Missionary Work and Blogs

Over on LDS Phil there have been several interesting threads the last day or two. The first was regards to the church’s actions towards “heretics” who publish in Signature. That’s been discussed in many blogs and it’s probably pointless to bring it up here. The other discussion though dealt with the decrease in the growth of the church the past few years. It got tied to the internet.

Allow me to steal some statistics that were brought up there. These are from the number of units (branches and wards) which provides a fair guess at actual growth as opposed to mere baptisms. (Many of whom don’t stay active)

Year  Units  % Growth
1995  22,673
1996  23,516  3.72
1997  24,669  5.03
1998  25,553  3.46
1999  25,793  0.94
2000  25,915  0.47
2001  26,084  0.65
2002  26,143  0.23
2003  26,237  0.36
2004  26,670  1.65

Now there are many other ways to calculate the statistics. By some recent government statistics based upon how people self-identify, our church has had fairly flat growth the last decade. Probably the best source for a discussion of all this is at Cumorah.com. My point isn’t to claim to know all the reasons for the slowdown. Nor is it to discuss the all the reasons I think might apply. Rather I want to focus on one that is very relevant here. The role of the internet in church growth.

If you look at those statistics you’ll notice that the growth decrease largely correlates with the use of the internet by the public. Do a few google searches on the church. I dare say that most of the time the majority of sites that come up are anti-Mormon ones. Imagine an investigator who, curious about what the missionaries are teaching, does a google search. It is undoubtedly far worse than the anti-Mormon fare we had to worry about on my mission.

Some have suggested that the church needs to do more. To have more of an internet presence. Personally I think that thus far the church is doing an outstanding job utilizing the internet. I’m not sure apologetics are best done by the church though. Yet, I suspect actually engaging problem areas rather than obscuring them would benefit the chruch. Especially in Sunday School and Priesthood lessons. But that’s certainly not my call but the prophet’s. And I’d certainly trust his insight on those matters more than my own. However just like missionary work is best done by members, I think this aspect of missionary work is best done by members. Every member a missionary has been a cry since the days of Pres. Kimball. Yet while there are sites out there we could do better.

Contrast the experience of searching Mormon topics to searching general Christian topics. Now Christianity in general has the same basic issues as Mormonism. I think the weaknesses that anti-Mormons attack can be found in equal measure in most religions. The anti-Mormon plays a Quinn’s Mormonism and the Magic World View and you’d think you’d find a Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician mentioned, making similar claims about Christianity in general. But you don’t. Do a google search. How many critics of Christianity do you find versus how many Christian apologist sites? Outside of evolution and a few related issues, you aren’t likely to find antagonistic sites.

So what can we do? I think we can improve. I think we can do more. I’m calling myself to repentance on this one. I get around 200 – 300 google searches a day coming to my site. I really ought look through those and put up better responses. I also think that the two Wiki projects and a forthcoming LDS theological Wiki could use help. Consider first the LDS Scripture Wiki which attempts to provide commentary to all the LDS scriptures. Maybe for your daily scripture study you can help enter things in there. That way when investigators or even members have questions about passages of scripture you’ll have helped them. Then there is the new Mormon Stories wiki which Jonathan Stapley brought to my attention. It appears to be attempting to grapple with controversial issues in a faithful fashion. If people read those then the anti-Mormon views might not have the same impact. Also there will hopefully be a forthcoming LDS theology wiki that will try and deal with more theological issues.

43 thoughts on “Missionary Work and Blogs

  1. Clark, what are your thoughts on what obligation if any, that we as members have on our personal blogs and webpages?

    I’d rather a non-member come across Jeff Lindsay’s website and blog before they came across several others. Should everything we do be promoting the three-fold mission of the church? It’s one thing for a non-member to run into anti sites. It’s another to find sites by members criticizing the doctrine and the history.

    On one hand I believe some discourse is good though would it be better if it was password restricted to keep the discussion among members and not risking misleading someone. On the other I wonder think about this:

    “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” (exact wording conveniently found at an anti site with a quick search)

    There are numerous posts and comments by members that are in opposition and contrary to the official teachings. Are members in violation for participating in those discussions in general and in particular when they could lead other members astray or discourage people from joining?

