sourcing, that sort of thing. It has become a repository of every anti-Mormon argument there is. Some people think that’s a bad thing, because we’ve cataloged all of these arguments against the Church, and it is in effect a smorgasbord of anti-Mormonism. But you gotta do it, because people are going to find this stuff. We live in the internet age. When I was a missionary you would only encounter these things if you specifically went looking for them or if your crazy Aunt Sally sent you a tract in the mail. That’s not the case anymore; you’ve got the internet, baby. You’re one search away from finding this stuff. And we’ve got a lot of skeletons in the closet, a lot of bodies buried in the backyard. And we haven’t been very forthcoming as a Church about all that stuff. The Church kind of hopes people won’t find it and we won’t have to talk about it. That doesn’t work anymore; someone has to be able to talk about it
FAIR also has a feature called Ask the Apologist. If you can’t find what you want on the wiki, you can write in and it will go to a private e-mail list with over 100 volunteers, and someone on that list will respond to your question. I’ve probably answered over a thousand of those questions over the years. I love doing that, helping someone who is troubled by something. A lot of times it’s just a matter of putting something in context. People come to these things with fundamentalist, black and white thinking, very presentist, so sometimes you just need to inculcate a little historical consciousness in them. And when you practice that kind of apologetics it’s a virtue to be conversant with the literature. I’ve been reading Dialogue and Sunstone and JMH and everything else for decades. So I’ll remember that there was an article about that, and I’ll suggest they read that.
So those are the kinds of apologetics as I conceive of them. I do think there is a role for engagement apologetics. Whether it has to be under the umbrella of a university, I don’t know; I’m a little ambivalent about that. I can understand NAMI wanting to go a different direction. If this takes place I imagine that FARMS will reform under a different name and continue doing what it did before. [Since then the appearance of The Interpreter has confirmed this.] I don’t know, that’s just a guess.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject, so I’ll sit down.
To what extent does the Church countenance FARM or FAIR? I want to add something on the FAIR aspect of that. FAIR has always been clear it is completely independent of the Church. We have to be. For some people that’s a problem; they won’t listen to us without an explicit endorsement. If so, so be it. Some of the brethren are more supportive of apologetics than others.
Lutheran pastor; doesn’t understand the controversy. As Kaimi mentioned, Dan Peterson was the long time editor of the FARMS Review (the name has changed over time). That organ is the most explicitly apologetic of NAMI. He was on a lengthy trip to Europe, and received an e-mail from Gerald Bradford that he was being removed as editor. Universities remove editors all the time; it didn’t have to be this controversial. I don’t know Bradford personally, but I respect his scholarship. I suspect he thought it would be easier to do this way. Dan Peterson is a very controversial figure. I talked about different styles of apologetics, but they bleed into each other at the margins, and Dan has been active on the message boards, and that style has bled into the Review to some extent.
Can a career be made in apologetics? To what extent should an organization maintain its original mandate v. adapting to changing times? I’m going to answer your first question: “No.” Although some of the people involved are university professors and use those skill sets tangentially in apologetics.
Different parties are asserting institutional support or not. How do we define apologetics when there is no specific institutional backing? Mentioned Joanna Brooks. I think I see where you’re going with this now. I love Joanna, and in many ways what she does is apologetics. She’s making the case that you don’t have to check your brain at the door to be a Mormon. A lot of people would say that some of what Richard did in RSR is a kind of apologetic. Much of the Bloggernacle is apologetic in some sense. Apologetics is much broader than what people usually think of under that rubric.
[More on the controversy.] I don’t know that there was any GA impetus behind this move. Someone wrote a paper critiquing John Dehlin’s work, he got wind of it, and contacted a GA about that. That may have given Gerald an opening to do something. There has long been an anti-apologetic wing of FARMS, which sounds weird to people, because they assume FARMS is monolithic. There is academic politics involved. I’m not convinced this was a GA driven thing, but rather a matter of academic politics. Attitude of GAs towards apologetics remains a mixed bag; some favor it, others don’t.
Questioner talked about an independent objective reality. How does apologetics cope with that? Don’t you have to throw up your hands and say it’s ridiculous to defend a God who drowns all those people? I don’t know that there is an objective reality. We think we see things as they are, but instead we see things as we are. This is actually a big issue in apologetic discourse and involves postmodernism. (From audience member to questioner: “Study philosophy.”)
This entry was cross-posted from By Common Consent
Native Americans in California and Arizona and the aborigines of Australia anciently used a particularly unique weapon in both hunting and warfare known in today’s English as a boomerang. Presumably adapted from the terms “wumerang” or “boomerit”, which were used by New South Wales Australian native inhabitants to describe a particularly useful throwing stick, the boomerang is a unique tool used to wound or kill prey from a distance.
