I recently went to dinner with my mission president and his wife. I was accompanied by one of my old companions, a co-worker who also acts as an editor to many of my posts, and we ended up discussing the church’s new essays regarding controversial topics that can be found on the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org. As we discussed how these essays were valuable, the conversation lead to a feeling that there remains a problem in the general lack of awareness that these essays even exist. This problem is highlighted in a recent story of a Sunday school teacher having a run in with his Bishop over teaching his class from one of the essays. In a recent blog post (click here), a Mormon author discusses the fact that changes in generations and how they interpret religious beliefs and traditions has always been a problem in religious worship and is contributing to the current problems facing the church.
This division is alluded to many times in the scriptures, most notably in this passage:
“Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers. They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ. And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened. And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.” Mosiah 26:1-4
Right now the thing that is magnifying this division is the Internet. For millennium, religious histories, beliefs, and traditions were passed along verbally, ritually, and through sacred texts. Now, there is virtually limitless amounts of information regarding every religious history, belief, tradition, and even person. Social media allows you to talk to any person in the world privately about anything, without even knowing who it is, and then add on top of that pages of comment sections from anonymous people who are free to say whatever they want with a typically negative and malicious tone. Even on sports articles one glance at the comments shows this seemingly huge community of negativity.
This unlimited source of information and conversation brings into play a few things that cause difficulties on both ends of this generational divide. The younger group is more comfortable utilizing the internet, conversing with random people, and maneuvering through the internet to find information, but they are maybe less experienced, more impressionable, and less able to filter and question the sources of the information. The older group is maybe more experienced and cautious about sources, skeptical of others’ intentions, but they also are more likely to be unfamiliar with the information out there because it was harder to find prior to the internet, but also they are not adept at searching and finding information on the internet. These problems are cause for concern for the church and more importantly for parents as they seek to teach their children the truth (parents need to know the truth) and they need to know how to help their children navigate information and sources on the internet (parents need to know the sources and how to navigate).
Being somewhere in the middle of this divide, I can relate to both sides. I grew up without the internet, without a cell phone in my family, and used the Encyclopedia Britannica as my resource material for things I didn’t know about. However, when the internet became a useful tool while I was in college I immediately took to it and find it to be an amazing thing. One of the byproducts was me learning a lot of things about church history and doctrine that I had never known before. It was a difficult time for me to wade through the information and decide how I felt about it. Some people have found themselves disillusioned and losing their faith as they encounter this new information, many others, like myself, came through with a different, but stronger faith. The most frustrating part of those who feel disillusioned, is that many of them either feel the information was hid from them, or that their parents or priesthood leaders just brush them off, or treat them like they are “just looking at evil anti-Mormon stuff.”
However, just as with any conflict, preparation is more than half the battle. Parents and church leaders must be more aware of the issues, and be more prepared for the questions that come from this seemingly new information (keep in mind most information and arguments are not new, but the way it can be presented on the internet can make it seem like a breaking scandal). It is sad that even though the church has published many essays that address these points, very few people have even heard of them let alone spend time studying them so they can help prepare their children or people in their stewardship.
The purpose of this post is to provide two sections of help for parents and leaders in becoming more prepared and more familiar with the social structure of Online Mormonism, the location of valuable links, blogs, information, and also tips on how to not only become more familiar but how to talk directly with help your children, friends, and associates. The two sections are broken out as:
- Glossary of Online Participants, Terms, Sites, Argument Tactics,and Common Questions (and places for answers)
- Helpful Tips for Navigating Online Mormonism for Yourself and Others
Participants, and Common Terms in the world of Online Mormonism:
- One of the most common themes online, in any setting, is stereotyping. TBM means True Believing Mormon, or True Blue Mormon. It is a slightly derogatory label that basically means someone, or a pretend someone, who just blindly believes all Mormon traditions without their own thoughts. It is generally applied to anyone who supports the leaders of the church on controversial matters, but it can also be meant to define the general faithful membership of the church.
- EXMO, NOM (New Order Mormon), or Exmormon
- This is the name given to those who have left the church, either through removing name from records, excommunication, or just active withdrawal from the community. New Order Mormons remain Mormon in some fashion (Socially, in name, or activities) but generally reject the truth claims of the church. Some of them have the intention of hurting the church, others have the intention of helping people transition out of Mormonism for those who want to leave but don’t have any support group, and there are still others who really don’t care about either of those things, do not believe, but are still interested in the happenings of the church.
