Elder Ballard’s Advice–Start a Blog

By: Steve H - December 15, 2007

I haven’t written for a while, and now I feel remiss. Today was graduation day at BYUH, and the visiting apostle, Elder Ballard, told us all to have more of an online presence.

This sounded to me like a sea-change in church policy towards the internet, or at least a drastic clarification. For some time, there has seemed to me to be a consolidation and control of web presence, with the standardization of ward pages, and the status of unofficial pages and blogs devoted to the church seemed to be a bit ambiguous. I think this makes it clear that while there are some things that should be avoided (He mentioned that debates about doctrine–I would separate this from discussions that seek to understand doctrine and its application, though that’s me–and airing our doubts don’t do much to build the kingdom, and cautioned against being defensive or belligerent.), the brethren recognize the “real” status of virtual space.

I know that I have often had the opportunity to answer questions on this blog, and I hope to be a bit more active in contributing to whatever good is done in the blogosphere for the kingdom.

To start that off, I want to know. Does anyone have stories to tell about how the kingdom has been served in cyberspace? Have your blogs, websites, social networking spaces, second lives, etc. been effective tools for missionary work or simply explaining our beliefs where they had been otherwise misunderstood?

An article on Ballard’s talk and a transcript can be found here: It was recorded, and I assume it will soon be available in video.

21 Comments

  1. I think that this is probably the most clear indication so far that the Church hierarchy regrets the vacuum that occurred when they went to the one true website model. Three years ago any Mormon search on google yielded unseemly content fro those who want to distort the truth. In the last three years that has changed dramatically (blogs, websites, digitization of Mormon Studies content all helped with this). There is still some ways yet to go. I very much appreciated brother Cook’s comments regarding the internet and missionary work.

    You can see the Church branching out more as well (e.g., Otterson blogging at On Faith as well as all the Church tech blogs). This is good stuff.

    I have talked to many, many folks that believed that they have been helped by Mormon blogs. Some have come back to Church and others have stayed when they otherwise wouldn’t have. I’m sure that there are some that have left as well, though.

    My personal philosophy is to be truthful and constructive, and hopefully those that have questions will see that there are answers along the way.

    Thanks for the ground-level reporting.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 12/15/2007 @ 8:15 pm

  2. A second hurdle that may be overcome by this encouragement is the blockage that occurs at stake PR councils, who feel they must be the gate-keepers or at least the sole moderators of all interaction between local church members and the public, or between church members and the media. As long as church members are speaking for themselves, and not as representatives of the church.

    Comment by Bookslinger — 12/15/2007 @ 9:23 pm

  3. Does anyone have stories to tell about how the kingdom has been served in cyberspace?

    As a teenager I became online friends with a girl. Yes, I know it sounds geeky and dangerous, and neither of us were much into the online networking/chat sort of thing, but for some reason we happened to stumble across each other and started emailing. A couple years later she was baptized, and a couple of years after that we were sealed in the Salt Lake temple.

    I don’t give myself too much credit for her conversion. I was actually very nervous to even tell her that I was a Mormon–fearing that her reaction would surely be negative. But actually she had never heard of Mormons before, and had a hunger for truth, and that began a journey for both of us.

    In a lot of ways our story (that’s the short version) is an exception, but it’s certainly proof that it can happen. I’m just glad neither of our parents were wise enough to put a stop to it early on, as most responsible parents would. Since that time the dangers of online relationships have become more well known. But still, you don’t have to have a relationship like ours in order to influence a life online.

    Comment by Horebite — 12/15/2007 @ 11:37 pm

  4. the dangers of online relationships have become more well known.

    I often wonder about this. I know that the dangers for children are probably greater, just because they can associate privately with adults online in ways they can’t offline, or at least that are more difficult in person. But beyond that, I wonder whether the odds of encountering dangerous people are better online than they are on the street or in a club, restaurant, etc. I guess it depends what your basis for comparison is.

    Comment by Steve H — 12/16/2007 @ 12:19 am

  5. I was interested to see you bring in the whole ward website thing. I see this as being rather unrelated, actually. I am not sure I see the desire to regulate church web sites changing. I just see it as a recognition that people talk about the gospel with or without us. They always have. We have been encouraged to open our mouths (they have never tried to regulate our personal conversations, right?) And now I just hear them saying, well, of course, since conversations are happening online, talk there, too. It’s a way to ‘open our mouth’ in the digital world. Don’t know if those thoughts are making sense…do you see what I’m trying to say? I don’t see this as backtracking from how they have handled web site anything. I just think it’s another way for them to encourage missionary work. I could be wrong, but that is my take on that.

    Like you said, I sense this all as a solemn reminder to bloggers that we ought not take lightly what we say and how we say it. It’s a call to members to use blogs and online presence for productive reasons, not to vent frustration about the church, which itself can harm people’s perceptions of us. Also, blogging has not been heralded as a tool to change the church, but rather to defend it. That to me is also significant.

