The term Exploring Mormon describes the member that has become aware of historical, theological, or social issues within the church.
They have begun the process of studying and learning more. This involves going outside the official church correlated material, they used at church, and utilizing the multitude of resources regarding these topics.
Exploring members may have come across something while preparing a lesson online or heard or read something new to them regarding church history, theology, or policies. It could be something they had not learned or heard during their church experience. It may be a social issue that resulted in questions, disagreements, or concerns. Sometimes a friend or family member shares something which results in a desire to search or read something in order to understand it better, support or empathize with them. The recently added church essays regarding historical issues have been the catalyst for many.
They include everyone from the individual with multi-generational pioneer history to the individual newly investigating the church. For some exploring members their knowledge of church history, theology, and truth claims came predominantly - if not entirely - from official church material, publications and church endorsed books written by prophets and well known leaders. They may not have been exposed to things like Dialogue, Sunstone, Maxwell Institute, FairMormon or other scholarly works and writings. Reliance wholly on the church, through Sunday School, callings, church attendance, seminary, missions, temple attendance, etc. in order to learn church history, and the development of Mormon theology, is common.
Exploring members may experience fear, anxiety, discouragement, disillusionment and stress as they become aware of this new information. For someone raised in a very orthodox setting, this tension may be even greater as the disparity between the official narrative and what they are learning becomes apparent. The tendency of many church leaders to send heavily discouraging messages to members concerning the study of information that is outside its official correlated material plays a significant role in Exploring members’ fear. Talks discussing the Internet, and sources that contradict the official narrative, are often described as 'dangerous', and prime members to view them with suspicion.
If something is less than faith promoting - which typically means it results in concerns, doubts, or questions and contradicts official doctrine - members are taught to view it as dangerous. Whether these fear based messages from leaders are intentional or not, there is a significant resistance mentality encouraged and instilled in many members regarding material that is alluded to as "anti-Mormon".
Ironically enough, at times the newly discovered information can come from legitimate LDS resources, or perhaps incorporate little-known historical facts, but still be viewed as less than faith promoting, and thus "anti-Mormon". Messaging like this can be confusing, and further distress can come when fellow members attempt to identify these uncomfortable emotions as coming from Satan. Surprisingly, even past doctrinal or historical facts can be labeled as inaccurate and testimony damaging.
Experiences such as these can place great strain not only on the individual explorer but on their relationships as well. If they feel unable to share the information they are discovering they may feel isolated. They may turn to leaders for guidance only to discover that their local leaders are unaware of the information or the issues themselves. It can be hard to know where to find accurate and reliable information. Mormon Spectrum hopes to help Exploring Mormons with these challenges and to connect people in ways so they feel supported through this experience.
An apologist is someone that defends their faith, whatever religion that might be.
Being an apologist is one of the many “hats” a member may wear and typically not something they solely identify as or do full-time. As a result, it becomes more of an approach that’s taken, by some, once they begin to explore the issues outside of the official church correlated material. This method, of using and relying on “faithful scholarship”, is another option for a member as they study. There is a broad range of opinions among those engaged in Mormon apologetics and at times they disagree with each other’s conclusions.
Some Mormon Apologists form volunteer organizations and hold conferences, symposiums, publish jointly and write books. The more well known apologetic organizations are: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) which dissolved in 2010, Maxwell Institute, FairMormon and Brigham Young Religious Studies.
The church does have considerable influence over the types of scholarship published by organizations affiliated with church departments and schools, but distances itself from any official endorsement. Many members engage in apologetics on an ongoing basis using various private avenues: social media, articles, op-ed pieces, publications and their various church callings.
Some of the more well known past apologists have been: Hugh Nibley, B.H. Roberts, James E.Talmage and W. Cleon Skousen. An advanced degree, a specific church calling or particular education level is not needed, or required, to engage in apologetics. Much of what happens within Mormon Apologetics today happens online which provides the opportunity for broad participation.
Mormon Apologists begin with faith and belief when approaching a subject. As a result, the issues that result from discrepancies are approached from that starting foundation. The assumption is made that since the church is true, there must be logical, valid and reasonable explanations for any inconsistencies, confusion or past mistakes that arise. Trusting the church and believing God has yet to reveal everything, often come into the apologetic defense. Apologists may view the available information, current science and understanding as limited, and subject to error, when interpreting, analyzing and discussing past historical events, truth claims and narratives.
The reliance on a spiritual confirmation is a critical component for a Mormon Apologist. Ultimately, this is the method that determines truth and viewed as the overarching way to sort through whatever information, topic or issue is being studied and discussed.