Notes From the FAIR Conference: Robert White and Ron Barney

By August 6, 2009

Here are some notes from Ron Barney’s presentation and that of Robert White. I would encourage everyone to read these notes, especially from White’s talk. There is a lot there to digest including jabs at the “Sunshine” symposium and other things. As always, these are notes and are not a complete transcript. Official proceedings including transcripts and MP3s will be made available at the FAIR official site. Please see their site for full proceedings.

Robert White

As my public ministry came to an end, I was introduced to FAIR and encountered faithful LDS who felt a divine mandate to put themselves forward to defend the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve considered it a miracle to watch and be there today and feel the influence of the Holy Spirit and spoken of things that can save souls. There’s no place I’d rather be.  Sorry I don’t have a tie, I’ve been waiting 40 years to stop wearing one…

We have been edified and touched by those who know what to say and that what they say is right.  “For there are many yet on the earth among all sects and parties, and denominations who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it…(Doctrine and Covenants 123:12)” The problem is, it is because there are those who are doing their utmost to see to it that they can’t find it or recognize it when they do.

My mother and father and I were first Presbyterians in Edmonton, I was raised as a Scottish Presbyterian. First Presbyterian church I encountered…you may think you know Presbyterians, but if you don’t know a Scottish one, you don’t know real Presbyterian.  Get to know Scottish Presbyterians, you can take a walk on a Sunday but be sure you don’t enjoy it. [laughter]  I’m thankful for Rev. J. Macbeth Miller, a sainted man, who introduced me as a boy to God and told me he was real, and that he loved me and that I ought to mind him. You can see it was a wealthy church, we were very poor. Rev. Miller would take us on picnics, take father golfing, and although my father was an alcoholic, he was trusted enough to be made elder in the church by Rev. Miller, I loved that man, I’m certain that one of the very first things my father, when he passed from this life, he would have looked for MacBeth Miller. I asked him a deep theological question once, alarmed by angel pictures, I asked, Where are the wings going to grow out of the back and how can we get our clothes on?  He was deep theologian, smiled, said [imitating a Scottish accent], Laddie, that’ a mystery of God [laughter]. Most things were, except for the love of God.  I’m aware as a LDS who does apologetics that there are many people who are not of our faith, and would be if they could be, and should be if they knew, and so I’m like Paul, not ashamed of being an LDS apologist.

How in the world did we get ourselves into this (apologetics), what were we thinking, much misunderstood, maligned, suspected by members of the Church, why are you apologizing for being Mormons? Others think we should be apologizing to them…they think it their right to define us however they want, and we should apologize for all the secrets locked up in the first president vault, we know that’s where all the bullion is kept so we can take over the country, etc.  We’re not the only people of whom unreasonable apologies are asked [shows a Power Point slide of a news story with a picture of Kim Jong Il and the headline: “N. Korea asks UN Security Council to Apologize”] [laughter].

Never apologize.  [Power Point picture of Bill Maher flipping someone off] Apologists can be like mission field Bible bashers who never grew up, making life miserable for the poor defenseless anti-Mormons and it hurts and our fellow religionists don’t understand and what we’re doing.  And so nevertheless, here we are as LDS Apologists, I believe that as LDS apologists we’re mandated by heaven in what you do and what you accomplish. I’m going to suggest that in the revelations there are three direct references, sometimes obscure that are passed over in which the lord anticipates the work done by FAIR and FAIR only because the institutional church can’t do it. The magnificence of which has been described to us.

The first, a revelation when JS went to Kirtland to Hiram, abut 60 Km, I know you’re not desynchronized form the mother country [we use English measurements not Metric], that’s about 35 miles. While in Hiram, many revelations and translation of the Bible, completed by JS, John Johnson, this is how it looks now.  Ezra Booth joined the church because of a miracle and left because there weren’t enough miracles. He started the first anti-Mormon blog, through the pages of the Ohio Star. He wrote 9 articles critical to the character of JS. Joined soon by Simons Ryder, I can never remember how to spell that [laughter].  There’s a lot of evidence that the Lord has sense of humor, his [Ryder’s] tombstone has a spelling mistake on it.  I think that was inspired.  Plural marriage will be in the Sunday School manual before that one [the comment about the spelling mistake being inspired].  The Lord said this to the Prophet, Wherefore, confound your enemies, call upon them to meet you both in public and in private an inasmuch as you are faithful their shame shall be made manifest, wherefore let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord verily thus saith the Lord unto you there is no weapon that is formed against you that shall prosper and if any man lift his voice against you, he shall be confounded in mine own due time (D&C 71:7-11).

