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Put Down The Laptop and Back Away Slowly

MCQ - April 5, 2009

Is Elder Ballard backing away from the bloggernacle?  Is President Uchtdorf telling us to stop blogging?  Both made references to the internet this conference session already, but neither was positive.  Elder Ballard said:

“You can’t google a testimony, you can’t text-message faith.”

President Uchtdorf said that blogging could be one of those “burned out lightbulbs” that distract us from what is really important, causing us to crash into the swamp.

These references are all the more disturbing because they come from two of the more progressive members of our leadership.  It seems so recent that the bloggernacle was abuzz over Elder Ballard’s much bloggyhooed talk that refenced the ‘nacle specifically and asked us to “join the conversation.”  Now, a year later, here he is telling us that we can’t google a testimony or text-message faith!  In other words, clever wording aside, he’s saying that the spirit can’t work over the internet which, in my experience,  is patently false. 

For myself, I think the change in message is a little jarring and unneccessary.  It was so recently that we had any acknowledgement from the Church that Mormon bloggers even existed.  Unless you are blogging or texting to the exclusion of working, attending church meetings or spending time with your family (which, admittedly, may be happening), warning people about it seems premature.  Have we gone from allies to addicts in so short a time?

In any event, if anyone asks me to stop blogging, my message is this:

I’m doing a great work and cannot come down.


  1. I think your interpretation is a bit off –I don’t think they are saying we need to stop blogging, I think they’re just reminding us that words mean nothing without actions behind them.

    Now, stay with me for a second –here we have hundreds of people using the Blog as a place for exchange of information and ideas. But how much of it is reliable? How much of it is actually doing good? And how many people are lying through their teeth and/or exaggerating their experiences to make them look –at the very least –reliable and dependable as a source of information?

    I loved it when Pres. Uchtdorf told us to get off our “couches” and stop being “spectator Disciples”. I know for myself, all the blogging I do won’t mean crap if I can’t even remember to serve my next-door neighbors. I mean, my small testimony MIGHT help somebody somewhere someday who may happen to read it on a blog post somewhere…but the chances of that? As opposed to physically helping someone nearby? Or focusing on my kids? My spouse? Those I serve through my callings?

    And they didn’t say “Stop all Blogging!” I think they were pointing out the blaring obvious result of any addictive behavior –and yes! Blogging can be (and is for many) very addictive. That’s all.

    Comment by cheryl — April 5, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  2. There was no change in message. He just said not to ignore your family. They also weren’t saying “the spirit can’t work over the Internet”. Heck, you can read the scriptures online. Blogging just isn’t a substitute for prayer and personal service. It’s the same thing as saying “no one else can give you a testimony; you have to get one for yourself.” You’re overreacting.

    Comment by Owen — April 5, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

  3. President Uchtdorf actually referred to excessive blogging alongside excessive family history research.

    It seemed to me to be a positive activity that should not be a distraction. It seemed to be a clear validation of blogging.

    Comment by TrevorM — April 5, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

  4. Ditto to the above 3 comments

    Comment by Bret — April 5, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  5. Do Mormon bloggers really believe that they can write whatever they want with no ramifications? I am an uncorrelated commentor but I am not naive about the risks. I know one day may participation may come back to cause trouble. I love the honesty and uncorrelated chatter of the bloggernacle but I strongly doubt the Bretheren do. And as your post points out, I think they are just now awakening to what they have on their hands. How can they not see the wild and woolly bloggernacle as as a huge loss of control? I think it is only a matter of time before the hammer comes down. And of course they can’t shut it down completely, but they can kill the participation of members who need to see themselves faithful followers.

    Comment by Sanford — April 5, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

  6. “the hammer comes down”? Geez. That’s Jon Krakauer’s version of the church…

    Although, as I watched conference today, it did strike me just how many (otherwise benign) things about my life make me a horrible choice for the amount of scrutiny those guys presumably get. I do think how publicly many people tend to lives their lives now is going to have interesting ramifications in the future. I hope it doesn’t mean that only Mormon Luddites will be able to hold high positions of responsibility in the future.

    P.S. I couldn’t remember the word “Luddite”, so I Googled is using “reject technology”. The first hit I got was about Mormons. I’ll have to call all my trekker relatives to repentance.

    Comment by Translator — April 5, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

  7. It’s funny how we zero in on things like that. Like the comment above states, the other examples of burned out bulbs that Elder Uchtdorf mentioned were family history and gardening. Do you also think he intended for us to put down the microficshe/hoe and back away slowly from those also? I think not.

    Comment by Mephibosheth — April 5, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

  8. I’m glad you’re mostly saying there’s no need to worry about these statements. Still, it would be nice to hear more positive statements about members’ online activities, rather than the voice of warning.

    I love the honesty and uncorrelated chatter of the bloggernacle but I strongly doubt the Bretheren do.