  2. I certainly am not saying we should engage problems within the church. But I do think that when we engage controversial issues, we should be aware of who might be looking over our shoulder. I actually think that it is the lack of engagement with difficult issues that in part is causing some of the problems. I think the church (meaning the people) has tended to repress problems and marginalize those dealing with the issues. I never thought that was a good idea, but as a strategy it probably worked right up to the point AOL connected to the internet and the “masses” got connected.

    I do think we ought be critical of those who engage in such issues in a way that is detrimental to the three-fold mission of the church. (i.e. who are antagonistic in certain ways to the church) Yet I think the issues need engaged in a forthright and honest fashion. We all are human and have flaws and thus there are many failings in church history. Rather than pretend they aren’t there we ought deal with them.

    Regarding supporting, affiliating or agreeing with those opposing the church. I think that means study groups and sympathizing with them. I think engaging them in argument isn’t really an issue. Many of those at FARMS and FAIR do this. I think the tone and faithfulness really is key here. Those who run into problems are almost always critical of the brethren. I think one can engage problems without doing what say the Toscanos or Quinn did. (Since those are figures more in the “blurry area” dealing with these issues.

    Regarding the changes in 2004. I’m not sure of all of what happened. I heard, although I can’t confirm, that smaller wards is part of the reason. However also notice that the church started modifying the missionary program about two years ago. I’d hope that has something to do with it. But frankly I don’t know and I think a few more years statistics are necessary to see if we’re seeing an end to the short trend of shallow growth. Even if we have, I doubt we’ll see the 2.5 – 4% growth that we saw most of the 20th century.

  3. It seems that you are taking the idea that the internet is responsible for the downturn as a given. I won’t go off topic by debating that issue, but it might be that there has been a change in policy towards retention and stability rather than growth at all costs.

    I would disagree that the church has done an outstanding job utilizing the internet. I would say that recently they’ve been great. It took them a while to catch on though and there has been no small complaining about the costs involved. I think they now have much more internet savvy than they used to, but I could go off on the church and technology, having done two projects with them. Good thing the church is a church and not a business… But enough about that!

    While I would love to see the church itself tackle the difficult questions surrounding the LDS faith on the internet or in P/RS I don’t think it is ever going to happen. There are plently of apologetic sites out there. However I think that the blogs probably do a good job of providing public discussions the sort of issues that investigators might have questions about. Even more importantly the blogs show that there are active members of the church that are aware of these things and willing to discuss them, and that you can have faith without having all the answers. Who knows how many investigators are lurking on the blogs, using them to supplement the info they get from the missionaries? I anticipate that it won’t be too long before there are people that even convert through blogging, though not very many.

    The real problem though is the difficulty of confronting these issues early in the conversion process. Asking an investigator to run before they walk by confronting all the issues they find out about on the internet or elsewhere is difficult. Of course as usual, after all the intellectual debates, it has to come down to a spiritual confirmation that Joseph Smith restored the Church that Jesus Christ placed on the earth.

  4. btw, thanks for the link to the scripture wiki. This is a great idea. It is like having everyone’s marked up scriptures at once.

  5. I think Adeline does a nice job illustrating one of the problems with the LDS online presence: official or affiliated LDS sites generally give “correlated” information, not accurate and detailed information. To get something as simple and straightforward as the exact wording to a temple recommend question, Adleine had to go to an “anti” website. To get the online text of the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, you have to go to an “anti” site. And so forth. The Church could easily correct this problem.

    As for suggesting LDS blogs are some kind of dark and sinister force, that only makes sense if one has never visited a pseudo-LDS message board or any of the hundreds of Christian apologetic sites that present slanted LDS information. LDS blogs are about the best thing the Church has going for it online in terms of material that is accessible and appealing to inquiring websurfers. Let’s face it — the apologetic stuff at FARMS and FAIR is really targeted at those who are already LDS, not at seekers.

  6. John, it’s not just the focus on retention. But a focus on retention should still increase the number of wards over what was done before. What this shows is that the combination of retention and baptisms are dropping.

    I should note that I don’t think the internet is the only thing going on. However I honestly do believe it a significant factor. Read that Cumorah.com article for more thoughts. It’s an excellent analysis.

    Dave, actually I think FAIR intends to target both investigators and members. But perhaps they could do a better job.

  7. Let’s see: more access to information correlates to a decrease in the growth rate of the church.

    Milk before meat won’t cut it anymore. The church can’t run from its past or its controversial doctrines and practices because of this information access. Better to take a full disclosure approach or we’ve seen the peak of LDS membership in our lifetimes…

  8. I disagree with the assumption that a change in the number of units is in direct proportion to the change in the number of active members.