Where’s Boggs, where’s Sharp, how many more stakes do we have to pound in the heart of the Spaulding Theory? Where are the Kinderhook plates, where is Ethan Smith, etc?  We just heard from a brother [Ron Barney] who has given his life to be acquainted to knowing the life of JS and is more convinced than ever of his work.  The church institutionally does not engage now in going forward in confounding their enemies and meeting them in a formal sense. But we do it.  The brethren concluded that we wouldn’t be afraid of the internet but that we would own the internet.  Our version of our religion made available on the net, the recent campaign by Romney shocked the brethren about how misunderstood we are and how much we’re disliked. Therefore, there is still a need.

To meet those who oppose us in public and private, we do that and FAIR on the internet and in other ways, we don’t go picking fights with them, instead we place ourselves before them to take whatever shots they wish to, the Faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is restored to the earth in these latter days, and let them bring their strong reasoning their new book on the Spaulding Manuscript, God help us. A biography, George Smith’s thing about Joseph Smith, DNA, which was of course supposed to be the end of the Church. Hoffman and the Salamander Letter, I was a bishop during the Salamander Letter. There were a couple of pages in Time Magazine, which never devoted much favorable to us, devoted a few pages to this, and some poor man and his wife said that was enough for them. The Salamander Letter did it for us. One of my counselors asked, What do we do? Well, I said, if it’s genuine it’s (the Church is) not true.  That’s a bold statement, he said. No, because the church IS true, so you can take it that the letter is a fake. I said, the experts will not say it’s the right paper, and the right ink, they’ll say it’s consistent with the time.  The only exemplar of Martin Harris’ handwriting was found by the same fellow and where he got is isn’t some dark secret.

When we know this is the truth, how many things do we have to know about why the critics are wrong?  We know it, we may not know why, we may not understand how, but I wonder my beloved brothers and sisters, if as apologists we must not be careful and realize that Christ is the way the truth and life and that no man will come to the Father but by Him.  And that what we need to do is to protect everyone. We need to protect to ensure they receive of themselves a testimony of that truth. Now we need our line in the sand.  We do not attack others, we do not promulgate doctrine or declare it, we are not officially assigned by the institutional church, but we are all LDS, true to the truth that our parents have cherished, true to the truth for which martyrs have perished, and we put up a boundary that says this far, no further. In Elder Maxwell’s memorable statement, we protect those fragile souls whose faith may falter if we can’t demonstrate that what we say cannot be defended. They [apologist tactics] will convert no one, but will protect those that have been converted.

There’s a second mandate. In numerous places, the Lord taught that faith is the actuator of mankind and faith is the true, fundamental premise of all positive action, and we know that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ fits the principle of the restored gospel. Obviously it’s important that we have faith, that we have it, if the Lord undertakes to explain what to do so that people will have faith, that’s worth listening to. The Lord said it, he said, And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom, yea seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom seek learning even by study and also by faith  (D&C 109:7).

Why are people then, diligently learning wisdom to study out of the best books and to seek learning? Because all have not faith.  Now, we’ve heard from today and you will hear from tomorrow, sisters and brethren who have sought and obtained great learning, tremendous erudition. They use it in their careers to earn a living and advance in their fields, but when they come to this conference, not the “Sunshine” conference or whatever [Referring to Sunstone].  Elder Maxwell [?] talked about small equivocations leading to large deviations. This is one of the reasons FAIR shall be kept, must be kept as clean as it is from small equivocations that lead to large deviations, these have brought their knowledge not to show off but because not all have faith, and so that all those that have faith, get that faith too because for some it is given to know and others given to believe on their words. If they continue faithful.  Brother Barney, all of you, god bless you.  That you aren’t going to symposiums to show off, but you’re coming to present in answer to what I tell you is the Lord’s hand upon you. It is long forgotten, the veil having been drawn, I know it’s been put on your heads, that the parables of Sarah can be made real today to those who do not have faith, so they won’t’ be troubled by DNA and plural marriage, etc. I hope you feel as I certainly do the Holy Spirit bear witness that you have been divinely mandated, and God bless you. You haven’t been lead into the paths of equivocation.

There’s another mandate, the third.  Joseph got to Jackson Co. and determined that that was the place of Zion.  The culmination of and highlight of a very busy week, placement of cornerstones of the temple, that before the Lord returns will be built on that place. Joseph had to get back to Kirtland, was being questioned about everything, as he always did, he went to the Lord, the Lord said, 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 you wherein you are agents unto yourselves and inasmuch as you do good you shall not lose your reward. That’s not optional, that is a commandment, it is a commandment of the Lord that without a calling or formal assignment, we will be about good works, and there are many from which to choose, and you have chosen the defense of the faith of the LDS, and in doing so you are fulfilling that third divine mandate, and we should not have to have any apologies for that.  But I am becoming very concerned for you, I made the transition from what I’ve done for so long to wondering what I can to pitch in a little here. I saw quickly that the adversary knows he has to destroy you.  And that you stand between him and many of his objectives. That will not go to your heads you wouldn’t be here if you were. Apologetics is extremely perilous and dangerous work. We can’t do the kind that CS Lewis did, came from a different point of view, we quote him often and occasionally in context [laughter].  This is one of those times when the context speaks,

