Church asks Mormons: Which websites and writers do you read?
Salt Lake Tribune
October 6, 2011
The LDS Church is surveying its members about their readership of key websites and Mormon writers, a move that reflects the faith’s growing interest in managing its public image as two Mormon candidates make headlines pursuing the White House.
Church officials confirmed this week that the survey on a range of social, political and doctrinal matters — including the trustworthiness of specific journalists — is partly intended to gauge how and where Latter-day Saints get their information on LDS-related issues.
“This kind of survey is one way church leaders have to hear from members,’’ church spokesman Scott Trotter said in a statement. He declined to say specifically what would be done with the results.
The confidential online poll, sent to at least 1,000 Mormons, asks about access to the weekly television and radio broadcast “Music and the Spoken Word” as well as the frequency and purpose of visits to Mormon-oriented websites such as mormonlife.com, bycommonconsent.com, timesandseasons.org and the church’s own lds.org.
The survey also seeks members’ reasons for using various media outlets and asks if they find seven specific journalists and bloggers “trustworthy, consistent with church positions and teachings, enjoyable, candid and honest [or] thoughtful.”
The list of writers includes conservative radio host Glenn Beck; popular LDS bloggers Joanna Brooks, of religiondispatches.org, and Jana Riess, of Beliefnet; Newsweek and Daily Beast reporter and blogger McKay Coppins; “Mormon Stories” podcast host John Dehlin; Salt Lake Tribune lead religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack; and LDS Church public affairs Managing Director Michael Otterson, who also blogs for The Washington Post.
“It does surprise me greatly that I’m a part of it,” said Riess, whose Beliefnet blog is called “Flunking Sainthood.” “My blog is not one of these megablogs. I don’t have that huge national platform that some other authors might have.”
She and others viewed it as a positive development the church is attuned to member sentiments and focused on a thriving debate about LDS issues online, especially in the Mormon blogosphere, sometimes dubbed the “Bloggernacle.”
“It shows me that they care about their consumers, and that they are willing to change,” said Dehlin, whose weekly podcasts address sensitive LDS topics. “I consider it progress that they are thinking more like a company and less like the Soviet Union.”
A national media observer said the survey prompts questions about stewardship of church resources and how results might guide future contacts with news outlets.
“Are they trolling for favorites or people to avoid?” asked Al Tompkins, a journalism-ethics teacher at the Poynter Institute, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based school for journalists. “It’s their right to do both of those, but if I were a member, I would wonder why they are spending resources and energy on it.”
Those interviewed had mixed reactions about whether survey results might affect their personal standing within the faith.
“It’s easy to look at a list of journalists compiled by the Mormon church and see a witch hunt, but I doubt it,” Coppins said. “I didn’t personally feel targeted when I saw my name on the list.”
Mormon Magazine: Quit Energy Drinks Now and Avoid Being Slain by the "Destroying Angel"
Wed Dec 31, 2008 at 01:57:12 PM
If you know anything about Mormons, it's that they typically avoid coffee and other products with caffeine. Yet many Mormons recognize that caffeine isn't exactly heroin, and there appears to be a healthy debate within the Church of Latter Day Saints over the use of the drug.
In the wake of an explosion of energy drinks in recent years that even has some mainstream scientists concerned, Mormon doctor writes in this month's copy of the Ensign -- the official magazine of the Salt-Lake-City-based church -- that overuse of the stimulant used by an estimated 90 percent of North Americans cause brittle bones, rage and even death.
While the good doctor may be right in that overdoing caffeine could lead to serious ailments, his extensive list of possible problems seems to be culled from every potentially negative article every written about the drug. Naturally, the biased Dr. Thomas Boud doesn't include a single word about the possible benefits of caffeine, which may be extensive. That seems pretty deceptive for a publication some gullible Mormons believe is inseparable from biblical Scripture.
Some of those sickly sweet energy drinks taste like crap, but we highly doubt that downing one will result in an execution by the Almighty.
However, Dr. Boud's article seems to imply that's exactly what could happen. Without a hint of sarcasm, the doc relates the "glorious blessings" that are bestowed on people who follow the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants, which Boud believes supports the limit -- if not prohibition -- on caffeine use.
