I entered the world of online Mormon discussions at about this time 4 years ago. It was shortly after visiting the Newport Beach Temple. Upon returning home my wife promptly fired up the internet to find out all the sacrets that our tour guide wasn’t allowed to tell us. That lead me to not only learn those sacrets but to discover a dearth of information concerning a fascinating topic I thought I already knew a lot about (but didn’t). I haven’t learned everything I know about Mormonism from the internet, but certainly most of it. I used to spend a great deal of time at FAIR, and then Ex-Mormon.org. Then after having a bad taste in my mouth from both places I played around a little bit on the MySpace Mormonism forums and then dove into the blogging world. (for a more complete history of my life with Mormons, check out my series: Me & Mormons)
I have noticed some changes since I started hanging out on the web with Mormons. The change I have seen has been how Mormon history is discussed. When I first started blogging, I made a decision to not focus on Mormon history as much as possible. It was being done elsewhere and the tone of the discussion didn’t seem all that fruitful for what I was after. It used to be that discussions on Mormon history where a back and forth about what the facts really were, mostly focusing on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy, Brigham Young’s teaching of the Adam-God doctrine, the Mountain Meadow Massacre and translation methods of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. Now those facts are for the most part pretty much agreed upon. The discussion has instead turned to “does it matter”. The conversation has become about theology rather than history.
Occasionally you’ll find an odd nut attempting to claim that Joseph wasn’t a polygamist, but when that happens both Mormons and Non-Mormons come at them with the same ammo and knowing smirk on their faces.
If I had to say there was one thing that changed the focus of the discussion on the internet it was Rough Stone Rolling. Bushman provided a faithful Mormon voice to the same things that Non-Mormons had been saying for quite some time. He gave Mormons permission to own their history rather than being forced to repudiate it. I’d say very few of us involved in these discussions have actually read the book, but it gave us a common source to point to and agree with.
If I had to say there was one site (or person) that has changed the discussion it would be Mormon Stories (and John Dehlin). While few of us have the time to read Rough Stone Rolling, it was quite easy and accessible to listen to a podcast that discussed the same things. Again Mormon Stories provided a voice from someone attempting to be faithful to the church but delivering information that was typically viewed as threatening to Mormonism.
While I’m on the topic of changes on the web I’d have to say the rise of “New Order Mormonsim” is right up there as a shift in the community (again John Dehlin probably gets the lion’s share of the credit for bringing that community out of the shadows). There’s also the rise of friendly ex-mormonism. If you haven’t checked out the Mormon Expression Podcast you should. I’m impressed with their ability to discuss Mormonism and Mormon culture from a knowledgeable but outsiders viewpoint without anger or reprisal.
Of course, if you’re still looking for a good history and archeology debate, the Book of Mormon holds a great deal of potential. But even there, you see very few strongly holding to the Lamanite and Nephite people living near or visiting Palmyra, New York. If they are out there, they find themselves debating against Mormons more so or as much as Non-Mormons.