FAIR Conference – Day 2

Today was another excellent day of presentations. If it is geographically possible, I highly recommend attending this conference next year if you were unable to attend this year. It’s fun and enlightening – a great combination.

Before I begin, let me add a disclaimer that I clearly should have added to my last report. My notes are very incomplete and are colored by my own interpretation of the speaker’s words. Thus, if you find anything alarming or, even better, fascinating, I highly recommend looking for the transcripts or audio recordings or video recordings on the FAIR website. (I don’t know when they will be available.) I look forward to reviewing them myself so I can see what I missed.

The first presenter was Ryan Parr, speaking on DNA and The Book of Mormon. He covered a lot of information, but his overall premise was that, with our current abilities to trace genetic heritage, we really don’t expect to see anything obviously pointing to a group with a middle-eastern heritage.

Lehi’s group was a small kin group that would have married, and thus genetically mingled with, the populations already present in (presumably) Mesoamerica. (See 2 Nephi 5:5-6. He lists his family who is going with him, and then adds “and all those who would go with me.” Since he’s already covered his family, these others would have to be non-family, or indigenous population.) Their genes would have been relatively quickly diluted so as to be indistinguishable due to the law of increasingly remote and genetically irrelevant ancestors (i.e., I may be descended from an illegitimate son of Henry VIII, but the chance of my having any of his DNA is incredibly remote because I’m also descended from everyone else down my genealogical lines). Small, kin-associated groups are at a genetic disadvantage when there is a large, indigenous population that their genes would be thrown into.

The next presenter was Boyd Petersen, who spoke on “What I Learned About Life, the Church, and the Cosmos from Hugh Nibley”. Bro. Petersen is the son-in-law of Hugh Nibley and the author of his biography. I have almost no notes from his talk and look forward to reading it. He hadn’t planned on responding to Martha’s sensationalistic book, but felt it was necessary because of various things that had happened leading up to this conference, as well as the Sunstone conference. Thus, he began with what I found to be an entertaining (and well prepared) attack on her book. However, it is clear that he and the family is dealing with a lot of frustration, bitterness, and pain, in addition to legal threats.

However, he then moved on to the planned topic. This was very much a personal essay filled with humor and love and memories. I only wrote down one of the things he learned from Hugh Nibley (take the scriptures seriously, but don’t assume that what you were taught in Primary is correct), but otherwise just sat back and enjoyed the speech.

The next presenter was Marvin Perkins, speaking on how to reach African Americans inside and outside of the Church. This was the presentation I found the most educational. The Church’s past racism has indeed bothered me, and I hadn’t found satisfactory answers that eased my mind. This talk did much to help me. Also, he provided practical and needed information that every person and every ward should use.

When missionaries prepare in the MTC to go to their respective missions, they learn the language and culture of those places. This also needs to be done when it comes to preaching to African Americans.

When Black investigators begin to study about the Church, they will find all kinds of very racist quotes, thoughts, and teachings from Church leaders. Friends and family of the investigator will put them in their hands. We will forever be disbelieved that we have the truth unless we can be honest about the past. We need to acknowledge that the country and Church were racist.

The early Saints were not ready to see Blacks as equals. The Church was restored in a time and place where such beliefs were common. Change does not come in an instant. Blacks today understand this, but if we can’t acknowledge this, we cannot teach. It is the denial of such things that is painful.

In Declaration 2, it says, “… This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend….” It took time to reverse the mindset, and when the leaders were ready, they finally asked. When the Church was restored, there were Blacks who received the priesthood. Until about 1954, most people didn’t know there was a policy. It simply wasn’t an issue. It was a practice to withhold the priesthood, not doctrine. However, the revelation put to rest all of the man-made policies that were wrong. A flood of light corrected the thoughts and views of the past.

Bro. Perkins reviewed may scriptures on equality, the priesthood and authority, curses, and skin color in the scriptures (or lack thereof, as the case may be).

We’ve been conditioned to ignore the issue of Church racism: “It’s in the past”; “It’s behind us”; “We just don’t know”. This is not a way to reach people. African Americans have a very persecuted past, and they know that the Church has a reputation of being racist. They want to know that the reputation is no longer the case.

