On Commentary and Conduct

Posted on March 12, 2013

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Originally published March 7, 2013 as the beginning of a series discussion at Real Intent.

One of our core principles at Real Intent is to refrain from controversy for its own sake. In our conversation together about what topics that we discuss privately as a group will be published for the world, we steer continually back to our mission: growing faith, strengthening families, and building community. Unless an issue focuses on a compelling principle that relates to those three, the strife of opinions will usually erode any benefit to talking about it publicly.

We’ve been talking quite animatedly for some time about a recent flap online in which the commentary on breastfeeding in church went viral, with the usual casualties. In fact, to publish now is to ignore the most important of the unwritten rules of the new media (“When Its’ Over, It’s Over, In About The Lifespan Of A Fly”), but that is precisely why we are. Sometimes the commentary needs time to settle to be useful, as anachronistic as that may be in the new age.

Today we are presenting a series of essays through different lenses to consider our culture and conduct in church, and our commentary on all of those.

To begin, here are some thoughts from Samuel B. Hislop, writing officially for the Public Affairs Department at the Mormon Newsroom, but of course not officially for the Church. On their blog two days ago, he commented:

The information age has given birth to the current era of citizen journalism, which allows anyone to post anything to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a host of other platforms without editorial oversight. A big story, whether true, partly true, untrue or misinterpreted, often undergoes an initial online explosion, where it is read (or partially read), tweeted, re-tweeted, re-shared, and then quickly accepted as fact simply because it reaches a critical mass of attention. …

Whether poor journalism or the drive to be first is to blame, the end result is often widespread misinformation that influences the minds of many, who then pass on judgments without thought. Correcting such inaccuracies and then realigning public opinion is a difficult task, and that’s why excellent reporting, where facts are vetted and put in their proper context, is vital to our society. …

This matter can even have a religious dimension. The way we handle information affects the way we see the world. It is Jesus Christ who said, “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Possessing correct facts and applying wise judgment is important to Christians and all believers because it allows us to know whom to trust, make better decisions and not waste time processing false information. This relationship between truth and freedom is important to Mormons. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the Church’s First Presidency, says that “never in the history of the world have we had easier access to more information — some of it true, some of it false, and much of it partially true. Consequently, never in the history of the world has it been more important to learn how to correctly discern between truth and error.” He then adds this caution: “Just because something is printed on paper, appears on the Internet, is frequently repeated, or has a powerful group of followers doesn’t make it true.”

What we read matters. What and how we are willing to debate based on what we read matters. What we say matters. How our minds are changed matters. We hope we speak and debate and consider with real intent, and we hope you do too, because it matters.

Read the next essay: Viral Media

Posted in: Real Intent