Larry Burkdall certainly understands the effectiveness of the World Wide Web. Burkdall, the president of the Latter-day Foundation for the Arts, Education and Humanity, recently made a plea on “The Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization of BYU” blog site asking for assistance in the organization’s new effort to “drive down Church enemies from prominent search engine positions” and “teach the gospel of Jesus Christ via the Internet.” Burkdall concedes that the Internet has become a formidable opponent to the Mormon Church’s missionary efforts when he writes:
A missionary in England reported his “golden” contact excitedly consulting the Internet about Mormons after the first discussion. The investigator found a mountain of anti-Mormon material and immediately cancelled all future appointments with the missionaries…The LDS Church tracks about 6,500 anti-LDS Web sites in the English language, whose content dominates search results. Thousands more dominate search engine positions in other languages. Potential converts are abandoning the missionaries once they consult the Internet for more information. Only vast quantities of positive material, correctly optimized, can resolve this problem. We cannot drive the enemies of the Church off the Internet, but we can displace their prominent positions.
Now I admit I have a hard time believing that the LDS Church actually has personnel tracking 6,500 web sites. Perhaps they do. Regardless, I personally find this to be quite encouraging. However, if my mail is any indication, Burkdall’s concerns are not at all surprising. I regularly receive emails from angry Mormons who insist that people should not be getting their information on Mormonism from sites like mrm.org (regardless of the fact that much of what we quote is taken directly from LDS sources). For some reason, a lot of Mormons do not want people reading stuff published by their own church.
Anyway, Burkdall’s call for the Cavalry resulted in a serious backfire. The great majority of the comments posted on this blog were not encouraging at all. Instead, most of them were sharp rebukes, many from former Mormons who were BYU grads. Comments included:
- “For people investigating the LDS Church, the Internet is their best friend, not some naive 19 year old missionary. If the LDS Church is true then why is not the advent of the Internet increasing conversion rates rather than decreasing them? Cults can not stand the light of the noon day sun, thus the bright light of the Internet magnifies the bizarre nature of Mormonism and its sordid history. A few clicks Googling Mormonism and the wise person will flee for their spiritual life. I clicked a few times, woke up, smelled the Postum and officially resigned my Mormon membership shortly after the Internet was born. I am a BYU alumnus.”
- “I resisted posting when I was first referred to this site. But, given two of the posts above, perhaps it won’t be futile to add my ideas. I am also a BYU alumnus. I also have resigned my membership in the LDS church (after being a BIC member of over 60 years at the time of my resignation.) And, the Internet was instrumental in my disengagement and subsequent disaffiliation. It strikes me that your purpose, as noble as it may be, is oriented more toward “marketing” than it is toward ‘product.” As long as the missionary program, whether live or via the internet, relies upon marketing strategies and ignores the product, it is bound to fail. Unlike the LDS church, which has tens of thousands of representatives (missionaries) trying to sell its product, those who are “anti-Mormon” (your words, not mine) rely almost entirely on the internet, or the printed word. While you are stressing ‘marketing’, your opposition is concentrating almost entirely on ‘content.’ No ‘business plan’ in the world is going to succeed at making a ‘sow’s ear’ appear to be a ‘silk purse.’ All in my opinion, of course.”
- “This reminds me of when Joseph Smith led a mob to destroy a printing press that revealed his secretive practice of polygamy (which led to his imprisonment at Carthage). You can attack the sources of unconvenient facts, but it just makes you look more like a cult. In the end, your attempts to stop free intercourse of ideas will only lead to unintended consequences. As an M.B.A., I suggest you open up more by responding to the information that you view as false more openly, as opposed to trying to remove your opponent’s information. The latter makes you look like a cult. You can’t stop the dissemination of information, and you shouldn’t try.”
- “What does manipulating search engine results have to do with Arts, Education or Humanity. Sounds like you don’t want people to exercise their free agency by gathering information before committing time, money and their soul to a questionable multi-level marketing scheme…errr…’church'”
- “You are arranging deck chairs on the Titanic if you think this is going to be of any service in keeping people from finding out the truth about the Pearl of Great Price, the Kinderhook Plates, and Joseph Smith’s zeal in pursuing married women when their husbands where on missions. As a BYU alum, I would encourage you to put your talents to use in making a difference in the real world, rather than trying to get higher search results trying to prop up the Church’s sanitized view of history.”
- “I agree with the others who point out that the problem is not so much with anti-Mormons fighting the LDS Church. Instead it is the LDS Church’s failure to address its history in an adequate and honest manner that is the problem. If I were you I would invest some effort into that. What you suggest doing here is dishonorable. Destroying the Nauvoo Expositor was one of the two stupidest things Joseph Smith ever did. Don’t repeat his error in letter or in spirit. If you believe in something many people consider crazy, simply have the guts to own up to it. If you don’t believe it, don’t sell the edited list of your beliefs to others as though it were the whole story. I am sorry that the LDS Church cannot be clear about its position on history. I know it makes your life and their job that much more difficult.”
- “In my opinion, looking at a topic from varying points of view is healthy. It provides the researcher with a broad foundation of knowledge and when they reach a certain conclusion they ‘know’ they have solid information to back it up, in addition to whatever they ‘know’ in their heart. An acquaintance once said, ‘The truth should withstand scrutiny.’ What is the church afraid of? If the church were true, it wouldn’t be so worried about it. I’m a BYU grad, returned missionary, etc, and I left the church not because of anything I read online but because I didn’t like the temple ceremony and I read a book by a Mormon that gave me even more reasons not to like it.”
- “i like the plan. well actually, what i like is the fact that someone on an ‘anti-mormonism’ site linked me here.”
- “if there are instances where these sites are presenting false information, by all means, point them out. lets get the facts straight and lets remedy the misinformation with truths. but please, dont insult millions of internet users, mormons and search engine operators with your little gimmick of an attempt to game the system by sanitizing history and perpetuating the lies.”
- “Go for it! Then I’ll laugh when I read media articles documenting how you tried to game the system to hide sanitized history and all the science refuting the Book of Mormon. The more the publicity the better, as the LDS Church withers under the spotlight. I’m also BIC, RM, BYU B.S. and M.Ed. alum, temple married, and active, until I started researching the lies, and subsequently left.”
- “Barkdull is not willing to let the natural course of things play out but wishes to artificially manipulate the superficial appearances of search engines to deceitful ends — another example of what the church is underneath. It was fascinating to learn the “. . . Church tracks about 6,500 anti-LDS Web sites.” It’s so comforting to know Big Brother is watching. Perhaps it is tactics like this that is producing the backlash of members resigning enmasse and thousands of websites springing up to expose these nefarious deeds. It is perhaps asking for too much that rather than trying to cover up the church’s dark underbelly Barkdull instead demand the church open its dark history, and its financial secrets, and turn from being a heartless, paranoid corporation to actually being, perhaps for the first time, an actual Christ-centered church!”
Ouch! Needless to say the page has now been taken down and replaced with a sermon by the late Mormon Apostle Neil Maxwell on the subject of repentance. Repentance? Do you think there is some irony here? Who should be repenting? The people who are trying to make it easier to hear both sides of the issue? Or the ones wanting to make it more difficult?