Designed with a slightly imbalanced hydrofoil design unique for the direction in which it will be thrown, the boomerang has the distinct characteristic of producing a modestly curved flight pattern. When thrown by a master skilled in the properties of the flight of the individual weapon, the potentially deadly tool need not be lost in the distance when it fails to hit its prey. Rather, when skilfully thrown with the proper force, the curved flight pattern will cause the boomerang to circle back to the hunter or warrior who threw it, allowing them to then re-use the weapon for future hunts or battles.
In the constant ideological struggles between LDS scholars and critics, specific issues are often raised that are intended to disprove the authenticity claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Book of Mormon. These attacks, like those from the sharp edges of a deadly throwing stick intended to weaken or kill a target, are intended to weaken or kill the faith of individuals in the Restoration. These attacks often take the form of technical criticisms backed by scientific or scholarly studies. They are aimed at discrediting both the plausibility and the probability that the Church and Book of Mormon are precisely what they claim to be.
[Read more…] about Boomerang Hits of the Book of Mormon #1
I was speaking today with a woman who is not a member of the Church who was asking me about apologetics and the work I do with FAIR. She said that recently she discussed Mormon apologetics with a former LDS bishop and was surprised to hear him say that doing apologetics is contrary to the doctrine of the Church. I certainly don’t want to act in any way that is contrary to Church doctrine, and if anyone can convince me that it is contrary to God’s will that I defend the Church, I’ll stop right now.
However, as I read the scriptures, it seems to me that apologetics (defense of the faith) is not only permissible, but required of all believing members. We should “be ready always to give an answer [apologia] to every man that asketh . . . a reason of the hope that is in [us] with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of [us], as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse [our] good conversation in Christ.” (1 Pet. 3:15-16.) Likewise, Joseph Fielding Smith once said, “Every member of the Church ought to know that [the Book of Mormon] …is true, and we ought to be prepared with an answer to all those critics who condemn it” (“The Book of Mormon, A Divine Record,” Improvement Era [December 1961], 925.) And Harold B. Lee wrote, “The term ‘elder,’ which is applied to all holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood, means a defender of the faith. That is our prime responsibility and calling. Every holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood is to be a defender of the faith. (Conference Report, April 1970, 54-57).
Rather than wait for a specific calling by a bishop, or for the Church Public Affairs office to issue a statement, or wait for apostles to tell us to defend the Church on the internet (which, incidentally, they have done here and here), all Church members have been told to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.” (D&C 58:27-28.) In addition to simply bearing my testimony to others, it is my understanding that I should “reason with them.” (D&C 49:4. See also D&C 66:7 & 68:1.)
The Book of Abraham continues to be a hotly debated book. Critics of and apologists for the Book of Abraham continue to sound forth their judgments on the fraudulence or authenticity of this controversial scriptural work. There does not seem to be any end in sight for this controversy. With the survival of some of Joseph Smith’s Egyptian papyri – ostensibly the source of the Book of Abraham – critics have, in the words of Hugh Nibley, been “endlessly dinning into the ears of the public that what was written on that small and battered strip of papyrus prove[s] beyond a doubt that Joseph Smith [is] a fraud because he thought it contained the Book of Abraham, whereas it contains nothing of the sort.” The most recent salvo aimed at thrashing Joseph Smith’s interpretation of these documents comes in the form of a respected Egyptologist publishing his highly critical material with a press known for being, at times, extremely hostile towards Mormon orthodoxy. This Egyptologist’s conclusion? “Except for those willfully blind… the case is closed.”
That seems to be it for the poor Mormons.
Well, maybe not.
Dan Peterson takes questions from callers who both support and oppose the Church on this live interview with Mills Crenshaw that appeared on K-Talk radio on July 31, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Brother Peterson answers questions about the Book of Abraham and a variety of questions about the Book of Mormon, including ones pertaining to DNA studies, Mesoamerican and Near-Eastern archaeology, and Joseph Smith’s production of the Book of Mormon.
A native of southern California, Daniel C. Peterson received a bachelor’s degree in Greek and philosophy from Brigham Young University (BYU) and, after several years of study in Jerusalem and Cairo, earned his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Dr. Peterson is a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU and founder and the editor-in-chief of the University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI). He is a past chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and, until very recently, served as Director of Advancement for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. From 1988, when he founded it, through mid-June of 2012, he edited the FARMS Review, which was renamed the Mormon Studies Review in late 2011. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on Islamic and Latter-day Saint topics, including a biography of the Prophet Muhammad (Eerdmans, 2007). A former bishop, Dr. Peterson served in the Switzerland Zürich Mission, and, for approximately eight years, on the Gospel Doctrine writing committee for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He currently serves as a Gospel Doctrine teacher in his home ward. He is married to the former Deborah Stephens, of Lakewood, Colorado, and they are the parents of three sons.
This recording is posted here by permission of K-Talk Radio. The opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of FAIR or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.