The following transcript of Elder M. Russell Ballard’s speech given at Brigham Young University-Hawaii’s graduation ceremony on 15 December 2007.
We’re here to honor these fine students who are graduating today. You students need to know that I bring the love and congratulations from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We are very proud of all of your achievements. Your lives are anchored in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and you must never forget that your future destiny is assured if you stay close to the Lord and keep His commandments.
As I look into your young faces, it is an uncomfortable reminder that I am in my 80th year. By some accounts that makes me pretty old. Actually, some folks think some of the Brethren may be too old to know what's going on in the world. Let me assure you we are very much aware. In fact, my grandchildren even think on occasion that I am really "cool." I remember when my father brought home the first television set in our neighborhood. All my friends came to our home and watched with wonder how the black and white picture could come through that small 12-inch, square box.
In the span of nearly 80 years I’ve seen many changes. When I began my mission in England in 1948 – about the age that many of you are now – the most common way for people to get news was through newspapers and radio. Just one million homes in the United States had television sets at that time. Black and white television, that is. Color television had just recently been invented, and it would be another ten years before most TV broadcasts were in color.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, who pioneered Church public affairs work when he was a Church employee in Salt Lake City, used to write and produce short dramatized radio programs to tell the story of the gospel. He had a staff of one – himself. And he often reminds us of that.
How different your world is today. If you read newspapers, the chances are you read them on the Internet. Yours is the world of cyberspace, cell phones that capture video, video downloads and iTunes, social networks like Facebook, text messaging and blogs, hand-helds and podcasts. As many in my generation are just getting onto email, that’s already becoming old hat to most of you. Last Christmas my children gave me an iPod. With careful instructions, they handed me that wonderful little device, and I had only one question after they got through. It was: "When will I ever find time to use this little wonder?"
This is your world, the world of the future, with inventions undreamed of that will come in your lifetime as they have in mine. How will you use these marvelous inventions? More to the point, how will you use them to further the work of the Lord?
As you leave this wonderful institution and enter your various occupations, you have a great opportunity to be a powerful force for good in the Church and in the world. You’ve been taught well in not only secular knowledge, but also in spiritual knowledge. If you live the principles of the gospel and not just study them, that special combination of knowledge will allow you to feel comfortable and prepared to teach what you know to be true--in any setting.
While you studied here at BYU-Hawaii, you no doubt came to understand the power of words. Words create conversations, and conversations create understanding. There is truth in the old adage that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” In many cases, it is with words that you will accomplish the great things that you will now set out to do. And it’s principally about ways to share those words that I want to talk to you today. Regardless of your vocation, you will need to know how to express yourself to demonstrate that your services are very important to your clients and to your customers.
So it is with the Church. From its beginnings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used the power of the printed word to spread the message of the Restored gospel throughout the world. For example, some 135 million copies of The Book of Mormon have been published to date, and Church materials are published in 178 different languages. The printing press and other media have allowed us to take the Lord’s message to almost every corner of the earth. This has been demonstrated by the number of graduates that have come from so many different parts of the world today.
There are perhaps few inventions that have had a greater impact on the world than the printing press, invented by the inspired Johannes Gutenberg in 1436. The printing press enabled knowledge, including the Holy Bible, to be shared more widely than ever before. Ultimately, the common people had access to the truths of scripture, and the clergy no longer held the populace hostage to their interpretations. The printing press had a major impact on the balance of power and created an outlet for governments, religions and people to be challenged and scrutinized. The printing press played a major role in the Reformation and in the Restoration of the gospel. Without the printing press, the Restoration would have been much more difficult.
The Lord over the centuries has had a hand in inspiring people to invent tools that facilitate the spreading of the gospel. The Church has adopted and embraced those tools, including print, broadcast media, and now the Internet. While the Internet is often misunderstood and incomprehensible to many of my generation, it is second-nature to yours. Almost every career you are entering into will require you to utilize the Internet effectively.
Today we have a modern equivalent of the printing press in the Internet and all that it means. The Internet allows everyone to be a publisher, to have their voice heard, and it is revolutionizing society. Before the Internet, there were great barriers to printing. It took money, power, or influence and a great amount of time to publish. But today, because of the emergence of what some call New Media, made possible by the Internet, many of those barriers have been removed. New Media consists of tools on the Internet that make it possible for nearly anyone to publish or broadcast to either a large or a niche audience. I have mentioned some of these tools already, and I know you are familiar with them. The emergence of New Media is facilitating a world-wide conversation on almost every subject including religion, and nearly everyone can participate. This modern equivalent of the printing press is not reserved only for the elite.
