Online Gospel Discussions

Last week the church issued some official guidelines to help members have productive online conversations about the gospel.  I immediately thought of the Star Trek: The Next Generation espisode called Darmok.

The church suggests that we not represent what we say as official church teachings or give the impression that we are official church representatives.  Instead, we should describe in friendly and engaging terms how we experience the gospel.  In a way, it is like bearing witness.  There is no need to argue or contend, because our own experience is not subject to cross-examination by others.  We are advised to avoid defensiveness or belligerence and to speak in thoughtful, friendly, respectful ways.   The guidelines point out that what we say is less important that the way we say it. 

I think that is all good advice, but we also need to remember Darmok.  There are more barriers to communication than we can imagine.  The wiki summarizes the ST:TNG episode this way:

A Tamarian captain abducts Captain Picard in an eager attempt to bridge their language gap through archetypal, intense shared experience. The Enterprise captain and crew must decipher the Tamarian’s metaphorical language, or risk failing in the opening of diplomatic relations and, worse, losing Captain Picard to a meaningless death at the hands of an entity with the capability to disappear.

The Tamarian language is unintelligible to the Starfleet’s universal translators, because it is too deeply rooted in local metaphor, so its sentences do not have any meaning to other civilizations.

I think we latter-day saints sometimes also have this problem with communication. Even though we communicate in our native languages, we sometimes use words in insider ways that render communication with outsiders difficult. For instance, our word _endowment_ is completely unintelligible to someone who doesn’t know about us. And terms like _Haun’s Mill_ or _Martin’s Cove_ are fraught with significance for us, and we can convey a lot of meaning to one another just by saying the names of those places aloud. But when we do, we need to understand that outsiders are left scratching their heads. The intensity of our language of shared experience doesn’t translate well to Investigator-ese, so we need to be careful if we intend to be understood.

We also need to be aware of the Scientology Rule. As ably explained by Ronan, this rule holds that if a behavior is weird if it is done by the Scientologists, it is also weird if done by us. Put yourself in the place of someone who is encountering us for the first time. When he finds out that the missionaries rose at 5:00a.m. all during their teen-age years in order to attend religious indoctrination classes, we ought to at least be able to understand how he might think that is a little crazy. When he finds out that the missionaries dress identically and go in pairs all the time, are required to work six and a half days a week, and are only allowed to make two phone calls per year to their families, our hypothetical investigator can be forgiven if he starts to think that we enjoy swigging Kool-aid while waiting for the Hale-Bopp comet to come pick us up.

My point is that we should keep the church’s guideline in mind, and also realize that our attempts to explain ourselves to others sometimes suffer because we don’t account for the insider/outsider dynamic.

Comments

  1. Wow, I vaguely remember that episode of Star Trek.
    I’m sure I was terrified of losing Capt Piccard. He was my favorite.
    Your point is well taken that we shouldn’t expect blogs to be like conversations between pals at BYU. However, it is so much faster and easier to abbreviate and refer to things quickly assuming most readers understand the Mormon jargon.
    Is he asking us to assume that some percentage of readers are not LDS and can’t differentiate between EQ and RS?
    Or, is this more about respect in conversations.
    I must say that there was a smack-down recently on this site of a regular conservative blogger that I thought was pretty harsh. Then they closed the thread, which I also found interesting (as a way of having the final word?)
    Do you think these are the kinds of things theses guidelines are referring to?

  2. clayton says:

    Mark,

    Thank you for you post. The Ensign article you refer to is taken from Elder Ballard’s commencement speech at BYU Hawaii.

    I do not believe that it was his intention to say that it is less important what we say than how we say it. He was actually encouraging the graduates (and now all of us) to get more involved in the online community. To not let critics define the conversation, we should stand up and be a defender of the faith, but to defend and proclaim what we believe in a manner which would reflect positively on the chuch.

  3. One of Bruce’s and my all-time favorite TNG episodes! And I am guilty of assuming my audience understands the same terms I do. I wrote a lot about Jane James’s desire for her endowment. When I finally met one of Jane’s descendants (not LDS), we talked for hours about her life and began an enduring friendship. One day, after we had been friends for years, he called me with one question which had been bugging him: “What is an ENDOWMENT?” I tried to make it as accessible as I could, and also to help him understand why it would have been so important to his great great grandmother.

  4. Mark, thanks for touching upon an issue that is too easy for us members to overlook. Being married to a non member has kept me alert to this yet I know when I get around family he can sometimes still get lost in our conversation. A few years ago when the movie “Singles Ward” came out, I did my best to not watch it and discourage my husband from doing so as well, afraid of stereotypes and what I viewed as silliness. When he did watch it, he thought it was adorable and became very proud of himself for slowly understanding some of the inside jokes. When I watched it(trying to see it from his perspective) I could see many places that he would be confused it he wasn’t “in the know”.
    He is actually the one that turned me on to this blog, finding it in his search to understand me and my culture better, but he is also good at pointing out things that seem normal to me that the outside world can find very strange if they don’t understand the context. This happens more often than I thought it would. He has kept me on my toes in this regard and opened my eyes to how we as a culture can be viewed and also how little we often understand an outsiders point of view. It is an ongoing battle for me but he and his family are good practice. I don’t think we do it on purpose, we try hard to stick together in order to strengthen our testimonies and have like influences and friendships, but it is good for us to be reminded (especially in our personal attempts at missionary work) that most people in the world don’t have the same background and may need more explanation of things regarding the church and our culture. I think this will always be a struggle for those of us raised in the church, and we can always do well with a reminder.

