I’ve been a volunteer member of FAIR for years. It has been interesting to watch the reaction of many people—especially the critics—to the work done by apologists in general and FAIR in particular. Some of the reaction is quite comical and, I believe, shows that some people “just don’t have a clue” (as one of my friends used to say).
One thing I’ve noticed is that many critics express amazement and astonishment at the things that FAIR is willing to discuss and consider. I often see reactions among those who have left the Church similar to the following:
- FAIR believes that the prophets are fallible? That’s blasphemous!
- Those FAIR people are proposing a limited flood? That goes against Mormon doctrine! (Notice the small “d.” Not talking about the book here.)
- FAIR says it’s OK to believe in an old earth? No way! The Church only believes in an earth about 6,000 years old!
- FAIR says the Church allows belief in evolution? Everyone knows that the Church is anti-evolution!
- The Garden of Eden may not have been in Missouri? That’s not Mormon doctrine!
- Joseph Smith translated using a rock in a hat? I was never taught that!
The list could go on and on and on. (Actually, it has gone on and on and on for the years I’ve been an observer.) The Church is nowhere near as dogmatic as some critics believe it to be. Individual members, including leaders, are given quite a bit of latitude in their beliefs. Where there is not revelation, speculation is often rife.
One of my favorites is the inevitable conclusion among some critics that “once the Church finds out what FAIR is really doing, they will shut them down.” I guess ten years of existence, multiple mentions in the Church News, and links on the LDS.org website doesn’t count for evidence as to whether the Church knows about FAIR. Of course, FAIR has always publicly stated that if the Church asks us to shut our doors, we will do it in an instant—we are supportive of the Church and don’t want to do anything of which the Church would disapprove.
Even prominent critics see “good” in the work we are doing, as they see FAIR helping people leave the Church. Consider this quote from Simon Southerton, made just within the past couple of days on a website popular among critics:
FAIR seems to help many who are struggling to make up their minds to leave. If I had my wish, FAIR and FARMS apologists would be given the opportunity to educate the masses in the church about how mistaken people have been about the Book of Mormon narrative.
Simon’s not alone; I’ve seen similar statements from critics over the years, with some saying that FAIR is doing more to help get people out of the Church than any other source. (Perhaps Simon and other critics would like to put their money where their mouth is and actually donate to FAIR. After all, that will help speed up the good they see in FAIR’s efforts.)
In my experience, people who say that FAIR (or FARMS) helped them out of the Church were one of two types of people: those who were already heading out and just perfunctorily checked FAIR on their way or those who are so black-and-white in their beliefs that they couldn’t handle the uncertainty and sometimes ambiguity of the non-doctrinal areas of the Church. (This conclusion is based on nothing more than observation; there are no formal studies in this area, although one would be interesting.)
The fact of the matter is, FAIR addresses difficult questions and criticisms. That we are able to do so drives some critics crazy. That we are able to do so and still maintain faith in a Church they officially left is simply beyond their comprehension.