While the amount of public and news media attention paid to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has increased steadily over the past few months, the past week has seen the appearance of another factor.
Latter-day Saints are responding by the thousands to media Web sites, blogs and public forums in numbers not seen before.
“Many members have been active in blogs and Internet discussions for a long time,” said Lyman Kirkland, who reviews blog and other “new media” traffic for the Church. “What we’ve seen this past week is different. We have seen a significant increase in members wanting to define their faith, rather than just letting others define it.”
Kirkland said a large part — though not all — of the activity was a direct result of the two PBS documentaries aired early in the week. PBS reported on its Web site that it had received 2,700 letters and e-mails on the topic, many of which it has published.
Many members of the Church writing to PBS identified elements of the documentaries that they liked or thought provided balance. Others thought there should have been more that defined Latter-day Saints in terms of their active, daily faith.
Acknowledging that PBS had provided respect, thoroughness and balance, Duane Hampton of Kalamazoo, Michigan, said he would have liked to see more of “the life-transforming power of Mormon Christianity.”
The PBS films were not the only factor in generating Internet discussion this past week, however.
The Washington Post and Newsweek’s joint religion blog, “On Faith,” made the Church the subject of its weekly question. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints wrote their own responses to the postings of various panelists.
News media columnists and non-LDS bloggers have also commented this week. Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic Monthly wrote, “I watched both nights of the PBS series and must say it struck me as an exemplary piece of public broadcasting: very fair, very candid, very informative.”
Evangelical writer David French wrote: “I think we should simply try to understand the faith itself. Mormonism is not creedal, orthodox Christianity; that much I know. I don't think Mormons want to be known as ‘creedal Christians.’ As for what Mormonism is, I leave that definition to members of the LDS Church. They define their own beliefs and identity better than I ever could.”