Without question, the internet provides an interesting challenge for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Google “Mormon,” “Joseph Smith,” or “Mormon temple,” and it will not take long to find information hostile to the church.
The internet offers a richer tapestry of Mormon history and theology than has previously been available to most Mormons. I have no exact data, but I think it is safe to say that more than a few Latter-day Saints have found their online forays damaging to their faith (the same is true for other Christians probably, who google “Mark” and come back with the “Messianic Secret”). Anti-Mormon sites abound, and with only a few clicks, faithful Mormons can find their faith challenged in ways that were previously not so readily threatening. Non-Mormons are also offered easy views of Mormonism which are unflattering to say the least. Two scenarios:
1. A Sunday School teacher is preparing a lesson. Perhaps she is teaching D&C 25 and wishes to know more about Emma Smith. After a quick online search she is left reeling by information on polygamy about which she was previously unaware.
2. A man drives past a Mormon temple. Impressed by the beauty of the building he wants to know more. Google provides him with a stark and deliberately unflattering visual portrait of Mormon temple worship.
Given these scenarios — and I suspect that they play-out quite often — what is the church to do? It seems there are two prudent courses of action. First is to build up the church’s official online presence. The more official information there is the better, especially if it is of a high quality. The church seems to be doing this with great gusto recently. This is a good thing.
The second is to have a relatively laissez-faire attitude towards the Mormon internet. A few official sites in the sea of cyberspace are not enough to direct traffic away from the church’s enemies. Organisations like FAIR and FARMS offer answers to tough questions that the institutional church would sensibly rather not engage. Church-friendly websites and blogs that discuss Mormon issues further offer balance in cyberspace. Linked together, the totality of the Mormon internet helps offer a positive voice. Confronted by challenging information, many Mormons are looking for candid answers and a place to discuss their concerns frankly. By and large, the Mormon internet offers this. This is not to say that there aren’t Mormons who are hostile to the church online — there are — but I believe that they are in a minority.
It would be prudent for all of us to take a light hand in any desire to control internet discussion. At times it should be done, but we ought to be wise. It is my sense that most church members would, if confronted by the vast anti-Mormon presence online, realise the sense in such a policy. Again, there can be little patience for overt apostasy (admittedly difficult to define and also to police, given the pseudonymous nature of much of the web), but there is a danger that some Latter-day Saints, unaccustomed to the new reality of the internet, might mistake honest discussion for hostility. If all independent Mormon voices on the internet were to cease, the few official church sites could scarcely compete with the deafening roar of the anti-Mormon collective and the problem would get worse. If a friendly Mormon sites stop discussing seer stones, for example, and if the official site is silent on the topic, you cede the entire discussion to anti-Mormons.
Here at BCC, one of the more popular Mormon blogs, anti-Mormon hostility is unacceptable. We are active Latter-day Saints who care deeply about our religion and wish to promote faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, you may occasionally hear some honest doubts about this or that, a modicum of unorthodoxy, a few moody gripes, and a great deal of goofing around, but I hope that the totality of our writing will demonstrate our basic commitment to Jesus Christ and the church.
Here’s the bottom line: I am acutely aware that a discussion at BCC of, say, Mormon polygamy, would be challenging to some who are not aware of all of its intriguing complications, but let’s be clear: it is better to have that discussion here (or any of the other Mormon-friendly sites) than to let doubts fester alone, or to seek knowledge in the myriad of sites who take great glee in painting Mormonism in dark hues. Be cautious online, but do not mistake honest discussion for apostasy. The very real presence of bona-fide apostates and crude anti-Mormons will not forgive such a mistake. Something has to fill a vacuum and the church cannot fill it all.
Should we simply be reading our scriptures? Should we only seek further knowledge in the careful footnotes of academia? Mayhap. But let’s be honest, we don’t. So, be happy with the Mormon internet, make it better, and remember: Google needs your links.