The next speaker was Davis Bitton, who spoke and George Q. Cannon and his feelings about apostates. Bro. Bitton reviewed a bit of Elder Cannon’s history, and brought us into the 1890s, when there were a lot of threats to the unity of the Church: the Manifesto, a financial crisis, and new political alignments as Utah became a state. In this unstable environment, he saw a lot of issues leading to grumbling and complaining and leaving the Church. Elder Cannon thus focused much on apostasy and what would lead to it. He did not have a lot of respect for apostates, but he wanted to warn to the faithful of the dangerous road they could so easily enter on. He wanted them to be aware of consequences – we can do what we want, but we cannot avoid the consequences.

The next speaker was John Tvedtnes, who spoke on “Authentic Ancient Names and Words in the Book of Abraham and Related Kirtland Egyptian Papers”. I have no notes from this presentation because it involved a lot of Hebrew and Arabic, with smatterings of other languages and, well, it was just beyond my notetaking ability. Basically, though, his theme was that many of the names in the Book of Abraham have valid ancient etymologies.

The final presentation was from Daniel Peterson (who I always pictured in my mind with a lot of hair… color me surprised), who spoke on secular anti-Mormonism. The presentation did not lend itself well to summarization, so my notes on his speech were also limited. There was snarkiness about (I think) the RFM boards, and a corrosive cynicism that can be found on many internet fora. He spoke on the elite European secularism, with is disdain for American religiosity. He spoke on journalists turning to secular anti-Mormonism to get a good (though very often inaccurate) story. He spoke on the presumption of the U.S. elite to assume that religiosity is a pathology despite evidence to the contrary. And there was a lot more, and his will likely be the first transcript I will review because there was a lot that I missed, and it involved humor and snark, which I really appreciate.

Thus, a very interesting two days.

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About Tanya Spackman

Tanya was born in Provo, Utah, on a warm July day. After escaping childhood with nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises (except for 5 stitches - oh, and that incident with the staple in the thumb), she graduated from BYU with a degree in molecular biology. Before graduation, she served a mission in Chicago. As graduation neared, she decided lab work really wasn't her thing, and she had no interest in research or teaching (but really, molecular biology is interesting), so she decided to attempt the world of technical writing. Thus, she now works as a technical writer/editor for the Navy in Washington, DC. She loves to read and travel.

12 thoughts on “FAIR Conference – Day 2

  1. Thanks for day two report. It sounds like the Boyd Peterson sesssion was the most enjoyable. Davis Bitton’s papers sounds very interesting. I look forward to the audio downloads. Out of both days, what would you say was the three best presentations?

  2. Yes, you will eventually be able to watch the whole thing over the internet, but they’re charging for it. They might break even this year…

    I have my own minor comments that I’ll add tomorrow morning.

  3. “In Declaration 2, it says, “… This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend….” It took time to reverse the mindset, and when the leaders were ready, they finally asked.”

    One thing I learned from David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism is htat Pres. McKay prayed about removing the ban and was told ‘no.’ While I don’t remember the exact date of this, I think it is important to know that Pres. Kimball was not the first to ask.

  4. I found this to be an interesting comment:

    “The Church is busy bringing people to Jesus Christ. It doesn’t need to respond to everyone who brings up an old rehashed anti-Mormon argument. We, on the other hand, are volunteers that like doing this stuff,†Gordon said.

    http://meridianmagazine.com/churchupdate/050805FAIRc.html

    Seems to me like it’s either an important, valuable pursuit (Mormon Apologetics), or it’s not valuable (relative to “bringing people to Christ”).

    As people who claim to be devoted to the Church, why wouldn’t they follow the Church’s example and do the other things that truly “lead people to Christ”….vs. spend time doing the things they feel confident the Church has decided aren’t important.

    Thoughts?

  5. Tanya,

    Sorry for the double-post. I loved your notes from the conference–especially regarding the Blacks/Priesthood issue. I actually created an introductory (not finished) short video on the subject. It deals a bit with the honesty/missionary issue.