“I’ve found this soul said, that nothing is more dangerous to ones own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal, as one that I have just successfully defended….for a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself as a result and it seems no stronger that the weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments from Christian apologetics into Christ himself. That also is why we need another’s continual help…”

And so we need to understand that the things we know so much about as apologists, that we are careful that they don’t become substitutes for our faith that we’re not LDS apologists, we’re Latter-day Saints and we do the work of apology. Now, I ask only questions cuz I have a commission implied or real to provide any answers and defer to those who have thought things through before me and better, but there is a matter that I wonder if we should worry about, “For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good, for if he offereth a gift, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing”…can paying tithing be unrighteous?  Yes. One man became a full tithe payer four months before his daughter was to be married. Well, the tree gives good fruit, but the Lord says, test the fruit, test the gift, the prayer, and you’ll know about the tree…a man being evil can’t do that which is good as good as it looks, if you taste it you’ll know.  So, a man and a woman examine themselves, and be aware that we’re not doing what we’re doing because we love contention.

This is not a forum in which to display ones supposed erudition, there are many of those forums around, notwithstanding, Elder Oaks repeated a warning in General Conference of attending a certain event which will happen a week from now, I will have to step behind elder Oaks if you want to be offended with me, be offended with him. Be so careful, he said.

This is not an outlet for pent up church related frustrations.  Pres. Packer’s talk on little factories, hahaha [he mock laughs], it’s saved souls.
This is not a place to search for appreciation where none has been discerned before.  You’ve never been a ward clerk, you’ve never held leadership in the church, so we look for a club where we can be appreciated.

This is not a place to search for answers to our own doubts. We must come with courage to resolve others’ doubts not get ours resolved.

With that in mind, here is what I worried about, without condemning, I have no authority of inspiration or revelation, but I wonder about I, all things that advance safety are to be applauded though may have unintended consequences. The other month, I was surfing the net. I started to learn it’s true you can go anywhere if you click on enough links.  There was a blog that was discussing a gospel doctrine class. They were talking about the manual from which I teach, talking about a lesson I’d just given. They said there was a mistake in the manual.  Now I can see a mistake made by the curriculum committee…I read further.  This person flipped out his phone, he immediately contacted some place and confirmed the mistake whipped out his phone, texted the friend to point out the mistake, another friend, they got him involved, Charlie in the next ward, clued in, then everyone was aware that there was a mistake in the manual.  I worried that all they took home was a mistake in the manual, what was the mistake? The Marsh striping story. There’s more to it than what’s in the manual. [an aside] More which makes Marsh look better than he deserves to… When we know so much, we think that those that know less are making mistakes, so we may think we’ve got to do something and protect the LDS from their ignorance. You know, you go a long way into the D&C before any interest is shown on the Lord’s part aside from faith, baptism, (the first principles and ordinances of the gospel) all these things you hear that are true and strange (polygamy, etc), so we have to protect them and wonder about how to do it. I suggest…

Some safety devices have consequences. The intention is good, results are not necessarily so good. I’m not suggesting we tell people they ought not read everything they can find that the Church Historian’s office is making available, so never again the enemies can say we hide our history. Now the only place the true doctrine and history will be unfound by the LDS is in the Ensign. Well, metaphors can be dangerous because the subject of the metaphor may be very good, but when transferred to another context, they may give a misleading message.  I’m just wondering about this idea of inoculations, all of our people aren’t the same. The flu season is coming, the best minds in the world are not going to figure out what to vaccinate against, how are we?  I only ask the question how are we going to know what viruses to inoculate against and who?  In inoculation that may be wonderful for the first chap but may not be so good for those later in the line. We learned long ago when we interview youth for chastity not to teach them incorrect behavior, some youth learn about masturbation from their bishop and they are asked if they do it.  Did you know JS married many wives. Oh, I didn’t know that.. So they go to learn more and get questions. If we don’t know what vaccination to use, should we not wonder about what to vaccinate the LDS and inoculate the LDS with. Some complain about the new course of study for relief society and priesthood. This is a transfusion, not an inocculation. That’s what we need.

…If we are unsure what to answer someone, We can always resolve it by asking, What does Lu think? [clapping, cheering]  As the Church makes tremendous efforts, so that anything someone wants to know is there, appreciate the fact that our people cannot begin to think that they know everything, that every expectation for information will be fulfilled. Good people often have expeditions that are not satisfied. We don’t know the answer.[..long rambling on something…] we need to give transfusions not inoculations.