  5. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think this problem is worsened some by the fact that we tend to want to ‘put on a testimony hat’ or a ‘missionary hat’ when speaking to people outside the church about our beliefs. If we spoke of our actual experiences and views in langauge that is natural to us in conversation instead of switiching to an entirely other and unnatural mode … I don’t actually speak Mormonese fluently, though, so maybe it’s just me.

    ~

  6. Left Field says:

    I’ve told this story before, but a number of years ago, I was a stake missionary teaching the new member lessons with the full-time missionaries. One of the elders was talking to this new single member about the importance of “finding someone to take her to the temple.” For a number of reasons, I really dislike that expression, but at least I knew what he was talking about. The missionary kept repeating the phrase while she became more and more confused about why it was such a big deal to get a ride to the temple.

    Sometimes we don’t have much of a grip on what aspects of the church we should put front and center if we wish to convey a good impression. As you said, we are so impressed by the dedication of early morning seminary students that we sometimes assume everyone will see it the same way. It seems to be common lately to have our youth reenact the handcart migrations and then try to get an article about it in the local paper. Maybe that’s good publicity, but maybe it just reinforces the perception of Mormons as weird. I had a mission companion who loved to tell investigators about all our mission rules. I suppose he somehow thought investigators would be inspired by our dedication to a cause that required us to refrain from reading newspapers.

    Sometimes I even wonder about the professional PR people at 50 East North Temple. Church public communications recently posted this video in attempt to distinguish us from the FLDS. What in the world made them think that having a young woman go on and on about modest dress would be a good way to make people think we’re different from the FLDS?

  7. Aaron Brown says:

    Building on Thomas Parkin’s comment, I think we need to relax the assumption that when we talk to non-members about the Church, we’re necessarily experiencing a moment fraught with cosmic meaning and significance for them, during which it is of the utmost importance that we exude intense missionary vibrations in their general direction. It’s more likely to weird them out than it is to be helpful. Better to spend one’s efforts in developing meaningful relationships with people which are not entirely means to an end of dunking them in a baptismal font. Maintain those relationships, and natural moments for sharing the gospel are likely to come.

    Many non-members can spot the proselytizing vibe a mile away, and it’s a real turn-off.

    AB

  8. I bear testimony of this post with every fiber of my being.

  9. Naismith says:

    Well, I thought it was interesting that the picture on the lds.org homepage, which directs folks to the newsroom and the talk from Elder Ballard, shows a young woman with a Macintosh laptop.

    Of course the church does not support Macintosh users for PAF or MIS, and many felt that they were considered “out of the mainstream.”

  10. Randall says:

    The church is against proliferation: gay marriage, lotteries, Mac users, other infestations.

    Apparently they let down their guard on the website.

  11. #4 – SSA, do you live in the greater Boston area? If so, tell your husband that I really enjoy his comments. If not, sorry for the needless threadjack.

  12. If all members followed these guidelines, I could read the SLTribune comments.

  13. Left Field says:

    Tribune comments–Oh man, what a train wreck. No matter how newsworthy the article, someone always complains that the Tribune shouldn’t cover it because nobody cares about any of this Mormon stuff. Then people start throwing out random anti-Mormon talking points. Somebody invariably admonishes them to go to lds.org for all information about Mormonism. And on it goes…

  14. Ray, yes we do. He really enjoys this site as well. Half the time he gets a big kick out of us Mormons communicating(he loves the poll questions) and half the time he learns a lot and we have big discussions. I will tell him, thanks.
    I am with you on the SLT. Those commenters make me want to pull my hair out, then I realize it’s not worth it. There are better places to discuss my opinion where the only response is that Mormons are crazy and Joseph Smith loved women too much.

  15. I watched an episode of John Adams on HBO last night. He got got right into the faces of the French over the American Revolution. The French and Ben Franklin sent him home. Was he wrong? Should he have held back his Passion for Freedom?
    “The guidelines point out that what we say is less important that the way we say it. I disagree. Speak the Truth, let the the consequent follow.

  16. If we spoke of our actual experiences and views in langauge that is natural to us in conversation instead of switiching to an entirely other and unnatural mode

    I think this is exactly what Elder Ballard is inviting us to do. I think I recall him talking somewhere about speaking in ways that others can understand…building on common values and experiences that mean something to people outside of our faith.

    Ah, here it is.

    Share your experiences – those from your own life – that show how your values and your faith intersect….