Now some of these tools – like any tool in an unpracticed or undisciplined hand – can be dangerous. The Internet can be used to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and can just as easily be used to market the filth and sleaze of pornography. iTunes can be used to download uplifting and stirring music or the worst kind of anti-social lyrics, full of profanity. Social networks on the Web can be used to expand healthy friendships as easily as they can be used by predators trying to trap the unwary. That is no different from how people choose to use television or movies or even a library. Satan is always quick to exploit the negative power of new inventions, to spoil and to degrade and to neutralize any effect for good. Make sure that the choices you make in the use of new media are choices that expand your mind, increase your opportunities, and feed your soul.
As you know, the New Media has already profoundly impacted the old world of newspapers and other traditional media. Once upon a time, as a church leader I might give a newspaper interview, then wait a day or two for it to appear somewhere deep inside the newspaper. Then that newspaper was thrown away, and whatever impact it might have had dissipated rather quickly.
Now, as I am leaving one appointment to go to the next, the report of my visit or interview begins almost immediately to appear on the newspaper's website or on blogs, where it can be copied and distributed all over the Web. Earlier this year, I met with our servicemen and women in Kuwait. There were nearly 100 in attendance. When we returned to the hotel in Kuwait City from the airbase near the Iraq border, I called home. My wife advised me that one of those in attendance had used his cell phone to text my full talk to his mother. You can see how important the right words are today. Words recorded on the Internet do not disappear. Any search by Google or Yahoo is going to find one's words, probably for a very long time.
A large majority of news reporters now put their stories on their newspaper or station's websites before those stories appear in the traditional medium of print or television.
A case in point: a couple of months ago, NBC Television came to Salt Lake for an interview with me as part of a piece they were producing on the Church. Reporter Ron Allen and I spent an hour together in the chapel in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. We discussed the Church at length. A few days later the story appeared, and in the four minute-segment that aired, there was one short quote of about six seconds from my one-hour interview. That was just enough time for me to testify of our faith in Jesus Christ as the center of all we believe. I repeat, just six seconds were used from a sixty-minute interview. And those six seconds are quite typical, actually, for the traditional TV media, who think and air in sound bites. The big difference from the old days to today is that the reporter also ran 15 minutes of our interview on the NBC Nightly News website. And those 15 minutes are still there. What we say is no longer on and off the screen in a flash, but remains as part of a permanent archive and can appear on other sites that re-use the content. People using Internet search engines to hunt for topics about the Church will come across that interview and many others.
In addition, these stories are left on the media’s website where anyone can write in and agree or disagree with what is said.
Elder Quentin Cook and I visited the editorial boards of a number of national newspapers and magazines in Washington and New York last month in our capacity as members of the Church’s Public Affairs Committee. At the Washington Post, after a very stimulating discussion with the editorial board, the room cleared; but the religion writer asked me to stay behind. She sat down opposite me, whipped out her $99 video camera, and proceeded to ask me some of the questions that had come up in the previous hour. The intent, of course, was just to place that simple video on the Post's website to help explain our beliefs. Of course, we were happy to comply. Again, reader or viewers are free to add their comments and join in what becomes an ongoing, worldwide conversation.
These tools allow organizations and individuals to completely bypass the news media and publish or broadcast their message in its entirety to the intended audiences. For instance, last year the Church Public Affairs Department conducted an interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy regarding the Church’s position on same-gender attraction. In the old days, to communicate our message to the public on an issue like this, we would have had to rely on the news media. But, this probing interview was conducted by Church Public Affairs staff and posted in its entirety on the Church’s website, unfiltered by the news media. That interview has been read by and has informed many thousands of people.
There is perhaps no other time in its history when the Church has received more attention from the news media and on the Internet than it does right now. Obviously, that is being driven by the fact that one of our faith, Mitt Romney, is seeking the office of President of the United States. It’s as if a national conversation is going on about the Church. The Church, of course, is politically neutral. We do not get involved in politics. Still, because of this attention Public Affairs is making a concerted effort to define the message of the Restoration rather than letting others define our beliefs for us.
That word conversation is important. 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.
The challenge is that there are too many people participating in conversation 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. As I said at General Conference in October, we need to remember that there is a difference between interest and 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, like each one of you. They appreciate one-on-one conversations.
Now all of you know that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are constantly reminded and encouraged to share the gospel with others. The Church is always looking for the most effective ways to declare our message. Preaching the gospel of the Restoration has always been special to me. I loved being a missionary in England. I loved being a mission president in Canada. And I love my present calling which allows me opportunities to share the message of the Restoration of the Gospel to the world and to testify that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820. Through Joseph the gospel that Jesus established in New Testament times was brought back. It had been lost with the deaths of the apostles of old. I can share with the world the knowledge that priesthood authority, the doctrine and the ordinances of the New Testament Church, are once again on the earth. This is the most important work that we can participate in.