My approach is that everyone knows it. Stone in the hat? Why didn’t I know about that? My answer: I don’t know, it’s in the ‘82 Ensign.  That gets one person in doubt, raises a question. What makes the difference between a doubt or a question?  Answer is this: If the salamander letter is true, the church is false, but the church isn’t false, and if I know it, and if our people know it, and if we declare it, no matter how strange, the fact people may hear of, as thinking LDS they will want to resolve the question, but it will not deprive them of their testimony of the truth.

I know some of you may be worried that I have fallen into the trap of the warm fuzzies.  On the message boards they say that we only get people to join with warm fuzzies…nothing farther from the truth. You must first hear the word and then act upon it. And acting upon it involves many things. You need faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not an explanation of how the Book of Mormon was translated or why the rod of nature became the rod of Aaron…leads them to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and experience shows that when people have faith nothing doubting, they can get out of a boat in the middle of the sea and walk on water.  Remember the Lord reached out his hand and caught him, faith in the Lord can make man walk on water. DNA and Ethan Smith and everything else. Especially when FAIR is standing as the thin red line demonstrating that here are a lot of people that know about these things and we know about these things and to the degree that there are answers we’re saving souls.

Repentance leads to increase of faith.  Compels one to be baptized. Then comes the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  It comes sometimes accompanied with feelings of joy as if our hearts are burning within us.  Comes by still small voice.  Well, that’s the process that appears to be the Lords’ plan.  And that as we encourage and have confidence in the church, making available everything we’ve heard of, making opportunities for each available to all, because you’re a member of the three divine mandates.

I testify that this organization has come together as a result of the hand of the Lord, it is spoken of in unreserved praise by the brethren.  Unreserved praise by the Brethren, and of course your organization.  I’ve been told by some that because they don’t have war [rambling] …well, those that thinks to think about, when thinking about them…remember this very great testimony of a great man, Elder Faust, “The gift of the HG comes after one repents and becomes worthy.. The HG bears witness to the truth and impresses upon the soul the reality of God the Father and the son Jesus Christ so deeply that no earthly power or authority can separate him from that knowledge.” I know of no inoculation, that can bind me to the Lord so closely that except for my surrender to the evil one I’ll never be separated from it.

I ask as I end, for you to think about, faith in Christ and repentance and in making and keeping covenants and learning through the Holy Ghost learning line upon line, expressing gratitude for the learned men and women of FAIR who have learned and talk at length on faith, and that maintain a firm commitment to praying for each other. Now I sit next to you as a brother in sacrament meeting I sit there next to you, but at the end of my public ministry the Lord…from our mind, that which had changed from a testimony to a witness, and just as a brother in the pew sitting next to you, my beloved friends, I know [ouches forehead and heart] that the Lord Jesus Christ lives and is our Savior and our Redeemer and that Joseph was his prophet and Thomas Monson. I know I know that.  And I bear witness in the name of the God of Israel, amen.

Question: What do you think of academic history like Richard Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith?

Answer: What I think is altogether irrelevant. The whole point is that with faith in the Lord and a binding testimony what else is there?  That is the core.


Ron Barney

Milestone when Dean Jessee published the Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. As part of his assignment, which was transferred to the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, his assignment was to prepare a documentary edition of his personal writings. The first edition, 1984, was compromised because it included Mark Hoffmann forgeries. It lay dormant for a few years until 2002 when the second edition came out with rigorous attention to detail and to ensure its defendability, the Hoffman forgeries were removed, and some additions and I always recommend this remarkable volume when people ask for me to recommend five volumes, this is always one of them.

It was followed up by initiation of Jessee’s intent to publish the papers of JS. 6-8 volumes contemplated.  But Dean was doing it by himself, first volume in 1989, had autobiographical and historical writings, first volume of journals in 1992, project stalled, not until end of 90s that Ron Esplin, director of JFS Institute really jumpstarted the project again. The new project has as many as 59 people working on it, 22 full time staff working on it today, the first volume came out last fall, at press now is the first volume of the revelations series, published on Sept. 22, I know something of the rigor applied to ensure that these volumes will stand for a long time and will have a long shelf life. I don’t believe we have to make any apologies to anyone, the scrutiny applied by outside readers, dozens of reviewers who go through the material to make sure we have something very defendable, and to be relied upon, especially the featured texts themselves, we’re very comfortable in that project. We haven’t found a way to streamline the process like we ought to, but we’re confident that the project will come out as planned. I want to talk briefly about something the church did which is probably not as widely known, one of the most significant things the church has done in its history, there was a new copyright law Jan 1, 2003 in order to undermine the efforts of people who did not own the church documents who were having unrestricted publication access to some of the things we believed very important, we decided to publish many of our documents in a way that we could create a copyright for them that would serve our purposes for a generation or so, ambitions project to produce selected collections from the archives of the Church of JCofLDS, two volume DVD set, some have seen it, 31 collections in the archives represented here, including the totality of the JS collection.  The totality of the George A. Smith collection, and many others.  Including things like the church historians office journal which went up into the 1880s, hard to overstate the importance of these documents to the church and the study of Mormon history. The journal history, a thousand plus volumes, published all together, 74 DVDs [gasps from the audience] in the production of these, originally on CD, there were over 700 CDS of scanned documents, compressed to DVDS, at a ratio of 10:1, about 450,000 scanned images, and completely accessible, and purchasable, by anyone, most purchases form research institutions, but a number of private individuals have purchased copies.  In many cases easier to use than the original in front of you. Include on the left JOS diaries from the JS collection, correspondence, with the exception of what will be the primary text of next month’s publication, the earliest manuscript version of the revelations, the Book of Commandments and Revelations, and the Kirtland Revelation both served as the manuscript for the Book of Commandments.