    Clearly, in this context I am not talking about declaring your testimony of faith in the traditional sense. Naturally, you can and should do that where the setting is appropriate and the audience is receptive, such as a church meeting. Rather, I am talking about taking part in everyday conversations in an unforced way, where your values and your religious beliefs will arise naturally. No one likes to have religion thrust down their throats.

    Instead, allow people to see how your beliefs lift and shape your life for the better. How does the gospel help you as a parent engage with your teens? How do your values encourage you to participate in civic affairs? How has your experience as a home or visiting teacher enlarged your compassion or care for the sick and needy? How has your Church life helped you to avoid such things as pornography and immorality? How have family councils or home evenings helped you resolve differences of opinion with members of your family? How has your experience in speaking in church helped you address large public groups? Where did you learn to respect and not to criticize other faiths? And so on.

    I love how he reminds us how much our faith can impact the nuts-and-bolts parts of our lives…not just our religious selves.

  17. Nice detective work, Ray! On the topic: Darmok is a *classic* Trek episode, definitely one of my favorites. And a very apt metaphor for the difficulties Mormons can experience when interacting with Gentiles. One *major* thing that Mark didn’t mention is the concept of “Priesthood.” It took me quite a while to wrap my head around the concept that all worthy post-pubescent males “hold the Priesthood.” And arising from the general confusion regarding what exactly that means, I think that the initial reaction from non-Mormons is to feel that the concept of priesthood is “cheapened” when it’s available out to all and sundry. Which only creates a further disconnect, as in the LDS church it’s probably the *furthest thing* from “cheapened!”

    In my experience, it takes a great deal of discussion and research, not to mention a flexible mind, to reach Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

  18. There is no need to argue or contend, because our own experience is not subject to cross-examination by others.

    Ha. They’ve never met my mother.

  19. Tracy, :)

    Banky, I thought so – and I meant it. #17 is a great example of why I meant it.

  20. We would stand out like crazy if all the Mormons on the internet were considerate and thoughtful in their blog and comment postings. It’d be the rhetorical equivalent of those FLDS prairie dresses.

  21. Good one, Sarah.
    Maybe we should start incorporating that into Bloggernacle comment policies–please adorn your verbiage in downright reactionary levels of politeness and civility. ;)

  22. I think that my most comfortable, pleasant and productive conversations about the gospel fall under Elder Ballard’s guidelines. How my religion effects my “real” life is an interesting subject, but how I have two friends who’d love to meet you and explain my religion to you is a little weird and unnatural. When a born-again friend wants to talk about faith in her life and her family’s life, that’s great. When she wants me to meet with her pastor so he can explain her faith to me, that’s creepy.

    The anti-Mormon family background really helped me to learn to speak without the jargon. Being a convert myself didn’t hurt either. Worship service is as easy to say as sacrament meeting. Women’s group = Relief Society meetings. The church over on Estates Blvd = the stake center. Men’s group = Priesthood meetings. There are a few things that don’t translate well–nineteen year old “Elders,” almost everything related to the temple, and missions to other Christians come to mind.

    I’ve also discovered that almost everything worth talking about has a good analogy in some sci-fi show or another.

  23. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    The fact that so many of use are familiar with this episode of ST:TNG is further evidence that confirms my hunch. Bloggernacle people skew heavily in the direction of geekery.

    As some of you have noted, the advice contained in this list is somewhat different from the training we got as missionaries. Then we were taught to proclaim boldly, and to let the chips fall where they may; to challenge people to pray, to read the book of Mormon, and to be baptized. Now it appears that a different approach is wanted, at least in a online forum.

    I see a great deal of wisdom in this approach. The Internet is very democratic, and barriers to entry are low. It allows anyone with an IP address and a keyboard to enter a public conversation and hang a full moon in front of the world. Understandably, the church wants no part of that.

  24. Steve M says:

    I must admit that when I heard that the Church has issued “guidelines” for participation in online discussions, my first reaction was to roll my eyes. I envisioned an attempt to micro-manage members’ online lives.

    However, the guidelines ended up being much more innocuous and reasonable than I imagined. Actually, I would love to see this particular principle taught more regularly in the context of traditional missionary work: Be relevant. Discuss the gospel where it’s the topic of conversation. Be cautious about trying to force a conversation about gospel topics.

    For so long, I feel like members have been instructed to try to fit the gospel into conversations at every possible juncture. I get the sense (from Ballard, at least) that the Church is moving in a more reasonable direction, at least as far as member missionary work is concerned.

  25. I didn’t see anything objectionable at all in the guidelines posted at lds.org. They just seemed like logical suggestions and good advice. They’re probably aimed more at defensive Mormons who comment at the Salt Lake Tribune than anything else. I think it’s kind of nice that the Church is trying to be helpful in making such suggestions to keep overzealous members from being too strident with people criticizing Mormons and the Church online.

    I don’t see a shift in these guidelines from the decency and decorum recommended for our missionaries in their everyday interactions with people while sharing the gospel.

