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Sandbox for "FAIR Does Not Speak For the Church"

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This article is a draft. FairMormon editors are currently editing it. We welcome your suggestions on improving the content.

This page is based on an answer to a question submitted to the FAIR web site, or a frequently asked question.

Question

FAIR's articles, responses to "Ask the Apologist" queries, etc., contain a disclaimer to the effect that FAIR volunteers and authors are not speaking authoritatively for the Church (or even for FAIR itself) but only giving their personal opinion or perspective on each issue or question.

Why should anyone listen to FAIR, then, if they can't speak with authority for the Church? Who can one turn to for the authorized, "final answer" on every topic?

Answer

First of all, FAIR is an organization completely independent of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is not owned or endorsed by the Church as an official mouthpiece, so FAIR cannot claim any official status. In the interest of full disclosure, and so as not to cause any confusion on this matter, FAIR is careful to explicitly disclaim any such status. From the FAIR FAQ article we read:

We are not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and are therefore not doing this under the direction of the priesthood. . . . We try very hard to not give the impression that we are speaking for the Church in any way. We are not affiliated with the Church. We therefore try to avoid doctrinal declarations. Most of the time it isn't an issue as we are discussing things from a historical or scholarly point of view. Occasionally we get into discussions of doctrine when we feel our beliefs as Latter-day Saints have been misrepresented. At those times the writers are speaking from their own experience and beliefs.

This seems to raise two questions in our readers' minds from time to time, namely, "What value are FAIR's answers if they lack the authority to speak definitively for the Church?" and "Why does the Church itself leave room for private speculation or discussion on various doctrinal topics rather than give the official answers once and for all?" (Or, to put the second question a different way, "If FAIR isn't an 'official' voice for the church, who else should I turn to in order to get the real, official answer to my question?") which we will address separately below.

Of what value are FAIR's answers if they lack authority to speak for the Church?

Only the Church's duly authorized agents can speak officially on behalf of the Church or give official pronouncements which establish doctrine that is binding upon the Church (the latter case, specifically coming from the First Presidency). However, is this necessarily a problem when considering answers coming from a group such as FAIR?

There are many questions that people have, and there is plenty of benefit to having brothers and sisters in the faith "reason together" and learn from one another, and not expect to simply look to someone to give the one, final answer to any question. In this author's opinion, the Lord and Church leaders are wise to leave us to the exercise of working out these things and developing our mental and spiritual capacities to gain more understanding.

Does an answer about doctrine or Church history necessarily need to have an official stamp of approval from the Church hierarchy to be helpful, factual or true? Of course not, so there is still much room for organizations such as FAIR to be a great resource without needing to speak for the Church in some sort of officially binding way. While the responses to issues offered by FAIR volunteers are not official statements by the Church, we believe them to be consistent with the Church's official teachings and are given by faithful, active, believing LDS members. These responses need not carry an official endorsement to be true or helpful in answering questions.

The Church exists to serve an extremely vital role, but a fairly specific and narrowly-defined one. The number of things the Church must take an official position about are limited to the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ and what bears directly on their work in administering the affairs of the Church. That leaves a lot of room for personal study and growth. We think we can help each other with a great deal of that, even if it's not something the Church has felt the need to make a declaration about.

FAIR's main mission is to answer criticisms about the Church, and we can certainly do so based on what we know, can study, and reason, as well as what the Spirit guides us to say as we prayerfully consider these issues, without necessarily receiving this as an official calling or going to the First Presidency to speak on each and every issue.

If FAIR is not an official voice for the Church, to whom do I turn for the official answer to my question?

In the early days of the Church, it was more commonplace for the local members to ask Joseph Smith various questions and hear for his teachings on the matter various matters. Obviously, the logistics involved in running a church of 500 members is rather different than it is with a church of 13 million, and it isn't possible to expect the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve to be able to teach all the individual members who have questions. The LDS Church, of course, does make official doctrinal statements but generally only on significantly important "core" issues. There is much room for all of us to study and learn independently and in local groups.

Beyond that, do we we do not need a "thus saith the Lord" answer to every question. We at FAIR sustain and support the leaders of the Church and follow their direction in matters of doctrine and the operation of the Church, but that doesn't mean we must look to someone else to simply provide us with the answer to every question we have. The Lord Himself commanded us:

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Verily, I say, men should 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. . . .[1]

Is it inappropriate to assume that at least some of these good works that we are to be engaged in include studying the gospel and striving to learn more through the scriptures, personal prayer, discussions with each other, and by reading the best books? Along with not expecting us to remain idle until explicitly commanded to do something, the Lord expects us to seek knowledge and learn and grow without simply being told what to think about everything.

Further,

Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.[2]

An important part of the process of gaining this knowledge and intelligence is working diligently to study and learn, and not simply seek to have someone tell us the answers to memorize.

FAIR, religion teachers among the membership of the Church, and even our Church leaders have latitude to hold and express their best understanding of various topics, even to publish books (e.g., Elder Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine). Since none of these talks, lessons, papers, blogs, conversations, or books have been accepted into the canon, they are not binding as 'the official word of the Church itself.' Does that mean they are useless to help us gain more understanding? No, there's much we can learn from each other, even if we're imperfect in our understanding along the way.

Conclusion

FAIR need not speak with the authority of the Church itself, or be an official representative of the Church, in order to provide a useful resource for people to gain a better understanding of Latter-day Saint history and teachings. Further, it is not necessarily correct for us to expect to turn to our Church leaders, particularly the general authorities, for the answer to every single question on a gospel topic.

On many issues, there is no official Church position, and so there is nothing that an official Church response will provide. In such cases, members are encouraged to use their agency to "study it out in [their] mind" as they seek knowledge and revelation from human and divine sources.

Notes

  1. D&C 58:26-28
  2. D&C 130:18-19


Further reading

FAIR wiki articles

FAIR web site

FAIR FAQ answers the question "How authoritative are the things that you write?"

External links

Official LDS Church Newsroom Article emphasizing that not every statement by church leaders is official doctrine, and that individual members are encouraged to study independently and together to find gospel answers, in addition to following the "core" gospel doctrinal statements official endorsed or canonized by the Church.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry for Truth, which provides some interesting thoughts about what "truth" is. We can all come to a greater understanding of life's truths from many places and sources, not all of which must be official church pronouncements to be "true".

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