Tuesday, April 29, 2008

M. Russell Ballard's New Media: A Source of Active Member Missionary Participation

M. Russell Ballard, head of the LDS Public Affairs Committee and an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has proclaimed in three public addresses during the last six months that we as LDS members should use the New Media as a source in educating nonmembers about the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Ballard who has also served for many years on the Executive Missionary Committee has as a goal correcting misinformation about the Church. Having associated with Elder Ballard for over thirty years being a former missionary under his direction in Toronto Canada thirty years ago I have attended several missionary reunions where he has spoken about Church efforts to use the media effectively to tell our story. The Church has employed during the last decade non-Mormon public relations firms to help us be understood as being mainstream. The New Media has come to his attention during the last two to three years as a way to better do member missionary work.

To the graduating classes of both BYU-Hawaii (Saturday, December 15, 2007) and BYU-Idaho (Friday, April 11, 2008) he called upon the graduates and their guests to take our message to the world. On 21 April 2008 Elder Ballard was honored for his life-time achievement by the Brigham Young University Management Society in Washington D.C. where he addressed the group which included such notable people as Senators Harry Reid, Orrin Hatch, Robert Bennett, and Gordon Smith and said that we as members need to be "active participants" in correcting misinformation. He cited Mitt Romney's failed presidential bid due to the Mormon factor, and the erroneous belief that the FLDS in Texas were associated in any way with the Church. He discussed his efforts to go to several large regional media providers in Washington, Chicago, New York, Boston, Cleveland, and other cities to meet with the editorial boards, correspondents, and managers of some of the country's major newspapers and electronic media outlets.

At BYU-Hawaii (See Video Clip) he encouraged students to "join the conversation by participating on the Internet…to share the gospel and explain in simple, clear terms the message of the Restoration. " He said:

"How different your world is today. If you read newspapers, the chances are you read them on the Internet. Yours is the world of cyberspace, cell phones that capture video, video downloads and iTunes, social networks like Facebook, text messaging and blogs, hand-helds and podcasts. As many in my generation are just getting onto email, that’s already becoming old hat to most of you.

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.

Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. You can download videos from Church and other appropriate sites, including Newsroom at LDS.org, and send them to your friends. You can write to media sites on the Internet that report on the Church, and voice your views as to the accuracy of the reports."

Tim Malone at Latter-day Commentary related Elder Ballard's talk in an insightful way that related to why he even blogs. Several people jumped on the bandwagon to declare Elder Ballard's New Media Talk either the best or worst thing on the Bloggernacle. Elder Ballard was actually nominated for a Niblet even though he lost out in both categories.

At BYU-Idaho he told them "Along with the terrible effects of pornography, the Internet and other media are often used to spread falsehoods. Every month there are 60 billion searches for information on the Internet. 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. . . .

Today I want to encourage you to reach out to others in the world to help change the perception and even the hearts of millions of our Heavenly Father's children by correcting misunderstandings by sharing with them the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ."

Elder Ballard talking with Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong. Photo by Kiersten Isom.

At the BYU Management Society Dinner he said about overcoming false perceptions about the Church about the same things about using the Internet as he did in Idaho:

"So let me pose a question. What are you prepared to do about it? If you are a member of the Church, what is your responsibility during this period of unusual attention and debate?Interest has continued at a high level and probably will for some time. If a national conversation is going on about the Church, are you going to be an active participant or a silent observer?

Church leaders must not be reluctant to participate in public discussion. Where appropriate, we will engage with the media whether it’s the traditional, mainstream media or the new media of the Internet. But Church leaders can’t do it all, especially at the grass-roots, community level. While we do speak authoritatively for the Church, we look to our responsible and faithful members to engage personally with blogs, to write thoughtful, online letters to news organizations, and to act in other ways to correct the record with their own opinions. . . .

However, I emphasize that it is not always about correcting misinformation. Sometimes it is about getting solid information and ideas out there in the first place. Share your experiences – those from your own life – that show how your values and your faith intersect. It doesn’t matter whether that’s face to face with another person, or whether you do it by participating from your own blog or contributing to someone else’s blog. The most important thing is that you let people know that you are a Latter-day Saint, and that your behavior and attitude always reflect the high standards of the Church and what is expected as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, you will be speaking as an individual member and not as an official representative of the Church."