    I like Aaron Brown’s comment # 7 and wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that it is “better to spend one’s efforts in developing meaningful relationships with people which are not entirely means to an end of dunking them in a baptismal font. Maintain those relationships, and natural moments for sharing the gospel are likely to come.” We really, really need to improve our relationships with people not of our faith. Too often, I think Mormons are tempted to seek friendships only as a means to an end of proselytizing and when the object of such an effort makes it clear that they simply don’t believe in those things most of us believe in as Mormons, then all efforts at the friendship cease. This is a serious problem when it happens and speaks very poorly of those of us who have succombed to that temptation. We need to improve greatly.

    And, Mark, your points about insider/outsider speak are well taken, although I am at a loss to see how the Church’s guidelines in any way imply that this cannot be a difficulty. Are you interpreting the fact that the Church didn’t specifically include awareness of insider/outsider terminology in the list as a statement by the Church that such is not a potential problem in online discussions?

    Aside from the insider/outsider point, Mark, do you think that there is need for improvement in the Bloggernacle, even here on this blog, in how many of us talk about the Gospel in line with the helpful suggestions provided by the Church? I can’t help but feel that too many posts ridicule or criticize unnecessarily the Church and/or its leaders. For the sake of discussion, and to keep it close to home rather than pick on some other Bloggernacle blog, Amri’s recent post about the bird and rose seemed to be simply making fun of some old lady who didn’t have a firm grasp of the Atonement. From what I could tell, one of the main points of the post was to make fun of what had helped that lady through very difficult times (death of a husband and other family members) and also the rest of her Relief Society at being moved by her story/experience. Of more concern, perhaps, the post seemed to implicitly expand this particular old lady’s deficient understanding/emphasis on the Atonement to the rest of the Church in an oblique resort to the familiar refrain that the Church doesn’t focus enough on Christ, despite other criticism that the Church, since at least the 1980s, is focusing too much on Christ in what is described as an attempt to get creedal Christians to consider us Christians.

    By and large, I think the Bloggernacle and BCC measure up pretty well to the guidelines suggested by the Church for online discussions about the Gospel. That is, despite the oft noted fact that many discussions about the Church or the Gospel on blogs and forums can easily turn into arguments, the reality is that participants around the Bloggernacle and particularly at BCC are much more civil, respectful, and polite in the discussions that in many other areas of cyberspace. The discussions that take place in the Bloggernacle are downright tame and languid compared to the discussions on many political blogs, for example.

    Still, we can all do a little better, perhaps, to show respect for the Gospel and particularly others’ experiences with the Gospel.

  26. Ah, but John, I think Amri’s post does the church a favour, namely by demonstrating that the Mormon view of the atonement is not at all like in the story of the bird. She’s confounding false doctrine, man.

  27. Ronan, I can see a little of that in her post but mostly I see ridicule of a bunch of relief society sisters that she thinks have a bogus understanding of religion.

  28. Peter LLC says:

    Perchance Amri mistook the Relief Society sisters for false prophets and was following Elijah’s lead:

    “And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.”

  29. Bro. Jones says:

    Even in the Doctrine & Covenants (121) we’re admonished to reprove with sharpness. If the woman discussed in Amri’s post had taught in class some clearly wrong doctrine–say, that childless women are cursed of God, or that people in interracial marriages could not enter the Celestial Kingdom–I would hope that someone would have taken her to task both in class and in discussion on the bloggernacle. To me, a fairly misguided understanding of the Atonement–and note that I said misguided, not simplistic, because the bird analogy is more wrong than it is simple–is a pretty serious error to be communicated over the pulpit, and I see no problem with bringing attention to that.

  30. Randall says:

    3 thoughts:

    1. I think a distinction needs to be made between: 1) Mormons posting on non-Mormon blogs (i.e. online newspapers) 2) and Mormons posting on Mormon blogs (i.e. BCC). Elder Ballard’s apt recommendations are most germane to the latter. If a large portion of the audience is non-Mormon, then we should go out of our way to accommodate them and ease their understanding. In fact, we shouldn’t even use the term “non-Mormon”. In contrast, I come to BCC to share a forum where I can relax and be myself among peers. Yes, it took me a while to decipher the lingua franca (FP, SSP, BRM, IMHO), and BCC posters seem to delight in name-dropping and passing references to inside jokes (enemas, TK smoothies), but for me, that was part of my initiation. Perhaps a user’s guide would be helpful for the uninitiated.

    2. I think the church is doing much better at explaining Mormon lexicon to new converts through General Conference and the Ensign. It waters things down for us old-timers, but hopefully will help with retention. I also love the multi-media that they’ve incorporated into GC, and wish they would encourage more in Sacrament Meeting.

    3. One area where I struggle when chatting with non-Mormons at work is with the tendency to provide overly nuanced answers to simple questions like: “You went to BYU, are you Mormon?” I find that my answer is typically, “Yes, I am, but (qualifier, qualifier, qualifier)….” By being open about what I see as the church’s strengths and foibles, I definitely leave the door ajar for more candid discussion, but I also recognize that it sets a non-faithful tone from the outset.

