FAIR to the Rescue?

According to an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack in the SLTrib (4 Aug 2011):

On Thursday, the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) announced that it was launching the Mormon Defense League (MDL) to help journalists “get it right,” said Scott Gordon, FAIR’s president who direct the new project.

If the MDL notices a misstatement or mischaracterization, the group will first contact the journalist, Gordon said.  But if a pattern of misrepresentation emerges, the defense league will “go after the writer” by posting the piece or pieces on its website (mdl.org) and pointing out errors.

On Thursday, the LDS Church welcomed any “sincere efforts to correct misconceptions and inaccuracies about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” spokesman Scott Trotter said, but emphasized that “FAIR is neither sponsored nor endorsed by the [LDS] Church.”

FAIR’s new defense league is aimed at journalists and non-Mormons and is modeled after the Anti-Defamation League, created in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” according to its website (adl.org).

For me, the problem here is the real possibility that apologists, PR staffs, and lawyers are coming dangerously close to defining Mormonism, to defining what a Mormon is.  Are Otterson’s, FAIR’s, and FARMS’s “corrections” going to creap into Mormon doctrine and beliefs?  If corrective action needs to be taken, and I’m not convinced that it does, is FAIR the right group to do it?  I think not.

For me, FAIR’s attempt to put the alleged persecution against modern-day Mormons on a par with that experienced by Jews throughout history is bogus.  We need to get over our “persecution complex” and get on with building the Kingdom of God.

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11 Responses to FAIR to the Rescue?

  1. brentallsop says:

    Hi Roger,

    On the surface, I may agree with much of this. But I also think there is a fundamental principle you are treading on here, and this troubles me.

    You don’t mention this, but you seem to be assuming there is some proper or correct way to “define Mormonism.” You are just saying that “apologists, PR staffs, and lawyers” are not it. The only thing I can assume from this, is that you believe the correct way to define Mormonism, is what the leaders of the church say, under the direction of the Prophet?

    But this, to me, is very wrong. The only way anyone should define any organization, religion, country, community, crowd, or whatever, is what does everyone believe it is? You need to know, concisely and quantitatively, what everyone believes the organization to be, and what they want the organization to accomplish.

    I do definitely want to find out what the definition of the LDS church is, and that is why we created the open survey system at canonizer.com. To enable everyone to find out, from as many Mormons as are willing to say what Mormonism is to them, just what the Definition of Mormonism is.

    The way the US is treating the “Arab Spring” is driving me crazy. The US always wants to know “who is in charge”. Whenever there is an uprising, or toppling of power like this, they send in the CIA to try to find out who is in charge, so they know who to work with. But this is a completely primitive and mistaken mindset. There is the crowd that is doing this uprising, and there is nobody in charge. It is all based on what the crowd wants – that is what defines the Arab spring. Instead of sending in the CIA to find out who is in charge, they should push out some kind of consensus building open survey amplification of the wisdom of the crowd capable system, possibly something like canonizer.com, to find out what everyone wants, they should never be promoting any individual hierarchical leader.

    They should be handling terrible dictators, or any dictator, really, the same way. The US, and the rest of the world, should be asking what the people want, and that should be what defines that country. If the dictator is working to promote that, then OK. But if they are deviating from that, that is when they become evil, and everyone should interfere.

    In other words, I think it is the ” “apologists, PR staffs, and lawyers” and everyone else that is the most legitimate way to define what Mormonism is.

    Brent Allsop

  2. I actually think that FAIR brings a higher level of scholarship and professionalism than other organizations have in the past, such as FARMS. FAIR is quite unrelenting in its dedication to high-quality historical research and tackling controversial topics, and its analyses don’t seem to be written with foregone conclusions. FAIR-type stuff would not have been publishable by active church members in the 90s. I may not always agree with FAIR participants, but I think they are a huge improvement and that fact that the Church is willing to support them to even a small degree, or at least not discourage them, is probably a sign of progress.

  3. rogerdhansen says:

    Hi Brent and Carl,

    I’m not sure who should be defining what Mormonism is, or what the “facts” Mormon history are, or what Mormon doctrine are or aren’t essential to Mormonism. But I certainly don’t want a “Mormon” apologist group doing it. FAIR, FARMS, FAR, etc. should not be responding at all. Being too defensive is never a good plan.

    I don’t think it works to vote on major issues either. But voting would work on issues like opening up temple wedding ceremonies. Whether the Church should be involved with issues like “Prop 8.” But we shouldn’t be voting on scientific issues like evolution vs Genesis.

    As for the major theological issues, it is and should continue to be each members’ responsibility to define what a Mormon is. In this day and age, there is enough material out there to determine the facts, truths, etc. of Mormonism. For me, FAIR is an unnecessary filter.