The LDS Church even released an official press release on the FLDS issue trying to distance ourselves.

As a result of Elder Ballard's statements several bloggers have entered the fray particularly on the FLDS issues that have been pervading the bloggernacle. There have been dozens of blogs started by members who took his counsel to heart from the two BYU graduation talks. Dave at a SoftAnswer has been keeping track of the blogs and recently did a post "Elder Ballard’s Call to Inform"on his management society talk. The ldsWebguy also posted about the recent talk in a post Elder Ballard Urges Participation in Internet Conversations. Nathan Gwilliam did the same thing as did Steve St. Clair. All the posts were pointing out how members should be aware of his statements with had limited commentary and depended on commenters.

The ldsWebguy also included the earlier Elder Ballard Urges Students to Use New Media to Share the Gospel and BYU-Idaho news release and solicited a handful of comments just by including the text. Dave at a SoftAnswer had this to say "Instead of focusing solely on sharing the Gospel with the aim of conversion, members need to feel comfortable in sharing their beliefs in a natural and comfortable way to help others understand the truth about the Church." Even Giuseppe Martinengo, an Italian member weighed in Italian about Ballard's BYU-Hawaii talk Gli Apostoli della Chiesa Mormone useranno l’ internet.

The MoreGood Foundation Blog has taken his Management Society talk to heart in a post entitled Elder Ballard’s Questions Can Now Be Answered on MormonTestimonies.org and have cooped it to push people to their Mormon Testimonies site. They have implied they have some formal connection with him. They are trying to answer the following questions:
  • How do your beliefs lift and shape your life for the better?
  • How does the gospel help you as a parent engage with your teens?
  • How do your values encourage you to participate in civic affairs?
  • How has your experience as a home or visiting teacher enlarged your compassion or care for the sick and needy?
  • How has your Church life helped you to avoid such things as pornography and immorality?
  • How have family councils or home evenings helped you resolve differences of opinion with members of your family?
  • How has your experience in speaking in church helped you address large public groups?
  • Where did you learn to respect and not to criticize other faiths?
They have a concept of creating some kind of social networking site for Mormons. I am just not sure it will catch on as the place that non-Mormons will go to find out the definite answers. It is too Mormony. I think the wild and woolly world of blogging with people commenting give us more exposure and is more comfortable for people to just jump in to the conversation. Their site serves its purpose but is too sanitized for most people who want to know the down and dirty from every day members.

A critical post was written in Mormon Coffee, an anti-Mormon blog, by Aaron Shafovaloff entitled Hiding Behind Skirts who calls Russell Ballard out. Shafavaloff uses Todd Wood's, a anti-Mormon 's post about Apostles engaging the New Media personally. Wood said:

"I am telling you guys, a real LDS general authority or better yet, an LDS apostle, needs to start blogging.

Where are the bold prophets and apostles for times like these in America?

Can you imagine if the prophet Isaiah or apostle Paul lived in 2008? Would they be crying out, “Someone hand me the keyboard! I want to share some truth unapologetically on the matter!”

Shafovaloff attacks Elder Ballard by saying, "M. Russell Ballard, I’m talking to you. While you understandably call upon your membership to use the internet to spread the message of your mainstream sect, your quorum cowardly hides behind unofficial voices for the majority of compelling issues. Be a man and start wearing some institutional pants. Start a blog and put an official stamp on your posts."

I don't think Shafovaloff understands just how much Elder Ballard does do as he goes around giving press statements on a weekly basis, manages the Public Affairs Department, serves on the Executive Missionary Committee, goes on speaking assignments, attends Church functions and meetings, and serves on several civic and business boards. The man is frankly busy. I agree that a Mormon General Authority perhaps a few members of the Seventy or even BYU Religion teachers should be assigned to blog as official representatives of the Church.

