Monday, March 2, 2009

Will the World Be Converted through New Media ? (Svithe)

For some time now, I've been considering the connection between Spencer W. Kimball's watershed talk on missionary work, "When the World Will Be Converted" (delivered to regional representatives in April 1974, just after he was called as Prophet), and M. Russell Ballard's "Using New Media to Support the Work of the Church," delivered at BYU-Hawaii's graduation ceremony in December 2007 and republished in the Ensign July 2008.

While I'm not sure if Elder Ballard had President Kimball's counsel in mind when he wrote his talk or if President Kimball foresaw the information and networking explosion facilitated by the Internet and, more specifically, Web 2.0 (and by extension, the possibility of sharing the Gospel through the Web's digitally mediated environment), one thing is certain (in Elder Ballard's words): "The emergence of new media is facilitating a worldwide conversation on almost every subject, including religion, and nearly everyone can participate." While there are still some grand socioeconomic limitations barring access to the Internet for some people around the worl, it has yet had a democratizing effect on words, "facilitating a worldwide conversation" about important things, and not simply the things this faceless "elite" thinks are important. Rather, we can talk about the things we think are important; we have the potential to tell and to illustrate our personal story with the Gospel as we never had before; and by "we" I mean whatever member of the Church feels so inclined to join the ongoing conversation.

And if conversation, then (by implication) the work of conversion, because, as Paul reminds us, "faith coming by hearing" and hearing by words.

Now to quote President Kimball. After discussing Christ's command that the Gospel be taken to the "uttermost parts of the earth," he asks this:

"I wonder if we are doing all we can. Are we complacent in our approach to teaching all the world? We have been proselyting now 144 years. Are we prepared to lengthen our stride? To enlarge our vision?"

And I've become convinced that, though there are limitations to what individuals can do within the bounds of new media, an acceptance of the converting potential of the words shared through this technologically mediated environment is one way the meek and lowly members of the Church can move toward this vision of a Zion culture.

At least that's one way I think of what I'm doing here.

Otherwise, it just all feels so nihilist, and I'm not really ready to deal with all that jazz...