Today, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the Marysville area had, an opportunity to learn about how we can properly engage in conversations about our faith. The instruction centered on how we can appropriately engage in conversations through the Internet and Social Media. This information stems from an article published in the July 2008 edition of the Ensign (The Church’s flagship magazine). The title of this article is, Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet, and came from Elder M. Russell Ballard. Hence, being an active member of the Mormon Faith, as well as an amateur Apologist, the Marysville LDS Church Examiner would like to feature articles on how we can enter in, properly engage, and provide tips and advice to further our engagement of conversation about the Church.
Understand proper netiquette rules
In one of my communication classes, the students were introduced to an internet resource about proper Internet Etiquette, or effective means to communicate online. The instruction we received during the last couple of hours of service, members were introduced to a brief set of rules about civility and how to gauge the civility of the conversation. The thoughts shared today are based on three questions members ought to ask themselves:
- Is there courteous behavior in the dialogue, a tone of politeness?
- Are utterances predicated on honest perceptions, be they correct or false?
- Is there evidence of mutual regard and a desire for understanding?
These are definite questions one ought to ask, and such questions fit well into the understanding of proper netiquette. Therefore, what is netiquette to begin with?
According to the “netiquette” homepage, the idea of this concept is based on network etiquette – or the do’s and don’ts of online communication:
Netiquette covers both common courtesy online and the informal “rules of the road” of cyberspace.
With this basic understanding, there are “Ten Core Rules of Netiquette”:
- Remember the Human
- Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life
- Know where you are in cyberspace
- Respect other people’s time and bandwith
- Make yourself look good online
- Share expert knowledge
- Help keep the flame wars under control
- Respect other people’s privacy
- Don’t abuse your power
- Be forgiving of other people’s mistakes.
These rules should help facilitate a greater understanding in proper etiquette when we engage in conversations online. Granted, a few of them may not apply directly to how we interact with others about the Gospel, yet there is room for interpretation and implementing those rules.
Rules of Engagement
According to the instruction we received, there are six rules that members should implement whenever engaging in conversations about the Church:
Rule No. 1 – Organize your thoughts
Rule No. 2 – Plan the Conversation
Rule No. 3 – Be aware of non-verbal signals
Rule No. 4 – Be succinct
Rule No. 5 – Emphasize the positive
Rule No. 6 – Be a good listener
These rules of engagement provide a framework in how we should respond and the manner in which we respond to those conversations that are going on about the Church. There will be more in depth concepts on each of these six rules in forthcoming articles, however; suffice it to say that they are important in how one approaches particular conversations, or how one instigates conversations about the Church.
Types of Conversations
It is difficult to narrow down and categorize the particular conversations about our faith that are going on. Many of these conversations come in the form of Social Media sharing, blog postings, and virtual Newsprint services. In addition to this, much of the conversations that are going on about the Church are done from the perspective of either Ex-Mormons, members of counter-cult ministries or other Evangelical Christian groups. Regardless of who instigates the conversations, the reality we must come to is that of Elder Ballard’s observation:
There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. 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. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.
Because of these ongoing conversations, it is not only our ability, and privilege, to engage in these conversations, it is our obligation to stand as a witness for the testimony of truth about the Restored Gospel and the redemption of Jesus Christ in these last days. Elder Ballard further comments why individual members should enter into the conversations:
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. We cannot answer every question, satisfy every inquiry, and respond to every inaccuracy that exists. We need to remember that there is a difference between interest and mere curiosity. Sometimes, people just want to know what the Church is. And some who seek answers want them to come directly from a member of the Church. They appreciate one-on-one conversation.
Adding my own thoughts to Elder Ballard’s statements here, we must be cognizant of what is being said on the internet. Working with the full time missionaries in our ward, and talking with them, there is one major proponent in why we must engage in these conversations, or at least make ourselves aware of them. Many times, the missionaries will knock on a door, engage in a conversation, be invited back to the home, only to encounter a flash flood of questions where the person asking those questions makes the claim that they have “researched the Church online.” Majority of the time, the conversations become contentious and one sided, leaving our missionaries frustrated and disappointed.
Where does one begin?
Depending on the level of comfort, there are areas and ways one can begin to engage in conversations about the Church. One place would be to sign up as a volunteer for Mormon Voices. The premise of Mormon voices is this:
Our volunteers respond to public discussions and comments from public figures that misrepresent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We encourage and direct Mormons to get involved in online discussions and thereby help shape the public understanding and perceptions of the Church.
What happens when you sign up for Mormon Voices? You receive email alerts where one can engage in providing positive comments about the LDS Faith. Attached in the email are the articles and what the call to action is. They even provide a link for those who may not know how to leave corrective and positive comments.
The official website for the LDS Church has a specific page dedicated to sharing the Gospel online through social media networks.
Another place one could get started is by simply sharing your faith through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Myspace, or other Social Media networks. This may include sharing short messages that one finds on the Mormon Channel, or through the official LDS website. Sharing is simple and easy to- do. Facebook allows you to create “notes” where you can share a simple thought about what you learned from particular talks, or from your own scripture reading.
Those who are more comfortable can go the route of starting up a blog. There are many wonderful blog platforms that are free. My own personal preference is WordPress and they provide ample free blog themes that can be customized to meet your own specific needs.
Places to not engage in conversation
While it is good to become informed and engage in conversations about our faith, many may not be aware of specific areas to avoid. These areas of the internet are infamous for those who have engaged in conversations about the LDS Church. Many of us Internet Mormons and Apologists have been banned from majority of these places: Whether they are message board forums, or Social Media groups and pages. Knowing where not to traverse will provide a more cohesive experience in sharing your message online. With that said, one must be aware of the constant criticism launched against individual members and the Church itself.
Do not take it personal
One of the fundamental rules of working in a customer service/call center position is the concept of not taking anything personal. This means, whatever someone says, how they say it, and the specific tone implied in what they are saying should not be taken personally. Again, drawing on personal experience in participation of online communication, there are times when critics will make a personal attack upon one’s viewpoint. As personal as the attack is, do not allow this to discourage you to continue to push through and share the positive message of the Restored Gospel and the blessings that come from the atonement of Jesus Christ.
In the end, participating in the ongoing conversations about the Church is an obligation that we must take seriously, and engage in a manner that should exemplify the teachings of our Savior. Being aware of those conversations also helps prepare us to engage in conversations where it is face-to-face, because many times, people will turn to the internet and find out what the Church teaches, and majority of the time, their information is not coming from the Church itself but from many of the counter-cult and ex-Mormon Social Media networks.
As brief as this article is, it hopefully sets the stage to introduce members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Marsyville Stake on how to approach and engage in the discussions that are going on about our faith. Forthcoming articles will focus more specifically on ways to engage, how to respond, places to avoid, as well as tips and suggestions on how to start your own blog. Along with these, each article will have a list of links to available resources that will help every member to begin sharing the message of the Restoration online and provide resources for friends and family members who may question the teachings, history, and doctrines of our faith.
The time to speak up and stand as witnesses for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is now and we must engage in these conversations. The harvest is ripening and the days are drawing short.
© 2012 by Timothy R. Berman and Clarity Digital Media Group, LLC: Express written permission of both must be given to quote or utilize the contents of this article in any way – All Rights Reserved.
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