    Comment by m&m — 12/16/2007 @ 4:07 am

  6. The power of the internet is expanding. My hats off to those who have laid the foundation of the bloggernacle—thank you. The bloggernacle has many groups that make it up.

    I won’t go into detail about all the groups and divisions that I’ve come across. I’d just like to say that I came to the bloggernacle a few months ago to add my voice and approach to blogging. I had a plan in mind and naively went about implementing it. In hindsight I would have done things different. I was unprepared for the hostility I encountered. I never thought that my attempts to start a discussion about “things of the spirit” would offend anyone. I was wrong. To those offended I apologize.

    I understand now that the bloggernacle net gathereth of all kinds. That’s fine with me. I’m willing to accept all that fit into the definition for participation as stated at Mormon Archipelago:

    We are always happy to add appropriate blogs to our feeds. Blogs must be actively posting and generally sympathetic to the Church, both in content and tenor. As Eugene England once suggested, it is possible to “be obedient while maintaining integrity” and “to have faith while being true to reason.” We only include blogs specifically dealing with Mormon topics (doctrine, culture, theology, etc.).

    Oh, by the way, I sent two emails requesting that my blog be included on Mormon Archipelago based on the statement above. One on Oct 27 and another Nov 8, 2007. So far I haven’t received an answer. I send one letter to LDS Select, same thing. No response. I’m sure there is a good reason for this.

    I would like to thank a few people who have been helpful and kind to me. In no particular order– Kevin Barney, Michelle at Blogger of Jared, Bookslinger, Clayton Christensen, and Richard Miller. Hope I didn’t leave anyone out.

    Comment by Jared — 12/16/2007 @ 5:44 pm

  7. Jared,

    I have to say my experience has been similar. I started blogging a few months ago and have only managed to get listed on a few places in the bloggernacle. I have 2 regular readers that I know of, and one is my wife :). At first I was resentful of those that never responded to my request to be listed. But I know people are busy and/or perhaps they just didn’t feel like the content of my blog warranted being listed. Either way, that’s fine–it’s their choice (although a refusal note would be nice). I figure I’ll just keep writing and then try again later. But I didn’t start my blog to share my brilliance with the world (as nice as it would be if everyone agreed that I was brilliant). I started it as a form of a journal, but more than just a journal because in my mind if I post it online, then I have to really think about my thoughts so I find my posts have a bit more meaning to me than if I were to just write them in a journal.

    I agree though, that the bloggernacle is an perplexing community that I haven’t quite figured out yet. Now knowing the history, I would speculate that it’s a community that is growing too fast for the community to know how to handle it. How do you maintain the feeling of community when a handful of blogs becomes thousands (of after Elder Ballard’s talk–millions perhaps)?

    Comment by Horebite — 12/16/2007 @ 8:54 pm

  8. Ok, maybe millions is exaggerating a bit.

    Comment by Horebite — 12/16/2007 @ 9:07 pm

  9. Thanks for the comments guys. I help run LDSBlogs.org, and for the most part, inaction is generally the result of various things. Mostly that we all have real jobs and when we have time to do blog stuff, we tend to actually want to participate instead of doing admin work (and the bigger things get the more admin work there is). Just keep being patient and persistent.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 12/16/2007 @ 10:45 pm

  10. Horebite–thanks for commenting on your experience. Great start on your website.

    J. Stapley–thanks for your response. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

    Comment by Jared — 12/16/2007 @ 11:04 pm

  11. Also, you should be aware, that in general, folks in the ‘nacle typically like to wait several months before extending the full welcome to individuals who are new and without track record. You would be surprised how many anti-Mormons try to troll the ‘nacle, sometimes pretending to be faithful members.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 12/16/2007 @ 11:36 pm

  12. Jared, I was confused by the website your name linked to in your first comment. I see you’ve fixed that in your last comment and now it makes a lot more sense.:)

    J. Stapley, I understand the time limitation and the desire to not list every joe-shmoe who starts a blog (whether it be because the content is just not that great or because they might be anti). I don’t have any hard feelings.

    Not to criticize (ok, I am criticizing, but only in my most friendly manner), but I find the more static blog listings to be less than useful. After a month of using one of them, I transfered all of the web sites to Google reader which I can customize as I see fit. So it was a good starting point but with the amount of stuff out there, it’s nice to be able to personalize it to just what I’m interested in , as well as add sites that the blog listings are too busy to add–like Jared’s :). With the growth that is destined to happen in the bloggernacle, I think static blog listings maintained by human admins are going to get harder and harder to manage, and less and less relevant. I’m not saying Google reader is amazing, but it is a start and they are showing signs of doing cool things, like the new Recommended blogs feature.