Recently, the Church has published under Ron Walker, Glen Leonard, and Richard Turley, Massacre at Mountain Meadows. Not an easy subject, placed them in a position where few things that the church has done has endured as much scrutiny.  Two reviews about this volume…from the Military Book Club…”Unlike previous apologists of the church…scholarly, even handed analysis of the massacre…” That’s the kind of stuff coming out from the church in the future.

Western American Literature….the book is distinctive because of their painstaking search through the LDS library and archives. According to the authors, Church leaders supported their research by offering full disclosure. I know that from experience, everything that was available was made available. I think we’ll see this kind of historical production in the future. The church moves at a slower pace than an independent organization, but attention to detail, one leader said we want what we do to become bullet proof to withstand whatever criticism may be applied by an aggressive alternative.

Some derivative projects have come from the work on the JSP. A few of these, one thing is the creation of a new press, the Church Historian’s Press, likely documentary in nature for a while, then I think we’ll see narrative history. It will be the official press of the JSP, several other projects lined up that will find publication there, not documentary in nature.

A website,, was created and eventually everything we produce in textual print will end upon on the website, there will be at time-lapse between when it’s in book form, and on web, but everything in print will end up on the website, this will be the source in the next generation on the JSP.  A living website where we can make adjustments as needed. All this in the spirit of other documentary editions on important Americans, the Thomas Jefferson Papers, George Washington, Ben Franklin, so this is not something that hasn’t an untried tradition, and fits in the norm of the most recent and careful scholarship done in American historical studies. About 30 volumes, 500-700 pages each. Journals, documents, revelations and translations, history, legal and business, administrative papers.

11 volumes are in production, one published last year, one next month, we hope two volumes next year, next will be first of the history series.  Generous funding by Larry Miller, Larry Millers’ family also underwriting he website and for the last year and a half also underwritten the documentary we have on KJAZZ television. A weekly broadcast on the scholarship and research our editors have done. In fact the intent is that the same day Revelations 1 comes out, the first season of the series with 52 episodes will also be published through Deseret Book.

I want to talk the remainder of my time about the care to produce the Preisthood and Relief society manual.  You have seen some of the shows. I want to give more info so you know the care that was put in with the idea that this manual would withstand any scrutiny applied to it. As much rigor as you can image was applied. Church history department provided the documents. Prepared and handed off to Curriculum committee, manual produced. In the same style and same format as the other teachings of the Presidents volumes. I want to give a background about why this is such an important book, in a historical context, even though the Teachings of the Presidents is not a history book, it’s a book of teachings with application for saints today, but I want to explain how LDS in the years have collected the teachings of Joseph Smith. The first compilation was the serialization of the history of the Church, begun in the Times and Seasons in 1842. All those published and a long series called the History of JS, published in the Deseret News 1859. To have this collection, you had to collect all the issues of the Times and Seasons and Deseret News, not until a generation later that there was an attempt to compile his teachings. In the Contributor. Serialized between 1881-1883, some of the teachings of JS. Sermons and writings of the prophet Joseph.

A year later, in a little volume called Compendium produced by Franklin D. Richards in 1882, contained a section called Gems Form the History of JS. There are selections taken from the History of Joseph Smith in the TS and DN, were compiled into this addendum to this compendium.  But then came this collection, the History of the Church of JC of LDS edited by B. H. Roberts, one of the most important things that the church published I think it created the base of a new identity, 1902-1909, based on the History of JS as appeared in TS, etc. Seventh volume later to get the seven volumes, the JS that you know today, the JS the church became acquainted with is this compilation of the history of the Church.  I don’t think we can overstate its importance in setting the foundation for our doctrine, everyone who wrote about it and the early church used it upon which to write their work, so important.

