LDS Blogging Caveat Lector – Elder Ballard Did Not Endorse “The Bloggernacle”

The LDS Church Newsroom is highlighting a speech given by Elder Russel M. Ballard, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, at the graduation ceremony of BYU-Hawaii on Friday, December 15th, in which he encouraged students to embrace the “New Media,” including blogging, as a way to share the gospel and support the kingdom.

You can read the full text of the speech:

Using New Media to Support the Work of the Church

This is very exciting news! Blogging is a wonderful tool for all the reasons Elder Ballard enumerates and I hope to see increasing numbers of faithful Latter-day Saints blogging about the gospel.

However, to all of you who are just beginning to discover and explore Mormon blogs, I feel compelled to post a Caveat Lector:

Elder Ballard endorsed LDS Blogging, but he did not necessarily endorse the existing LDS Blogging community known as “The Bloggernacle.”

I have been blogging since January 2004, and blogging about specifically LDS topics since August of that same year (first under the pseudonym “Ebenezer Orthodoxy” and later under my own name as one of the founding members of The Millennial Star blog). During that time I participated in the recently coalescing LDS blogging community called “The Bloggernacle.”

In August 2005 I withdrew from the “Bloggernacle,” disappointed by what I considered a widespread, inappropriate emphasis in the community on criticizing the Church and questioning its leadership and policies. I announced my withdrawal very publicly in a post entitled Alternate Voices: Why I Am Abandoning the Bloggernacle which sparked a little community controversy at the time.

I started blogging again in November of 2005 here at my personal blog “Sixteen Small Stones” outside of the “Bloggernacle” community. Earlier this year I had my blog listed on ldsblogs.org and recently at mormon-blogs.com . It has now been two and half years since I withdrew. I still avoid participating in the community to a great degree. Even though I have received a number of invitations from prominent blogs to rejoin the community and be a guest contributor on their blogs, even recently, I have abstained.

There are a number of wonderful people involved in the “Bloggernacle” community, many of whom are good friends to me. There are also many wonderfully inspiring posts, even by people with whom I have vehemently disagreed at times.

However, the “Bloggernacle” community continues to be a forum of mixed Alternate Voices which Elder Oaks describes thus [modified to remove structural ambiguity – ed.]. In 1989, Elder Oaks described different kinds of Alternate Voices thus :

Some alternate voices are those of well-motivated men and women who are merely trying to serve their brothers and sisters and further the cause of Zion.

Other alternate voices are pursuing selfish personal interests, such as property, pride, prominence, or power. Other voices are the bleatings of lost souls who cannot hear the voice of the Shepherd and trot about trying to find their way without his guidance. Some of these voices call out guidance for others: the lost leading the lost.

Some alternate voices are of those whose avowed or secret object is to deceive and devour the flock. The Good Shepherd warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

You will find all of these kinds of voices in active participation in the “Bloggernacle” community, and it can be very difficult to distinguish one from another sometimes.

In the same conference in which Elder Oaks spoke about alternate voices, Elder Nelson warned us about the Canker of Contention saying:

…worthy servants of the Master, who would not speak ill of the Lord’s anointed nor provoke contention over teachings declared by ancient or living prophets. Certainly no faithful follower of God would promote any cause even remotely related to religion if rooted in controversy, because contention is not of the Lord.
Surely a stalwart would not lend his or her good name to periodicals, programs, or forums that feature offenders who do sow “discord among brethren.”

Elder Ballard himself has warned us to Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers

Therefore, let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self-appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church. Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well-being of those whom they seduce.

