The Bloggernacle is bigger than it used to be. Once upon a time there were just a handful of Mormon blogs posting and commenting on topics related to Mormonism; now there are hundreds. Once upon a time you could list every Bloggernacle site on your sidebar; now there are just too many to keep track of. LDS lists or portals like Mormon Archipelago and LDSelect work in a general sense and there's even an index of the Bloggernacle out there, but it's not like there's a recognized application process that confers official membership in the Bloggernacle.
So here's the problem: How does one talk about "the Bloggernacle" with someone who is unfamiliar with it? How would you explain to someone who is not a blogger that Times & Seasons (a website where lots of people trade online comments about Mormon topics) is in the Bloggernacle but Exmormon.org and the FAIR message boards (websites where lots of people trade online comments about Mormon topics) are not? I'll try to answer these questions below. I hope this will be a post that can be used as a link by anyone needing to explain to other Mormons what "the Bloggernacle" is.
A Working Definition of "the Bloggernacle"
Blog•er•nac•le \'blä-gur-na-kul\ noun [shortened from Bloggernacle Choir] (2004) 1:The set of all personal weblogs that host discussions of Mormon-related topics from a relatively faithful perspective. See Wikipedia entry "Bloggernacle" for etymology. See Origins of T&S for historical background.
That's my definition: The set of all personal weblogs that host discussions of Mormon-related topics from a relatively faithful perspective. So what isn't in the Bloggernacle? First, websites that aren't weblogs aren't in the Bloggernacle. For example, All About Mormons and Mel Tungate's site, while useful and interesting, are not weblogs so they're not in the Bloggernacle.
Second, weblogs that don't discuss Mormon-related topics aren't in the Bloggernacle. So Free Speech 101 is probably not in, but LDS Patriot (which posts frequently on politics but also posts on Mormon-related topics) probably is. Personal weblogs run by Mormons that don't discuss any LDS topics really aren't; personal weblogs that talk about this and that, but sometimes talk about something related to Mormonism, might be.
Third, it has to be a personal weblog to be in the Bloggernacle. Institutions might set up a weblog site with posts and comments to further their institutional mission or agenda, but it's not just the software that makes it a blog — it has to have a personal voice. Bloggers are real people. So LDS.org is not in the Bloggernacle. Group blogs like Millennial Star are fine: they are an amalgam or mosaic of personal voices but not an institution. Sunstone Blog is a tough case: there are posts by individual bloggers, real people speaking with a personal voice, but there are also regular announcements (see here and here, for example) promoting Sunstone as an institution. That, plus the institutional baggage of Sunstone, takes it outside the Bloggernacle for me. If there were a FAIR blog or a FARMS blog, I'd feel the same way. Nothing wrong with institutional blogs -- I think it's great that some institutions host blogs to promote interaction and discussion, and I have a link to the Sunstone Blog on my sidebar. But the Bloggernacle is a community of real persons, not corporate persons.
Relatively Faithful Perspective
This one is so difficult I'm going to give it a longer discussion. To be in the Bloggernacle, a weblog has to be written from a relatively faithful perspective. This is different and much weaker than a "faith-promoting perspective." I admit this is a tricky concept: no doubt some Mormons think anyone who has the temerity to run a weblog that talks frankly about LDS issues — in public! — is by definition adopting an unfaithful perspective. But we all tend to measure "normal" or "faithful" by where we sit: a "dissenter" is anyone more liberal in their religious opinions than we are; and "rigid" or "zealot" describes anyone more conservative in their religious opinions than we are. I'm trying to convey a more objective sense of "relatively faithful" as it pertains to the tone and perspective of blog posts and comments. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the average church-going Mormon who isn't a CES employee but who doesn't subscribe to Dialogue. Someone who spends Saturday afternoon mowing the lawn or watching college football rather than reading the latest book from Signature or FARMS. Think of your home teacher or your Sunday School class: "relatively faithful" is someone who does their home teaching (at least once in a while) and who attends Sunday School (at least once in a while).
