If there is anything that I've learned from this it is the incredible amount of misinformation that is out there on the Internet about the faith that I hold dear. Truly, I've learned that lack of access to the facts of a given matter does not stop a person who wants to say something from making something up in its place. On the other hand, I've also learned that many people are more than happy to be enlightened when they discover that they have been misinformed.
All of this is why I was so happy when I found MormonVoices, an online help for Latter-Day Saints wanting to participate in the public dialogue about Mormons. Among a lot of great content, it contains civil explanations of those beliefs of ours that are intentionally or otherwise misrepresented in the media, a news feed to see what is being published by journalists about our faith, and (best of all) a way to sign up as a volunteer to help with the MormonVoices mission!
The last one is my favorite. I signed up just before Christmas and have since been sent a "Call to Action" email each time MormonVoices needs volunteers to hop online to an article where either the journalist or the commenters are misconstruing the facts about the Church.
In the last month, I have participated in 5-6 of these Calls to Action, commenting on articles with the goal in mind of clarifying people's misunderstandings and misstatements or simply making the conversation more edifying.
Bearing My Testimony On the Internet
One such time, a commenter outright asked "So, does anybody out there actually believe this stuff?" Bingo. I responded that I did. Due to the context of the current conversation, I bore my testimony that Jesus Christ visited the Americas after His resurrection. Here is the comment in full:
"First, it is easy to type anything into a form field on a website because you cannot see the sincerity or lack thereof in my eyes, my voice, or my demeanor.
With that in mind, I do believe the scriptures of the Mormon Church, which for most Latter-Day Saints means the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.
My small post here won't back up my assertion that belief in these scriptures ranges from figurative to literal for many in the Mormon faith, but I believe that nearly all practicing Latter-Day Saints would agree with a statement from Joseph Smith that is contained in an introductory note at the beginning of the Book of Mormon: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
Personally, I believe that Christ was resurrected and that He lives today. I believe that he did visit the Americas after his resurrection as the Book of Mormon claims. I believe the prophets indicated by the Book of Mormon as its authors were real people. Contrary to what Doctor Dan and Tiberius Kirk (other commenters on the same article) may think about the general religious population, I have done a great deal of research about my own faith online, am aware of its *many* blemishes, and still choose to believe. May I recommend http://mormon.org/me/1VHN/ if you are interested in reading more."
A different commenter followed up with "Does such a belief (Christ visiting the Americas) make a difference in your every day life?"
That made me think. Sometimes, people will say that ultimately religion is just a set of moral codes and whatever you believe beyond that is irrelevant.
Here was my ultimate response:
"That's a really good question, and hard to get into the answer here, but I'll take a quick stab.
Yes, it does. It informs my identity as well as brings ubiquity to a set of traditions that are otherwise "then" and "over there". The same is true regarding my belief in living prophets and modern revelation.
Such a stance brings more intimacy to my relationship with God as a visit to the Americas makes sense with my world view that God is a personal God that desires a relationship with each of us individually. I read a great post on this the other day: http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/12/05/for-the-god-wants-to-know-himself-in-you/"
These are the kinds of experiences that I have had since joining MormonVoices.
Today's Latest Call to Action
One just happened today. I got an email yesterday from MormonVoices referencing an article that was particularly derogatory to the Church regarding its standards for sexual purity. As you might imagine, the comments section for that kind of topic--especially with the tone the article had set--was pretty murky. It took me a day to think of what I could do to try and help out. Here was my response:
"The individual experience of each of these children of God is tragic, and I inevitably feel pangs that maybe there was a way that was not seen that could have made each circumstance turn out better.
I liked Kori's video, and the article on wheatandtares was thought-provoking.
What I didn't like was the divisive tone I saw in this article--I don't really think it helps the conversation. Particularly, I think that it misconstrues a number of statistics about Utah demographics in an attempt to validate its rage-against-the-machine attitude.
(To the writer's credit, these stats are often misused in attacks against the LDS Church and he may have just lifted them from a secondary source, so here is my attempt to put them into perspective.)
First, pornography. This statistic is taken from a study performed by Benjamin Edelman that surveyed online pornography use by state. What was not in scope for the study was other distribution channels. Utah has very strict laws regarding pornography access, which Professor Edelman himself posited could account for the discrepancy; that is, since Utahns that are seeking pornography can't get it any
other way than online, it inflates the number. One might argue that Utah should have less restrictive laws, but it isn't clear to infer from this study that the Utah culture drives its residents to pornography. You can read more at http://en.fairmormon.org/Utah/Statistical_claims/Pornography_use_in_Utah
Second, anti-depressants. Again, IMO, this is another that is more about channels than an indication of a culture problem. The LDS Church teaches abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, which is a common channel for individuals to treat their depression, etc. In the absence of these, Latter-Day Saints turn to perscription medications. There are other possible interpretations here, but I again doubt the
intuition that there is a "perfection" culture in Utah that causes significantly more depression cases than in other states. You can read more at http://en.fairmormon.org/Utah/Statistical_claims/LDS_use_of_antidepressants
Third, suicide. Utah is 9th in a recent study. What is interesting is that Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming are all bordering Utah, but have a *higher* suicide rate in the same study. The Rocky Mountain section of the United States is called the "suicide belt". There have been studies over the years to try and evaluate why the suicide rate is higher in these states (one I read recently correlated it with elevation of all things). Among them, though, Utah is the lowest, even though it has the highest concentration of Latter-Day Saints. Again, you can read more at http://en.fairmormon.org/Utah/Statistical_claims/Suicide_rate_among_Mormons
Conclusions are hard to make off of statistics, and my interpretations here may not be correct either, but I think the drive-by use of them in this article distracts from the issue."
I'm not sure what will come of it, but I hope that those who fall onto that article in the future will be able to use my comment to help them navigate the issue instead of feeling up the creek without a paddle.
Such a course is not for everyone; there are a number of mean-spirited people who get drunk on making those of any religious persuasion squirm under a microscope. I find myself sometimes needing to take a step back to keep myself from throwing their incivility back at them. Overall, though, it feels good to be a part of a group that is trying to make the light of the gospel shine brighter on the Internet. I feel like Gideon who withstood the words of Nehor or Abinadi who challenged the priests of Noah. I feel like I'm making a difference.
If that sounds attractive to you, take some time to go to mormonvoices.org and consider whether or not you would like to contribute your efforts!