Mormon Times has become an instant sensation on the internet and a regular stop in my surfing patterns. I have enjoyed working with FAIR volunteers and editor Joe Walker to help provide some content for their web page. Today I found a news report about Elder Ballard admonishing BYU-Idaho graduates to use their knowledge to help combat the growing tide of internet anti-Mormonism. The article summarizes and quotes Elder Ballard as follows:
Along with the pornography, the Internet and other media are often used to spread falsehoods, Elder Ballard said.
“Every month there are 60 billion searches for information on the Internet,” he said. “Many are seeking information about the church; and while some are finding the truth, others find anti-Mormon sites that mislead them and defame the church.”
Elder Ballard urged graduates to use their knowledge and testimony of the gospel to influence seekers of truth. He suggested that graduates join in conversations on the Internet to share the gospel and explain the message of the Restoration in simple, clear terms.
I welcome this invitation as it reinforces my own participation in FAIR’s volunteer organization. For me this is a way to consecrate my talents to help build up the Kingdom. On my mission to Oklahoma, I became concerned about members losing their testimonies due to literature critical of the Church of Jesus Christ. A partial reason for low retention rates is that the simple message of the Gospel shared in missionary discussions can leave a new member under-prepared for the sheer weight of all the misinformation available on the internet. And it isn’t just misinformation that is the problem, there are tough and complicated aspects about Mormonism that are difficult to navigate through.
I do worry about turning college grads loose on the internet. Until Mormon Apologetics 101 is taught as an institute class, I think that some percentage of them will be ill equipped to handle the rough and tumble of the various discussion forums. I see a lot of bad apologetics being employed, for example, in comments about articles posted at Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune. I advise more discernment about whether it is worthwhile entering an online debate. Remember Bill Hamblin’s three rules of apologetics:
- Never argue with a moron.
- Never argue with someone who is smarter than you.
- Make sure obeying rules 1 and 2 doesn’t amount to the same thing.
So until Mormon Apologetics 101 is offered, I suggest that members who want to respond to Elder Ballard’s call engage in a vigorous self study program. Read the Bloggernacle regularly for insight on contemporary issues that are more likely to surface elsewhere on the internet and in your real life conversations. Occasionally read FAIR articles and FARMS reviews, but not too much all at once, because constantly dealing with criticism against the church you love can be depressing. Read back issues of BYU Studies and the Journal of Mormon History to round out your knowledge. Dialog on the internet can be a great motivation to pursue knowledge. Use Hamblin’s rules to pick your battles, and consider using an internet search on the subject you are addressing to see if you know your stuff as well as you think you do. I apologize if I am coming across as condescending here.
What would you guys advise for enthusiastic novices to internet discussions about Mormonism?
Let me leave you all with a final thought that was the highlight of the last General Conference for me. I am the most long winded blogger in the ‘nacle, so I can’t resist. Elder Oaks said:
We live in a time when some misrepresent the beliefs of those they call Mormons and even revile us because of them. When we encounter such misrepresentations, we have a duty to speak out to clarify our doctrine and what we believe. We should be the ones to state our beliefs rather than allowing others the final word in misrepresenting them. This calls for testimony, which can be expressed privately to an acquaintance or publicly in a small or large meeting. As we testify of the truth we know, we should faithfully follow the caution to speak “in mildness and in meekness” (D&C 38:41). We should never be overbearing, shrill, or reviling. As the Apostle Paul taught, we should speak the truth in love (see Ephesians 4:15). Anyone can disagree with our personal testimony, but no one can refute it.