On January 18 of 2012, Church historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen attended a Q;A set up by Phil Barlow at Utah State University. He was asked the following question.
“Has the church seen the effects of Google on membership? It seems like the people who I talk to about church history are people who find out and leave quickly. Is the church aware of that problem? What about the people who are already leaving in droves?”
The answer coming from Jensen is as follows:
“We are aware. Let me say this, I often get this question: “Do the Brethren really know?” They do. And I’m not speaking for me. I’m speaking for the fifteen men that are above me in the hierarchy in the church. The fifteen men really do know, and they really care. And they realize that maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now; largely over these issues.
We do have another initiative that we have called, “Answers to Gospel Questions”. We are trying to figure out exactly what channels to deliver it in and exactly what format to put it in. But we want to have a place where people can go. We have hired someone that’s in charge of search engine optimization.
We realize that people get their information basically from Google. They don’t come to LDS.org. If they get there, it’s through Google. So, we are trying to create an offering that will address these issues and be available for the public at large and to the church leaders, because many of them don’t have answers either.
It can be very disappointing to church members. And, for people who are losing their faith, or who have lost it, we hope to regain to the church.” (See http://exmormon.org/d6/drupal/Mormon-Church_admits-that-the-Internet-is-causing-members-to-leave & http://simplemormonspectator.blogspot.com/ )
Those comments by Jensen reveal what everyone already knows. The internet has created a very serious problem for the Mormon Church which is causing lots of members to leave the church or become inactive.
Google provides a showcase for all of the incredibly embarrassing and disruptive information about difficult historical issues and doctrinal issues. It provides an amazingly simple and effective ability for common people to access sensitive information about LDS church history and doctrine.
It also promotes countless anti-Mormon articles and websites related to these sensitive issues. Interestingly, the church has hired a search engine optimization specialist to try to steer more people away from the anti-Mormon sites and direct them to LDS.org.
Having done some contract work for a very large SEO company and being somewhat familiar with the industry, I can tell you that there is an entire discipline within the SEO vertical that focuses on reputation management on the internet.
There are numerous tactics and tools (both white hat and black hat) that companies use to diffuse negative information on the internet. Here is an excerpt describing one of the most successful ways to push negative sites further down in the Google search rankings:
“…Find any potential damning material and watch it closely … but what you really want to find is positive or neutral content that might be lurking around page 3-4. This content is golden, because we know that Google finds it at least somewhat relevant for the keyword you target. In our audits, we try to find a minimum of 20-30 pieces of Web real estate per keyword. This content could, with the help of a few links, be pushed to the front page – perhaps replacing negative content that appears after a crisis.”
(See the following articles http://www.seomoz.org/blog/reputation-management-seo-6-advanced-tactics & http://www.pubcon.com/pubcon-speaker-tony-wright-proactive-seo-reputation-management-in-6-easy-steps-%E2%80%93-all-for-free )
You can be sure that if the church can spend over a BILLION dollars on a shopping mall, it has allocated a significant budget for doing reputation damage control on the internet.
My personal opinion is that even the millions of dollars that the church has been and will be spending on SEO and reputation damage control, they will not be very successful. There are too many latter day “William Laws” that are passionate about exposing what they feel is a terrible scam and they are flooding the internet with their spin. They can do SEO just like anyone else can.
Jensen acknowledged at the Utah State Q and A that many of the “church leaders” don’t have the answers either. Of course he was probably referring to bishops and stake presidents and people in virtually all leadership capacities below the 15 general authorities that sit in the highest apostolic leadership positions in the church. The unfortunate truth however is that even the 15 people that lead the church don’t have the answers to such questions.
In another interview with a S L Tribune reporter Jensen made the following statements:
“Never before have we had this information age, with social networking and bloggers publishing unvetted points of view,” Jensen said in an interview Monday. “The church is concerned about misinformation and distorted information, but we are doing better and trying harder to get our story told in an accurate way.”
The church “has made no effort to hide or obscure its history,” Jensen said, but some aspects — such as polygamy — “haven’t been emphasized often because they were not necessarily germane to what is taught at present.”
Can the LDS Church do better to explain its history, even to its own members? Sure, Jensen said. “Can we weave some of this into our seminaries, institutes and adult curriculum? I think we can, and efforts are under way to do that.”
The church has assigned a staffer to create “a strategy to get church history onto the Web,” he said. “We are also working on an initiative to answer some of these more pressing questions.”
Late last year, the church’s publishing arm, Deseret Book, put out No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues to address some of the hot-button issues of Mormon history and doctrine, offering members ways to answer critics.
To read more about the interview see http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/53408134-78/church-mormon-lds-faith.html.csp#.TydqcAb_Geo.mailto
If the statements by Jensen are accurate, the Church is currently putting together some quasi-official responses to the most disturbing issues that are continually being raised on the internet.
If they do so, this will be a landmark event. The church has never really responded to most of these issues in any kind of church sponsored platform. Of course these answers are not likely to come directly from any of the 15 apostolic leaders.
