LDS Discussions Blog
FAIR Mormon's New Approach to Problems with Church History
I've been thinking a bit lately about the FAIR Mormon "This Is The Show" videos and how they attack both the CES Letter and Mormon Stories on such a personal level. If I had more time I'd do a more robust write-up, but work is beating me down this month so this will have to do.
Since FAIR Mormon has now called Jeremy Runnells and John Dehlin "homewreckers for profit," I wanted to respond as an inactive member of record in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints how stupid, misguided, and dishonest of an argument this is.
The thing that FAIR Mormon and their "TITS" videos don't understand is that the information in the CES Letter and Mormon Stories are NOT about Jeremy Runnells or John Dehlin - at least they aren't to me and almost anyone I've talked to in any depth since starting this website.
When I first started down the rabbit hole, I came across the CES Letter because I was using Google to research problems I always knew were there. It blew my mind and the way it went through the different issues both efficiently and in a logical, chronological way just makes it impossible to use apologetics to make it all work.
Is the CES Letter perfect? No, and there are some areas I would absolutely change after reading the rebuttals from FAIR Mormon, Jim Bennett, etc. But that said, even those problems (the maps and plagiarism ones early on seem to be the most problematic) do not change the bigger issues with church history such as the Book of Abraham, DNA, Book of Mormon problems, and, of course, polygamy and racism.
After I read the CES Letter, I made the mistake so many do which is to just blurt everything I learned to my believing spouse, which is always the wrong approach. But she asked me to read the FAIR Mormon response, which I did and it made a lot of sense. But the problem with apologetics came when I read the CES Letter's response to FAIR Mormon and then read FAIR Mormon's response a second time, and then you could see the games apologists play with quotes, sources, and meanings of words.
Once I dug into both the CES Letter and FAIR Mormon, I started listening to podcasts and came across Mormon Stories quickly. The thing about Mormon Stories is that there are so many of them, so you can choose what really speaks to you. For me it was listening to all of the episodes about historical and doctrinal problems. Don't get me wrong - there are some incredibly powerful episodes about the experience of those who leave, but early on I just wanted to get to understanding how we know if the church is true or not.
And just like the CES Letter, the information on Mormon Stories isn't perfect. Sometimes you hear a guest (or even John) say something that isn't 100% correct, but again the overwhelming majority (and I mean overwhelming) of the claims, sources, and facts cited on Mormon Stories are accurate.
When I first started listening to Mormon Stories, my favorite podcasts were the episodes that dealt with the Gospel Topics Essays, Dr. Michael Coe talking about the archaeological problems for the Book of Mormon, Brent Metcalfe, and so many others that dealt with the historical truth claims of the church.
What I'm trying to say here is that both the CES Letter and Mormon Stories are not about Jeremy and John - they are about the church's truth claims and how they stack up to the evidence. The CES Letter did a great job of taking something we were conditioned by the church to think was too complicated for our little, childish minds to understand and made it accessible and consumable, and that's why the church and apologists are terrified of members discovering it on their own. It's never been about Jeremy Runnells, but the approach is that if you can destroy Jeremy, you can hopefully make members afraid to read what he has put forward that has helped so many discover the truth.
And the same is true for Mormon Stories. It's not about John Dehlin - he's the host and is obviously crucial to Mormon Stories, but the power comes from his ability to create a vehicle for so many scholars, former church leaders, and members to tell their story to others so that members and listeners know they aren't crazy for having doubts, and that they aren't alone for wanting to leave a church that isn't true.
But just like the CES Letter, apologists try to make Mormon Stories about John Dehlin so they can tear it down. It's the same approach - if you make members think that John Dehlin has been "taken over by the adversary," you can make members afraid to listen to his podcast out of fear they'll be taken over too. And this is not exaggeration, I've seen this happen with some I know who will not listen to anything John Dehlin puts forward just like Jeremy Runnells.
The problem is that even if you take all of John Dehlin's audio out of Mormon Stories, the episodes are still incredibly powerful and important because John has brought people from so many backgrounds to explore the church's truth claims whether it's the Book of Abraham with Dr. Robert Ritner, three geneticists who dissected the Book of Mormon DNA essay, or John Hamer and Dan Vogel to explain how the Book of Mormon came to be. I could go on all day - there are so many episodes that I wish every member of the church could watch.
