On December 15, 2007, Elder Russell M. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS church gave an address to graduates of BYU-Hawaii. He spoke about the changes in media he has witnessed in his 80 years. In his address, he shows that he is up to speed on the new media--his grandkids gave him an iPod, he uses email, he is aware of Facebook, blogs, and podcasts. This in itself is refreshing. Some in the Bloggernacle have on occasion wondered whether church leaders are wary of blogs and discussion boards dealing with Mormonism, and whether the church might try to "crack down" on members' online expressions. Elder Ballard's talk appears to alleviate some of those fears (though it is not clear that all the Brethren share his views; nonetheless, it is gratifying to see a member of the Twelve embrace the new media). Here is an excerpt:
Today we have a modern equivalent of the printing press in the Internet and all that it means. The Internet allows everyone to be a publisher, to have their voice heard, and it is revolutionizing society. Before the Internet, there were great barriers to printing. It took money, power, or influence and a great amount of time to publish. But today, because of the emergence of what some call New Media, made possible by the Internet, many of those barriers have been removed. New Media consists of tools on the Internet that make it possible for nearly anyone to publish or broadcast to either a large or a niche audience. I have mentioned some of these tools already, and I know you are familiar with them. The emergence of New Media is facilitating a world-wide conversation on almost every subject including religion, and nearly everyone can participate. This modern equivalent of the printing press is not reserved only for the elite.
Of course, he has to put in the obligatory "Satan wants to take this great thing and wreak havoc with it" meme, but then he goes on:
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. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.
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. . . . You, too, can tell your story to nonmembers in this way. Use stories and words that they will understand. Talk honestly and sincerely about the impact the gospel has had in your life . . . . The audiences for these and other New Media tools may often be small, but the cumulative effect of thousands of such stories can be great. . . . You could help overcome misperceptions through your own sphere of influence, which ought to include the Internet.
I am gratified to know that what I am doing here as a Latter-day Saint with my little blog has the blessing of an apostle. I agree with Elder Ballard that there are many misperceptions about the LDS church. I hope that my blog helps correct some of those misperceptions. Whether people have misperceptions because of something they have read in an evangelical tract, a mainstream newspaper, or they have misperceptions because they received erroneous information from the missionaries, the gospel doctrine teacher, or the church PR department*, it is the same. And if I can help people gain a balanced, correct understanding of the church, well, I consider myself blessed.
*My next post will be devoted to correcting some of the misperceptions people may have formed as a result of relying upon the LDS church PR department's answers to questions posed by Fox News journalists. I hope Elder Ballard appreciates the effort I am putting forth in setting the record straight.