Home > Uncategorized > Apologetics for the Rest of Us: a Follow-Up

Apologetics for the Rest of Us: a Follow-Up

I’ve been thinking some more about my previous post on apologetics, and the response it generated. I began to think again about the distinction I made between “academic” or “historical” apologetics that is more FARMS style and the more personal, “lived” apologetics that I associated with Robinson and Eugene England, and the importance that different people place on each. I also realized I should explain more about where my hope for more “lived” apologetics over the historical variety is coming from.

Take this survey done by Mormon Stories about why people leave the church. Now, there is nothing scientific about it, so you don’t want to take the results to seriously, but I think the list of reasons people gave for leaving the church is illustrative. While historical issues are prominent (the Book of Mormon/BofAbraham, polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, etc.), there are a lot of current social and political issues that factor into the equation: trust in church leaders, the church’s stance on Prop 8 or homosexuality, women and the priesthood, and so on. What this list, and conversations with people I know, suggest is that while historical issues might dominate some people’s concerns, for others they get particularly frustrated with their lived church experience, with what is going on in their ward or within the whole church right now, and FARMS-style apologetics simply has nothing meaningful to say to them.

I’d be happy to stand corrected, but my hunch–based on personal experience–is that this divide is particularly pronounced along gender lines. FARMS-style apologetics is predominantly a male endeavor. When I used to clean their offices while I was a BYU undergrad, nearly every academic in their institute was male. Even the presenters at the most recent FAIR conference was almost entirely male, and of the two female presenters, one spoke on–wait for it–the role of women in the church. That’s not to discount their work by any means, but simply to suggest that its message is not universally received or resonant. And it’s understandable that men would be more engaged with historical rather than cultural issues: the culture of the church is, after all, very accommodating to men. They get to hold almost all of the leadership positions. Their word is treated as more authoritative. They rarely have to deal with Primary. But for many women who struggle with faith, I sense that whatever historical issues might bother them, the very format of male leadership, and the difficulty women face when trying to even have a voice in the church, only adds insult to injury when they deal with questions of faith.

Of course, cultural aspects of the church that bother people are not limited to just women: maybe someone has a family member who is gay and cannot bear hearing again about how homosexuals are a threat to the traditional family; maybe someone feels their commitment to the church is always being questioned whenever election year rolls around; maybe they simply no longer feel spiritually edified at church, as sermons and class discussions repeat the same pat answers ad nauseam (after spending 3 hours every week for the last 18 months taking care of grumpy twins, I can absolutely relate with this last one).

I’m not saying these are justifiable reasons for calling it quits, or that the church should change everything to respond to any number of individual concerns. We cannot expect the church to answer our every whim, as modern consumer society has trained us to expect. Rather, a lived apologetics would look at these issues head on, but without blinking, or without denying that anything is wrong in ZIon. It would be more circumspect in its conclusions in order to acknowledge what is even knowable, or verifiable, about matters of faith. It will not try to overlook cultural concerns by appealing to historical certainty. In the realm of the everyday, historical apologetics simply won’t cut it here: people will listen to your theory about a Meso-American geography or explantation for the Book of Abraham, but those answers will have little to say when the three-hour block rolls around. What they need–what we need–is an apologetics that does not dismiss all the warts, that does not try to tie up every loose end, or that does not try to downplay people’s real, pressing concerns, but that still hearkens to the heart of Mormonism, that reminds us of its greatest ideals, and reaffirms the value of being part of something bigger than ourselves–something truer, if also more flawed, than any one of us.

So by all means, keep up historical apologetics. Track down the references, examine the ancient languages, and conclude again and again, “Ergo, there is no way Joseph Smith could have known that when translating the Book of Mormon.” But I’d bet my money that for most people, they’re looking for something that strikes a deeper chord without drowning out the cacophony we hear all around us.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Liz
    August 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Agreed, again. I’m a little annoyed that there was one female speaker at the whole freaking FAIR conference, but I’m used to being annoyed at that kind of thing, so…

  2. Liz
    August 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Wait, sorry, there were two. MY BAD. It’s like they’re trying to replicate the gender “balance” of general conference! 🙂

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