Apologists know how powerful both the CES Letter and Mormon Stories are to assessing the truth claims of the church, which is why they seek to make it personal with attacks about their motives and character. It's really shameful, but it's not a surprise given that apologetics simply do not hold up when you dig below the surface. I've written on too many talks by high level church leaders where they not only demonize doubts, but they attempt to make those around you with doubts toxic to the youth of this church.
As noted above, FAIR Mormon recently called John Dehlin and Jeremy Runnells "homewreckers for profit" as their rationale for their TITS videos where they launch one ad hominem attack after another to "destroy" the CES Letter. The problem is that as we've shown in reviewing the Seer Stone video and now the Book of Abraham video is that their scholarship is, to be blunt, terrible and their approach is insulting to the viewers that they are trying to manipulate by poisoning the well to keep them from researching from non-correlated sources.
Furthermore, if the church really wants to make te argument that people who take money can't be trusted about the church, what do we say about church educators who have no other career than in the church. Ask anyone who leaves the church - once you spend your life defending the church with poor apologetics and scholarship, no outside instututions want to hire you.
What about church leaders, who are given homes, lucrative seats on church owned boards of directors, pensions, and six figure stipends to keep members in the church? Or how about apologists that write apologetic books that we can prove are dishonest, but go on book tours, given interviews to church media, or and are paid for columns or projects in church media?
The point is that we can not measure the accuracy of the claims made by the people making it or how they are compensated for it. It's an ad hominem attack, and while it's really effective to those sympathetic to your cause, it does nothing to address the underlying facts and only further shows that your own argument cannot hold up to basic scrutiny.
If the church was true, they would tell members to take their claims for a test drive and make sure they hold up for themselves. Instead we have talk after talk telling us that doubts are bad, that leaving the church is like suicide, and that those historical issues are just 'secondary' questions.
What is the church so afraid of? Why are they funneling so much money to FAIR Mormon to produce videos like this instead of having actual non-Mormon scholars on their various media outlets (Church Newsroom, Deseret News, church magazines, BYU-TV, KSL, etc) confirm their truth claims? You know the answer to that question, and so do they.
At the end of the day, you can prove that the Mormon church is not true. There is simply no way around it - just in our recent section on biblical scholarship you can see that the Book of Mormon, Abraham, and Moses are not historical books, and that's before we even get into the texts of these books on their own.
We've also done a two part overview on the Book of Abraham which used the Mormon Stories interview with Dr. Robert Ritner extensively along with the series from biblical scholar Dr. David Bokovoy both with Mormon Stories and Radio Free Mormon. That information would not have been accessible to me without John Dehlin (and RFM), which again is why the church wants members to be afraid of him personally so that they never listen to him or the many scholars he has brought on to discuss these issues.
In the coming weeks/months we are going to do another 10-15 overview pages that go through the truth claims of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the church itself, and each one will show why the apologetics of FAIR Mormon are willfully deceptive, and why these recent "TITS" videos are not just awful in tone, but sloppy and dishonest in their scholarship.
This ended up being a bit longer than I thought it would, but I just hate this tactic that the church and its apologists use which is to attempt to demonize and destroy anyone who speaks out against the church, whether their criticisms are true or not. In this case, Jeremy Runnells and John Dehlin are providing members with information they've been taught all their lives were "anti-Mormon lies" only to find out their actually true and provable.
And the church sees that they are very slowly losing control over members, and that they can no longer control the information like they could before the internet. I only wish I had access to this information when I joined as a convert 20+ years ago, because I could've saved a whole lot of time, money, and distress with just a few hours of Google searches when I was more open to this information than when I finally jumped into the rabbit hole 20 years later.
One last note is that our website is going to have a lot of new information up that I really think will be helpful and powerful to those with questions, and I am doing this as a member of record and without taking a dime from anyone. If FAIR Mormon or the church wants to attack me, they're going to need to do it on the merits, which is why they're never going to bother trying. But I'm open anytime to a conversation about these issues, so if anyone from the church is reading please message me anytime (email is email@example.com). I promise I'm respectful and honest in my work, and you know I'm not doing this for the money so let's talk.
Merry Christmas and can't wait to see you all in 2021!