I confess to being involved in apologetics. I enjoy it.
I like reading challenging material and researching it. As Kaimi pointed out, I have written for FAIR once publically, and many times privately, when people write in with a question. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have some association with FARMS as well.) I don’t like to argue, and I don’t often spend time on ZLMB or the FAIR message board. I’m more interested in trying to help out those members struggling with their testimonies.
Such is FAIR‘s purpose. Though by its mostly amateur nature FAIR material is sometimes uneven, they have treated many issues that neither the Church nor FARMS will touch with a 10-foot pole such as Joseph Smith’s polyandrous marriages. ( I grant that given their respective missions, I wouldn’t expect either the Church OR FARMS to publish something on the topic…)
The FAIR conference (plug plug) is an opportunity to hear some highly trained people talk about difficult subjects in an honest manner. To preempt certain comments about the worth of such groups, let me suggest that FAIR is occupying middle ground. Attendees can mingle with Dan Peterson, Richard Lloyd Anderson, John Tvedtnes, and Davis Bitton, but also with Thomas Murphy, Dr. Shades, and Brent Metcalfe. Brent is unable to attend this year, but, at my request, sent his opinion about FAIR and its conference.
“Mormon historiography and exegesis are invigorating and retain integrity because of contributions from serious students who span the ideological spectrum. FAIR’s annual conference provides a venue for students with an apologetic bent to share their thoughtful perspectives on LDS scripture and history. Scholars of Mormonism would be remiss if they ignored this voice from within the LDS community.”
I have heard second- and third-hand statements from some who have now left the Church that “if FAIR had been around, things might have been different for me.” As someone who has taught Institute and is temporarily teaching at BYU, I see the importance of teaching students how to think critically about difficult issues while maintaining belief, and providing an environment in which asking questions is not tantamount to apostasy. FAIR, in my opinion, successfully walks that line. Come to the conference, and form your own opinion.