I have the privilege of helping with the arrangement of the very first FairMormon conference in the Nordic Countries. It’s going to be a great event. There have been some questions regarding the event, so here follows some information and Questions & Answers about the conference. The answers reflect my own personal view.
18 June, 12:00-19:30
Kungsbackateatern, Gymnasiegatan 42, Kungsbacka, Sweden (20 min south of Göteborg)
Cost: 200 SEK (Pay here)
Visit Facebook event page and inform us that you are coming.
WHAT IS FAIRMORMON?
FairMormon is a non-profit organization, staffed by scripture scholars and enthusiasts, dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS (Mormon) doctrine, belief and practice. Its motto is: Critical Questions, Faithful Answers. For more information visit fairmormon.org
WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT THE CONFERENCE?
Representatives and speakers from the FairMormon organization are coming to give lectures on selected subjects, such as: Maintaining Faith; Polygamy; Race and the Priesthood; Women in the Church; and topics related to the Book of Mormon – DNA, translation, Christ-centered scripture. Time is also appointed for questions. More information about the speakers.
WHY IS FAIRMORMON COMING TO SWEDEN?
Sweden is one of many countries in which FairMormon conferences are being held. Representatives of the organization have felt a need to visit northern Europe, coupled with a high interest from the Nordics for such a visit.
IS FAIRMORMON A CHURCH SPONSORED PROGRAM?
No, as stated, FairMormon is a non-profit organization, working voluntarily in defending and expounding the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. However, Church leaders are appreciative of the work FairMormon is doing (the Europe Area Presidency as well as Elder Ballard have spoken positively about this event), and are “encouraged] to see how FairMormon has grown in recent years”, as expressed by the LDS Church PR Manager Michael Otterson in the 2015 FairMormon Conference.
WHY DO WE NEED A FAIRMORMON CONFERENCE?
The Conference gives the audience a chance to deepen their understanding on parts of Church doctrine that may appear controversial in the public eye, even among some members of the Church. I acknowledge that there have been those who have approached their bishop or other Church leader with sincere questions, but have felt dismissed for some reason, and not have their questions answered. Of course, no one expects leaders to be expert theologians, and I’m not putting the blame on anyone, but suffice it to say: some members would have appreciated more respect for their concerns. This is unfortunate, naturally. But this is precisely one instance where FairMormon can help.
All individuals asking critical questions are not sincere, however. Many of the gospel issues have, in my opinion, been highjacked by groups that are not only critical but also hostile toward the LDS Church. Facts and doctrine are often altered or taken out of context, with the intent of sowing seeds of doubt among Church members or creating a general feeling of suspicion toward Church doctrines and policies. The conference will show that there are nuanced, well-documented answers to almost all questions, and that these answers can help support the building of ones testimony of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel.
BUT ISN’T THERE A CHANCE OF SENSATIONALIZING SOME QUESTIONS, RISKING TO CREATE MORE DOUBT THAN FAITH IN THE RESTORED GOSPEL? ISN’T IT BETTER TO JUST READ THE SCRIPTURES AND PRAY IF FACED WITH DIFFICULT QUESTIONS?
Of course, our faith in Christ must be at the center of everything we do. And prayer, fasting, selfless service, and “feasting on the words of Christ” are undoubtedly the best ways to come close to the Savior and know his teachings. But with the growth of internet in particular, the wealth of information surrounding us is staggering. Everything is out there for everyone to see – including information about the Church. So what it all comes down to is this: Who will define the doctrines and practices of the Church? Apparently, there are many critical voices who feel called to do so. (Ironic, since they don’t even believe in the doctrines and practices of the Church.) But I ask myself this simple question: Do I want my children to be taught gospel doctrine by those who don’t even believe in it, or should the Church and its members have that privilege to expound and explain its own doctrine? The answer is obvious. Our children will learn everything about the Church – its teachings, history and practices – it’s just a matter of who will teach them? So this is about owning the questions. That is why this conference is so important.
BUT HAVEN’T WE HEARD CHURCH LEADERS ADMONISH US TO STAY AWAY FROM “QUESTIONABLE” MATERIAL?
