John Dehlin and the Technicolor Bloggernacle Game-ChangerBy: Andrew S
It’s been nearly four months since Mormon Matters functionally disbanded and Wheat & Tares was created, and already, it feels like a new tenuous equilibrium has set.
While I for one can’t help but feel that the transition has divided our tribe in a way that makes it difficult (if not impossible) for us ever to return to the previous status quo, I also have to admit that things have settled into a far better angle of repose than they might have. Most of the roster of Mormon Matters permabloggers have been involved with Wheat and Tares, and even some of our permas emeriti from Mormon Matters, like Bruce Nielson, have come back on board here. The names preceding many of the comments to the posts here seem familiar to me from Mormon Matters days, although I recognize both the presence of new names and the absence of familiar names.
Yet, even if not here, I’ve seen many of our displaced brothers and sisters elsewhere (with Natasha Parker and Andrew A both being heard as interviewers with Mormon Stories, and Joanna Brooks active at Religion Dispatches and Patheos.) So, I suppose our diaspora hasn’t been too great to sever all ties.
…and yet, I long to return to a homeland.
The brand “Mormon Matters” is up in the air. See, even as we settle in foreign lands, in the back of my mind (maybe yours too?) has been the idea of a Mormon Matters revival. But what could this revival look like, and what would it entail?
The other day, Dane Laverty had a post at Times and Seasons challenging commenters to consider the Bloggernacle and its potential for growth and maturation in thew new decade. Early in the conversation, Brad Dennis had ideas that intrigued me:
I like much of the bloggernacle because it is in many ways a place where more liberal Mormon views can be expressed and accepted. I like it because in some ways it appears to be working to foster more of a liberal Mormon culture coexisting with a conservative Mormon mass. My hope is that the bloggernacle become less diversified and more consolidated, and that some of its emerging stars, (e.g. John Dehlin, Joanna Brooks, Nate Oman, and others) gain more of a prominent voice among Mormons. Perhaps an alternative, or more liberal Mormon magazine could be produced. Something that isn’t quite Sunstone or Dialogue, but at least something to serve as an alternative to the moderately conservative Mormon Times or the ultraconservative Meridian Magazine.
But I was skeptical. Not about the thrust, but about his proposed thoughts for implementation.
Online magazines remain a much stronger medium than blogs, because they tend to be peer-reviewed and edited. BCC and T&S are in between blogs and magazines because they have a limited number of invited writers (including some relatively well-known academics in the LDS community), but no editing or funding structure. I would like to see T&S or BCC or other Mormon blogs move in that direction. They would just need some sponsors/donors, a bit more centralization in editing, regularity of publications, etc. The result could be the emergence of a more mainstream Mormon voice. I see the blogosphere as flailing. Too many bloggers who garner too little attention.
What I was skeptical about was the potential to marginalize through centralization. I felt (and still have some reservations) that in many ways, centralization (via correlation) got us to the status quo…and the bloggernacle arrived in many aspects to provide channels for discussing outside the correlated classes and wards.
Additionally, I felt (and feel) that Brad was in many ways advocating an aging, creaking model. While he sees the blogosphere as “flailing,” I instead see traditional media (newspapers and magazines) struggling to convert to more organic, social, accessible formats.
Nevertheless, I was interested in Brad’s idea of using media to result in the emergence of a new mainstream Mormon voice, especially if that mainstream voice could allow liberal Mormon views to be expressed and accepted within a conservative Mormon mass. I just never got past what I thought were flaws in Brad’s method of implementation.
Recall John Dehlin. He’s one of the major players in our tribe here at Wheat and Tares, even if the dispersion from Mormon Matters seemed to place us in different directions. And he had not yet been accounted for.
There’s no doubt to me that basically, every perma here is more talented than I am. But John is on a different scale. He is, in my opinion, a visionary man…for better or for worse. As early as 2004-5, in his Thoughtful Faithful Mormon Manifesto, he wrote of the need to imperative to embrace new media and new formats, and in his evaluation of his “Mormon blogging curriculum vitae” at Nine Moons, he rattled off the shear breadth of his reachout: he has created sites, podcasts, forums, and blogs to reach gays, feminists, intellectuals, doubters, the mentally ill, and even the disaffected.
And yet, at the end of all that, he was asking: how can we reach out more effectively to those who are hurt? How can we extend the reach of the Mormon internet even further, especially in ways that augment the written word with the human touch? And how do we support these developments within the institutional church while maintaining the strengths of the church as is?
(I just get the sense that John hasn’t had the biggest level of support in pushing toward these lofty goals, and so it appears as if he is a one-man army…or at least, a tragically few-peopled army. The story of his starting these numerous sites seems connected to similar stories of his passing the mantles for most of these endeavors to others. In a sense, Wheat and Tares is the passing of the “old” Mormon Matters mantle to us.)
When I saw his latest post at Mormon Stories, detailing his plans for 2011 (with plans to revive Mormon Matters), it was thinking about his (unsolved) questions to the bloggernacle, and also about his pattern of planting communities that later become more independent) that made me interested in the new development.
Folks, this is a call to return to a homeland. It is an attempt to bring together all of the dispersed tribes, the independent communities on the Mormon internet — and especially those parts John has touched or even staked out — to a common cause. But even more so, it does so in ways that anticipate Brad Dennis’s suggestions as well as my technological reservations.
This is, in a way, an amazing technicolor Bloggernacle Game-Changer and we are on the very cusp of it.
What’s so amazing here is the disruptiveness of so ambitious a project (even knowing the things John has said and written.) As when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, you get the sense of seeing something unfold that you suspect could flop for a billion and one reasons…but if it succeeds, it will change the world forever.
It is something you additionally suppose that anyone “could” have pioneered (and others will struggle to replicate and catch up for years without coming close), but the reason it came here now was because of the force of a visionary man.
What do you think? Is it too risky? Are you hopeful? Are you on board (at least in spirit) with such a project? Or, more generally, think about your introduction to the bloggernacle or the Mormon internet — did any of John’s projects and communities factor in?