As a result of Elder Ballard's influence I personally started my Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord site. I am merely pitch hitting unofficially sharing experiences and witty sayings that might come out of the mouth of M. Russell Ballard. My site is a product of his influence. It may not be an official site but it sure deals with issues affecting people interested in member missionary work. Elder Ballard is using a viral marketing technique by harnessing the members. People want to know what the general member thinks since the Mormon leaders are like the Pope or Billy Graham to outsiders very busy. If M. Russell Ballard told everyone what to say then it would be what the detractors want that we are a mindless cult incapable of free expression or will.


Aaron Shafovaloff said...

Of course Ballard is an extremely busy man. What I am saying is that he needs to manage his time such that he spends meaningful time in public in a manner that:

- uses the God-given medium of the internet

- comes with an institutional stamp of "official"

- addresses pressing doctrinal issues

I have outlined some suggested topics on my blog post. I have a hard time thinking that an issue like repentance---something that is so basic to authentic Christianity---is not important enough for him to clarify.

Dr. B said...

I will pass your post along to him. Maybe he will address it in one of his Public Affairs announcements that he puts out each week. He has been giving press conferences all over the U.S. I know he has addressed the topic of repentance many times in the LDS General Conferences for the past thirty years. The LDS leaders use the official website for everything lds.org to say what they have to. That gives it an official stamp of approval. You can check out the LDS Newsroom for recent issues he has addressed.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

That'd be great, thanks.

I'm aware of the various institutional venues, but thanks again. Regarding repentance, I'd specifically like him to deal with Kimball's six-step model of prerequisite repentance required for forgiveness (especially when contrasted with the Robinsonian model of repentance being promoted by BYU professors). I would ask him:

* Are the main tenets of Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness spiritually oppressive and unbiblical? Was Kimball correct in saying that “trying” was insufficient, and that only successful, permanent, comprehensive abandonment of sin (from practice and the desires of the mind) brings complete forgiveness?

I would also ask:

* Was God the Father potentially once a sinner? Does the mainstream Mormon sect provide rock-solid, official assurance that God the Father never sinned?
* Can “virgin” be redefined to refer to one who has not had relations with a mortal man, although perhaps has had relations with an immortal man?
* Was not only the priesthood ban, but also the Curse of Cain teaching, erroneous and dishonorable to God? Why doesn’t the mainstream Mormon institution issue a public declaration equivocally condemning the Curse of Cain teaching?
* Was Brigham Young right to cover up Mormon involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

These are the questions I posted on my blog.

John said...

Probably you can tell by his questions, but Aaron is the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing here.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

"Wolf in sheep's clothing" implies I'm portraying myself to be something that I'm not. But I am unabashedly a critic of the Mormon church, and as you can tell from my blog post, I am openly critical of Mormon leaders like Ballard for not having the integrity to definitively deal with compelling doctrinal issues in public.

Also, if you think it's wolf-like to ask questions on issues that sincerely concern me, then that would be your problem. In fact, that only reinforces my view of Mormonism as generally fostering within members an unwillingness to answer pointed, compelling, important doctrinal questions when answers have the potential to harm the precious image of the LDS institution.

Dr. B said...

John: Actually Aaron has some valid concerns. Many of his questions though have been dealt with by others who do research. They are no different questions than Elder Ballard might be asked by any other reporter who is not LDS. He is welcome to express his opinions whether we answer the questions to his satisfaction is another thing. I don't think we should make personal attacks he is merely trying to raise concerns that he thinks are valid. I think we should try to answer his concerns about the issues themselves.

Aaron: I passed your post on as I said I would. You defended yourself well enough.

Dr. B said...

John: Actually Aaron has some valid concerns. Many of his questions though have been dealt with by others who do research. They are no different questions than Elder Ballard might be asked by any other reporter who is not LDS. He is welcome to express his opinions whether we answer the questions to his satisfaction is another thing. I don't think we should make personal attacks he is merely trying to raise concerns that he thinks are valid. I think we should try to answer his concerns about the issues themselves.

Aaron: I passed your post on as I said I would. You defended yourself well enough.