Yes, that is true – and we keep to that admonition. I prefer reading and watching material that is uplifting for my spirit, helping to build my faith Jesus Christ. I believe for this very reason, past Church leaders have often advised their members to stay away from material that touch on controversial issues (hence the risk to come across dismissive, as noted above) for fear that members could loose the testimonies, seeing that much of the tone of “anti-material” is negative to say the least toward the Church, and void of the Spirit of the Lord, leaving seeds of doubt even among the strongest of the faithful. So the concern was and is still valid. But…
There has been a shift in how the Church is taking on doctrinal matters. We see it clearly on the internet. Gospel Topics on LDS Church website, for example, are essays that deal with more complex and sometimes controversial doctrines (essays that have partly been prepared by scholars at FairMormon). Joseph Smith Papers is another example of the increasing transparency effort. Everything is there in print, nothing hidden. The Church wants to own its own questions and define its own doctrine.
As a result we see a shift in how Church leaders respond – or should respond – to members who bring up doctrinal concerns. In Elder Ballard’s recent address to CES teachers, the apostle states: “Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!‘ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church.” In this multi-informational world, we do no favors to anyone by trying to “protect” him or her. If we do not teach them, someone else will.
WHY ARE YOU INVOLVED WITH FAIRMORMON?
Well, in addition to the points made above, I feel the volunteers at FairMormon do an excellent job at keeping things fair and balanced (And no, that’s not an endorsement of Fox News!). They try to view material from several sides, presenting all facts, turning every stone, and at the same time remaining true to the spirit of the Gospel. They have a love for the truth and a love for the Lord. That carries a lot of weight for me.
Also, in my own work as a Seminaries & Institutes Coordinator we are presently focusing much on Doctrinal Mastery – where we help our youth learn, understand, and apply gospel principles in a way that brings them closer to Christ. In short, in this process the students need to “seek learning even by study and also by faith“. Exercising faith and studying all aspect of the gospel are important ingredients in the lives our our Youth. This balance has been clear in this year’s Institute courses when we have studied Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel as well as Foundations of the Restoration, which include topics like the Book of Mormon translation, First Vision accounts, Polygami, women and priesthood, etc – many of the same topics that will be addressed at the FairMormon conference.
On a personal note, never in my 16 years in S&I (CES) have I felt a stronger spirit during our Institute lessons. The attending students have a deeper knowledge and a stronger testimony than ever before, despite the fact – or should I say because of – that we have studied all aspects of the gospel. The students have been heard (listening to their questions is important), and the love of the Savior has been poured out in abundance.
WHO CAN ATTEND THE CONFERENCE?
We have an open-door policy. Obviously, since the objective is to help deepen people’s understanding of the restored gospel and strengthen their testimony of Jesus Christ, the conference invites all members of the Church to attend, with a special invitation to those who have specific questions or concerns. But non-members who are interested in listening are also welcome, of course. The important thing to note: All speakers will give their remarks in a spirit of love and understanding. The same standard is expected of conference participants. Anyone with a different agenda, that is, with the intent to disrupt or provoke in anyway will not be admitted nor permitted to remain.
DO I NEED TO BRING FOOD?
No, food and refreshments are included in the cost. But please pay before 10 juni to be guaranteed food.
IS THERE PARKING?
Yes, more than enough spaces right outside the theater, for the low cost of 2 SEK/hr.
I WOULD LIKE TO ATTEND BUT HAVE NO ONE TO TAKE CARE OF MY CHILDREN WHEN I’M GONE.
You are welcome to bring your children. There will be a space for them where they can play games and watch films, etc. There is plenty of space for strollers in the conference hall, should that need also arise.
WILL THERE BE TRANSLATION?
The conference will be held i English, but there will be translators in place with headsets for those who wish. At the moment, we are able to offer translation in Swedish and Norwegian. Any other requests, please let me know.
WHEN I PAY, IS MY TICKET SEND TO ME?
Actually, there will be no tickets. When you have paid, you are placed on the registration list. When you arrive just identify yourself at the Registration table and you will be admitted. For those living in Sweden, please use Swish as payment method if you can. Otherwise, credit card will work.
WHEN IS THE PAYMENT DEADLINE?
There is none. It’s even possible to pay at the entrance (but then you need to have 200 SEK in cash). However, we are ordering the food one week in advance, so if you pay sometime after 10 June we cannot guaranteed food for you. In any case, we appreciate as early payment as possible as this help us in organizing the event.
WHEN SHOULD WE ARRIVE?
We begin 12:00 sharp. I would advice you to arrive 11:15 to have time to park your vehicle, register, find your seats, perhaps visit with a speaker or two. It all takes time. If everyone come 11:45 there will be lines at the Registration since we anticipate a few hundred people. So be on time, please. 🙂
See you on 18 June!