I was recently listening to some podcasts at a website. The owner claims to be LDS. He appears to make a career out of interviewing Mormons over social experiences that do not seem appropriate to be telling the world. I’m concerned over negatives cited on the podcasts of disenfranchised members and discussions about progressive Mormons within church as if they are shunned etc. Could this just be a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
In this day and age, that’s a good question. While it wouldn’t be wise to attempt a site-by-site evaluation here on Ask Gramps, the Lord has given us tools we can use as individuals to discern for ourselves the trustworthiness of any website which claims to support the Church or its members. These are summarized nicely in a “Doctrinal Mastery Core Document” designed for Seminary students. I find this document helpful for even the wisest student of the gospel. One (very short) section is called “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge“. It details three things we can do to gain spiritual knowledge. It seems to me that discerning the trustworthiness of a website falls into that category. I’ll summarize them here, but highly recommend you go read the full text, or even the full document.
1. Act in Faith
We act in faith when we choose to trust God and turn to Him first through sincere prayer, a study of His teachings, and obedience to His commandments.
Acting in faith allows us to learn through experience the difference between good and evil. It qualifies us for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. It leads us to do those things which will increase our understanding of the things of God.
2. Examine Concepts and Questions with an Eternal Perspective
To examine doctrinal concepts, questions, and social issues with an eternal perspective, we consider them in the context of the plan of salvation and the teachings of the Savior. We seek the help of the Holy Ghost in order to see things as the Lord sees them.
In my experience, those who are not trustworthy will most often focus more on the cares of the world and weaknesses of mankind than on the eternal things of God. They’ll tug on your heartstrings or your political conscience, or even guilt you with words like “tolerance” and “love”. By comparing a site’s content to the Plan of Salvation, you can step back and see exactly where that site is focused and how well or poorly it aligns with truth.
3. Seek Further Understanding through Divinely Appointed Sources
As part of the Lord’s appointed process for obtaining spiritual knowledge, He has established sources through which He reveals truth and guidance to His children. These sources include the light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, the scriptures, parents, and Church leaders. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—the Lord’s prophets upon the earth today—are a vital source of truth. The Lord has chosen and ordained these individuals to speak for Him.
Like the eternal perspective, comparing a site’s content against revealed truth will allow one to identify false teachings versus faithful accounts, deception versus testimony, the philosophies of men versus the revealed word of God. This is one of the reasons we are counseled to study the scriptures daily. It’s why we’re encouraged to study the General Conference talks. It’s why we spend three hours in church every Sunday. All this study puts knowledge of the truths of God into our minds so that when we come across lies or deception or just plain wickedness, we recognize it for what it is – or at least we feel a little prick of suspicion that leads us to investigate more fully before believing whatever the site is telling us.
When we encounter claims about the Church or scriptures, see what the sources are for those claims. Don’t trust that they’re cited correctly – go read the original for yourself. Evaluate the sources – are they “divinely appointed” or are they the learning of men? When it comes to avoiding deception, going to extra effort is worth your while. They more you do this, the easier it will become, and the better at it you will become.
I have visited many sites catering to Mormons. Those I spent more than a moment at presented the appearance of being a place for faithful members to share, learn, and communicate. But the above methods caused me to leave most of them – unfortunately, there’s no shortage of wool-clad wolves out there. One experience in particular demonstrates the above principles, so I’ll leave you with that account.
I visited the website of a group getting lots of publicity because I wanted to know what they really said, not what others claimed they said. (I already knew that the claims were not in harmony with the gospel as I understood it, so I was already skeptical.) As the homepage loaded, the Spirit very clearly and distinctly warned me “this is a dangerous place”. I did not feel prompted to turn back, only that it was a dangerous place. As I read, I found that they made claims about events in Church history, and cited references known to be reliable (things from the Church, BYU, Church historians with original documents, etc.). But I found that their citations were vague — they would only reference the book, not the chapter or page number. In some cases, they didn’t even give direct quotes, or only quoted few words. In another instance, they gave a partial quote. When I went to the sources they cited and read the full quote, or searched the entire book, I found that they had taken things out of context or couched them in their own deceptive language, thus altering the original meaning. The Spirit was right – I was in a dangerous place. I knew from this that I could dismiss any of their claims, and that if I ever needed to, I could come back, find the original, and demonstrate its falsity. In one event, I did just that for a friend who was unsure of what the group teaches, and had friends who had bought into the group’s teachings. (Interestingly, they have since removed some of that content and replaced it with much more subtlety – perhaps another warning sign.)
I hope that this gives you a starting place, Keith, so that you can test the content of the websites you encounter against the tools the Lord has given us for learning, understanding, and discernment. I wish you well in your gospel surfing!