    This is exactly my problem. I love it too, and I can’t see why the brethren don’t see the positives and comment on them. Guess I’m asking for too much.

    How can they not see the wild and woolly bloggernacle as as a huge loss of control? I think it is only a matter of time before the hammer comes down.

    I beg to differ with this in the strongest possible terms. I have never thought that the goal of the brethren is “control,” nor do I see the hammer coming down. That’s just idiotic. The most they will do is discourage it, but I think they should be doing the opposite.

    Comment by MCQ — April 5, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

  9. Perhaps “hammer comes down” is too strong. I don’t see members losing their membership over blogging. But I think the Church may discourage participation in certain forums – maybe something like the way it discouraged members in 1989 from participating in symposia. The result being that Sunstone became a something of a venue for the disaffected.

    By loss of control I mean that if the bloggernacle grows to the point that it becomes a rival source of information about the Church, the brethren may feel the need to take steps to halt faithful members from participating. The Church allows a great deal of freedom to its members, but it is very careful not to let others to usurp its authority or voice. The bloggernacle is a conundrum because many participants are believers if outspoken and unconventional ones. Anti-Mormons can be dismissed or ignored but members get managed.

    Comment by Sanford — April 5, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

  10. The way I remember Elder Uchtdorf’s talk in the priesthood meeting was that he said we shouldn’t let things that aren’t bad in themselves — and that includes blogging — distract us from what’s more important. Just as the crew in the ill-fated plane needed to continue checking out the landing gear without forgetting about altitude, it’s OK to blog as long as we don’t forget about loving our neighbors as ourselves. It’s a matter of priorities, and I thought that talk was the best of the conference.

    Comment by E — April 5, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

  11. I agree E. The best by quite a margin and my favorite for a long time. It was just fantastic in every way. That’s why I was concerned that it seemed to be taking a negative view of blogging. But I think the comments have been right on: he was not saying we shouldn’t blog, he was saying we shouldn’t let it distract us from things that are clearly more important. I guess I was just hoping for a little more positive take on it after Elder Ballard’s great talk last year.

    Comment by MCQ — April 6, 2009 @ 1:13 am

  12. Yeah, I didn’t see it that way- with either talk. It’s about excess- don’t ignore your family, your callings, or your hygiene while you play WoW or blog. You CAN’T google a testimony. But you can increase your knowledge by reading and connecting with people of similar faith. You can have questions answered that you can’t ask in RS. And that CAN increase my testimony.

    Comment by Tracy M — April 6, 2009 @ 10:22 am

  13. You CAN’T google a testimony. But you can increase your knowledge by reading and connecting with people of similar faith. You can have questions answered that you can’t ask in RS. And that CAN increase my testimony.

    See, now if Elder Ballard had said that, I would be doing backhandsprings. What he actually said though was just the first part, plus “you can’t text-message faith” which made me think that he was saying that there was no spiritual benefit to be had here. I’m glad you think he wasn’t saying that, but why couldn’t he have given us a little love while he was at it? Are we not doing what he asked us to do in his previous talk? Don’t we deserve a little podium shout-out? Yes, I say!

    Comment by MCQ — April 6, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

  14. If the hammer ever did come down, wouldn’t that accelerate the incredible shrinking of the church by leaving virtually the whole nacle to the DAMU? The net is much bigger than any magazine symposium. Even though I’m hardly mainstream LDS, I don’t want the church to shrink even faster than it is.

    Comment by Steve EM — April 6, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  15. Perhaps they are worried that 1) bloggers searching for topics and/or 2) members searching for blogs that historical truths of JS and the church founding will be discovered.

    Comment by ed42 — April 6, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

  16. ed42, the cat’s out of the bag and had kittens already.

    Comment by MCQ — April 6, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

  17. Amen sister #12 Tracy Amen!

    Comment by JA Benson — April 6, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  18. MCQ- yeah, it would be nice if he gave us a shout-out for ding what he first asked, in his previous talk. But nice is over-rated anyway.

    Here’s the thing: As an adult convert, I might not even be active in the Church if not for the connections made and answers I’ve gotten online. Because of people of faith blogging, sharing their knowledge, and answering my non-RS approved questions I have not only a Testimony, but a Temple Recommend and wear uncomfortable underwear everyday. That is more real than any hypothetical non-google-able idea.

    I personally think Elder Holland would be just pleased as punch with me for that.

    Comment by Tracy M — April 7, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  19. I agree, Tracy, I feel the same way. With that in mind then, I often wonder why we don’t get more of an endorsement of the nacle in the official channels. I’m always mystified by members who discover the nacle and have a negative reaction to it, as happened on BCC this past weekend.

    I guess the nacle isn’t for everyone, but it seems to me that if you see it as a negative or are threatened by it, you don’t have a very strong testimony. It’s exactly that type of person who could benefit from the nacle, in my opinion, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen, or waiting for the Church leaders to publicly embrace us.