    I have twice been asked to be a guest participant (read: token Mormon) in book groups that are reading Krakauer. I found that I slipped into 3rd person entirely too much. Such as, “The church would say…” However, I shudder to think of their treatment of the church if an even-handed insider had not been present.

    I’m trying to return to my basic roots and provide straight-forward answers that come from the heart, but remain sincere and unhypocritical. I think a guide for me is to use an approach that would be similar to answering why I’m a member of the Democratic Party. No, the party doesn’t meet all my needs or mirror all my political stances, but it does much better than any other option.

  31. I have a couple suggestions for future readers who try to participate in online sharing the Gospel (or regular sharing the Gospel for that matter), that I have found help me to avoid the communication gaps between me and the people I am communicating with.
    When it comes to sharing anything specifically Mormon, assume that they know nothing. They usually know something, but it’s usually something that needs correction anyway. But NEVER treat anyone like they are stupid for not knowing something.
    Practice. I spend a lot of my time in interfaith dialogues, and I constantly email a pastor friend of mine. Together we sort out a lot of the gaps in communication and misunderstanding. Also, my current blog, which provides a Gospel apologetic to the existence of God, allows me to interface with atheists as well. Practice makes perfect.
    Though participation in the bloggernacle is good and productive, try to participate in other forums or situations with a non-LDS environment. I only recently started participating in the ‘nacle, which I enjoy thoroughly. But there are so many other sites that have LOADS of misunderstood garbage about us and our beliefs, that it is a waste to see us all using our talents on just ranting about stupid members, expressing political venom, or vehemently arguing things that are so speculative that even a high priest group would shudder. (I think, by the way, that BCC does a good job of avoiding those pitfalls.)

    In all honesty, I think BCC and other blogs are very helpful and powerful tools. I just hope we don’t spend our time “preaching to the choir” like I am doing by writing this post. (I get the feeling that most here already see things the way I do.)

  32. re # 29: To me, a fairly misguided understanding of the Atonement–and note that I said misguided, not simplistic, because the bird analogy is more wrong than it is simple–is a pretty serious error to be communicated over the pulpit, and I see no problem with bringing attention to that.

    This is sensibe except that it leaves Amri with only a few options to actually address the problem:

    (1) The option that most directly achieves what you describe in comment # 29 would have been for her to raise her hand and provide a counteranalysis of the allegory or to otherwise declare it to be false doctrine right there and then in the class so that the teacher who was spreading such false doctrine would be corrected and the members of the class would know that in Amri’s opinion, it did not reflect a proper understanding of the Atonement. But because she was a visitor in the ward, this would expose Amri to the charge of being a Utah Mormon;

    (2) She could have approached the teacher after class to explain to her that in Amri’s opinion, she was teaching false doctrine and that this was bad for the Church;

    (3) She could blog about it later on in a post that seems to make fun of the sister and her beliefs;

    (4) Do nothing at all.

    It is clear why she did not take the first two approaches — as a visitor it would seem rude to call them to repentance on their allegories. The third option seems to be the route taken but it is problematic because it doesn’t actually address the root of the problem, unless we assume that the sister in question and perhaps her relief society sisters have read Amri’s post. The reason I am uncomfortable with the post, in light the guidelines posted at lds.org (which are just common sense anyway) is that it seems to make light of other people’s religious experiences or understanding. That’s why I wonder if we could all do a little better in the Bloggernacle in avoiding such a posture.

  33. Last Lemming says:

    The fact that so many of use are familiar with this episode of ST:TNG is further evidence that confirms my hunch. Bloggernacle people skew heavily in the direction of geekery.

    True that.

    For those short on geekery who are wondering what the fuss is about, the episode in question will be shown tonight on the SciFi channel at 10PM Eastern time.

  34. Mark Brown says:

    Awesome.

  35. Amri’s recent post about the bird and rose seemed to be simply making fun of some old lady who didn’t have a firm grasp of the Atonement. From what I could tell, one of the main points of the post was to make fun of what had helped that lady through very difficult times (death of a husband and other family members) and also the rest of her Relief Society at being moved by her story/experience.

    I think you’re confusing the grandmother and the young college student here. I don’t think we have any idea about the grandmother’s grasp of the atonement.

  36. SingleSpeed says:

    One additional guideline I’d like to see implemented:

    Comparison between the Church and sci-fi fiction TV shows should be kept to a minimum.

  37. rondell says:

    Ah, but SingleSpeed, don’t you know that SciFi has the answer to life, the universe and everything? (42)

  38. WOW #37! I can’t wait to read #42!
    The Ultimate Question is: Why is there something and not nothing?

  39. Bro. Jones says:

    #32 I see your point. For what it’s worth, both as a student and as a teacher, I greatly appreciate when people take approaches #1 and #2. Every now and then someone in my Gospel Doctrine class would disagree with something I said, and I would encourage it, saying: “If you disagree with something you’ve heard, that means you’re listening and thinking! Excellent!”

