Birth of the Bloggernacle

It started out as a bit of a joke.

“Mormon in Manhattan” Natalie Hill felt a world away from her Utah family. She started her online diary, (NO) Sex in the City, to share a laugh with her sisters and cousins about her dating disasters.

“I was totally not into the blogging world,” Hill said. “I could barely read e-mails.”

Then, her sister, A Little Sussy, photographer Nicole Gerulat, linked (NO) Sex in the City with her own popular blog.

And, faster than many Mormon coeds get married, Hill’s blog sped around cyberspace and “Mormon in Manhattan’s” adventures were famous.

“I have over 2,000 hits a day,” she said.

Hill started her blog about a year ago, months after M. Russell Ballard, one of the leaders of the Mormon Church, encouraged young Mormons to e-mail, text, Twitter, Facebook, and blog their friends into the eternal kingdom.

“Join the conversation by participating on the internet, particularly new media, to share the gospel,” he told graduating seniors at Brigham Young University’s Hawaii campus.

Ballard repeated his comments at the school’s Idaho campus.

“Most of you already know that if you have access to the internet, you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true,” he said.

We’re Mormons, We Love to Keep Records

Ballard’s words were seeds of encouragement for Mormons who hadn’t yet started online diaries, and manna of affirmation for countless others who were already blogging. No one knows how many Mormon blogs exist, but those who monitor the movement say there’s a never-ending flow, and more are popping up every day.

“You can probably associate it with Elder Ballard’s call to blog, but you have to also understand that, well, we’re Mormons. We love to keep records!” said Emily Jensen, who blogs about Mormon blogs for the Mormon Times, a newspaper based in Salt Lake City.

There are thousands—perhaps even tens of thousands—of blogs that are written by Mormons or link directly to the LDS church, she said.

The first wave was the “Mormon mommy blogs”—stay-at-home moms who proudly post photos of their children and preen about their husbands. Many Mormon women, who are often encouraged to stay home and raise children, soon discovered that they could make money by journaling about homemaking and parenting—all skills prized by the church.

From there, blogging exploded among Mormons, Jensen said. The phenomenon grew so quickly that observers in Salt Lake City coined the virtual world the “Bloggernacle” (a take on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).

“Mormons are natural storytellers,” said Courtney Kendrick, author of C Jane, a collection of daily life stories that are at once witty, sharply humorous, and honest.

“We are commanded to research our family history and family stories, and to take an account of our lives,” said Kendrick, 31.

Somewhere between stories of living in a Mormon town “where everyone knows your name” and a blog masthead that is a tongue-in-cheek image of Kendrick with a photoshopped halo and set of angel wings, the Utah mom has drawn many of her fans into the Mormon fold. Kendrick said readers e-mail her to say she’s inspired them to visit a local Mormon church.

Sometimes, the e-mails aren’t so supportive. When Mormon Church leaders spoke out last year against gay marriage leading up to a California vote on the issue, Kendrick’s readers asked why she didn’t broach the topic on her blog.

“Some Mormons wanted me to write about it, but others said, ‘You’re one of those people who doesn’t believe in giving rights to everyone.’” Kendrick said. “I decided that instead of writing about it, that I would just show who I am, and let people decide for themselves if I am an unkind person.”

Other readers write to express their surprise that Kendrick’s sarcastic sense of humor spills onto the pages of her blog.

“I probably get an e-mail a day from somebody who says, ‘I thought Mormons were like the Amish,’” Kendrick said. “It’s important for us to show that while we have peculiar beliefs and we believe in being a peculiar people, we also are lovers of life and art and science. We are open to new ideas.”

Naomi Davis, a Mormon who lives in Manhattan with her husband, shows off her vintage-modern fashion sense at Rockstar Diaries, where she journals about life in a 455-square-foot Harlem apartment. A large tag on the sidebar announces “We are LDS.” Thanks to the blog’s popularity, Davis, 22, was recently featured in Time Out New York magazine.

“Our blog isn’t necessarily to promote our church or push it on anyone, but it is such a big part of our lives and has brought us such joy and happiness that it is something we want to share,” Davis said.

The Bloggernacle’s influence reached a tipping point last year, when Kendrick’s sister, blogger Stephanie Nielsen of Nie Nie Dialogues, nearly lost her life in a private plane crash. Word of the crash zipped around the blogosphere and landed in newspapers and television shows nationwide, including The Today Show. Thousands of fans who already read Nielsen’s blog multiplied many times over. Kendrick, who blogged for months about her sister’s recovery, also gained countless readers.

“Stephanie is so colorful and so fun that when this tragic thing happened to her, it pulled bloggers together,” said Jensen, the Mormon Times blog reporter.

My Fertile Womb Garden

The Bloggernacle isn’t without a backlash. As Kendrick, Nielsen and others openly revel in their faith, others have finessed the art of the virtual eye roll. Teeming with references to Mormon stereotypes, sacred undergarments and gender issues, these blogs are written for humor while acknowledging that Mormons, as Kendrick says, can be “peculiar.”

“We got PREGGO!! THEN we found out my fertile womb garden was growing TWIN FETI planted by JJWT’s [an acronym for her husband] righteous seed,” writes the anonymous author of Seriously So Blessed, a blog that satirizes the most cringe-worthy of the Mormon mommy blogs, right down to poor spelling, self-righteous comments and unearthly family pride.

“We are a lot of fun to poke fun of,” said Davis. “We have so many idiosyncrasies that even we as LDS people make fun of ourselves.”

But it’s not clear whether church leaders appreciate the humor.

“I’ve heard people say that if we ever got caught, we’d be dead,” said one anonymous blogger who uses the name “Peter Priesthood.”

Priesthood said his blog, Why Mormon Girls Stay Single, got more than 35,000 hits in its first month. He said he started the blog partly in response to the blog explosion, but mostly to poke fun at the girls he meets in church. When hits to his blog rose above 10,000, he realized he’d hit a nerve.

“These are real issues but they’re taboo to talk about,” Priesthood said.

Among the complaints on his blog: Mormon girls who volunteer for 18-month missions are sent to safe cities in the United States or tropical climates, while the boys are packed off to Siberia.

“We call them ‘cupcake missions,’” he said. “They just go and prance around and look happy and bake brownies.”

Priesthood also charges church leaders with visiting the homes of attractive young women more often than other homes, and complains that single Mormon men are encouraged to ask out unattractive Mormon women “just to make them feel better about themselves.”

“I truly believe that if these situations weren’t real, I wouldn’t have as many complaints,” Priesthood said. “It just hit a nerve.”

Priesthood said he doesn’t know whether he would be chastised if church leaders discovered his identity, but he doesn’t plan to find out. Despite his anonymity, Priesthood said it’s a relief to have a place to joke, at the church’s expense.

“It’s such a big thing with our church that probably 90 percent of the girls I know have blogs,” he said. “It’s a way of documenting their lives, but it’s also about validation. You get noticed, and they like that.”