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.)
I am aware of the discomfort some members of the Church feel with respect to apologetics. In responding to critics, it is often difficult to avoid contention. However, as Elder Hales has counseled, “[w]e can answer with love those who have been influenced by misinformation and prejudice.” He suggested a number of ways: “a kind letter to the editor, a conversation with a friend, a comment on a blog, or a reassuring word to one who has made a disparaging comment.” (Robert D. Hales, “Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign, Nov. 2008.)
As I discussed with my non-member friend whether or not it is against Church doctrine for its members to engage in apologetics, it occurred to me to refer her to Section 123 of The Doctrine and Covenants, which is described in the chapter heading as setting forth the “[d]uty of the Saints in relation to their persecutors.” It is worth quoting most of it here, with a few comments from me in brackets:
1 And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints [not just the leaders] gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them by the people of this State;
. . . .
4 And perhaps a committee [or a non-profit organization?] can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat;
5 And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, [and on the internet] and all the libelous histories that are published, and are writing, and by whom, and present the whole concatenation of diabolical rascality and nefarious and murderous impositions that have been practised upon this people—
6 That we may not only publish to all the world, but present them to the heads of government in all their dark and hellish hue, as the last effort which is enjoined on us by our Heavenly Father, before we can fully and completely claim that promise which shall call him forth from his hiding place; and also that the whole nation may be left without excuse before he can send forth the power of his mighty arm.
7 It is an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels, with whom we shall be brought to stand, and also to ourselves, to our wives and children, . . . .
11 And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart—
12 For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—
13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—
14 These should then be attended to with great earnestness.
15 Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things.
16 You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves.
17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.
So, unless someone can convince me that I should stop, I intend to continue “gathering up a knowledge of all the facts” and to “cheerfully do all things that lie in [my] power” to bring “to light all the hidden things of darkness.” It seems to me to be “an imperative duty that we owe to God.”