One of those blessings is that "the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them." Boud goes on to write, "How marvelous these promises are, that we may walk and not faint and run and not be weary and that the destroying angel will pass us by!"
THE LDS CHURCH WANTS TO CONTROL ALL INFORMATION ABOUT THE CHURCH
Wyoming's Mormons - Mormon Studies Chair at UW? Some LDS Members Are Wary
By Tom Rea
LARAMIE -- Academics at the University of
Wyoming have been discussing the creation of a Mormon Studies chair at UW for at
least seven years.
The idea is that the UW Religious Studies Program already devotes courses to most of the world's major religions. But in a state where one in nine residents is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, comprising about 11 percent of the population, there are no courses devoted solely to the Mormon faith.
In 2004, the Mormon Studies proposal took a serious step when UW Spanish professor Kevin Larsen, a former LDS bishop, and Religious Studies Program Director Paul Flesher formed a committee of faculty and Laramie Mormon church leaders to push the idea forward.
Using seed money from university and LDS sources, the committee launched a speakers' series on Mormon subjects. Since 2006, six speakers, three of them Mormon, have given lectures on campus. The talks have been well received, sometimes drawing 400 to 500 people, about half Mormon, according to local church leaders. Committee members say they have been using the series as a way to shop informally for a new professor of Mormon Studies.
Larsen and Flesher figure they need a $5 million endowment to hire a well-established scholar in the field, continue the speakers' series, and support a couple of graduate-student assistants. Half that amount would need to come from private sources, and the rest could be state funds already allocated by the Legislature to attract more private donations to the university.
Committee members say the position must go to a scholar with a proven track record in the field, who will neither attack the faith nor make excuses for it -- "neither polemics nor apologetics" as professors in the religious studies program put it. They say the person hired might not necessarily be Mormon.
But though the proposal was first made public two years ago, and though UW fundraisers have had a variety of conversations with potential donors, no gifts have yet come through. Part of the problem, say committee members and local church leaders, is concern among a large number of Mormons that the appointment of an independent scholar might end up embarrassing the church.
"Maybe fifty percent don't support the endowed chair idea," Laramie LDS Stake President Allen Turner said recently, speaking of the 3,000 or so Mormons in his stake. (A Mormon stake is like a diocese.) "The negative side says we'll open up a can of worms we don't want to open."
Turner said some church members fear that allowing scholarly investigation of the Mormon faith at UW "may turn out to be a Mormon-bashing study."
The church has a history of confrontations -- even at the LDS-run Brigham Young University -- with scholars whose works have questioned tenets of the faith.
Perhaps the most famous example was the case of renowned UCLA history professor Fawn Brodie. Fawn McKay Brodie (1915-1981) grew up in a prominent Utah LDS family. Her father was a bishop in the church and an uncle, David O. McKay, was an apostle and ninth president of the Church.
Using her family connections, Brodie gained access to the most restricted LDS Church Archives in Salt Lake City and in 1945 published No Man Knows My History, one of the first non-hagiographic biographies of church founder Joseph Smith.
The book portrays Smith as a treasure-seeking imposter. Brodie, whose works include biographies of Thomas Jefferson and British Explorer Richard Burton, was excommunicated by the LDS church in 1946.
A more recent example is that of former BYU history professor Michael Quinn. A seventh-generation Mormon on his mother's side, Quinn earned an undergraduate degree at BYU and a Ph.D. from Yale; he returned to BYU to teach history in 1976.
Quinn put in several years of intense research in the church archives in Salt Lake City, and by the mid-1980s was writing articles -- about the toleration of polygamy in some Mormon communities after it was officially renounced in 1890, for example -- that made his academic bosses nervous. In 1988 he resigned from BYU. His critical attitude toward the church led to his excommunication in 1993.
Since the early 1990s Quinn has written or edited five books based on years of research, all but one published by Signature books, a Utah firm that often publishes books critical of the church. One of Quinn's books was on same-sex romantic friendships in 19th-century Utah; at time of its publication Quinn, a divorced father of four, came out as gay.
