Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to join the global conversation and use new technology to stand up for what they believe in, a top church official said Saturday.

Elder M. Russell Ballard urged graduates at the church-owned Brigham Young University-Hawaii to share their beliefs with the world, instead of allowing people to base their opinions from news reports driven by controversies.

"We are living in a world saturated with all kinds of voices," Elder Ballard said in a prepared speech, which is available on the church's Web site, www.lds.org.

"Perhaps now, more than ever, we have a major responsibility as Latter-day Saints to define ourselves, instead of letting others define us," said Elder Ballard, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Elder Ballard's speech came at the end of a rough week for the faith, as politicians and pundits alike questioned the LDS Church and its teachings. One MSNBC political analyst criticized the church's

early leaders, calling them criminals and racists.

The LDS Church has been at the center of attention since Republican Mitt Romney joined the presidential race. In his remarks, Elder Ballard said, "Perhaps there is no other time in its history when the church has received more attention from the news media and on the Internet than right now."

Elder Ballard urged the 200 graduates, who hail from 31 countries, to use this new-found attention as an opportunity to educate and clear up misconceptions.

"There are conversations going on about the church constantly," Elder Ballard said. "Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot sit on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the church teaches."

LDS faithful can change perceptions of the church "one conversation at a time," through a clear and simple message of the Restoration. Elder Ballard said the Internet is a great tool to start these conversations. In his remarks, he suggested members consider the following:

• Start a blog "and share what you know to be true."

• Download videos from official church and other appropriate sites and send them to your friends.

• Comment on news media sites that report on the church "and voice your views as to the accuracy of the reports."

To do these things, Elder Ballard said an understanding of the basic principles of the gospel is required. However, "There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs.

"Do not be afraid to share with others your story, your experiences as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ," Elder Ballard said. "We all have interesting stories that influence our identity. Sharing those stories is a non-threatening way to talk to others. Telling those stories can help demystify the church."


E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com