I’m your average “orthodox”, NPR-listening, college educated, straight-laced and very imperfect Mormon housewife. My personal politics fall somewhere in the middle, but I’m always happy to listen to well-thought out, respectful arguments from any viewpoints. I occasionally get wrapped up in “facebook fights” with other Mormons over political issues. I usually only get involved when I feel a side is being grossly underrepresented or people are being rude. Still, even on fairly basic topics, I’ve found myself getting accused of picking and choosing my doctrines and sometimes I get told that “even the elect can be deceived.” I’m a pretty sensitive and very straight-laced kind of person, so that really hurts.
I know these incredibly vocal people are probably a minority, and that I am a worthy, good person. But, I felt, and still feel, really discouraged by the conversation. On some issues, it seems impossible for Mormons to have civil discourse because we are so caught up in jargon and not in truth. So, I was wondering if you could help write a list of rules or “netiquette” for Mormons who want to participate in political discussions online. My first rule would be “don’t use language also found in the Temple to make an argument that a political idea is unsound.” Can you help develop others?
Dear, dear, dear CM:
Thank you so much for having the courage to ask the million-dollar question of the digital era: “What would on-line conversations among Mormons sound like if we actually believed our every day speech and writing habits were the building blocks of Zion?” The question of civility is so big and important that the folks at Headquarters made this lovely video encouraging us all to engage in a “Civility Experiment.” Perhaps we all might remind ourselves to take a deep breath and roll the video next time the brickbats start flying on-line.
But to your point, CM, I think it is a wonderful idea to develop a code of Mormon “netiquette.” And in the spirit of the digital era, my suggestion is that we crowdsource this project to the readers of AMG. I bet if we put our heads together, we can come up with a gorgeous list of guidelines for civil discourse, and I will gladly, gladly perma-post them at AMG and strive to live them every day.
Now, before we get down to business, two short anecdotes to give us all a shot of courage. First: last week, I was talking to a (non-Mormon) reporter from the Boston Globe. She confessed she was a fan of the column. “I’ve found civil conduct on-line,” she exultantly told her roomies, “and it’s among the Mormons! It’s at Ask Mormon Girl!” And I have to say I am proud of my readers and the kindness we generally dole out to one another. So, if anyone can develop a Mormon code of netiquette, I believe, dear readers, that it’s you.
Second: let me tell you about my Twitter buddy @MulletPatrol. He lives in Lehi, Utah, has four kids, runs triathlons, and leans way right. The hype would tell you that a conservative guy like @MulletPatrol and a self-identified feminist lefty college professor like @askmormongirl would positively repel each other, but let me tell you, we have a terrific time on Twitter, @MulletPatrol and me. Last Sunday, I was sitting in the Tabernacle waiting for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to begin its weekly installment of Music and the Spoken Word. I was seated up in the rear balcony with some new Mormon friends—several of them handsome gay men. It was springtime, the flowers were beautiful on Temple Square, the MoTab was warming up with “How Firm a Foundation,” and all felt right with the world. So I joyfully tweeted, “Mo Tab with my LGBT Mormon homies. Good morning!” And moments later, @MulletPatrol tweets back, “@askmormongirl will you get down with motab and the Mormon tea party homies?” And because I really do like @MulletPatrol and because I believe my Zion-loving Mormon heart has got to be big enough for everybody—from the LGBT folks to the Tea Party folks–I tweeted a giant “@MulletPatrol heck yeah!” And @MulletPatrol tweeted right back, “Party on, Sister Brooks!” And right there in that ephemeral moment, I felt that @MulletPatrol and me had claimed a bit of virtual real estate for Zion. And, wow, did it feel good.
Sisters and brothers, there can be no doubt that the habits of thought and speech we cultivate in this lifetime will stay with us in the next. And if we practice withering judgment and caustic rhetoric every day—even (especially!) with strangers on-line– how foolish are we to think we can simply shed these spiritual habits with this mortal coil. So let’s take CM’s challenge and engage in a civility experiment of our own: right here, right now! What Mo-netiquette guidelines would you recommend?
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