  4. Have you read anything from FAIR? Also, I don’t think I (nor Church PR) is saying that FAIR speaks on behalf of the Church.

    Everything I’ve read from FAIR is usually quite fair and in-depth, and readily acknowledges challenging topics in Mormonism. I don’t think people are recommending that FAIR be used as a filter, but as a way of getting more information on a topic I have found it useful.

    I think your allegation that this move by FAIR is an attempt to compare our persecution with Jews is an unjustified leap. Just because they want to try something similar to the ADL does not mean they claim equal persecution.

    There is nothing wrong per-se with a group that wants to help defend Mormonism from gross mischaracterizations in the media. And there is no doubt that the Media’s understanding of Mormonism is woefully inadequate. Respectable publications say things about Mormons that they couldn’t get away with saying about any other religious group.

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    I didn’t mean to put down FAIR. I’m sure they do good work (and I really don’t mean to be patronizing here). I just don’t like the “influence” apologetics is having on defining Mormonism. I don’t think I will ever change that opinion.

    I don’t think that there are that many “gross micharacterizations” of Mormons. And I generally don’t like reactive behavior. I think the Church would be better served by going about its business in a positive manner.

    Frequently discussing misleading info only makes it worse: think polygamy, Prop 8, etc. here. For example, the Church reaction to “The Book of Mormon” musical was silly. And in the long-term, the musical will probably generate increased interest in the Church, which could turn out to be a positive.

    I’m certainly not impressed with Otterson’s Washington Post blog pieces. He certainly doesn’t speak for me either. And I don’t like the Church’s current advertizing campaign.

  6. Otterson’s blog and FAIR really are entirely different from each other. Thanks for your response.

  7. Regarding gross mischaracterizations, there have been plenty of things about how Mormon candidates for office would be beholden to the LDS Church President, which is completely absurd. Mainstream publications have carried op-eds that portray Mormons as being on par with jihadists, pedophiles and the like.

    I’m not upset about such stupidity. I think it’s par for the course. But it’s fairly obvious that the sophistication with which Mormonism is addressed in the mainstream media is far worse than that of most other religions.

  8. rogerdhansen says:

    Granted that FAIR and Church PR are different organizations with different missions. But they both have been in a reactive mode lately. Being overly defensive just makes reporters et al. more curious.

    Mormon candidates need to address the issue of their relationship to LDS leaders. Kennedy had to do this and was successful. And Romney has done it (with a little less success). But this is an issue that FAIR and Church PR need to stay out of. Their participation will only make it worse.

    The Catholics are the ones with the problem over pedophilia, and they have handled it very badly. The best thing the Church can do is deal with all internal problems rapidly and appropriately (no cover ups), then the PR problem will disappear.

    There is a lot of upside to Mormonism. This is part that needs to be highlighted (without looking like we are trying to toot our own horn). This is difficult task, but that is why Otterson gets the big bucks.

  9. rogerdhansen says:

    I think there are instances where the Church comes off very well. Certainly the life of Marion D. Hanks is a case in point (look at the coverage that it received in the SLTrib). There must be more biographies and stories like this that cast a positive light on the Church.

    Instead we get GAs who want to compare our “persecutions” post-Prop-8 with the real persecutions during the civil rights era. Additionally, Utah politicians are continually doing stupid stuff that makes us an easy target. These kinds of screw-ups tend to generate a lot of bad press. Most of the negative press we bring on ourselves. We need to stay focused on the positive and forget the persecution complex, liquor laws, gay rights, etc. We need to be far less defensive.

  10. I just used pedophilia as an example of an extreme that might give someone an idea of how we are viewed by others. I agree that many of the problems in Church PR are of its own doing. But I still see no problem in volunteer apologists wanting to help promote more accurate views about Mormons. That is what FAIR is. These guys aren’t getting paid. They’re just Mormons who are more interesting in Church history than average folks.

    A similar example was the recent correction by Joanna Brooks, a decidedly liberal Mormon, who corrected an absurd op-ed on the Fox News web site:
    http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/joannabrooks/4875/interfaith_alliance_criticizes_fox_news_anti-mormonism/

    or another response from Richard Bushman to an absurd post on CNN:

    http://inthearena.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/07/tricia-erickson-an-indoctrinated-mormon-should-never-be-elected-as-president/

    These are just Mormons who are trying to clarify or correct misconceptions about the church, and I see no reason why they should be muzzled. FAIR’s work has been quite similar to this.

    I think you’re conflating some poor PR moves on the Church’s part with other individuals and organizations that really are quite different.

  11. rogerdhansen says:

    FAIR enough . . . . sorry, I couldn’t resist. 🙂

    Thanx for your comments. Roger

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