    Someone alredy mentioned smaller or bigger wards.

    As an amateur statistician and numbers man, there are other possible explanations, some of which correspond to stated policy changes in the church in regards to what missions are to focus on.

    1. Periods of high growth in the number of units could mean period of smaller wards being created, and the oppposite, low growth due to wards and branches getting bigger, but not splitting. If a change in emphasis from small units to large units occurred at the same time as the reduction in the rate of growth of number of units, that could explain a large part.

    2. During times when missions expanded into new areas, mission districts and lots of small branches would be created, showing a high rate of growth in units, but with a disproportionately smaller rate of growth in active members. Then when the emphasis was shifted to strengthening existing branches in the mission districts (instead of opening new areas), you would expect to see:
    a. Branches growing in size from 10 active members to 100 and still be a branch.
    b. Branches growing into wards, but not increasing the number of units.
    c. Districts growing into stakes, gaining a stake, but losing a district, and the total number wouldn’t show an increase.

    And, wasn’t it in 1998 when the Brethren had the missions change focus a bit from rapid convert baptisms and opening new areas to strengthening existing units? And if so, wouldn’t 1999 be when those changes showed up? And if so, that would lend credence to my above postulates.

    I remember an article on Cumorah.com from which I’m taking these points.

  9. I don’t know if I can explain the declining growth trend better than others, but to link it to greater internet use seems plausible only in those countries where frequent internet use has become the norm. Don’t a lot of our convert baptisms take place in countries where internet use is still exceptional rather than normal?

    I imagine a variety of factors are involved in the trend–fewer missionaries, focus on retention, hostile internet sites, and others. I’m not sure which is most significant. Of course these are guesses for which I couldn’t muster any empirical evidence.

    And, personally, although growth and bigger numbers are important, I’d like to think that there are more significant, less quantifiable ways in which the church is strong. But that doesn’t address the topic at hand . . . thanks for the interesting post.

  10. Unit numbers may lag membership due to budgetary constraints and the time required for the construction of new buildings. I understand that there were considerable cutbacks in the last recession and I suspect this is a major factor in the recent decline and uptick in unit growth rates.

    New chapel construction seemed to stop on the Wasatch Front for a couple of years while units per building kept increasing. In addition, it is likely that the preceding boom years made possible the construction of buildings in many areas that still have room for continuing growth.

  11. Someone told me that Robert Millet told them that the First Presidency is both highly aware and highly concerned about the material that can be easily accessed on the internet, and that the church was planning to do something about it. I don’t remember what exactly, but something along the lines of some basic apologetics I think. But it’s been over a year now since I heard this and I still haven’t seen anything yet, so I don’t know. I agree that anything from the church itself would be good though.

  12. Eric, there isn’t a whole lot the church can do with the readily acceptable anti-Mormon materials except engage with the history and theological discussions. The question really would be how comfortable the church would be in actually engaging with the issues. On some things, like Book of Mormon geography, I think a few public statements would do wonders. Similarly on scientific issues like evolution. It would really help tremendously. However on things like Nauvoo polygamy I think things would be more problematic. Although certainly a few revelations on the subject that get canonized would be helpful. But I don’t see any indication that the Lord wishes to do that.

    Regarding using ward numbers as a guage. They certainly are limited. However they are but one statistic among many that illustrate the trend. As I mentioned, the self-identification numbers are probably the most eye opening and show church growth basically at 0% the last decade.

  13. For those interested, here’s the relevant passage from the Cumorah.org article.

    Studies investigating church growth through relevant independent parameters document that real LDS growth is modest, with high attrition. The CUNY American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) queried the self-identified religious affiliation of a large cohort of U.S. citizens in 1990 and 2001.7 The study found that the LDS Church had one of the highest turnover rates of any U.S. faith. Because of high turnover, the actual growth rate in the number of Americans identifying themselves as Latter-day Saints between 1990 and 2001 was found to be similar to the overall population growth rate, for a proportional net growth rate of close to zero. The study found that just under 2.8 million Americans age 18 and over identify themselves as Latter-day Saints. There are 5.3 million U.S. citizens officially on LDS membership rolls, although this includes a declining percentage of minors under age 18 (due to a progressive fall in LDS birth rates and decline in children of record over the past twenty years) as well as many inactive and disengaged adults. In comparison, the ARIS survey cites 1.33 million adults in the U.S. who identify themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim only 980,000 official members in the U.S. From the data, the CUNY authors observe: “Some groups such as Mormons…appear to attract a large number of converts (‘in-switchers’), but also nearly as large a number of apostates (‘out-switchers’).â€7 While nominally identifying oneself as a Latter-day Saint does not guarantee church activity, it would be difficult to claim that those on the rolls who do not identify themselves as Latter-day Saints are active or contributing members.