The year that the sixth volume came out, Edwin F. Parry, Joseph Smith’s Teachings A Classified Arrangement of the Doctrinal Sermons and Writings of the Great Latter Day Prophet, 1912. It wasn’t until a generation later, that this significant work, the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith was published, 1938. A survey was done among religious educators to identify the most influential books in teaching, this was #1. It’s hard to overstate the influence of this volume to our understanding of JS and appreciation for what he taught. Since then there have been other publications, A religious educator Alma P. Buron published Discourses of Joseph Smith, Words of Joseph Smith, Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, 1980. This is a big deal.  Where all the other compilation prior and subsequent are excepts arranged topically, Ehat and Cook decided to publish all the sermons in their totality during JS’s tenure in Nauvoo.  Only 1/5 of the 250 sermons we know he gave have any substantive text to them. Most of those in this book, now out of print, Ehat coming out with new edition in the near future and has made some important additions.

Joseph Smith’s selected sermons and writings, 1989, Robert Millett. Didn’t get much play among LDS.

Lary E. Dahl and Donald Cannon, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, very useful and functional, very user friendly, worth a purchase in identifying topically, what we would like to know about his teachings.


It is the case, the way in which we determine how we were going to prepare the manual for Priesthood and Relief Society, we had to get our head around what we wanted to do with it. How we could properly prepare it to know we’d touched every base.  A book influenced me. In 1996, a Lincoln scholar and his wife published through Stanford, The Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln. They took things of contemporaries that Lincoln said he said, and applied some scrutiny and criteria to say if it was reliable or not.

Once you look a that, it creates in your mind a certain level of expectation about what you read, you think twice about the text, maybe normally because it comes out in print you’d just think it had credibility, I was the one to pull these JS docs together, I decided to do the same thing, we created a committee and produced something a curriculum committee could look at and know if it was something they could include with confidence in a Teachings of the Presidents manual. We came up with a classification system.  A bit different from that created by the Farenbachers. We created A documents that seemed to fall into [describes the listing system, see BHodges’ explanation here].

There are notes that many people took …the same discourses. Levi Richards took notes, I can’t imagine what we’d be without those note takers. All in long hand. Bullock the longest of the King Follet Discourse reporters, and I can read a typescript in 17 minutes. The sermon was supposed to have lasted 2 hours, what would have happened had bullock not kept notes? Two other pieces affected grading, was it one year old, 20 years old? And circumstance, is it eyewitness, or second hand, third hand?

[Shows examples of differently graded documents]

We prepared all that, it took 17 3-inch binders of material we took all of that and people more smart than I created an electronic database, passed it on in one disk to the writing committee, and produced what I think is a manual that has great power. Something that is of consequence, something foolish to ignore if one wants to get to the morsels of JS teachings.

In closing, in 1974 and this has to do with methodology, look at not just what the Church produces but what others do, we owe it to ourselves to scrutinize what we get, what I’m telling you, what every presentation here today has said. If wer’e so lazy that we accept what someone says because they have a white shirt on [pauses, audience chuckles]…I didn’t want to say that…dressed in a tie and coat, we can’t be lazy about this, this religion is too important and very defendable, the more information I have, the stronger my belief in JS and his appointment. There is not much that has surprised me any more, I’ve been in this 30+ years, and feel more strongly now than any time in my life. We don’t have to cut corners.  JS has won me over in every way. It wasn’t going to be  a testimonial but I have one.

In the first issue of the Journal of Mormon History, a non-LDS scholar, Jan Shipps wrote The Prophet Puzzle, and many people have used this as a point of reference to scrutinize JS whether he is a “pious fraud” as Dan Vogel says, or as Richard Bushman defends him as a man how had authentic experiences who represented himself in a real way. Somewhere between those points, someone can find a real JS. Shipps raised that question, I think it’s worth our while to answer those things to create a literature that demonstrates we’re not too loosy goosy and we’re careful about what we produce.

I came across a puzzle, each facet of this configuration represent facts and information, even indisputable info. Depends on how you arrange this information.  Each entity, how it is placed, adjacent to other pieces, how it is placed in contrast to the others has everything to do with how we understand events and how we appreciate events. It can be arranged in a way that there would be no familiarity to the pattern but a feature of chaos in how it’s organized. Others may want to make it (the story) very neat and tidy, maybe in a way that doesn’t represent it (the reality) well.  By placing some items of info outside of scrutiny, being selective in the use of material. Sometimes we do that, and I don’t think it does us any favors. There are all kinds of ways to apply the information, maybe if we’re brave enough and have confidence that as we place these things together, as we create from historical information, the impossible past that we really don’t have a chance to replicate exactly, but which we must give our best shot at, we must end up with something compelling, that causes us to think about our religion in ways maybe we have been afraid to in the past, but find in doing so that this thing of which we are apart, the reason for which this organization (FAIR) even exists, is something that must be defendable because of it is importance in this world and in the immortal world. I think it’s worth the trouble we take to make sure we do this right, I think this man (Joseph Smith) is worth all the effort to understand him. He’s won me over in every way. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Joel, thank you for your perspective. And congrats on making the 100th comment /grin/