- Liberal vs. Conservative
- Just like in politics the terms liberal and conservative get used too much. Liberal is typically a label given to people who think non-traditionally about certain issues and desire change, and conservative are those labeled because they want to fight to the end for the old ways to remain.
- An abbreviation for Mormon Feminist. Feminists are not only women, and for more information you can learn about feminism on Wikipedia, but most Mofems desire for women to have a greater and equal role in the church and in setting its policies. Not all Mofems desire for women to have the priesthood, but they are understanding of that opinion. I find this group of people misunderstood by mainstream Mormons and think they have a lot of valid points. I am not into negativity and some of them can be negative, but I do believe that women deserve a greater role in the church and there is too much chauvinism built into the power structure that gets taken advantage of.
- Some of the best blogs, and online publications are put out by people labeled as intellectuals. Sometimes being labeled an intellectual can denote being more secular than spiritual, but even BYU Studies publishes these scholarly essays that are intellectual in nature. Many scholars are comfortable with questions and writing about things that challenge traditional beliefs, but many of them have very strong faith and their writings are valuable.
- Comment sections are interesting. Most people can post comments anonymously and so you have some serious issues with them. They are, by in large, negative and cynical. The commentators typically argue the post, or essay. They may claim to be Stake Presidents, Bishops, anything that gives weight to their opinion, they will use all kinds of sarcasm and negativity to demean positive things. It is not only true of Mormon topics, but all topics on the internet in general.
- When it comes to faithful blog posts, or essays, antagonistic groups are well organized. When I published my post “Why do some people leave the church?” It went viral after a few days and once it started to receive a lot of attention it made its way to the exmormon circles. My site immediately was bombarded with commentators wishing to argue, post critical material, and mostly try to combat my article. I had never really had to deal with comments before and my settings made me have to approve them. I didn’t have time for that so I just disabled comments altogether. Then I started getting emails from the most vociferous people and they were attacking me like I was the worst person in the world. Since I could track where my site visits originated from I clicked on one of the sources, and on one of the exmormon discussion sites my essay was posted and people were encouraged to go and bombard my comments with the negativity. It was an eye opener to me of the active conflict that is happening online regarding Mormonism.
Types of Websites and Chat Rooms:
- Church Resources
- https://www.lds.org/topics?lang=eng – The topics are sorted alphabetically, but there are some tremendous essays addressing most of the difficult questions that face the church. I link to some more specifics later.
- https://history.lds.org/?lang=eng – This even lesser known website delves deeper into church history and has many personal stories and journals from the early members of the church. It is awesome.
- josephsmithpapers.org – This is the place where all the source materials are found for early LDS history. Only here can you actually read the sources and the information. Everything else is someone’s explanation for the information.
- http://ldsblogs.org/about.php – The Bloggernacle is a nickname for all the LDS blogs out there that are mainly faithful. It has a wide range of information and opinions, but it is a good way to introduce yourself to the faithful Mormon online universe. The biggest of the blogs see 20,000 visits per day or more, and most of the permanent bloggers know each other and often link to each other’s blogs. There is a lot of useful information on these blogs such as talk and lesson ideas, discussions about Mormon topics, etc. Most blogs have a different way of seeing things than traditional Mormonism since church often isn’t where like minded people of this perspective can visit and so they retreat to the online community.
- Dialogue, Sunstone, Mormon History Association, Exponent II – These groups are all independent groups, formally only magazines, they now have articles and information about Mormonism online. Authors do not have to be Mormon or believers, but most of the authors are and their content is now online.
- Individual Blogs
- There are thousands of individual blogs out there, I make a habit when reading a blog to read the about section and find out as much about the authors as I can so I know the intention of the posts.
- Apologetic Websites
- http://www.fairmormon.org/ – Independently ran website where there are podcasts, articles, and a wiki for all the Mormon questions and criticisms out there. The stuff on here isn’t officially supported by the church, but the entire point of the site is to defend the church from critics. Apologetics means to defend, not to apologize for so it can be a confusing name.
- http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/ – Independently ran website by scholars, with peer reviewed articles and is valuable for scholarship and well researched out topics.