Now let me give you a few examples of the false teachings of those who read by the lamps of their own conceit, who, though “ever learning,” are “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).
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False prophets and false teachers are those who declare that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a duplicitous deceiver; they challenge the First Vision as an authentic experience. They declare that the Book of Mormon and other canonical works are not ancient records of scripture. They also attempt to redefine the nature of the Godhead, and they deny that God has given and continues to give revelation today to His ordained and sustained prophets.
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False prophets and false teachers are those who arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases. They argue, therefore, that the scriptures require new interpretation and that they are uniquely qualified to offer that interpretation.
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Perhaps most damningly, they deny Christ’s Resurrection and Atonement, arguing that no God can save us. They reject the need for a Savior. In short, these detractors attempt to reinterpret the doctrines of the Church to fit their own preconceived views, and in the process deny Christ and His messianic role.
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False prophets and false teachers are also those who attempt to change the God-given and scripturally based doctrines that protect the sanctity of marriage, the divine nature of the family, and the essential doctrine of personal morality. They advocate a redefinition of morality to justify fornication, adultery, and homosexual relationships. Some openly champion the legalization of so-called same-gender marriages. To justify their rejection of God’s immutable laws that protect the family, these false prophets and false teachers even attack the inspired proclamation on the family issued to the world in 1995 by the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles.

However, in the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition.” One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed.

You will, unfortunately, find a number of individuals who participate in the “Bloggernacle,” who openly flirt with some of these false teachings and some who even openly advocate them. There are also a number of participants who are no longer members of the church, but who continue to participate in order to express their opposition, albeit they are often very polite about it. But to a new visitor to the “Bloggernacle” it is not immediately or easily apparent which individuals are former latter-day saints and which are current members, and that can be confusing, especially to individuals who are not members of the church at all and are trying to learn more by visiting LDS blogs.

When faced with a forum of such mixed content, the words of Elder Oaks are still very applicable:

Individual members of the Church may also confront difficult questions when they are invited to participate. The question is more complicated when the invitation does not relate to a publication or a lecture on a single subject, but to a group of articles, a series of publications, or a conference or symposium with a large number of subjects. One article or one issue of a publication or one session of a conference may be edifying and uplifting, something a faithful Latter-day Saint would wish to support or enjoy. But another article or another session may be destructive, something a faithful Latter-day Saint would not wish to support or promote.
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Some of life’s most complicated decisions involve mixtures of good and evil. To what extent can one seek the benefit of something good one desires when this can only be done by simultaneously promoting something bad one opposes? That is a personal decision, but it needs to be made with a sophisticated view of the entire circumstance and with a prayer for heavenly guidance.
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There are surely limits at which every faithful Latter-day Saint would draw the line.

As Latter-day Saints consider their personal relationship to various alternate voices, they will be helped by considering the ways we acquire knowledge, especially knowledge of sacred things.

As Elder Oaks says, the decision to participate in such fora is personal, but he warns that it should be made with a circumspect consideration of how spiritual knowledge is acquired.

There is real spiritual danger in “The Bloggernacle” that we should not take lightly. In addition to a intellectual component, there is a spiritual component to that which we read, and we should beware of the spiritual affect words can have upon us.

In his injunction to blog, Elder Ballard says quite clearly:

Discussions focused on questioning, debating and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God.

There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true.

LDS Blogging can be a great blessing to the church and to you as an individual, and I encourage you to follow Elder Ballard’s counsel and start a blog. And I encourage you to read a variety of LDS blogs. But be selective. If a particular blog or commentator is too critical of the church, or advocates positions contrary to the gospel, don’t waste too much time jumping into heated debate with both guns blazing. Remember Elder Nelson’s warning about things “rooted in controversy.” Make your voices and testimonies heard, but don’t be drawn into contention.

At the same time, there are often elements about the history and doctrine of the church that we members are not as familiar with as we think, so just because a blog posts something that goes against your understanding of the gospel or church history, doesn’t mean that it is against the church and should be avoided. Remember to distinguish between folk doctrines of Mormon culture and what the Prophet and Apostles actually teach.

Pray for the gift of discernment and look for things that are edifying, true, and build up the Church.

Though I could be wrong, perhaps by appealing to the members of the church to blog about the gospel, the Brethren hope to balance out the over abundance of alternative, fringe LDS blogging that is often prominent in “the Bloggernacle” with an infusion of the mainstream.

