Last Sunday, I had the lesson that spoke about Thomas Marsh and his apostasy. Being an informed reader of BCC, when the subject came up I whipped out my iphone, reviewed John Hamer’s excellent post on Thomas Marsh, and then proceeded to explain to the class that the story told in the manual was in fact incorrect. The moment the words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. I had put the teacher in a bad spot. But, still, I KNEW the manual was dead wrong, and I felt I would be an accomplice in perpetuating slander if I didn’t speak up.
That day’s dilemma has remained on my mind. Now that the Internet and the Bloggernacle have made available a wealth of new, unauthorized, but often very faithful and good materials, I find myself in the new position of both often knowing more about church history than the lesson manuals state and, thanks to the iphone, always having the ability to look “facts” up when I don’t know them. I also find myself in the uncomfortable position of not always knowing how to use this new information, especially in official church contexts.
An abundance of unofficial Mormon sources on the web seems to present both pitfalls and opportunities for the church as an organization. On the one hand, the church’s own embrace of online technology has allowed it to find new ways of presenting its messages and even new audiences. I have non-LDS neighbors who read church magazines online. But at the same time, the presence of many unofficial sources turning up on search engines means that the church also loses some control over its central message as search engines reward those who speak the loudest. Everyday Mormons are increasingly influential in defining what Mormonsim means as they share their lives online, and people become far more able to tell if something in the correlated materials is not quite right. But, these unofficial sources are open to errors of their own (just like the manual!), and since I only read the best sources (like BCC) I’d never be aware if my worldview was wrong.
Since I see it as more or less inevitable that Mormons will get more of their information about the church from unofficial online sites, my hope is that we will be able to pool these resources to create Mormons who can be simultaneously informed and faithful. Ideally, this abundance of information will lead to more rigorously researched official lesson materials for D&C (maybe the lessons can be fact-checked through a wiki just as geneaology is now screened by New Family Search), or, if the Interent presents too many “facts,” at least to an outpouring of inspired, creative thinking. Perhaps, it will help us become more comfortable engaging with our past and to admitting our occasional errors without losing our faith. Maybe, this environment will result in a church less interesting in controlling the contents of its brand or message and more transparency about where the authority of words comes from. Or, maybe we could start giving official ratings to sites, deciding centrally which are “orthodox” and which are “not,” and thus using the Internt to further control the brand. Unlikely, but possible.
These developments might have positive or negative consequences. In the meantime, however, I still have to figure out what I should do in church when I know the lesson manual is wrong. Maybe, I should just email the teacher a link to BCC. Or hand my iphone to the teacher so that he can read the facts to the class on the spot. Seriously, what’s an informed Mormon to do (twitter with the other people in class she sees reading the same information on their iphones)?
Next post: How has my experience of Sunday School changed since I started hearing online about how the lesson I am having next week already went for people who had it the week before…