When Mormon Apostle M. Russell Ballard called on members of the LDS Church to defend their faith on the Internet, I immediately thought to myself that this will probably end up badly. It seems that I am not the only one who has noticed.
In December 2007, Ballard bemoaned what he saw as an abundance of outsiders defining what the LDS Church teaches. He called on members to no longer “stand on the sidelines” and urged them to join in the conversation by using what he called “the modern printing press,” the Internet. As faithful followers, many have done so, and in many cases it hasn’t been pretty.
Ballard’s marching orders came with a set of “things to avoid,” but sadly, many Latter-day Saints have ignored his counsel. Instead of utilizing the admonition of Proverbs 15:1, many Mormons have responded with personal attacks against those who question Mormonism’s truth claims.
In a commentary published in the February 27, 2009 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune, Ken Kuykendall writes how “Mormons have taken the mandate to new heights, commenting on every possible story. All too often, they forget Ballard’s advice about civility. At times, LDS commenters on sites such as The Salt Lake Tribune’s can be shrill, self-righteous, dismissive and downright insulting. They egg on the critics, rather than persuade them. Even with strong opinions on controversial topics, it doesn’t have to be that way.” I concur with Kuykendall’s assessment. You can be firm and passionate about your position and still convey it with a respectful tone.
I’ve seen Kuykendall’s example expressed too many times on Mormon Coffee. This site is meant to be a forum for an intellectual exchange of ideas around the subject of Mormonism. I am amazed at how many (certainly not all) Mormons respond when their faith is challenged. I personally view Mormon Coffee as a type of house where participants are invited guests. People who understand this concept should also appreciate the fact that there should be a certain level of decorum that demonstrates appreciation for the invitation. I am not at all against pithy comments or tongue-in-cheek remarks, but outright name calling and innuendo regarding a person’s intelligence level have no place here. We have tried to curtail this by implementing rules and even reproof to offenders, but it appears that some see no problem in being bad houseguests.
Please know that I am not defending or ignoring similar conduct by non-Mormons. This is certainly not a one-sided problem. I understand we are all human and prone to let our emotions get the best of us. Sadly, because blog responses are usually done in a rapid-fire manner, many participants don’t let their rebuttal cool off as they might with a regular letter or email. I know I am not completely innocent of this. In fact, as I write this the Holy Spirit is reminding me of when I have been less than careful in how I express myself.
From now on we are going to “raise the bar,” an expression of which I am sure Mormons and non-Mormons are very familiar. We are going to continue to assume commenters are mature enough to police themselves; however, if someone wishes to disrespect their invitation by using ad-hominem on other participants, their entire comment will be removed and they will not be allowed to post for seven days. After three infractions your invitation will be revoked and you will no longer be welcome to participate at all. Now some will say, won’t this be rather subjective? Yes it will. So the best advice I can give is keep it as civil as possible, and you won’t notice a thing.
So please, come share your thoughts, but let us do so in a manner that honors what we claim to be.