So "relatively faithful perspective" describes the perspective of a blogger who is supportive of the LDS Church in a general sense and doesn't use their weblog as a platform for attacks, whether direct or covert, on the Church, its doctrines, or its membership. Not much of a hurdle, really. "Relatively faithful perspective" reflects someone who probably goes to church on Sunday, or, at the very least, would not encourage someone else to avoid an LDS church on Sunday or to disaffiliate from the LDS Church as an institution. There are, of course, blogs and websites that take that approach or at least reflect the sort of thinking that is just very unhappy with the Church as an institution — see the DAMU Blogs list (for Disaffected Mormon Underground) on the left sidebar at the Equality Time blog for a nice list. Those blogs listed there are definitively *not* in the Bloggernacle. And of the 28 DAMU blogs listed at Equality Time, I have only heard of one of them. Different community. Different planet.
I think "disaffected" is a nice, non-pejorative term for distinguishing between the two online communities. It's not hard to tell the difference between someone who writes about a controversial Mormon issue as a disaffected Mormon (i.e., as one who sees the issue as a justification for their disaffection or as a reason why they think others should become disaffected) and someone who writes about a controversial Mormon issue as a relatively faithful Mormon. This is true even if the relatively faithful Mormon happens to disagree with the official or unofficial LDS position on a particular issue. Detecting the disaffected perspective by gut feeling is not infallible, but, as a general rule, you know it when you see it and it feels rather different from mere disagreement.
To bring the discussion back to blogs in particular, it is the perspective that is presented in the writing that counts. It is possible for an excommunicated but sympathetic Mormon to think and write from a faithful perspective and get along perfectly fine in the Bloggernacle. By contrast, a practicing Mormon can write and think from a disaffected perspective and, over time, move themselves out of the Bloggernacle or, when commenting, make themselves unwelcome at other Bloggernacle blogs. So as I see it, the perspective that a writer generally takes in writing, especially about controversial issues, pretty much determines whether the blog fits in either the Bloggernacle or the DAMU community. There's very little overlap. Not much logical space for fence-sitters in this conversation. No man's land takes fire from both trenches.
There are still a few tough cases, though. Where does Mormon Stories fit? Mr. Dehlin blogs under his own name and posts some really innovative (in the sense that no one else is really doing it regularly) podcast features. So Mormon Stories is plainly not doing the standard DAMU blog gig, where bloggers generally use handles and, for content, regularly rehash the same ten or twelve issues. But Mr. Dehlin's approach to being an open forum is to post a variety of podcasts and discussions that are, on the whole, inconsistent with a "relatively faithful perspective" as I have defined it. I certainly think anyone visiting Mormon Stories thinking it was representative of the Bloggernacle would come away confused. So I don't consider Mormon Stories a Bloggernacle blog. Nice site, interesting stuff, but not a Bloggernacle site. So you understand why I cringe when I see a post at Mormon Stories "announc[ing] another new entry to the [B]loggernacle." I won't belabor the issue. But I have a solution to offer (see below).
One last issue. I don't want to be mistaken as lumping Sunstone (the mag, the site, the blog, or the symposia) into some sort of composite "relatively unfaithful" category. My impression (not being a subscriber) is that Sunstone publications and symposia cover a much broader range of issues than the DAMU blogs do, including what I call relatively faithful approaches to controversial issues. As mainstream Mormon Studies folks from the Sunstone side of the spectrum move into blogging, maybe there should be a term for that community, trying to hold some sort of middle ground or, more accurately, trying to span both perspectives (DAMU and Bloggernacle) at once. I'm not sure it can be done, but they seem to be trying. Howabout calling them Borderland Blogs? Yes, I'll start my list today (see right sidebar). Please submit your nominations in the comments.
So ... let me be the first to welcome the For Those Who Wonder blog to my Borderland Blogs list.
Update - Other posts responding to this one:
- Kaimi at T&S: Post of the Week
- Matt at Purim Blog: Dave Pulls Out the Bloggernacle Chopping Block
- Ann at Viva Ned Flanders: Cast Out!
- John Dehlin at Mormon Stories: Battle Lines and High-Fiving White Guys
- Christian at The Spinozist Mormon: DMI Dave on the Sheep and the Goats
- John Dehlin at Mormon Stories: An Apology, A Clarification, and a Possible Solution to the "Bloggernacle" Problem