Now, to you who are graduating today and all other faithful members of the Church, as you graduate from this wonderful university, may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet, particularly the New Media, to share the gospel and to explain in simple, clear terms the message of the Restoration. Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. You can download videos from Church and other appropriate sites, including Newsroom at LDS.org, and send them to your friends. You can write to media sites on the Internet that report on the Church, and voice your views as to the accuracy of the reports. This, of course, requires that you, all members of the Church, understand the basic, fundamental principles of the gospel.
We are living in a world saturated with all kinds of voices. Perhaps now, more than ever, we have a major responsibility as Latter-day Saints to define ourselves, instead of letting others define us. Far too many people have a poor understanding of the Church because most of the information they hear about us is from news media reports that are often driven by controversies. Too much attention to controversy has a negative impact on peoples’ perceptions of what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is.
Recently, a columnist, writing in a major U.S. newspaper, was irresponsibly inaccurate in his description of the Church and our beliefs and practices. Dozens, perhaps even hundreds of Church members and others who understand our beliefs commented on the newspaper’s website correcting the misconceptions he was spreading and calling for accuracy.
Let me give you a few other examples of how Church members are using the New Media. A Church member living in the Midwest makes a concerted effort to share the gospel everyday, in person. He then writes a blog about his daily endeavors to share the teachings of the Book of Mormon and to give pass-along cards to all that he meets. He has written about many of these experiences. For example, one of his entries, titled “Punjab at Gas Station” reads:
I was on the other side of town visiting friends, and on my way home stopped at a gas station to buy a newspaper. The cashier was from Punjab in India, and spoke Punjabi. He accepted my offer of Punjabi and English copies of Gospel Fundamentals, and Punjabi and English copies of the Joseph Smith Testimony Pamphlet. I had them in the car, so I retrieved them and presented them to him right there.
His effort to share the gospel so diligently is admirable, and his further effort to write about it no doubt inspires many others to do the same thing.
Others have recorded and posted their testimonies of the Restoration, the teachings of the Book of Mormon, and other gospel subjects on popular video-sharing sites. You, too, can tell your story to nonmembers in this way. Use stories and words that they will understand. Talk honestly and sincerely about the impact the gospel has had in your life, how has it helped you overcome weaknesses or challenges, and helped define your values. The audiences for these and other New Media tools may often be small, but the cumulative effect of thousands of such stories can be great. The combined effort is certainly worth the outcome if but a few are influenced by your words of faith and love of God and His son Jesus Christ.
The Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has no doubt had a powerful impact on your life. It has, in part, shaped who you are and what your future will be. Do not be afraid to share with others your story, your experiences as a follower of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We all have interesting stories that have influenced our identity. Sharing those stories is a non-threatening way to talk to others. Telling those stories can help demystify the Church. We’ve recently been made aware that the reason many people believe we are secretive is because they think our worship services held in 18,000 plus chapels that we have around the world are closed on Sunday’s to nonmembers. Most think they can only attend if someone invites them. They’ve gained some of that perception from stories in the media about the requirements for entering one of our 126 dedicated temples. They confuse our temple worship with our Sunday worship. You could help overcome this and other misconceptions through your own sphere of influence, which ought to include the Internet.
Every disciple of Christ will be most effective, and do the most good by adopting a demeanor worthy of a follower of the Savior of the world. Discussions focused on questioning, debating and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul has admonished us to not be "ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ: for it is the power of God unto Salvation" (Romans 1:16). Let us all stand firmly and speak with faith in sharing our message with the world. Many of you are returned missionaries and can carry on meaningful conversation in the language you learned on your mission. Your outreach can be international.
As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of New Media, remember who you are—you are Latter-day Saints. Remember as the Proverb states that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that “contention is of the devil.” There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the promptings of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.
May the Lord bless each of you as you leave this University and “go forth to serve” that you will have powerful influence on those you come in contact with. As I said in the beginning, the power of words is incredible. Let your voice be heard in this great cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
May the Lord bless you, my beloved graduates and friends that are here this morning, to guide you and inspire you and enlighten your minds, that you will know how to participate in this vast, worldwide conversation that is going on. That you may make your contribution wisely, carefully, lovingly, filled with the promptings of power of the Spirit of God, that you too can join in declaring with your words and your voice, the great and glorious message of the restoration to the earth of the fullness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.
I bear my witness and testimony to you that Jesus is the Christ. He is the Son of God. He does live. The day that we are living in now is an urgent time to declare His words and defend His Church. To which I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.