    Comment by Jared T — August 12, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

  2. Coming late to the game. (No time for bloggging any more)

    Ardis wrote:

    If FAIR isn’t somewhat responsible for a speech given from their platform by a speaker or writer (whoever “he” happens to be in the specific discussion), then why does FAIR give him (whoever “he” is) access to their platform?

    This just seems a double standard to me. I agree that some tar Sunstone on the basis of a few talks, but having been at several Sunstones (and even presented twice) I think the preponderance of sessions there are controversial. While the FAIR conference (which I didn’t have time to attend) had all talks one after an other this is true of many groups. (That’s how SMPT does it for instance – which I’ve also presented at)

    What bothers me is how some nab a real small number of comments and try to paint that as the whole. While I’ve not been a member of FAIR for several years now, when I was most were pretty open and tried their best to not be snarky. There were a few who did – usually because they wasted far too much time dealing directly with anti-Mormons. (Which I think is usually futile) It gets to you after a while and I think is ultimately counterpoductive.

    Do I wish everyone were as open as Keven is above and which I think characterizes the typical FAIR member? Yes. But it bothers me when a diversity of opinion is recognized among most other groups except FAIR and FARMS.

    Now you know Ardis I love to read your stuff. You blog remains one of my favorites. But I really think the characterization is unfair. (No pun intended)

    Comment by Clark — August 13, 2009 @ 12:26 am

  3. Part of what has not yet been recognized is that not all sessions carry the same institutional baggage.

    Part of Sunstone’s mission with the Symposium is to create space for dialogue. In that context, I don’t mind if some of the parallel discussions going on strike me as controversial, unorthodox, irreverent, or (even worse) boring. That sort of thing is inevitable.

    Some sessions, however, come with a more direct institutional endorsement. Take, for example, Sunstone’s decision to have Paul Toscano read from his book The Sanctity of Doubt as the opening Devotional for the Symposium. Given that this is a unique stand-alone session and intended to serve as a devotional at the outset of the first full day of regular sessions, I think it is fair to attribute at least some amount of institutional endorsement — for good or ill — to Sunstone itself. If nothing else, it give us an idea of what Sunstone believes qualifies as a devotional.

    Robert White’s comments at the FAIR conference strike me as coming with a not insignificant amount of institutional endorsement. It is one thing to give, say, Mark Brown an opportunity to discuss his views relating to Brigham Young’s teachings about Adam. It is another thing entirely to have a former general authority (what other qualification did he have for addressing the conference, by the way) come and discuss the merits of FAIR and the alleged demerits of those who take a different approach. For better or worse, a speaker invited by an institution to address the merits of the institution and its primary purpose at the institution’s annual conference is going to be saddled with some amount of implied if not express institutional endorsement of what gets said.

    Comment by Randy B. — August 13, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

  4. Clark, I’ve explained my inability to distinguish between who speaks for FAIR and whom FAIR has only chosen as a speaker — a great deal of the confusion comes from the format of the conference, as I’ve explained, with its by-invitation-only speakers addressing the full conference, vs. other types of symposiums where speakers ask for the opportunity to speak, with breakout sessions for attendees to choose what fits and overlook what doesn’t.

    The double standard you see is not my creation, but arises from the very different formats of the various conferences — including LDS General Conference. I have nothing more to say about it, and no apology to offer.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — August 13, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  5. I got that Ardis, it’s just that I find it a broader issue than just you. i.e. people pick a very small slice and then judge the whole.

    Comment by Clark — August 13, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  6. And BTW, I’m still waiting for an answer from Stephen (Ethesis) on #82. Ironic given the apparent criticism.

    Comment by Jared T — August 13, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  7. I’m Rene (real name), I’m a member of FAIR, and I mainly work on the German FAIR site.

    I’ve not been able to listen to all of the conference, but I’ve carefully read Jared’s and Blair’s blog posts on it.

    I’ve also read the comments here.

    Chris claimed that Bob’s presentation was anti-intellectual, and I’m really trying hard to understand why he would feel that to be the case, but I fail.

    When I came to #13, I immidiately re-read the comments mentioned there. Still, I cannot see the anti-intellectualism of Bob.

    #1 says that Bob seems to think all intellectuals should be doing what FAIR does, and since Chris doesn’t agree, he feels belittled.