Since 1999 he has again been looking for an academic job. A Wall Street Journal story in 2006 detailed Quinn's rejection for jobs at Arizona State and the University of Utah. He was the sole finalist for the job at Utah, and had been recommended for a position by the Religious Studies Department at ASU. In both cases his candidacy failed to win support at higher university levels.
Despite these church-scholar frictions, Mormon Studies is a growing field, propelled by the world-wide expansion of the church. In the last two years, private Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, and public Utah State University in Logan, have established chairs in Mormon Studies, and filled the positions with well-respected scholars, both Mormon.
Ethnic, religious, minority, and gender-studies programs have grown up in American universities since the 1960s. Some are full-blown departments. Others are not. The Religious Studies program at the University of Wyoming is not a department; a student can minor in Religious Studies but not major in it. Currently four professors teach Religious Studies full time at UW; several others teach in the program part of their time.
Best known of the speakers who came to UW for the "Latter-day Saints and their World" lecture series was Richard Bushman. Bushman is author of Rough Stone Rolling, the 2005 biography of Joseph Smith. Bushman, primarily a historian of Puritan and colonial America, wrote the Smith biography near the end of his long career at Columbia.
Since visiting Laramie, he took the endowed chair at Claremont. Bushman is an active Mormon, and that matters.
It makes a difference, in Mormon studies, whether a scholar is Mormon or not, said Quincy Newell, assistant professor of religious studies at UW. Newell is on the search committee for Wyoming's proposed Mormon Studies chair. There are advantages either way, she said, as religion is personal, even when you study it academically.
Newell herself is not LDS.
"It's a question of miracles," she said. "Joseph Smith is where it comes to a head." Either a person believes Smith was led by an angel to golden plates in a grove in western New York, and translated them into the Book of Mormon, or a person doesn't, she said.
In pretty much any other subject, a scholar doesn't have to come down one side or the other. But either side can offer useful insights, she said.
Any scholar gets used to these tensions, she said. "You sort of bracket your own faith commitment," she said. And state-sponsored schools are obliged to adhere strictly to neutrality, she said.
It was precisely this tension between faith and fact, that Bushman skillfully addressed in his Rough Stone Rolling biography.
As Walter Kirn noted in his highly favorable review of the book in the New York Times:
"The mystery of the scripture's origins (was it really translated from "reformed Egyptian" or was it made up or borrowed from other sources?) is just one of the burning questions about Smith that Richard Lyman Bushman, his latest biographer, examines from every conceivable rational angle before declaring it to be unanswerable - unanswerable in a way that vaguely suggests such puzzles were divinely intended to stay that way."
Meanwhile the university has to protect itself from the influence, or appearance of influence, that any incoming money from Mormon sources might have.
If the money is found, says UW Provost Myron Allen, his job will be to make donors understand they'll have no say over who gets hired or what that person would teach.
In the past, he said, potential donors to the college of business wanted to be too specific on the politics of the professors the money would support.
The university had to say no to the money, Allen said. If it didn’t, "it's not a gift, it's buying influence," he said.
On the other hand, a recent gift from Vice President Dick Cheney for scholarships for UW students to study abroad was fine, because there were no political restrictions on the money.
"It can get tricky," Allen said. "The main thing is, you need the frankest possible conversation up front, and you need to have a clear legal document ... a trust agreement [that] describes the limits of what the donor can prescribe."
University College of Arts and Sciences development officer Dale Walker sees the proposed chair as a "bridge builder" between the university and the Mormon community.
Ideally, Walker and other committee members said, the Mormon Studies position would be a key part of another university ambition, the establishment of a Center for the Study and Teaching of Religion in the American West.
Once the chair in Mormon studies is filled, chairs in Native American religions and in Protestantism would follow, Walker said.
The center would need at least three professorships for a "critical mass," he said, but six would be better because scholars need conversations with peers to do their best work. Other specialties might be Catholicism, Judaism, and Buddhism, he said.
