PROVO, Utah — Early 20th century LDS leaders saw the media “as a double-edged sword: a powerful weapon that be wielded for both good and bad," according to Bradley L. Rawlins, chair of the BYU department of communications.
Rawlins was joined by two other journalism professors, Daniel A. Stout from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and David A. Scott from Utah Valley University, to discuss “Mormon Teachings about Media: Message and Audience and Considerations” at the Mormon Media Studies Symposium on Nov. 11.
LDS leaders have long viewed media as a wonderful tool for spreading the gospel, but their counsel has always come with cautions. Rawlins examined general conference remarks about media over the past century to study this dichotomy.
During the October 1929 conference, President Charles Nibley extolled the “wonderful choir” that people could now hear on "Music and the Spoken Word" all across the country. In 1947, Bishop Joseph L. Wirthlin talked about how “there are sensational newspapers which play up the morbid side of life, there are some newspapers that have comic strips, so called, and which strips are infiltrating the minds of our boys and girls.”
As the century progressed, Rawlins saw the mentions of media — in fact, whole talks on the media — grow exponentially into the 21st century. This paralleled the growth of media itself, from radio to television to the Internet. Again, leaders lauded the uses of media to spread the word, with mentions about how general conference was becoming more available to the world.
In 2007, Elder Dallin H. Oaks warned that “young people are amusing themselves to death — spiritual death.”
“Media is everywhere, and as it becomes more complex, we will see even more teachings about how to use and not abuse media," Stout said. He discussed how religions promote media literacy or “gaining the skills necessary to appreciate media, enjoy media, glean things from it that will solidify our religious lives and promote our faith.”
Stout used examples of a religious theme park and of megachurches with movie theaters and bowling alleys to show that there is “an effort to bring entertainment of the media into regular church activity.” What separates how Mormons teach and talk about media, he said, is that they work “to keep our thinking about media separate from our core religious activity.”