And a final warning: I have often seen LDS Bloggers who prefer the “Bloggernacle” over their own real-life congregations because it is more “intellectually stimulating” and “edgy” than what they discuss in their Elder’s Quorum or Relief Society meetings on Sunday, while forgetting that it is also infinitely more public and recorded. I believe there is real spiritual danger in that sentiment (see my previous post On the Spiritual Danger of Virtual Communities).

So, with that warning, now go forth and blog!

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15 Responses to LDS Blogging Caveat Lector – Elder Ballard Did Not Endorse “The Bloggernacle”

  1. Did you see the mention of Bookslinger’s blog? Thought that was pretty cool. Great post.

  2. I agree that for many Bloggernacle blogs, Elder Ballard’s talk should not be considered an endorsement. Many such blogs don’t make people of other faiths their primary audience; they seem to be addressing fellow Mormons in an intellectual banter.

    Great post. It rang true for me.

  3. J Max, if you’re going to quibble with Elder Ballard’s endorsement of LDS blogging, then you should also rewrite the sentence in which you appear to state that Elder Oaks described the Bloggernacle as a forum of mixed voices. That’s not true because the Bloggernacle didn’t exist when Oaks wrote “Alternate Voices.” I’m thinking you just phrased it wrong. Here’s your text: “However, the “Bloggernacle” community continues to be a forum of mixed Alternate Voices which Elder Oaks describes thus …”

  4. Thank you for this post. As I have thought about his talk, I came to the same conclusion—that what Elder Ballard is encouraging is different from a lot of what happens in the ‘nacle. I was encouraged at his encouragement of simple, pure testimony and grateful for his reminder about what does and doesn’t help the kingdom. Lots to think about and go and do!

  5. Thank you for this post. It coalesced the split in my thoughts between being a voice for good and not feeling the need to really involve myself in the Bloggernacle. When I first discovered it, I was excited. Finally, a place to discuss points of doctrine and to commune with others of my faith! Unfortunately, I soon found out that most opinions were set, that too many loved the argument rather than the principles being argued about.

    I wanted to be a voice that offered a different perspective for ones who might be searching. I wanted to do some good and strengthen my own testimony in the process, but I have found little good in Bloggernacle conversation outside of the few great friends I have met. Mostly, I have withdrawn, only commenting here or there, commenting less and less as time goes on. I find I have gravitated to a few places that are uplifting and tend to avoid others that I once spent much time in.

    Though hearing all these “Alternate Voices” has led me to examine and solidify my own faith constructively, it is no fault of theirs. The question remains – how do we keep the balance? It seems that LDS, non-mainstream or -aggregated blogging will not be exposed to the vast traffic the Bloggernacle enjoys. Any aggregation efforts would simply lead to something much like the Bloggernacle. What good is blogging, if the blogs are never read? How do you participate in the mainstream without wasting your time on lost battles?

    Is there any way to be in the world of the Internet consistently and not of it?

  6. Daniel

    Thanks, J. I have to say that I found the same experience that Michelle found, and it was not many months after I had discovered the Bloggernacle and discovered what Michelle discovered that you decided to withdraw, at which point I also decided to do the same. Thanks for providing a great forum for faith.

  7. To me, if you list your blog at ldsblogs.org, you are associated with the bloggernacle whether you say you are or not. As you said:

    But to a new visitor to the “Bloggernacle” it is not immediately or easily apparent which individuals are former latter-day saints and which are current members, and that can be confusing

    As a person who joined the bloggernacle after your “departure” I had no idea you “left” the bloggernacle and no longer participate. To me, it looks like you are participating every time you post.

  8. Richard, Michelle, Daniel,

    I agree that it is quite obvious that Elder Ballard is not giving a blanket endorsement of the bloggernacle, but it is worth noting that the lds.org newsroom has linked to blogs before, and not just ones sharing a testimony. Michelle, in particular, is almost constantly sharing a faithful perspective on posts that are controversial. Doesn’t that obviously fall under the behavior Elder Ballard is endorsing? But that was done in the bloggernacle, which means that at least some of what goes on in the bloggernacle was endorsed. Wouldn’t you agree? When it comes down to it, I can’t even endorse everything that goes on in Sunday School, so it is not surprising I can’t endorse everything in the bloggernacle. And lest anyone get bent out of shape over that last sentence, Elder Oaks can’t endorse everything in Sunday School either. As he said in general conference:

    However, I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher’s choice. That is not acceptable.