    An independent survey conducted by USA Today in March 2002 demonstrates similar findings.8 A comparison of USA Today survey data on self-reported religious identification in all fifty states to official LDS Church Almanac data reveals that the percentage of individuals in almost every state identifying themselves as Latter-day Saints is significantly lower than official membership figures, often dramatically.

  14. I have little to add other than an emphatic NOD of my head to Clark. When I converted to Mormonism in 1994, the WWW was a hodgepodge of scientific research data, prototype corporate websites, and websites of academic institutions. The real “discussion” about LDS topics took place on e-mail lists or newsgroups, and well-documented or well-organized “anti-” sites were about as common as “pro-” sites, which is to say not very common at all.

    In fact, my first real exposure to “anti-” material was in a pamphlet handed out by Utah Lighthouse Ministry at the Bountiful Temple open house. I’m the type of person who will read any tract or ad handed to me just to check it out, and I got an eyeful. I immediately called my sister missionaries–”Do we really believe God the Father had sex with Mary? Did Joseph really talk about sending missionaries to people on the Moon?” The Sister I talked to said, “Turn to Matthew and read what’s in the scriptures about the conception of Christ, then look up ‘Moon Men’ in the topical guide. That’s what we believe, buster.”

    If it were 5 or even 3 years later, I might have gone on the WWW to look into these claims further, but even if I had, I converted due to a powerful spiritual experience (the witness of the Holy Ghost, imagine that!) and I wasn’t going to let myself be dissuaded. Even 11 years later, as I’ve found myself increasingly skeptical of certain aspects of the official “party line,” I still have my spiritual witness to keep me from completely plunging into the abyss. Besides, I’ve got a mission to serve in my seniro years–a mission on the moon! :D

  15. “Elders” and sisters are young for a reason, Akash. They are not taught some of the contraversial teachings of the early Church leaders as youth, so when they are missionary age they are rarely aware of them. They deny, deny, deny–even to investigators, mostly because of ignorance. the Leadership wants it that way. This is why they sent out young rubes and befuddled grandparents as missionaries. They want the “cute factor” to aid in conversion, not knowledge.

  16. Hi, Clark. You said in reference to the temple recommend question,

    “Regarding supporting, affiliating or agreeing with those opposing the church. I think that means study groups and sympathizing with them. I think engaging them in argument isn’t really an issue.”

    I have a question on that. I’ll restate the recommend question first.

    “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”

    First, it can’t just be about study groups. Individuals are mentioned. I agree with you that argument isn’t the issue, unless you are arguing on the side of those opposing the church’s teachings or practices. Therein lies my question. This blog, it isn’t so much an issue. There are several others where the church’s teachings and practices are often called into question or flat out opposed. When other members chime in with agreement via comments would you say they could answer this recommend question with a resounding “No”?

    They are agreeing with and supporting individuals who oppose those teachings and practices accepted by the church. In the case of a group blog, if the overall theme is opposition to these things wouldn’t any member of that group blog be affiliating with a group who does the same?

    All this is before bringing non-members into the mix. When these teachings and practices are opposed before a worldwide audience, that’s something else entirely.

    I do think member presence online is a blessing. Though quite often I am uncertain why some remain members given their opposition. I would be surprised if we don’t soon hear of an lds blogger getting disciplined. Oddly, they will probably act as surprised as those who were excommunicated after writing books opposing the church.

  17. Clark,

    I really wanted to discuss the meat of your post rather than the assumption, but since you only responded to the off topic bit…

    Not only is there a greater focus on retention, but there is also a focus on growing wards to be large, relatively stable, and able to implement the full program of the church. I can tell you that this wasn’t the case prior to 1995. Then it was divide, divide, divide. I know of several wards in Brazil that were divided during my mission in hopes of spurring further growth that have now be reconsolidated.

    Also, to say that the internet is what is slowing the growth of the church ignores the areas in which growth occurs. It isn’t the areas where the internet was widely available to the general populace in 1999 (or even now), and it isn’t in languages that anti Mormon material is as widespread.

