In a commencement address at BYU-Ricks, April 2008, Mormon apostle M Russell Ballard spoke to 1,400 graduates about the evils of the Internet. While appreciating its positive benefits, he described it as the medium for "one of Satan's most seductive efforts", i.e. the spread of pornography. Of course, I appreciate his voice raised in warning and deplore as much the spread of pornography via the Internet. I do object, however, to the way he characterises honest critics of the Mormon Church as representing an evil equal to pornographers.
"Along with the terrible effects of pornography, the Internet and other media are often used to spread falsehoods, Elder Ballard said. 'Every month there are 60 billion searches for information on the Internet. Many are seeking information about the Church; and while some are finding the truth, others find anti-Mormon sites that mislead them and defame the Church,' Elder Ballard said."
This from a church that insists it never criticises but always looks for good in others. A church that would scream "persecution!" if challenged in the most reasonable fashion by thoughtful critics. Working to its usual double-standard the Mormon Church insists on being held in the highest regard while describing critics as spiritual pornographers.
In an attempt to stem the flow of what we would call fair criticism and he describes as "falsehoods and misconceptions" Ballard seeks to enlist the help of his young listeners:
"With all the falsehoods and misconceptions about the Church found online, Elder Ballard urged the graduates to use their knowledge and testimony of the gospel to influence seekers of truth. 'Today I want to encourage you to reach out to others in the world to help change the perception and even the hearts of millions of our Heavenly Father's children by correcting misunderstandings by sharing with them the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ,' he said."
Blogs and forums have sprung up in response to the challenge but, frankly, the standard of this new initiative is as poor as ever, with a good deal of maudlin sentiment ("oh, Joseph, Joseph the prophet"), cant, ("how dare they say we are not Christians?"), deception ("polygamy? A mere social aberration") and conceit ("I know the church is true...").
Jesus charged his disciples to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mk.16:15). Mormons are charged to, "Go into all the world and change people's perception of the Mormon Church." This single fact should sound alarm bells in people's minds. Still, there are those who are disposed to choose image over substance and believe the humbug that passes for explanation and apologetic in Mormonism. It is as well then that critics do exist to challenge those things Mormons say in defence of their faith, for the sake of Mormons as much as anyone because Christ died for Mormons too.
Margaret Thatcher was once heard to observe, "If you have to tell people you are a lady you are not." My message to those youngsters on the occasion of their entering into the big world is you know when you are grown up when you stop insisting loudly that you be treated like a grown up. In the same way, if you have to continually insist on being respected as a Christian, regarded as a legitimate part of the Christian scene, people are bound to question your assertions and you had better have sharper answers than "We are misrepresented" and, "I know Joseph was a prophet". If you want to be treated as a man then stand like a man and give a man's answer.