First of all, they don’t have any credible answers. Most of them are quite ignorant and naive when it comes to the deeper issues of doctrine and history. Most of them just grew up within the church and were indoctrinated like the rest of us. Because they each exemplified strong leadership ability within the church, unquestioning loyalty to the church, and also became successful in law or medicine, education or business, etc. they were deemed worthy to call to the higher leadership positions.
The last GA to be be fairly well adept in the scriptures was McConkie. Now there is not strong scholar of the scriptures among the 15. As a rule, the brethren try to stay away from debate, contention and controversy regarding sensitive doctrinal and historical issues. None of them are really qualified to get into a biblical debate with a seasoned biblical scholar.
My guess is that the church is calling upon the best and brightest minds within LDS apologetics to try to craft credible responses to these very difficult questions.
Those LDS scholars at FARMS and FAIR make for the best respondents to criticism because they can run interference for the brethren.
They can attempt to defend the church without actually having the official stamp of authority on what they say. Hence, when they say something that turns out to be wrong or embarrassingly lame, their statements are easily discounted as the opinion of a lay member. (one of the latest examples of a really embarrassingly lame defense is the recent paper from a FARMS scholar who tried to justify why the multi-BILLION dollar expenditure of a shopping mall was a better expenditure than feeding the poor, see http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_church_integrity/City_Creek_Center_Mall_in_Salt_Lake_City)
The problem with FARMS as I see it, is that their allegiance is to the brethren instead of Christ.
They are committed to defending the modern corporate church as an institution instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If FARMS was dedicated to defending biblical Christianity and the truth behind the LDS restoration movement, they would applaud the church whenever they are conforming to the gospel and speak honestly and frankly about the problems whenever the brethren and the church in general it is acting contrary to the gospel and the laws of God as they are laid out in the scriptures.
Getting back to Jensen, it is interesting to note that in January of 2012, during the same month that he visited USU, Elder Jensen was released as the Church historian. (See http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700215000/Elder-Snow-appointed-as-new-LDS-Church-Historian.html )
Interestingly, the following statement is found on the mormonthink.org website:
“The LDS organization FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research) is making an organized effort to ensure that faith-promoting comments about the LDS church will drown out all other comments that are critical of the LDS church, regardless of whether or not they are true.”
The MormonThink website makes the following declaration about their mission-
“Mormonthink.com is a site produced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are interested in the historical accuracy of our church and how it is being taught to its members and portrayed in the media.
There is a lot of misinformation on the LDS church that is presented by both critics and defenders of the faith – particularly on the Internet. We present both sides fairly and let the reader decide.”
That statement is really quite disingenuous. The people behind that site do not represent both sides of the issue fairly. Their only agenda is to destroy people’s faith in God and Mormonism. It is beyond their capacity to comprehend that the original restoration was true and then the church eventually fell into apostasy.
I know this about MormonThink from personal experience because last year I sent them an email telling them briefly about the three watches doctrine and the atonement statute and explaining to them that there is a profound biblical explanation for all of the bizarre things that happened during the public ministry of the prophet Joseph Smith.
All I was asking for was a short blurb and a link to the information that documents these doctrines on my two blogs. Needless to say, they did not respond.
They are not looking for truth nor do they want to provide a balanced and fair listing of sites that provide various view points. They simply have a vendetta against the church and they are content to destroy faith in God, Mormonism and the LDS restoration movement in their attempt.
Recently I got an email from the owners of the MormonThink website providing the following link.
They asked me to send it to everyone I know and help it to go viral. The link is to a video describing 10 of the major reasons that people leave the church. While I have no desire to promote it and help it go viral, I am not afraid to mention it in this post and address the issued contained in it.
I am not afraid of the points of contention that they are high-lighting because the scriptures provide the truth about what really happened and they provide a credible response to every challenging question that the anti-Mormons can come up with.
1. Faulty Translations of the Book of Abraham
2. 22 year delay in telling the First Vision story- conflicting versions of it.
3. Translation process of the Book of Mormon by gazing at a stone in a hat without the plates physically present.
4. No archeological or other scientific support for the Book of Mormon including DNA, literal quotes from the King James version of the Bible, etc.
5. Questionable authorship of the Book of Mormon
6. Blacks and the Priesthood
7. Kinderhook Plates
9. Questionable witnesses of the Book of Mormon
10. Temple Ceremony taken from Masons
Frankly, the above concerns are among the easier ones to address in my humble opinion.
I would point out that there are numerous other doctrinal issues that should be noted as well in my view.
Many of the more disturbing inconsistencies about the history of the church really have to do with the changing of the original doctrines that were taught during the first seven years in Kirtland but then altered during the Nauvoo years or during Brigham Youngs administration after the Saints fled to Utah.
Here are just a few of the issues that I would highlight out of context if I wanted to destroy peoples testimonies:
- Changing several of the revelations in the Book of Commandments when the D&C was published
- Changing the doctrine that God is an unchangeable God who is from everlasting to everlasting (pointing out that the doctrines taught in the King Follett sermon categorically contradicts Lectures on Faith)
- The false claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints is the same church that was restored in 1830 which in fact the scriptures and the history of the church clearly document that it did not even exist when the “Church of Christ” was restored in 1829-1830.