    But when it’s not appropriate or polite–say, when a teacher can’t speak because she’s weeping so much at her incorrect and trite analogy–then even if it’s not the most effective approach, at least blog posting helps one deal with the internal issues one feels at sitting through a lesson like that.

  40. Gerald Smith says:

    I just saw the Darmok episode last night on Sci Fi channel! Classic that I would then read your blog today.
    I think it first starts with finding a commonality from which to discuss and explain. I shared this concept in Gospel Doctrine this past Sunday on differing the missionary approaches of Ammon and Aaron (Alma 17-22). While Ammon offered to be a servant, Aaron went toe-to-toe with the Nehor believers. Only later did Aaron learn from Ammon’s example, and use it in his meeting the king of the Lamanites, offering himself as his servant.

    Perhaps offering ourselves to serve/or listen a little to the other person first, before jumping in and denouncing and defending anything and everything as anti-Mormon would be a wise method. We can always raise our voices later, but it is difficult to recall stupid statements or misspent words.

    To help others see how the gospel has improved our lives, sharing a few evidences along the way of the key components, will help those truly interested to want to know more.

  41. Is 42 going to say “42”?

    As far as Amri’s story goes, it doesn’t sound like she had time to comment on the Bird story at all. As a guest in that ward, I expect it would have been hard to do anyway. If it had been me in my own branch, I might have commented about the grandmother and perhaps mentioned how knowing that Christ died to make eternal life possible for all of us would be such a comfort both to Grandma if she believed and certainly to her family. Sometimes if you just sort of slide by the weird stuff and bring things back to solid doctrine it helps. Challenging people, even if they are not crying their eyes out, is just contentious.

  42. Eric Russell says:

    It’s Jesus, people. Duh.

  43. (42) IS the right answer. (Kudos, Eric.)

  44. #42, #43: I would think in Mormonism “Exaltation” would be the “Answer”. Jesus is a part of It.

  45. Ugly Mahana says:

    You may think that, but you would be wrong.

    There is no exaltation without Jesus and no glory beyond that which Jesus offers us. There is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved.

  46. #45: There was Exaltation before Jesus and without him. (See God).
    Without a wish to reach Exaltation, what would be the need of a Jesus?
    42= exaltation(?)

  47. Agellius says:

    “The guidelines point out that what we say is less important than the way we say it.”

    To a non-Mormon, this is a stunning admission. Should it not be mostly if not entirely about the substance of what you say?

  48. Agellius, it should not be a very stunning admission at all. Have you not experienced this yourself, commenting as a Catholic on Mormon blogs? Delivery counts, and being correct but offensive is more harmful than perhaps not winning a battle of apologetics.

  49. @15… Bob… Um, the _truth_ is that we love/care about the people that we’re communicating with, and that their understanding the gospel is more important than my witty reparté or zinger — and a lot more important than my calling them to repentance.

  50. #47: I agree and said so in #15.
    Had Mormonism been presented a little ‘nicer’, maybe Joseph Smith would have lived (?). But maybe the Church would have died (?).

  51. Hey, Bob… I don’t see any such language in #15. Could you have meant a different comment number?

  52. #49: That’s just the point: Tell people what you believe, not how fun scrape booking was this week. At no time have I called any one to repentance, nor answered a honest question with a zinger.

  53. #51: On #15 “Speak the Truth, let the consequent follow.”

  54. Bob… we’re talking past each other. When you say “speak the truth, let the consequences follow”, I hear “state your mind irrespective of the audience and their ability to understand”… to which I say: part of speaking the truth is your desire to be understood and to foster understanding. Without that, truth is gibberish.

  55. Steve Evans says:

    What the sam hell is a ‘consequent’?

  56. Hey Steve… speaking of typos, it’s “Sam Hill

  57. :)

  58. #54: You may be correct that we are talking past each other. But the ” The guidelines” never speak about telling the Truth. They are all about happy talk, my kids, “My story”, Mormon-speak, being nice, a quite voice. The Guidelines say hold back on what you believe, it’s more important to be non-threading, by ‘redirecting’ the topic.

  59. Steve Evans says:

    I grok you Silus.

  60. #55: Just tell them Bob again misspelled, and I am sure the will let you in the Pearly Gates.

  61. Eric Russell says:

    Silus, Bob’s #50 is responding to #47, not your #49.

  62. Agellius says:

    #48 Steve: Would it not be equally bad to speak falsehood in a very kind and friendly manner? I guess what’s strange to me is the idea that the manner is *more* important than the substance. At best, they are equally important, though personally I tend to think the substance should outweigh the manner. It seems to me that the very point and purpose of discussing at all, is to communicate truth. If you’re not going to do that, then who cares about the manner in which you do it.

  63. (Thanks, Eric! Makes much more sense.)

  64. #62 Angelius… I can’t speak for Steve, but I think it’s unnatural to separate manner and substance. _How_ we say something is every bit a part of _what_ we say. Saying “I love you” with a crow bar just doesn’t work. Testifying to someone who isn’t in the mind to receive such testimony is useless — or worse. Even full-time missionaries are admonished to seek-out those who have been _prepared_ to hear the word.

