In an era of unprecedented scrutiny of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Mormon “mommy bloggers,” and other women with personal blogs, say they’re at the helm of a lucrative industry that allows them to shape how the rest of the world views the church.
“This is a big, big deal,” said Heather Oman, who posts at Mormon Mommy Wars. “This is a huge, multibillion dollar industry with mommy bloggers.”
So why aren’t some established academic Mormon bloggers welcoming them with open arms into the “Bloggernacle,” the term many academic bloggers use to describe themselves?
The Unruly Gathering
When a Feb. 24 Religion Dispatches story used the term “Bloggernacle” to describe non-academic Mormon blogs, the reaction was swift and sharp. Academics, defending Times and Seasons, By Common Consent, and other doctrine-focused blogs, complained that the Bloggernacle had been co-opted, while Mormon mommy bloggers (women who write primarily about home life and children) and lifestyle bloggers retorted that they are marginalized by the academics, despite having blogs that rank among the most popular on the Web.
It was a Bloggergate.
“I get so irritated by the dismissive, uninformed male bloggers dismissing the mommy bloggers who are KICKING THEIR TRASH,” one woman wrote in the comments section of the original RD story.
“I’d be willing to bet that [Times and Seasons and By Common Consent] receive exponentially more hits per day than all of the blogs mentioned in this article combined receive in a month,” commented another.
“I’ve been surprised, frankly, by the amount of ink and emotion spilled over the last couple of days over who does and doesn’t get to claim the label,” said Kristine Haglund, who blogs for By Comment Consent, which hosted much of the recent debate.
Part of the problem may be that the LDS church has grown so large, and its online presence so unwieldy, that old church standards of organization and hierarchy can’t be applied.
“This is essentially an electronic gathering,” said Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon historian who has written widely about modern Mormon history.
The LDS church for decades was firmly rooted in the conviction that living apart from the rest of the world, both figuratively and literally, would preserve their faith. When people from Europe and throughout the United States converted, they were urged to gather with other Mormons.
Together, in some of the largest wagon trains to ever cross American soil, Mormons followed the church leaders as they hopped about the Midwest, finally landing in what would later be called Utah, where they established a permanent home. It was Zion, they said.
Today, the LDS church is so large that no state could contain it. Mormons, in a blessed union of tradition and technology, began to gather virtually, through blogging.
“Almost like the relief societies or the priesthood in the church, this is a way of connecting,” Shipps said.
The difference is that with blogging, as with all things internet, maintaining order is a challenge, even for Mormons who are historical experts at keeping track of things.
“It seems to me that it would be virtually impossible to organize Mormon blogging,” Haglund said. “The nature of the medium overcomes even Mormons’ well-known tendency to defer to authority. There simply isn’t any central body that could exert control.”
Tight-Knit or Mutually Disinterested?
Thing started out calmly enough. Nathan Oman, a lawyer who lives in Virginia, started a blog called Times and Seasons with a few friends in 2003. They asked their readers one day for suggestions for a name to call the collection of blogs that had spun from theirs.
On March 23, 2004, someone suggested “Bloggernacle,” a riff on the Mormon Tabernacle. Those who were there (virtually, of course) remember the discussion clearly, and continued as they had been—writing blogs, reading them, and generally immersed in Mormon doctrine.
It’s not clear whether those bloggers realized that other Mormons were blogging, too. Among them were moms, grandparents, college students, newlyweds—all nurturing an online presence that, for some, has since eclipsed the academic bloggers in popularity among non-Mormons.
These days the term “Bloggernacle” seems to function as a descriptor for practically any blog that mentions or links to the LDS church. At Bloggernacle Back Bench—a blog about Mormon blogs at the Mormon Times—even blogs like “Modestly Chic,” a fashion journal, warrant a mention.
The academic bloggers who coined the term aren’t sure they want to let anyone else claim it.
“There are people who get wedded to this notion that all Mormon blogging began with the rise of Times and Seasons,” said Nathan Oman, an original blogger at Times and Seasons and husband to Heather Oman of Mormon Mommy Wars. “They get invested in that because they’re at a big blog, and somehow that’s important.”
Nathan Oman said he’s comfortable with the Bloggernacle being made up of a self-selecting group, but the principle bloggers in the ’nacle are “largely a bunch of people who have just got a bunch of stuff they want to talk about,” he said. “Then some journalist calls, and suddenly it’s, ‘Oh my gosh, people are watching.’”
The Bloggernacle is a tight-knit club, said Courtney Kendrick, whose C Jane Enjoy It blog is ranked among the top 800 blogs on Technorati.
By comparison, Times and Seasons is ranked at about 31,000, and By Common Consent is ranked at about 25,000. Mormon Mommy Wars is ranked at about 40,000.
Kendrick has blogged in the past for Segullah, a blog that is included on the list at the Mormon Archipelago, an online portal that aggregates blogs in the Bloggernacle, but she now prefers to write primarily for her own site, where she can be herself.
“I felt when I blogged for the Bloggernacle that there were guidelines, you had to be a bit edgy, a bit sacrilegious,” she said.
If Shipps’ theory that blogging is the new Mormon gathering is correct, Kendrick is disheartened by the fact that bloggers aren’t more connected across thematic lines.
“What I want to hear is, ‘We openly accept you into our Bloggernacle and we’re grateful that you’re doing this work,’” Kendrick said.
Instead, she said, the academic bloggers tend to lump her in with the Mormon mommy bloggers, even though Kendrick didn’t even have a child when she started her blog.
“I’m baffled by the claim from mommy bloggers that they’re somehow disrespected by other blogs,” said Haglund, of By Common Consent. “Mostly I think that bloggers on By Common Consent and Times and Seasons and the Mormon Archipelago blogs are just having a different conversation, and the relationship has been one of mutual disinterest.”
Still, Haglund said, most blogs written by Mormons, academic or otherwise, serve the same purpose: to gather like-minded people together. “The content of the discussions [may] differ,” she said, “but the underlying impulse toward community is identical.”