- The false claim that the restoration of the church represented the rolling forth of the kingdom that Daniel saw, destroying the kingdoms of the world.
- The false claim that the church has the fulness of the gospel when in fact it does not have the power and fruits clearly associated with the fulness of the gospel.
- The false claims that the church, kingdom and priesthoods would never be taken from the earth again to be restored at a future time.
- The false claim that the dispensation of the fullness of times was ushered in when the scriptures and history of the church clearly state that it wasn’t.
The list of doctrinal discrepancies provided above could be much longer if I wanted to take the time. In a paper I have been working on I have identified 14 stumbling blocks contained within the Lectures on Faith which are contradicted by modern doctrines taught in the church
Another research project that I did included 20 major doctrines that were changed by the modern church.
The point is that there are many disturbing doctrinal issues about the modern corporate church, but that does not mean that the original restoration of the true church was not authentic, it only means that the church went into apostasy as is clearly prophesied in both the Bible and Book of Mormon.
That is the sad thing about all of the anti-Mormon propaganda flooding the internet, even though much of the disturbing information is true, it is being presented out of context, without the biblical explanation for why these things happened.
It is being used to destroy faith in Jesus Christ and his gospel instead of acknowledging that after the truth was restored to the earth, corrupt men took control of the church organization and have created an abomination that the world is now laughing at.
Every single one of the above issues in both of the lists and countless other apparent discrepancies can all be answered from the scriptures and the un-sanitized history of the restoration movement.
A few weeks ago I got the following email from a Russian convert who calls himself Jim-
I just finished listening to the last episode on mormonstories 324-326: Grant Palmer Returns to Discuss Sexual Allegations Against Joseph Smith, William and Jane Law, and His Resignation.
Were it not for the scapegoat doctrine (SGD)that I’ve learned about recently, my reaction to this podcast would be a usual one – “I’m not knowledgeable enough to come to any conclusion on this matter, I’m gonna shelve it for now”, never to come back to it again.
With the SGD I pretty much can handle the charges against Joseph Smith of seducing young girls, ordering to kill Boggs, ordering to destroy printing press, ordering to kill William Law and even threatening his own wife with death.
As I was listening to the podcast, I sensed desperation in John Delin’s voice “What was Joseph doing?” – to that effect.
Coupled with John’s own admission that there’s been too much negative content on his podcast recently and his invitation to his show for any apologists who could show a different angle of what’s been talked about, I think it’s prime time for you to step in and restore the true understanding.
Would you be comfortable if I went ahead and solicited John Delhin to get in touch with you on this email to invite you to his show (over Skype, naturally)?
Here is my response to Jim-
I do listen to Mormon Stories from time to time. In fact, I recently listened to the Snuffer interview and also the McLay interview.
John Dehlin is a magnificent interviewer and he has done a tremendous job with the Mormon Stories theme.
Your suggestion is an intriguing one. If I was approached by John or one of his connections I suppose I would need to take the idea seriously however my guess is that they are looking for higher profile people than me.
Also the scapegoat doctrine is extremely doctrinally intensive and would probably be geared for believers who still find the scriptures to be credible and pertinent in their religious lives… it seems to me that John and much of his audience have long since let go of the scriptures and the LDS restoration movement as a guiding light in their lives.
John seems to be focusing on how to deal with the cultural dilemma he faces that has been caused by the false traditions of his fathers.
Nevertheless, it would be a wonderful opportunity to see if the topic could be presented in such a way as to reignite faith in some of the disaffected people in the listening audience and show them how to reconcile the many “apparent discrepancies” of the LDS restoration that they have been conflicted with.
I thank you for the suggestion. It is worth pondering.
I hope the Lord is blessing you and yours and that all is going well for you.
Thanks for dropping by
I am not convinced that MormonStories is the appropriate audience and format to rebuff all of the anti-Mormon propaganda by presenting the true context of these events as provided by the Bible and the doctrine of three watches and the atonement statute.
Nevertheless, Jim has got me thinking about the opportunity that might come up in the future to present these ideas. Many of you who understand and believe in the truths provided by the standard works may also have the opportunity to testify of the truth some day.
What an amazing challenge it would be to present these truths to skeptics and people who have lost or are in the process of losing their faith in God and in the LDS restoration. I believe there are lots of members and ex-members of the church that are suffering from and industrial strength case of cognitive dissonance. It would be nice to be able to present additional information to them.
How in the world would I condense the information that I have now provided in my two blogs into a short one or two hour presentation? How could I take the information provided in about two hundred posts and articles into an understandable summary?
I am currently in the process of undertaking such an ominous challenge and hope to be providing this summary or at least one installment of it on this blog before April 6th.
Several of you have expressed over the years a similar statement to Jim’s, expressing the fact that the three watches doctrine and the Atonement Statute have helped you maintain your faith in God and his scriptures and the LDS restoration despite the barrage of negative information that permeates the internet.
I am open to any suggestions that any of you may have on how to present these ideas.
If you recall the particular scripture or event in the history of the church that was instrumental in your “ah ha!” moment when the scales of darkness began to fall off and it all began to make sense to you, please email me and share it.