  65. Steve Evans says:

    Agellius, I think you’re misreading what the post is saying. Communicating truth (and truth alone) is of course important, and no one has suggested that speaking falsehood is somehow the way to go.

    The entire meaning of the phrase you’re focusing on is to say that when Mormons go out to correct falsehoods and right wrongs on the Internet, the manner in which they carry themselves should be typical of servants of Christ — and that beating people over the head with the truth is not an effective means of bringing souls to know Christ. It’s as simple as that. Nobody is talking about lying or hiding the truth.

  66. Agellius says:

    #64 Silus: I agree that separating the two is probably a bad idea, and pointless. That’s why personally, I would not have issued a guideline stating that one is more important than the other. It might have been better to say that the manner is “as important” as the substance, rather than saying it’s more important.

  67. #66 Agellius: just so’s you know, the guideline in question states “How you comment may be just as important as what you say”.

  68. Agellius says:

    #65 Steve: Hold on, I’m not implying that anyone is spreading falsehood. I’m just giving the contrary of what you said, to play devil’s advocate: You asked, does it work when you speak the truth but are careless about how you say it. And I replied, yeah, but does it work when you’re careful about how you say it, but don’t speak the truth. My point being, that being careless about either one is a bad idea.

    I don’t know why you say I’m misreading the post. It says, “The guidelines point out that what we say is less important than the way we say it.” Maybe the OP is the one being careless. I don’t know, I haven’t read the guidelines themselves. I’m just responding to the quoted statement, whatever its source.

  69. Agellius says:

    #67 Silus: That sounds perfect to me.

  70. Steve Evans says:

    Agellius: fine. We can all agree that it’s important to speak both truthfully and well.

  71. Agellius says:

    “The church suggests that we not represent what we say as official church teachings . . .”

    Why?

  72. Eric Russell says:

    Agellius, that’s now two questions you’ve asked where the bloggernacle itself is the exhibit A answer to your question.

  73. #66:Again, I direct folks to John Adams and David McCullough.
    The reason there is a Washington monument, and a Jefferson Monument, and not an Adams Monument, is because of his matter of speaking. He was thrown out of France, because the smooth talking French thought him rude.
    Openness or Truth is not a “crow bar” over the head.

  74. #71 – because most discussions on the internet aren’t as simple as, “Do you think Jesus is good?” Actually, that’s not a good example, since many of my evangelical friends would complain if I answered, “Yes.” They would accuse me of not worshiping the real Jesus, because that Jesus is far better than good.

    I don’t speak for the Church; I speak for myself only. It’s the exact same as my discussions with my Catholic friends. Their range of opinions on many topics are every bit as wide as those you read here.

  75. #72 – a much better answer than mine

  76. James McMurray says:

    Argellius (#71), I would also speculate that this counsel to 1) focus on delivery over content and 2) not speak as “official” church spokespeople is to help alleviate the immense pressure many church members (including me in many situations, I’m afraid) too often place on themselves when engaging in “missionary” discussions (well-described in comment #7). By deflating this pressure many of us put on ourselves in such situations, I believe a resulting decline in awkwardness could result, which in turn could lead to more productive discussions.

    Also, I speak for myself, and not the Church, BCC, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Boy Scouts or anybody else. Just to clear up any potential confusion…

  77. #76: Your point was well stated. Frankly, I liked it better the ‘guidelines’.

  78. Agellius says:

    #72 Eric: Not a very nice answer, IMHO. It sounds like you’re saying basically, don’t ask me questions, find the answers yourself. But I frequent blogs for human interaction, interplay of ideas, that kind of thing.

    Say, didn’t you get the memo about presenting your comments in a “thoughtful, friendly and respectful” manner? : )

  79. Agellius says:

    #76 James: I appreciate the effort you put into answering my question.

  80. Agellius says:

    #74 Ray: Of course people have a range of opinions. But since official church teaching is not a matter of opinion, I’m not sure how this fact is relevant to my question.

  81. Steve Evans says:

    Agellius, I don’t believe your question to be that of genuine inquiry. It’s such a bleedingly obvious question (as was your initial one); regular members of the LDS Church have no right to speak for the Church entire any more than you would have to speak for the body Catholic. Your participation here has pretty much consisted of pointing out increasingly obvious issues or questions then acting thunderstruck at commonsense replies. I mean, look again at your #71: you can’t really be asking that question, can you?

  82. Agellius says:

    With reference to my question in #71: The point of my question is this: If people are advised not to state that what they are saying is official church teaching, does that not seem to imply that no one can know what official church teaching is? If people can know, then why shouldn’t they say that they know?

    One possible answer is, that you want to make sure people who are representing offical church teaching know what they are talking about. I can understand that when it comes to some of the more subtle points of doctrine, or points that are not quite settled yet. But surely there are some teachings that every Mormon knows are official, and should not be afraid to say so?

