Once again, Elder Ballard drives home the message that using the new media to share the gospel is not only acceptable but encouraged of the members of the church. I am particularly interested in the new media because of my involvement in the Internet. Web development and social networking is such a major part of my everyday work.
I first created a Web site in early 1995, just after the White House went online (Oct 94) and a year or two before the church created an official web site. My interests in using the Internet and the web have not changed much since that first web site done in raw HTML 1.0. It was plain text with a few links – it did not even have photos.
And what did I post on my first Web site? Why links to other early church news junkies like myself of course. We were part of the first LDS email lists and discussed many topics of interest to fledgling web developers. In addition to discussing how to make our Web sites more attractive and functional we discussed LDS news.
Like my first site of LDS-related links, many if not most of those early Web sites and long since disappeared (Whatever happened to John Redelfs, the Iron Rodder of Alaska? Update: John is actively blogging again after a six-month respite). I still occasionally find a post or an updated page from some of the early contributors to the discussion. We had doubters, lurkers, iron-rodders and flamers even then – no different from most discussions today.
Yesterday, at the BYU Hawaii graduation, Elder Ballard encouraged members of the church, especially these new graduates of a church-sponsored educational institution to use the new media to share the gospel. Elder Ballard asked the students to “join the conversation by participating on the Internet, particularly the New Media, to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration.”
Said he, “How different your world is today. If you read newspapers, the chances are you read them on the Internet. Yours is the world of cyberspace, cell phones that capture video, video downloads and iTunes, social networks like Facebook, text messaging and blogs, hand-helds and podcasts. As many in my generation are just getting onto email, that’s already becoming old hat to most of you.”
Elder Ballard taught that the new media fosters conversations about the church like never before. “That word conversation is important. There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches.”
In other words, we need to get involved – to post replies to misleading statements and questions on the thousands of news sites out there that are now open to our input. Our voice and position as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can and should be heard. Elder Ballard said we should consider sharing our views on blogs, responding to online news reports, and using new media in other ways.
“Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. You can download videos from Church and other appropriate sites, including Newsroom at LDS.org, and send them to your friends. You can write to media sites on the Internet that report on the Church, and voice your views as to the accuracy of the reports.”
“Recently, a columnist, writing in a major U.S. newspaper, was irresponsibly inaccurate in his description of the Church and our beliefs and practices. Dozens, perhaps even hundreds of Church members and others who understand our beliefs commented on the newspaper’s website correcting the misconceptions he was spreading and calling for accuracy.” We can make a difference in this world of the new media.
“Far too many people have a poor understanding of the Church because most of the information they hear about us is from news media reports that are often driven by controversies. Too much attention to controversy has a negative impact on peoples’ perceptions of what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is.” Our voices can be the positive ones that need to be offered in contrast to the shrill and inaccurate voices of those who do not understand us.
There are now hundreds, no thousands of Web site and blogs run by members of the church, most of them positive. But I am concerned that some of my fellow members of the church who use blogs to air their grievances about some doctrine or practice they do not understand or agree with are not thinking long-term. Long after they have resolved their own doubts or concerns, their electronic diatribes remain forever available to be read by anyone.
Update: I love this comment from Ben Crowder who makes it very clear: “If you didn’t catch it, that’s an official endorsement of blogging (and Facebook et al.) by an apostle. :) Granted, he’s specifically talking about missionary work, but I don’t think that means every post you write has to be straight from Preach My Gospel. If we’re true to who we are, the gospel will shine through us even when we’re talking about non-Church topics. There are many, many ways to share the gospel.”
What do you think? Is it OK to say whatever you want about your views of the church and the doctrine because that is part of freedom of speech, or do we need to be more careful with what we write and leave for posterity on this new media?