"We've been focused on raising money for the Mormon chair," he said adding that without support of Mormon donors, a Mormon chair is unlikely, he said. And Mormons are so central to the development of religion in the region "it would be pointless to have a Center for the Study and Teaching of Religion in the American West if you didn't have a Mormon chair."
By Lynn Arave
Deseret News staff writer
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently issued a letter calling for the discontinuation of local unit Web sites until a policy can be established to govern them.
In a letter dated March 15 from the Presiding Bishopric to stake, mission and district presidents, as well as to branch presidents and bishops, instructions were given to discontinue all existing sites. Local church units and organizations were also told not create or sponsor Web sites until further notice.
"As the church grows, it is very important that information presented to the world be accurate and dignified and that it represent a single, unified church voice. In addition, it is imperative that the rights of third parties be protected and respected through strict compliance with applicable laws," the letter states.
"With this in mind, a policy for the creation, operation and maintenance of local unit Web sites is being developed and will be sent to priesthood leaders. Until the policy is established, the First Presidency has requested that local church units and organizations should not create or sponsor Web sites. They have also determined that existing sites should be discontinued."
The letter also noted that the church has developed several official Internet sites containing approved, correlated material that the church has deemed appropriate for the Internet.
LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said church officials want the letter to speak for itself and have no further comment. The letter was read in some ward sacrament meetings last Sunday.
According to the Mormon News Web site, an unofficial collection of LDS Church news at Mormons Today.com , there is some concern about possible misinterpretation of the letter from the Presiding Bishopric. That's because some may erroneously think it also pertains to privately operated or commercial Web sites that serve LDS church members, like Mormons Today.
Randy Ripplinger of LDS Church Public Affairs said there's never been a firm count done on LDS-Church oriented Web sites, but he estimates there are thousands. He also doesn't know how many wards or stakes may have their own sites.
Leonard Suprise, vice president of another LDS-oriented Web site LDSliving.com, operated from Provo, hadn't heard about the letter. He said it is too early to tell how it may affect his business. "We feel real positive about how things have been going," he said. LDSliving has doubled its business in the past year and some 75,000 people now subscribe to its free e-mail calendar service.
Maurine Proctor, who with her husband Scot has formed a Web site, based in Washington, D.C., called meridianmagazine.com specializing in LDS-related content, said Tuesday she hadn't heard anything about the letter. But after hearing it read to her over the phone, she said it sounded like it addresses church units and not Web sites such as her own.
"I think an independent, faithful voice is probably not in any way a negative," she said, as long as it's "very clear that it's an independent voice, that it doesn't represent the church and doesn't pretend to." She said Meridian makes clear that it doesn't represent the church. "Lots of times they don't have access to the breadth of material we or readers have access to. They seem to really enjoy it, not only those teaching but those unable to be in class or those who use it as background before they hear the lesson presented. We try to absolutely be sure that what we write about or what we're saying only quotes from best and most solid sources. Scot and I have had a lot of experience writing for church members and we're aware of what sources are considered valid and accurate. We're very careful in everything we do that way."
The site attracts almost 80,000 different individual users per month, she said. "Even so, we direct people all the time to things on LDS.org (the church's official web site). I hope that we're a helpful voice in that way."
Church leader cautions against Web networking
PROVO, Utah, — A Mormon
church leader has warned his congregation about using the Internet for social
Some Web sites are moral danger zones where young people can be exposed to risque pictures and language, said David Lisonbee, a counselor for a collection of Brigham Young University congregations that are part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The sites also can be used by sexual predators to trap victims, Lisonbee said.
"The biggest concerns we have are on MySpace.com. ... You think you know who you're speaking with, but you don't know for sure," he said.
BYU sophomore Lauren Raps said she canceled her MySpace account last year after receiving messages from strangers and distasteful pictures.
"There were just a lot of things on there that popped up that I didn't like," Raps said.
Other students said they
use the site while exercising some caution and common sense.
Kate Blaylock, a BYU senior, said she is cautious about meeting people online.
"I always report people that I don't know or that I think are questionable, but the only way I think you can become prey is if you put yourself out there," she said.
LDS says Wikileaks web site violated its policy handbook copyrights
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