  83. Agellius,
    You need to understand that the LDS church doesn’t have anything like a catechism depicting official church doctrine. For all our self-education in the church, doctrine itself remains a moving target. This is all the more the case for us because we believe in an open canon, so the parameters used to limit what is and isn’t doctrine can change overnight. So any individuals take on doctrine is going to be just that: “their take.” There is no official source that answers all potential theological issues.

    Of course, I doubt that there is such (at least, a comprehensive such) in the Catholic church either.

  84. Steve Evans says:

    Agellius, you’re clearly not stupid, but your questions are beneath you.

    Q: If people are advised not to state that what they are saying is official church teaching, does that not seem to imply that no one can know what official church teaching is?

    A: No. It merely implies that unless someone is an official Church spokesman, what they are saying is their own words, and not said on behalf of the Church.

    Q: If people can know, then why shouldn’t they say that they know?

    A: They can, and do; what they cannot do is hold out their answers to questions as if they were the definitive and official reply of the Church itself.

  85. Agellius says:

    #81 Steve: I’m not sure what you mean by an “obvious question.” Do you mean the answer is obvious? If so, I disagree, it’s not at all obvious to me. You can accuse me of disingenuousness all you want, but I truly don’t understand why members of a church should be hesitant to state what its official doctrines are.

    It would be nice if you would assume my sincerity rather than my insincerity. I mean, it was just a question. If the answer is so obvious than it shouldn’t be hard to give it to me.

  86. Agellius says:

    My apologia: I admit it, I do think the LDS religion has some fundamental philosophical flaws. I’m not talking about whether or not Joseph Smith was a true prophet, or whether the BOM is true scripture. I’m talking about flaws in the way Mormons reason about things and explain things. BUT, I have no hatred for Mormons or the LDS church.

    I argue with Mormons not out of hatred or a desire to prove them wrong, but simply because I enjoy trying to unravel flaws in people’s reasoning processes. I do the same thing with political liberals and with Protestants.

    I don’t claim that my own reasoning processes are flawless. It’s just that I never got the chance to get a real, solid philosophical education. I encountered philosophy later in life and have become enamored of it. I enjoy it. But not having the opportunity to study it formally, I try to make progress in it by actually engaging in it, by having contests of ideas with people with whom I disagree.

    That is my main motive for participating in these forums, as well as a lot of others. Just argument for the pure enjoyment of it. I always, always try to remain peaceable and civil. When my opponent shows himself to be incapable of arguing without getting personal or rude, I end the discussion.

    I hope this makes clear that although I may often express disagreement, it is not my intention here to debunk your religion or persuade people to apostatize, and certainly not to insult it or tear it down. I think a careful examination of my posts will bear this out.

    In any case, if you find the purposes I have expressed here to be at odds with the purpose of the forum, and you’d rather I stay away, please just say so and I will respect it.

  87. James McMurray says:

    I think #82/83 are an interesting theory, but don’t really buy that angle totally.

    In addition to the pressure I mentioned earlier, another (similar to my original) reason would be to deflect what I would call the “ligthening rod” effect. For example, my ability to discuss polygamy in terms of my own experience is essentially zero, so that particular hot button issue rests solely with the institutional church and its history. Therefore, the members don’t have to defend it, any criticism can’t really be leveled (personally), and therefore they don’t have to fear the rejection/pressure if it comes up. A handy approach for a culture with a bit of a persecution complex, wouldn’t you say?

    For those that have the knowledge or confidence to address a given topic, I don’t think these guidelines mandate a limit on such discussion…but this counsel is potentially very helpful to eliminating the obstacles many people have.

    I speak for myself, and not the Church, BCC, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Boy Scouts or anybody else.

  88. Agellius, the purposes you express are somewhat at odds with the purpose of this site, but not entirely so. We all have an interest in thinking clearly and deeply. That said, this is a site that seeks to encourage belief in Mormonism, and to the extent your aims run counter to that goal I would think you will have a tough go of things.

  89. Agellius, I have just been watching this exchange, not really thinking about commenting. But since you and I have communicated offline, as well as in this forum, I just wanted to respond to your stated objective in # 86.

    It’s honest, it’s probably enjoyable for you, but has the potential of becoming tiresome after a while. I was a debater in high school and college, and enjoyed doing the same thing in the competitions. And it was cool to be paid (scholarship) to be smart, witty, and able to assume the indignation of being right all the time.

    What I learned from that experience was that I wasn’t learning anything particularly valuable of substance, other than I could just as easily argue for a topic as against it, and just as convincingly either way. I also found out that I wasn’t necessarily as smart and witty as I thought.

    I fear that you aren’t so much learning anything as you are playing mental poker with us, and you think you know all the cards in everyones hand.

    I respect you, but think you’ll eventually grow tired of this game. Engage us on our own level, and we all might learn more. We exhibiting our vulnerabilities here, so you might want to lower the shields, and add something to the discussion, rather than engaging in rhetorical exercise.

  90. Randall says:

    kevinf #89: Thanks.

  91. My husband and I still quote that episode. We often say “Shakka” when something goes wrong and occasionally “Shakka and the walls fell” and “his sails unfurled!”

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