    The change is most likely due to internal policy changes more than any single external factor such as the internet. Of course to prove any of this you’d need numbers on growth in different geographic areas and also numbers on the availability of the internet in those areas. If you’ve got them I’d love to see them. I would guess that the church does have them. They have a statistics department that compiles all sorts of data such as this and doesn’t release it to the membership.

  18. While there are some missionaries that seem to not have had a lot of exposure to certain areas, there are also some that are very polished and well-studied in such areas. This is not first hand, but I am told there was an AP shortly before I was in the field who was studying to be a minister of another faith. He had all sorts of questions that I believe of an anti-nature prepared to share with the missionaries. His heart was touched by the truth and all desire for contention left. He was a powerful missionary. The fact that a lot of missionaries do not know certain things I think may a reflection on them not applying themselves as they should. I know that there were things that of a convert of only four years that I understood better than those raised in very active homes. I credit this to attending Institute. One of my compnaions, was also a convert and had been exposed to a lot of anti-Mormon stuff before her mission. She was also shown one of the infamous anti-Mormon movies. She was surprised that she was able to overcome all of that to gain a testimony. I do want to point out that the reasoning that Visiting proposes in errant as she talks of both young missionaries and elderly missionaries for the cute factor. This ignores the factor that the older missionaries had many years to study the doctrines and have potentional exposure to anti information. I loved surving around the seasoned couple Missionaries. They were so beautiful to me in their love for the Lord and their strong testimonies of his work.

  19. Adeline – I agree with much of what you are saying, but Church policies are rarely black and white. I think the blogs are useful in that they give all of us a chance to explore the gray areas before arriving at the “right” answer. Relying on and following our leaders is extremely important, but personal revelation, study, and spiritual confirmation shouldn’t be underestimated. There are many ways to understand and to comply with Church policy, and I think that there is room in this Church for those of us who love the gospel, but approach our religion from different perspectives.

    Also, I think we need to be more tolerant and accepting of competing viewpoints and perspectives within the Church. We can learn a lot about our own beliefs from discussions with those who do not believe the same way as we do. The free exchange of ideas facilitated by the bloggernacle does not mean that we need to agree with beliefs that contradict our own (or Church doctrine), but there are better ways of communicating our beliefs (and our understanding of Church doctrine) than to disagree vehemently and shun those who dare to speak their minds.

  20. The Sister I talked to said, “Turn to Matthew and read what’s in the scriptures about the conception of Christ, then look up ‘Moon Men’ in the topical guide. That’s what we believe, buster.”

    That’s fabulous. They should clone her.

  21. Elisabeth, I don’t care if people speak their minds. Their bishop might care. They might have negative impacts on others faith and they’ll have to live with that. I was addressing Clark’s post about people being missionaries and exploring how that applies to how our words promote the gospel or not.

    Related to that is whether or not members can honestly answer that temple recommend question with a no when they openly oppose church teachings or agree with those who do.

    People can post whatever they want on the Internet. Everyone else has a choice to identify with them or not. This has nothing to do with shunning. It is a discussion about what members responsibilities are, if any, to the world at large.

  22. I believe that during an interview when one is asked if they affiliate or support any who oppose the church or its beliefs, its more like a susataining vote. The nay-saying does not stop the process or mean one won’t be found worthy of the recommend. It is more likely to be a chance to delve deeper into the issue itself. Do you support or affiliate? How so and how often.

    There are two things about internet presence. The Church doesn’t need a broad official internet presence. It’s one church, one prophet etc. It has one official church site that several variations of mormon and LDS will link to. There is geneaology and some sites specific to preparedness or family but the Church does not need much more than that.

    The remainder is what the members do apart from the church, blogs or otherwise. If we are going to profess ourselves as LDS, even if it is anonymously, we have a duty to uphold all those things we have already covenanted to do. We should sustain our leaders, support the doctrine (which is well spelled out), and not subvert the doctrines of the church.

    It doesn’t matter if we are commentors or posters.

    One particular problem with blogs is keeping the forum open without censoring ideas and opinions and still ensuring that we are not casting the church in a negative light for anyone that might randomly come by us.

  23. I think most missionaries are better versed on anti-Mormon materials than many think. Most people on my mission were pretty familiar with them. Many of us collected them as kind of “mementos.” Most anti-Mormon stuff is so egregiously bad that it’s pretty funny. Further most anti-Mormon stuff simply takes some speculation and portrays it as doctrine. Simply saying, “we don’t believe that,” is almost always the right answer.