- http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/ – Formally FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), it is a part of BYU and is peer reviewed scholarship that is dedicated to studying Mormonism.
- Disguised Ex-Mormon Websites
- A few years back the popular trend began of naming websites something that would be commonly searched and to present themselves as Mormon believers wanting to discuss the issues. However, many of the sites’ main purpose was to attack the church, and overwhelm the visitors of the site after acting as believers. Most are run by Exmormons, or NOM’s. Their goal is to get people to leave the church, and so it is important to be aware of the purpose behind the websites out there. Fairmormon has some lists of sites to avoid. Some of the sites are podcasts that claim to be honest, but are heavily slanted against the church although they do interview active members and antagonists alike.
- Currently the common method of attack from the most ardent critics is to pass around documents called “Exit Narratives”, these documents or links are placed in the comment sections of all blogs in order to get the readers to read the narrative. The stories incorporate many debating tactics with no rebuttals and are persuasive to people because they include many different arguments in one section and to find rebuttals would take a lot of time and so people only read the critical narrative.
- Reddit/Other Discussion Boards
- All people should be aware that the chat rooms of the past have become discussion boards, or Reddit. With both you can find conversations happening from all kinds of people about all kinds of topics. Anything regarding Mormonism will attract defenders and critics and is a continuation of arguments that have been going on for centuries but with anonymity and arguments that do not have to be proved or sources provided. It also becomes a place for people to find communities to which they feel their questions are welcome and this is a key part of keeping the discussions welcome in the community of the saints.
Common Argument Tactics:
- Gish Gallop
- The debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that their opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time. More often than not, these myriad arguments are full of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments — the only condition is that there be many of them, not that they be particularly compelling on their own. They may be escape hatches or “gotcha” arguments that are specifically designed to be brief, but take a long time to unravel.
- This is the most common style right now, and most of the arguments are made in documents, or posts called “Exit Narratives”.
- One Way Hash Style
- The talking point on one side is just complex enough that it’s both intelligible — even somewhat intuitive — to the layman and sounds as though it might qualify as some kind of insight. …The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. So the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely. I can often make a convincing case for absolute horseshit. A specialist would surely see through it, but in an argument between us, the lay observer wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell which of us really had the better case on the basis of the arguments alone — at least not without putting in the time to become something of a specialist himself.
- It is also very common to have this argument style in comment sections or blog posts, but also in the “Exit Narratives”.
- Argument Ad Nauseam
- This tactic bolsters the apparent credibility of the argument simply by repeating the same thing over and over and over and over again.
- Logical Fallacies
- Debate and Argument are skills that have many facets. The length to which the debate of Religion, and in this case Mormonism will go, is unending and therefore people who engage can be overwhelmed. A list of logical fallacies can be helpful in engaging, but mostly it is important to realize a debate is going on constantly within the world of Online Mormonism.
Useful Sources for Common Questions:
- Race and the Priesthood
- Women in the Church
- Homosexuality and Gay Marriage
- http://mormonsandgays.org/ (Official Church Site)
- Early Church History Essays
- Tithing Usage
- Mormon Scholars
DO NOT DELAY
Just like anything you want to help your children or loved ones navigate, the best policy is being proactive. If you wait, hoping that your children will not bring you questions, or just assume that they will figure it out, then you are making a mistake. Secularism and religious apathy are growing and so learning and teaching each other will build and strengthen faith in the face of opposition.
Honesty is the Best Policy
One of my biggest problems, and many others, is the perception that leaders of the church have not been honest about certain aspects of church history. I have come to realize that I do not agree that they were dishonest, but they were advancing their mission and calling by growing the church, and building faith. However, now that the information is easy to access, it is imperative that we are honest about the flaws of past church leaders, mistakes that have happened, and quit making up crazy dogma to explain something we don’t understand. Just as it is important not to believe everything that is said by someone antagonistic toward the church, it is equally important not to just believe anything said by a supporter of the church. There are good answers to questions, but honesty is a must. If you do not know the answer say you do not know.
There are good Answers…Most of the time.
It is not uncommon for people to throw the baby out with the bath water when they have things they disagree with the church about. This is partly due to the outward expressions of the “only true church” that are common and this leads us to assume everything is perfect about it. Finding spiritual knowledge and truth requires faith and prayer, it also requires step by step answers. I have found answers to most of my questions, and I am confident that as I live the gospel I will find answers to the things I don’t agree with or know now.