    Comment by MCQ — April 7, 2009 @ 9:43 am

  20. Yeah, I was at BCC for that this weekend. I guess I have to just chalk it up to different strokes. I suppose they can’t give us any sort of endorsement because, really, who knows WHAT some people will say. How on earth could they endorse us or give us any props considering that fact?

    It does bother be when people suppose we must be apostates at BCC or elsewhere. As a BCC author, I take exception and it ticks me off.

    I guess it’s enough that Church leaders know we are here, and they don’t discount us. They may not holler about us from the rooftops, but they don’t tell us to quit, either. I can live with that.

    Comment by Tracy M — April 7, 2009 @ 10:03 am

  21. Hi, seth. I just thought I would drop in and see what your blog is about. :)
    I obviously didn’t listen to conference this weekend, but I can see how the LDS leaders would most definately be concerned about blogging and internet exchanges. The free exchange of ideas can be threatening for some. It gets people thinking too much, and maybe they’r worried it will affect their testimonies?
    Who knows, but just throwing out my impressions.
    Sincere regards,

    Comment by gloria — April 7, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

  22. Hi gloria,

    I haven’t posted anything here for quite a while.

    Ironically, the last General Conference made me feel guilty for doing too much commenting elsewhere and not enough original posts of my own.

    I think there probably are one or two General Authorities who really would like to regulate the bloggernacle somehow. But they are stuck in a no-win situation there.

    If they let the bloggernacle go unchecked, they risk losing control of the narrative of the LDS Church as it is presented to the world. Already journalists are looking at the bloggernacle for cues on what to think about Mormonism. But the bloggernacle is composed of free agents pretty-much beyond the control of Salt Lake. Our Church leadership is used to having total control of the message (I’m not saying that’s good or bad – just that it is). The bloggernacle threatens that status quo. It’s very hard to control the message online generally.

    But if they do another “September Six,” make a prominent example of a few bloggers, and issue a few harsh General Conference addresses, all they are going to do is drive the existing bloggernacle underground, and probably radicalize it. Pro-tradition LDS bloggers (those that support the conventional LDS wisdom) will be undermined and discredited in the online community, and the bloggernacle will end up looking more like the DAMU.

    It doesn’t matter if an apostle says you can’t Google a testimony. For better or for worse, that’s exactly what most of the rising generation does. The internet may not be their only source of information. But it is their first source of information.

    The LDS Church needs a voice online that does not force people to either embrace the religion wholeheartedly or reject it as totally depraved and evil. There has to be a meeting of online searchers halfway. Otherwise the LDS Church loses online credibility and the accusations of brainwashing and cult-behavior really will be true.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 9, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  23. The problem I see in the Bloggernacle is members who because they are learned, think themselves wise. Many are more concerned with asserting their independence than emphasizing loyalty, and it hurts my heart to read that.

    I recall one jarring comment by an active Mormon who said he had received personal revelation that he didn’t need to go to his bishop to confess any sin whatsoever ever again. Even worse, he posted it to a blog of an investigator. (Luckily she joined the Church anyhow).

    That’s extreme, I know. Usually the message is much more subtle, but they are out there.

    I love Mormon blogs that teach and edify. They are some of my favorite things to read. I don’t love the ones that set themselves at odds with Church leaders, even if only in their tone.

    Comment by Thaddeus — April 9, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  24. Thaddeus, that “learned who think they are wise” line is much better used for self reflection than for judging others.

    What’s stopping others from applying the same label to you?

    Comment by Seth R. — April 9, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  25. I noted what they were saying and thought about it. I don’t think they were discouraging blogging or text messaging about the Church. I think the blogging and messaging being referred to was in general terms, not blogging about the Church or the Gospel. And even in the latter case, those should never take the place of possible in-person opportunities.

    Comment by Joseph Antley — April 9, 2009 @ 11:17 pm

  26. Thaddeus, I don’t like to read blogs that are constantly critical of things I hold dear, but I find that most of the bloggernacle does not fit into that category. Some respectful and constructive criticism can stretch your mind and spur greater understanding, even if it’s just a greater understanding of your brothers and sisters. How can that be a bad thing? Teaching and edifying are pretty broad terms. I think every blog I read in the nacle does a lot of both of those things. You may be defining those words much too narrowly.

    Joseph, I think I agree with that, but I find that I rarely have the opportunity to engage in conversations in-person like I have in the nacle. I don’t think that means I’m a shut-in. I think it just means the nacle is awesome and necessary.

    Comment by MCQ — April 10, 2009 @ 12:36 am

  27. What’s stopping others from applying the same label to you?

    You’re right. I’m sorry.

    Comment by Thaddeus — April 11, 2009 @ 12:16 am

  28. No problem. Thanks for joining the discussion.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 11, 2009 @ 9:23 am

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