    OK, that’s an opinion we could talk about, but I do not see, how this is “anti-intellectual” per se, especially since I do not see where Bob did claim this. But since English is not my mother tongue, probably I simply do not understand him correctly. Could somebody help?

    #2 says that Jared was surprised at what Bob said, but no specifics are given.

    Again, maybe it’s my bad English, but how does this show that Bob was sputtering anti-intellectual thoughts?

    #3 Seems to say taht Bob holds contempt against those who experience Mormon religion in a different way than he does.

    Again, could you give some example from his words? I simply don’t see it, and I do not know how the writer of #3 experiences his religion, so that he feels offended by Bob. It seems, though, that #3 does not talk about anti-intellectualism, but rather about offending others. Right?

    #5 says “Good history (or good academics) is a good way of defending the Church.”

    I’ve been a member of FAIR almost from the beginning, and I can tell you that without good academical research, there *is no* apologetics. See, currently I’m working on a review of a paper by a Lutheran religious study guy, who, among other things, claims that Eduard Meyer, speaking as scholar of religious studies, in 1912 classified the Church correctly not as a sect of Christianity, but as a new religion. We all know this Meyer-quote. But 40 lines down, Meyer claims that the Jews are not a religion, but a sect. And of course, nowadays nobody in his right mind would agree. This Lutheran’s paper is full of such inconsistencies. It’s not done by purpose, it’s just that teh author didn’t do a whole lot of research himself but relied heavily on what others have already written. Bad scholarship IMHO. So, I indeed need *good* scholarship in the first place. But then, I have to formulate what academics said in a language that even a teen in trouble can understand, and to bring different areas of scholarship together, in order to answer questions and attacks. And I do know that the other FAIRsters agree to that. It’s our mission. I know Bob well enough to know that he, too, agrees. So, how does this claim of #5 really deal with what Bob said?

    #6 Chris feels no obligation to defend the Church in the way FAIR does.

    This seems to be a repetition of #5. And it’s *good* that Chris does not feel this obligation. Obviously this is not given to him, and if he tried, he would not have much success, since it’s not what he wants to do. THere are other things, where he surely can do much more to build up and enlighten. Apologetics is *not* for everyone (Please, I see how this can be misunderstood as a snide commentary or a judgement. It really is not intended as such. It’s rather on the line of Paul saying: “Not all are bishops, not all are teachers, not all are prophets, not all have every gift, but each has a gift from which the church can profit.”)

    #9: I honestly do not see where this has anything at all to do with Bob’s presentation.

    #10 claims that Bob’s combative and triumphalist tone might lead him toward a lack of humility and joy in the defeat of his enemies that could, perhaps, become un-Christian.

    I would like to see what the writer saw as “combative tone”. I didn’t get that feeling. “Lack of humility”, well Bob says, “That will not go to your heads you wouldn’t be here if you were.” This can also be understood as: “Don’t let it go to your head, or I fear you will not be here soon.” And I have seen in the past 11 years that I’m with FAIR, that many of the apologists that switched sides (and became enemies of the Church) were those who had an oversized picture of themselves. Nevertheless, it would be worthwile to see which of Bob’s statements were seen as “triumphalist, combative and lacking humility”. Yet, #10 is the one I can understand best.

    #11 doesn’t go into any details, I just somehow get the impression, that FAIR is somehow bad and needs reformation.

    See, I’m new to this discussion, and probably you all have already gone the rounds, so that everybody here, when reading “combative” really knows where the anti-intellectualism lies in Bob’s presentation. Also, it could be that anti-intellectualism has a different meaning here in Europe than it has in the US. We see things like that a lot, when a European and an American discuss things.

    But being a member of FAIR, I really would like to know what people who obviously don’t like what we are doing, really mean. I really want to know, why I am one of the “bad guys” and in need of reformation in your eyes.

    Comment by Rene — August 14, 2009 @ 10:57 am

  8. Rene, yes we have gone the rounds, and I’m not interested in going them again at this time. Maybe another time, but I will say that no one said you are a “bad guy” or any such nonsense. Those words do not come up in any of the past comments. You see, implications and impressions cut both ways. Good luck to you.

    Comment by Jared T — August 14, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  9. Ardis, of course people ask to speak at FAIR. And I hope that you will consider accepting my invitation to lunch some day.

    Comment by Juliann — August 14, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  10. And BTW, I’m still waiting for an answer from Stephen (Ethesis) on #82

    Sorry, that was just drawn to my attention.

    I was commenting on how too many people in comment threads don’t really seem interested in discussing things, but I was glad that he had made the effort to begin the discussion and post the talks.

    Sorry that wasn’t clearer.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — November 17, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

  11. I guess I just don’t visit enough.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — November 17, 2009 @ 10:36 pm


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