    If we can’t get a blanket endorsement for Sunday School, it should be no surprise that we can’t get one for blogging.

  9. Thanks for all of your feedback.

    Connor: Yes, it is really cool that Bookslinger’s blog was specifically quoted. He has been a great example to all of us.

    Richard: Yes, there does seem to be a huge lack of emphasis on writing that is accessible to both those who are not members of the church and those who are new and uninitiated.

    Dave: Good point. Corrected in post.

    Michelle: Thanks. And you are right, there is much to go and do!

    SilverRain: Thanks for sharing your experience. I wish there were an easy answer, but I don’t think that there is. the best we can do is try to follow the spirit to be directed toward those conversations where we can make a difference and touch hearts. I remember the experience of Wilford Woodruff preaching the gospel in England. He was having a good deal of success in one area when suddenly the spirit told him to leave and go preach elsewhere. He did so and was blessed with even greater success. We should let the spirit guide us to where our energy is best spent. For some people that may be the bloggernacle…but for others of us, it is not.

    Daniel: Thanks. I have always appreciated your dedication to the gospel.

    Jacob: It is true. I have not actively engaged the bloggernacle community, but I have backed away from my initial disassociation to some degree. When I requested to be added to LDSblogs.org I explicitly indicated that I would not be participating in the community but that i was interested in being listed on the aggregator. They were already aggregating a few blogs, like LDSWebGuy, who were not part of the bloggernacle community, but posted on LDS topics and I asked if I could be added as one such blog.

    Incidentally, I have already been threatened with being de-listed from LDSblogs.org as a result of this post.

    Good observations about Sunday School.

  10. “Incidentally, I have already been threatened with being de-listed from LDSblogs.org as a result of this post.”

    Just to be paranoid about possible misunderstandings, I hope it is clear to everyone that although I hang out with Geoff J, I have ZERO visibility into the workings of the MA cabal (I use the term affectionately). I don’t want anyone to mistake my comment above as being related in any way to the threat of de-listing. The first I heard of it is in your comment, J.

  11. JMW:

    I appreciate your caveat lector and hope that all who read will carefully consider your words and, especially, the words of the apostles you quote as we “go forth and blog.” Thanks for the reminders!

  12. Jacob J., for the record, I think there is no question whatsoever that some of what goes on in the bloggernacle would fall under what Elder Ballard talks about ad hope for. But I read J. Max as just saying that the whole was not being endorsed, and I think it would be silly to disagree with that.

    I find myself particularly considering these words of Elder Ballard:

    “Discussions focused on questioning, debating and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God.”

    Some of what happens in the bloggernacle is along these lines of questioning, doubting and debating. We should all be aware of the reality that not every voice in this sphere will actually be a voice that would be consistent with what Elder Ballard has encouraged. That doesn’t condemn the whole sphere, either, but I don’t think J. Max intended to do that.

    BUT there is stuff that is just plain uplifting, too. These uplifting kinds of posts are part of the reason I like blogging.

    The challenge for the ‘nacle, as a whole and as individuals, if we want to be what Elder Ballard has plead for, is more consistent positive, supportive, uplifting stuff. And much, much less contention and negativity. I think it’s important for readers unfamiliar to Mormonism to understand that the bloggernacle does not always accurately represent our doctrine and teachings. It doesn’t always shed a positive light on the church. That doesn’t mean the whole bloggernacle is useless, but we shouldn’t deny this reality.