    There are some other issues that are more sophisticated, but 9/10 saying, “we don’t believe that,” and then praying about it to gain a testimony of the spirit works. Of course that only works if the missionaries are actually working with the people.

    But on my mission if people got antied after the first or second discussion we’d lose them. If they got antied after the third it would almost always simply increase their testimony. Now I’d be loath to push that too much, since perhaps that had something to do with how I taught and the circumstances of Louisiana. But it was pretty consistent.

  24. Adeline – Thanks for clarifying – I misunderstood your main point. I think we as members have a responsibility to be honest with each other, and the world, about our individual beliefs. I’m not sure it helps anyone if we hide our struggles and pretend that we don’t have any questions. If people stumble upon these blogs in their journey to joining the Church, they should know that when they become a member of the Church that they shouldn’t be ashamed of questioning or doubting.

    But I do see your point about the temple recommend question. I’m sure a local bishop might worry about one of his ward members if they were complaining publicly about the Church on the blogs. But there is a difference between publicly complaining and advocating a position, and sincerely discussing a difficult issue in Church doctrine or history. I think most of the blogs on the bloggernacle lean towards sincere questioning and faithful discussion, but it will be interesting to see if the Church sets any parameters around blogging.

  25. A few mostly off-topic comments:

    First, the “Mark Butler” who posted at #12 above is not me.

    Second, “every member a missionary” has been around since the days of Pres. McKay.

    Third, I would never utilize anything if I could use it instead.

  26. I believe that the Internet is doing two things relative to the growth of the Church. First, it is slowing the growth of the Church. Second, it is greatly strengthening the Church. How is this happening?

    The growth of the Church is slowing down because the widespread availability of anti-Mormon information on the Internet, especially the material produced by dissidents who are still members of the Church, is discouraging large numbers of investigators from accepting baptism. And this same anti-Mormon material is giving marginal members the excuse they are looking for to leave the Church, first in their hearts, and ultimately from the membership rolls. I define as a “marginal member” those who have not experienced a significant spiritual experience confirming to them the truthfulness of the gospel as taught by the Church. There have long been many such members within our ranks, both active and inactive.

    However, the Church is becoming much stronger as a result of this phenomenon. As those without testimonies are discouraged from joining the Church, and members without testimonies are encouraged to leave, the remaining investigators and members born in the Church are a much more select group. Only those who are sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost remain. No longer do we see so many joining the Church for merely social reasons, or because they are interested in milking the Church welfare system, or because they think the missionaries are cute or the Young Women good looking. Because of the widespread availability of anti and dissident material online, those who do join will do so because they truly believe the doctrines, and that the Church teachings are from the Lord. Likewise, those who remain instead of becoming dissident will do so because they have obtained their own testimonies and are not relying upon the testimony of their parents, or their friends at school, etc.

    The end result will be a much higher average level of committment and personal conviction among the members. In other words, the average faith of the members will be much higher than it is today. And since the faith of the members is the root of the Lord’s power in his Church, the Church will grow to be immensely more spiritually powerful. I fully expect a strong increase in the occurrence of miracles within the Church because of this growth in the levels of faith and testimony. I consider this to be good even though the Church won’t be growing in numbers as rapidly as in the past. The Church will be growing even more rapidly in the faith of its members, which I think is a much more important measure of the growth of the Church.

  27. Regarding blogs or forums where we discuss things with critics of the church. I don’t think those really count as what the recommend interview talks about. So, for instance, if Dan Peterson of FARMS debates some anti-Mormon, I don’t think any Bishop would consider that fraternizing with apostates. Likewise if you happen to work with say Brent Metcalf and are friendly with him (as you ought be) I think a Bishop would be silly to be concerned. The question really is tied to what happened in the early 90′s where people were in study groups focusing in on questionable doctrines and often being very critical of the church. Many of those study groups led to apostasy. Understandably the brethren were worried.

    But, for instance, I don’t think any of them would mind if you defended the church on a forum such as say the FAIR forums. Further I think we ought be friendly and loving especially to those who’ve left the church. I’d love it if even major critics of the church would rejoin it.

  28. The question really is tied to what happened in the early 90′s where people were in study groups focusing in on questionable doctrines and often being very critical of the church. Many of those study groups led to apostasy. Understandably the brethren were worried.