“Young people sometimes doubt the truth of the gospel or some part of it, and feeling the worthy desire to be sincere, they cease to be active in the church. The answer to them is to be sincere always. One must never violate one’s integrity, whatever it may cost. But must one believe all or nothing? Must one cut off church participation — the great source of righteousness in one’s life and in the community, because there is some doctrine doubted or disbelieved? Rather, is it not wisdom to begin, not with doubts and faults, but with the simple truths and virtues one can believe, then move on from there to others? Surely no one would claim to know all the gospel. Great truths are always just around the corner for those who seek. Jesus told us to knock, seek and ask, not just once, but continuously. One step at a time applies to progress in the gospel as it does to education or any worthwhile achievement. One is not a hypocrite if he has honest questions and is active in the church at the same time.”
Actually Live the Gospel not only Argue it.
The temptation that comes from finding new information and needing answers is to become one dimensional in regards to the gospel. Looking for answers, only talking about the things we don’t agree with, commiserating with others who feel the same. The real key to happiness and finding answers is to live the gospel. This link to a blog post is awesome and has some amazing thoughts on how to help the youth in this secular age.
Bishops, Stake Presidents, and even General Authorities aren’t always the best resources
Many people assume that because of priesthood leadership, keys, and mantle that these people are somehow blessed with answers to every question. The bottom line is that most of these men may not even be aware of the information, because many of them are part of the generation not spending all of their time on the internet. The ones that do may, like many unfamiliar with new topics, just brush the issues aside, or believe they are just anti-Mormon propaganda. For this reason I hope the church will increase training on this topic, and also we as parents and leaders must take it upon ourselves to be reliable sources for people who need our help. In 30 years this will be less of an issue, but right now it is.
Just like “the apocrypha”, blogs, inspired talks, and memes are great sources of spiritual information, but they must be studied and thought through and prayed about as we assimilate information that increases our faith and brings love into our lives. The simple litmus test I use initially, but is not the only thing I use, is to ask myself it this makes me want to be like Christ, or helps me be more like Him. It is helpful to understand how others interpret the gospel because we are all so different. I have found many inspiring things that have increased my faith, but there are many things that do not and only with the spirit can you determine which is which for yourself.
Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true…Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited.” D&C 91:1-6
Give equal portions to the Lord.
This is probably the most important tip for you and for those you know. Secular knowledge is important and necessary but communing with the Lord is more important. If you want to search the internet or research secular and historical things for 2 hours, then study the scriptures, pray, and meditate for 2 hours. If you want to discuss and argue with others about the gospel, then live and serve within the gospel construct seeking love and happiness with others as well. At least give equal portions to the Lord, but I would recommend giving a higher portion to the Lord.
Think for Yourself
It is most important to realize that we can all have our own thoughts and beliefs regarding the gospel. Prophets and Apostles represent the guideposts and “Watchmen on the Tower”. Their teachings and beliefs are reliable and safe, but they do not represent the full and only truth. We all have biases and opinions. Mormon’s believe in continuing revelation, and personal revelation. You should think for yourself taking the leaders teachings seriously, and find your own revelations. It is also important to note that if you do have beliefs that differ from the leaders you don’t have to impose those upon the whole church, there is wisdom in how the Lord leads the church.
“Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow.“ President George Albert Smith
Consider the Source Thoughtfully
This link to a blog post give 10 tips to considering sources, but without question it is of the utmost importance to consider the sources and intentions of the author when researching. It is common for people to make themselves sound more of an authority than they may be, but ultimately understanding the source is imperative in a search for truth and faith.
This post was something I have been thinking about for a while, and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I believe strongly that this current generational shift will culminate in better things for the church and the message of Jesus Christ in the world, but there are specific things we must do to be more prepared for that shift. Parents, Leaders, and Individuals must prepare themselves to teach those whom we love, and also understand those who’s faith has dwindled. Love is the ultimate goal of the gospel, and I believe that the message of the gospel is needed all through the world, and that Jesus Christ can change people, as he has me. However, part of getting that message to the world is understanding our past and present, so we can learn from it and help people see through the mist of confusion and find the love of God. Life was meant to have opposition, but there is so much joy in the gospel and helping others feel that love.
Related Links or Source Links: