Defending the Faith: The Internet aids missionary effort

Published: Thursday, April 7 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

I've lived in Utah now for slightly more than half my life. And not merely in Utah but in a very Mormon neighborhood in a very Mormon county, teaching at Brigham Young University. So, whenever I've heard the exhortation "Every member a missionary," I've wondered what to do. Non-Mormons are a rather exotic breed around here.

However, a December 2007 commencement address given at BYU-Hawaii by Elder M. Russell Ballard largely answered my question.

"There are conversations going on about the church constantly," he said. "Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the church teaches.

"The challenge is that there are too many people participating in conversations about the church for our church personnel to converse with and respond to individually."

Accordingly, Elder Ballard asked ordinary individual members to "join the conversation by participating on the Internet to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration." (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf extended much the same invitation during general conference.)

I'd already been thinking about doing something on the Internet, but Elder Ballard's clear call impelled me to act — though it was still nearly 18 months after reading his remarks in the July 2008 Ensign that I really got going.

My little contribution, thus far, is a website called "Mormon Scholars Testify," where committed Latter-day Saint academics (and others of similar background; my definition of "scholar" is slightly fuzzy at the margins) share their thoughts and feelings about the restored gospel. The site is now approaching 250 entries, of varying lengths. (Voluntary submissions and nominations are heartily welcome at mormonscholarstestify@fairlds.org.)

My website is not alone. Others, far more computer savvy and creative than I, have done and will do wonderful things on the Web. Moreover, there's nothing particularly sacred about "scholars." They just happen to represent my personal niche. Efforts have also been made to launch a website for Mormon coaches and athletes, and a "Mormon Doctors Testify" site has recently been proposed. "Mormon mommy blogs" have acquired followers (and media attention) well beyond the church.

There's no limit to the opportunities that the Internet offers us to "think globally" while "acting locally." Sitting at home, we can reach the Australian Outback, West Africa and the Scottish Highlands with our testimonies as easily as the town next door.

A marvelous resource for Latter-day Saints wanting to share their faith with the world online is the More Good Foundation, which creates websites and multimedia and seeks to promote positive, accurate content about the gospel produced by those living it every day.

It's time to reclaim the conversation about us online, to dispel misperceptions, to use the Internet for the gathering of those who will hear the Savior's voice and come unto him.

"O that I were an angel," exclaimed Alma the Younger, "and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth. But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me" (Alma 29:1-3).

Today, we have been allotted tools for sharing the gospel of which Alma could never have dreamed.

But we may have become complacent. Don't we send out full-time missionaries? Isn't that enough? Aren't we "the fastest growing religion"?

Actually, we're not. Church growth has been falling for many years, and our current rate of missionary success is the lowest it's been for decades. The harvest is great, but the laborers are still too few.

This need not be.

"Shall we not go on in so great a cause?" exclaimed the Prophet Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants 128:22). "Let your voice be heard," Elder Ballard said, "in this great cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Daniel C. Peterson is a native of southern California and received a bachelors degree in Greek and philosophy from BYU. He earned a Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from UCLA after several years of study in Jerusalem and Cairo. He is a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU and is the editor of the twice-annual FARMS Review, the author of several books and numerous articles on Islamic and Latter-day Saint topics. Peterson is also director of outreach for BYU's Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He spent eight years on the LDS Church's Gospel Doctrine writing committee and is the founder and manager of MormonScholarsTestify.org.

Email: daniel_peterson@byu.edu

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