Every once in a while, I stumble on a web site or blog that has information on Mormonism presented in a unique way, or which contains information not commonly found elsewhere. For those looking for just such a site, I recommend clicking right here. It's a site by a former LDS missionary who has recently become disillusioned with the faith (sound familiar?). His latest post is on the racist doctrines of the LDS church (which have never been repudiated; only swept under the rug). Since tomorrow is Juneteenth, and this month is the 30th anniversary of the "policy change" declaration through which God decided He was no longer racist, it seems an appropriate time to send readers of Equality Time over there.
Not long ago, I featured the blog Images of the Restoration as a "Site of the Week." Well, it appears this wonderful blog with accurate depictions of events from Mormon history is getting some attention in the mainstream religion press. Yesterday, a story appeared at Beliefnet.com about the controversy this little blog has stirred up in Mormon circles. In an article titled Artists Present an Uncensored View of Mormon History, religion writer Menachem Wecker describes the harshly negative reaction of church representatives and leaders to an accurate depiction of Mormon history. Church public relations employee Kim Farah had "zero interest" in commenting on an "anti-Mormon" blog. An LDS Bishop said the artists were "anti-Mormon activists parading as historians" and compared viewing their works of art with asking Hitler his opinion about the Jews.
I find these comments from official representatives and leaders of the LDS church fascinating. What they are saying is that depicting events from Mormon history (taken from official primary church documents) accurately is an "anti-Mormon" enterprise. In short, they are admitting that truth is antithetical to Mormonism. It's a stunning admission, really. Also interesting from the article is the fact that neither the church representatives nor any of the Mormon apologists were able to point out any inaccuracies in the portrayals found on the site. Some criticize the quality of the depictions, but none could contest that the events depicted did not happen. So, what's the problem? If, as some of my Mormon friends assert, the LDS church is not opposed to accurate depictions of its history, why the harsh criticisms and vitriol thrown at this site? It's a curious thing, really.
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.
I've just finished listening to my friend John Dehlin's latest podcasts with Paul Toscano, one of the illustrious (or notorious, depending on one's perspective) September Six, having been excommunicated in September 1993 for having ideas that Boyd K. Packer disagreed with. I have listened to nearly all of John's podcasts at both Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters, and I think this is his best interview yet. Toscano had my laugh tears flowing in episodes 4 and 5. I found myself cheering when he said (I paraphrase) that he would put his body count of destroyed testimonies against Boyd Packer's any day. I found myself once again distressed and distraught at the treatment he and his family received at the hands of church authorities at every level. His only "sin" was thinking, believing, and speaking ideas not understood or believed by those in positions of authority in the LDS Church. Many people have commented that the LDS Church used to be more fun and exciting than today's staid, correlated cookie-cutter church. Part of the reason is that the church has given the boot to folks like the Toscanos. While I don't think I ever shared either Paul's or Margaret's understanding of Mormon theology, I would have loved to have had people like them in my ward--people who are passionate about studying the scriptures and exploring the ramifications of the doctrines Joseph Smith taught. I am not really sure what Boyd Packer feared from the Toscanos. I think the church would be enriched by having a diversity of thought and opinion freely expressed. I like Paul Toscano's vision of the church as a family, where the ordinances are what make the church unique, and people are free to explore, discuss, and disagree--even with the apostles--on matters of faith and doctrine.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I did and will comment freely. Mormon Stories regulates comments from non-believers, disaffected members, and former Mormons. Equality Time is the place to comment if you want to say anything that would not be appropriate for Sunday School.