    If any of you are interested, please check it out and give me feedback. I’m looking to complete it soon, and would love some feedback before I begin.

    http://www.mormonstories.org (Links to it can be found on the front page)

  6. Dallas Robbins, my favorite three presentations were Marvin Perkins (how to reach African Americans), Wendy Ulrich (the psychology of religious experience), and Boyd Petersen (what he learned from Hugh Nibley).

    Julie, thank you for adding that. I didn’t mean to imply that Pres. Kimball was the first or only to ask, nor did Bro. Perkins say that. Sorry for my lack of clarity. His contention was that by that time a large enough bulk of the 1st pres and 12 had shifted outside the racist beliefs to where they were able to see Blacks as equals.

    Mormon Stories, I don’t see the quote, nor the Church’s stance, as having to be an either/or thing. The Church (and by that I mean the official realm of the Church, not necessarily every member) would forever be stuck in a cycle of frustration and annoyance having to deal with every idiotic and not-so-idiotic claim that needed refutation. Thus, I understand their stance; it really isn’t worth their time. Apologetics is not going to ever be the primary way to convert someone and bring them to Christ. That’s not to say it isn’t important, however, when members do come across hard questions. There are answers and ideas, and it’s good to know that. However, FARMS is now under the BYU umbrella, thus giving it some quasi-Church support of their apologetic stance. So the Church obviously doesn’t see it as not valuable. It’s not that the Church doesn’t think it is valuable; it’s just that it isn’t really where the GAs need to be devoting their time. Since FAIR doesn’t need to be worried about running the Church or being missionaries in the sense that the 19-yr-old are or being the spiritual leaders of millions, they fill a different, but still important, role. The Church and FAIR (and other apologetic realms) are not meant to be the same thing. The Church also doesn’t see fit to open a medical school, but that doesn’t mean the pursuit of medicine is a waste of someone’s time.

    I’m interested in seeing your video, but it will have to be next week when I’ll have a fast connection at my disposal. I’m still in the dark ages with a dial-up connection ;-)

  7. Maybe it is because I have never lived in a community that has had a significant African-American population, (I seem to never know which words to even apply (Black, African-American) in order not to be offensive), that I never considered the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 as being racist. Maybe I don’t understand what being racist is. I know that there were few articles to explain the policy, all of them insufficient. The national newspaper in Chile (1970’ish, El Mercurio, suggested that we (Church memebers) should all be burned at the stake, for our attitudes regarding withholding the Priesthood. I have always viewed people as being different, but have never subscribed to the idea that someone is less than me because of skin color or sex. My own response to investigators went something this:

    Do you believe that we have the Priesthood of God?
    No.
    Then we are not denying them anything, because you don’t believe we have anything.

    or

    Do you believe that we have the Priesthood?
    Yes.
    Then we can give it to whom ever we will and not give it to whom ever. The day will come when it will be given.

    These two statements embody this idea. When my neighbor came to borrow my lawnmower, I told him no. He asked why? I told him because I had fried chicken for supper. The moral is, when you are looking for an excuse, any excuse will do.

    I was truly thrilled when the revelation was given in 1978. I felt, here at last, was an answer. I felt that the burden of trying to explain a position that had bad field goal position, had lifted. The countless hours spent in debate and teaching evaporated. Sam, a Jamacian, who was baptized said initially that he did not want the responsiblity of having the Priesthood, eventually took it firmly with both hands. I am sure there are as many stories as there were members. I know that not all members accepted them; for many it was a challenge. To some of the fundamentalist groups, the 1978 declaration is just another example of apostasy by the mainstream LDS Church. To me it was an indication that the last days were truly upon us and I was grateful for the “heads up”.

  8. Tanya, I was at the conference; I wish I could have met you. I saw your cousin, M* poster Ben, briefly, but he had to get back to class. I’m glad you had a good time. I’ve been to all seven of them, including the first one in California in some ward’s Relief Society room where the presenters almost outnumbered those in the audience. We’ve come a long way, baby.

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