    Comment by Horebite — 12/16/2007 @ 11:57 pm

  13. m&m,
    I think you are right on about the way the web works. It’s just one more way to talk to some extent. It’s a legitimate form of interaction. I also think your comments on the talk are relevant.
    I do, however, think that a lot of people wondered about what to do with the net, since the policy on unit sites was (and is) control, and since we generally hear so much about the dangers of the internet and so little about how to use it positively. I think this talk does say new things. That may be because the net has simply reached a critical mass at which it is simply impossible to have any control over what is out there. I remember when you had to dial into boards to post there. So it’s probably only in the last five to ten years that a talk like this makes sense. It is only in that time period that the internet became nearly unavoidable as a communications media.
    Jared et al,
    It may be that there needs to be a new way of linking together LDS Blogs, but I don’t know what that would be. It’s been a while since I’d looked at the actual Mormon Archipelago page, and it’s more than a grouping these days. If the range of Mormon blogging expands any time soon, it may be difficult to come up with a way to organize it. The MA started as an affiliation of a few blogs that didn’t have the readership of some of the really big LDS blogs and thought affiliation might increase exposure. Each of those blogs, it seems to me, had a distinct character. Perhaps as things expand more affiliations of like-minded blogs or blogs with similar content could be formed with the possibility that someone, perhaps MA or perhaps someone else, could list blogs in groupings rather than single blogs, so that communities develop. The problem with big communities is that people need a way to orient themselves. The question is, who has the time for such an adventure? Administration, as J points out, is much less fun than participation.

    Comment by Steve H — 12/17/2007 @ 1:36 am

  14. Thanks for pointing out Elder Ballard’s talk. I’ll have to take a look at it, and see how my own little contributions compare.

    Comment by John Mansfield — 12/17/2007 @ 8:34 am

  15. I do, however, think that a lot of people wondered about what to do with the net

    I don’t disagree. I was one of them! :) Although I think many of us had some sense that it really was important to have faithful voices out there. It is nice to have some validation of that sense.

    I do also agree with you. about the fact that this talk says new things. I wasn’t meaning to suggest otherwise, so sorry that was unclear. I just don’t see this as necessarily meaning that now somehow ward websites won’t still be restricted, for example.

    I love this talk. It is specific, which I thought was wonderful. I do find myself reflecting on how he is encouraging us to spend our time in this regard. I’m not convinced that our typical bloggernacle discussions is what he has in mind. Using Bookslinger’s example and mentioning actual video testimonies suggests that he is likely encouraging something different than what we typically do. I am thinking my blog time might change some because of this.

    I’m not saying I don’t think online discussion doesn’t have merits of its own. But I don’t think that is in particular what Elder Ballard was encouraging. Does anyone else feel this?

    Jared and Steve H., there is someone who updates ‘new mormon blogs’ almost daily. The blogs clearinghouse website that he seems to be running is http://mormon-blogs.com/
    His own blog is http://www.asoftanswer.com/

    I have been astounded to see how many new blogs show up. There is simply no way to have them all on the MA, so I am not sure how on earth this will continue. Jared, at least you could go to that website above to add your site if you haven’t already. :)

    Comment by m&m — 12/17/2007 @ 1:45 pm

  16. m&m –

    Thanks for the plug!

    Part of the reason for the daily onslaught of new updates is that I went for months letting the submissions pile up. Recently, I’ve been able to do better. But I thought I was caught up last month but then discovered a new cache of untouched emails. :-(

    So I know how hard it is to keep up with. Part of the problem of blogging is that real life – family, callings, job, life gets in the way.

    Comment by David H. Sundwall — 12/17/2007 @ 5:20 pm

  17. You see the plug you got in the SL Trib Steve? Pretty cool.

    Comment by Geoff J — 12/18/2007 @ 9:09 pm

  18. Cyberspace can be Satan’s best friend when it comes to spreading condemnation for the church.

    Before I was aware of Elder Ballard’s request I starting doing research on the top political candidate’s positions on certain topics for my business blog. It was then that I realized how HORRIFIC the slander is against the church because of Mitt Romney’s candidacy.

    Today, I used my business blog to do my part to make others aware of the consequences of bigotry towards Mormons and others who have been targeting during this pre-election time.

    I will let you know if it is an effective tool. Only time will tell…

    Comment by Heidi Whitaker — 1/2/2008 @ 8:10 pm

  19. I’ve been a member for 19 years, much of it in active. I’ve been active now for the past 2 years and reading several blogs has helped tremendously. They’ve made me feel less isolated. I know there are people out there that don’t equate questioning with apostasy, that separate doctrine from culture, and are Mormon. In my ward there are some wonderful people but I find there is little in the way of real discussion, and I was feeling stunted and strangled. The bloggernacle has been invaluable to me.
    Thank you!

    Comment by Lizzy — 1/10/2008 @ 2:11 pm

  20. I have a question about starting an LDS blog.

    How does one advertise it?

    Do you spam the other LDS blogs?

    Comment by California Star — 1/23/2008 @ 12:32 am

  21. California Star, spamming typically doesn’t get anyone anywhere. If you make intelligent comments at other blogs, people will want to check out your own blog, naturally. Spamming typically results in the opposite behavior. I think Dave’s advice is pretty sound and I recommend you check it out. After you have a month or so of posts under your belt, contact the folks at ldsblogs.org as well.

    PS: I removed your handle link, because it appeared spamillicious.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 1/23/2008 @ 3:33 am

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