    I think we are fooling ourselves if we think that there aren’t a number of “LDS” blogs that are filling a similar, if not the same, role that these “study groups” did in the ’90s. There is no denying that some blogs like to focus in on questionable doctrines and/or are often quite critical of the church. Have they crossed the line? Will they also lead to apostasy? None of us can know that for sure, but it is a legitimate worry.

    And these blog discussions are public in a way that the study groups of the past never could have been. The posts and comments are absolutely publicly accessible, and liable to turn up in a google search. No matter how much the participants in these blogs remonstrate, the fact remains that they have no control over who reads their discussions, and so despite their attempts to construe it differently, their discussions amount to public criticism and published dissent.

  29. Clark I understand your point and those study groups may have been a factor in what spurred the question as part of the temple recommend.

    That is not how the question is worded, however. As such, should we not take it at face value?

    If you want to make it only about study groups, isn’t that essentially what some of the blogs are? It’s several people coming together to discuss doctrine and history often in a very controversial way and sometimes in direct opposition to what the church teaches. How then are blogs different from those study groups of the past? The only difference I see is blogs are there for the entire world to see and those study groups likely impacted smaller numbers.

  30. The question in the temple recommend interview long pre-dates any study groups that arose in the 1990′s. I don’t recall my bishop asking me 32 years ago when I first got a temple recommend, but it was certainly part of the interview back in 1984 when I became much more familiar with the questions.

    The wording of the question has changed over the period, but the basic meaning seems to have remained the same. I have always thought that “teachings and practices” was aimed primarily at plural marriage, although the words are broad enough to include much more. I don’t think, however, that the Democratic Party is implicated in the question.

  31. I think you have to try and figure out what is meant by the sentence. I think it clear it isn’t meant in too expansive a sense.

  32. I would hope that, per John’s evaluation (#28), internet trends will make the church stronger; at the same time, I would focus more on strengthening our “marginal” member brothers and sisters rather than counting their loss a good riddance.

    Adeline–

    I am sympathetic to some of what you say, but I’m afraid an overly strict interpretation of that one temple recommend question could curtail a healthy discussion of issues. I believe investigators, members, and others do not necessarily react negatively to an honest discussion of some difficult issues. It can help some find answers and realize they are not the only ones with questions. Some blogs are more critical than I would like, but, personally, I think there is a wide latitude for what can be said before censure is deserved. Also, on the mainstream blogs at least, an occasional comment is too shrill in criticizing, but there tend to be others who speak up in defense of orthodox views. Frankly, I am more concerned about the really venomous church-hating sites than doctrinal purity on LDS-themed blogs.

  33. I am not LDS, but my opinion is that the church doesn’t do a very good job at putting out conversion stories on the internet. People can come to the church through the internet rather than missionaries. A lot of sites that can be googled appear to be now defunct. Another idea would be to have detailed biographies on LDS people, including famous ones such as Orrin Hatch, Andy Reid, Glenn Beck, Harry Reid, etc. The magazines (e.g. Meridian) need to have more content for seekers.

    Just a note that I just love Glenn Beck on the radio. The church has a real opportunity to work through him. He shows that you can be a happy, fun person in the LDS church.

  34. “Do we really believe God the Father had sex with Mary?”

    Hey, my first MP taught that crap. He was a GA wannabe (didn’t make it, praise JC). Hard to believe given the BofM and Bible say she was a virgin. I’m surprised some LDS hasn’t come up w/ a Joseph-G-d theory.

  35. corbo,

    Great comments. We could do much better with biographies and conversion stories. And I think that you are right that magazines like Meridian could include more content geared toward seekers.

  36. That is a great site. Apparently it was put together by some people after some discussions at the MHA about how much anti comes up with Google searches. I didn’t realize the church was behind it.

  37. I don’t think that blogs cause any issues with regards to the temple recommend question. “Affiliate with” doesn’t mean the same thing as “associate with.”

    Relevant definition from dictionary.com:

    affiliate:
    1. To adopt or accept as a member, subordinate associate, or branch: The HMO affiliated the clinics last year.
    2. To associate (oneself) as a subordinate, subsidiary, employee, or member: affiliated herself with a new law firm.

    So unless you sign up as a permablogger on a site dedicated to criticizing the church, I think you should be OK. (And I think a forum where the church is both criticized and defended obviously doesn’t count. It may be a waste of your time, though….)

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