With its gentler approach, FAIR drops its snarky videos aimed at LDS Church critics

They racked up more than 200,000 views, leader says, but they no longer fit the group’s “branding and direction.”

(File screenshot via YouTube) This screenshot shows Kwaku El, left, Cardon Ellis and Brad Witbeck in a skit from a FairMormon video series called "This Is the Show." The newly reminted FAIR has now removed the satirical videos.

Editor’s noteThis story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

The satirical, snarky and controversial videos produced for the group formerly known as FairMormon are gone.

FairMormon has changed its name to FAIR, which now stands for “Faithful Answers, Informed Response,” and hopes to adopt a kinder, gentler tone going forward in its defense of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When the new FAIR provides “faithful answers” and an “informed response,” President Scott Gordon wrote in a Saturday newsletter and blog, it wants to do so in a Christlike manner.

That means “avoiding personal attacks or derogatory language” against critics, he said. “This does not mean we won’t point out faulty reasoning and misleading claims, or boldly defend our doctrine. ... We are not stepping away from fact-checking, or defending the church. Indeed, we embrace it fully. We just want to do it in the way that we believe the Savior would approve.”

As part of that move, FAIR is evaluating all of its projects going forward to ensure they fit into FAIR’s “branding and direction,” Gordon told The Salt Lake Tribune in an email Monday.

That’s what prompted the group’s leaders, he said, to remove the videos Sunday evening.

The “This Is the Show” videos — aimed at millennial and Generation Z viewers — were intended to be a humorous, hip response to some critics of the LDS Church, including Jeremy Runnells, who compiled a litany of problems with the faith’s history and practices in a “Letter to a CES [Church Educational System] Director” and posted the book-length diatribe on the internet.

FAIR contracted with three young Latter-day Saints — Kwaku El, a Brigham Young University student and convert to the faith, became the actor-writer, joined by fellow actors Brad Witbeck, a theater graduate from the Provo school, and Cardon Ellis — who proposed creating videos that would be a cross between “Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update” and TikTok-type sketches.

They broke the “CES Letter” into more manageable pieces, producing 16 videos on everything from anachronisms in the Book of Mormon to the lack of archaeological confirmation, from DNA to plagiarism.

And, by some measure, they met FAIR’s expectations.

“The ‘CES Letter’ response videos received more views than any other videos we have with over 200,000 views,” Gordon said. “In that way, they were successful at reaching a broader and younger audience.”

Witbeck, one of the creators, also saw them as achieving the original goal.

The videos “were definitely successful in recognizing some of the holes in the CES letter,” the young writer said, “and in reaching a younger audience.”

Witbeck recognizes that some people took offense at them, and others — like those outside of Utah — didn’t get some of the jokes.

Still, he is working with FAIR to see if any of the videos can be edited, or redone, but he understands that they do not fit with the group’s goals going forward.

“Using humor to cover a serious subject can be a difficult tightrope to walk,” Gordon wrote in his email, “because what one person believes to be funny, can be offensive to someone else.”

The videos did not “translate well for an international audience,” the FAIR leader said, “and some of the humor did not align with our brand.”

Rosemary Card, a millennial Latter-day Saint entrepreneur with 20,000 Instagram followers who recently wrote a guide to Latter-day Saint temple ceremonies, wondered who might have been swayed by the videos.

Now she wants to know how FAIR defines success.

“Is success giving members one-liners to sling at their friends who are struggling so they can feel smarter?” Card asked. “My hope is that any approach to help people would follow the guidelines of our baptismal covenants: Mourn with those who mourn. Comfort those who stand in need of comfort.”

Michael Austin, a BYU alumnus and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Evansville, a Methodist school in Indiana, cheered the removal of the videos.

“I am thrilled to hear that FAIR has taken these videos down,” Austin said, “and has decided to rebrand itself as a gentler and more supportive resource for people with sincere questions.”

He had worried that some young viewers would be “more persuaded by the serious tone of the [CES] letter than by the flippant, dismissive tone of the videos.”

Dropping them “is the right move,” Austin said Tuesday, “and I think that the church will be better for it.”