    I think the key of this post is not to think that all blogging is created equal, and I doubt any of us would disagree. I also don’t know that there is a pat answer to what would constitute ‘good blogging’ according to this talk. There is a specific purpose he is addressing, and it doesn’t involve questioning the church or gospel principles. It doesn’t involve contention. I hear him asking us to be unequivocally supportive and positive (“Our position is solid; the Church is true.”) I also see him directly addressing blogging that is focused on non-members as the audience and addressing misconceptions or misperceptions. As Richard said above, most of the bloggernacle posting is directed toward members and discussion among members. There can be good there, too, but I don’t think that is as much of what Elder Ballard is specifically asking us to do.

    And yet, I am sure non-members read the bloggernacle. So, to me, again, I think this is an important talk for us to think about as those who participate in the ‘nacle, whether via posting on our blogs or (and/or) commenting in discussions. I hope that we can see more material and conversation that would be worthy of Elder Ballard’s approval. Whether we want to be or not, we are representing the Church, and the tone and content of our posts and discussions can have an effect on other people and on the work. This is sobering to me, and something easy to forget in this world of instant communication.

    BTW, I’m really disappointed to hear that J has been threatened with delisting on the MA, by the way. If any of the MA powers are reading, I sincerely hope that this doesn’t happen. I’m puzzled as to why such a decision would even be considered, let alone vocalized.

  13. Sorry if I sounded down in my last comment, I wasn’t really looking for sympathy! (I’ll blame the wee small hours in which I was posting.) I think part of my point in sharing my own experience is to show how blogs can look to outsiders. With that experience in mind, I think it is doubly important for us to think about and try for more Christian blogging. We should blog with charity! In thinking about it, I’ve come up with a few important things to remember when blogging that I think will help us reach Elder Ballard’s ideal.

    Rule #1 – The Internet is not private. In fact, it is as non-private as you can get. It’s easy to forget this, since you are usually posting in the privacy of your own home.

    Rule #2 – That which is posted on the Internet is (potentially) forever. It’s also easy to forget that if your post hits the right people in the right way, your words could be splattered across the ‘net in ways that can never be erased. I learned long ago not to write anything I didn’t want known in the general public – that creed is even more true in Internet settings. I’ve been known to forget this and the previous rule, and I should know better. I’ve been on the internet for years and years.

    Rule #3 – You can’t control who will read your blog. This goes hand in hand with Rule #2, but I think it’s important enough to be its own rule. Even if you target members, your words are set in stone for everyone, from believing members to the most convinced antis. You can’t control or even divert the flow once it starts.

    Rule #4 – We as members have more at stake than the average blogger. Mormonism has always been and will probably always be under intense scrutiny. Our church being what it is, we have few to no full-time representatives. We ARE the full-time representatives. We ARE the PR people. If we use the Internet as our source to vent, our brief struggle with one or two points of doctrine can easily become front-line news.

    Rule #5 – Your words are now public domain. One thing I found interesting a little while ago is the “proof” that polygamy was bad based on some journal entries of multiple wives of the time. I don’t know about you, but I have (had) a strong propensity to vent in my journal. It is not a good representation of how I truly feel. If you use the internet to vent, you will be painting an inaccurate picture of yourself for all the world to see. Even if you present a balanced viewpoint in your blog, it is easy for someone with an agenda to quote only the parts that apply to them.

    Rule #6 – You might be wrong. That’s particularly important for anyone discussing something as complicated and personal as religion. Even if you’re right for you, you might be wrong for someone else, but most of all, your perspective on doctrine might be in error.

    Rule #7 – People live behind the words. You’re talking to real people. Real people ought to receive kindness, particularly from a Christian. We’ve been asked to return kindness for scorn. Few places test our ability to do so more than the Internet.

    I’m sure there are more things to think about when posting. These are just a few half-baked thoughts. I don’t want to take up any more of your space with them.

  14. Great post and good reminders about blogging.

    I sometimes wish I were an attorney and had more time to blog. Sadly, my employer expects me to work and my wife wants me to be a husband and father when I get home. :-) Hence, my sporadic blogging and even more sporadic commenting.

  15. Thanks for this post. I keep thinking someday soon I’ll find the courage to come back myself.

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