A recent Trib article explains that Mormon Stories and other monetized podcasts have been a sole source of income for some of the individuals that conduct the interviews. This isn’t a surprise to many people, although it’s impressive that there’s been enough donated to support salaries for individuals’ families.
At some point, all Mormon blogs (and maybe all blogs) have this discussion: should we monetize the blog? I have steadfastly opposed it on principle, although I have also made the caveat that selling physical goods (e.g. FMH’s bohemian necklaces or the highly coveted Carol Lynn Pearson tee shirts that don’t actually exist yet) that promote or relate to the blog is not the same thing as donations for content. Allowing ads just trashes the place up. Taking donations is not inherently objectionable in that we all spend time creating content and paying for domains and hosting fees, but there is a downside.
I have long felt that monetizing one’s blog would dramatically alter the nature of the posts, forever changing the content of the blog, whether those changes are immediately noticeable or not. Once you begin selling a product, even if that product is intellectual rather than physical, your audience becomes more than a readership, but also a source of income. Even when your donations are small, you begin to keep one eye on the coffers. You are forced to ask yourself, “why don’t we have more donations and how do we get more donations?” If the donations ever reach the size of primary income, that pressure becomes an imperative.
Even without donations, there is a pull to popularize. You want to grow readership. You want to know why your amazing post that is so full of fresh ideas only reached X readers or got Y comments when you thought it deserved many many more. If you substitute the word “clicks” for “donations,” you can readily see that this line of thinking is inherent in blogging. The difference is, you can’t pay your bills with clicks.
Journalism is fraught with this problem as well, which is why some criticize journalism as sensationalist and irresponsible, and why some journalism merits the criticism. There are some checks and balances to the audience’s power in the form of eroded credibility or losing gravitas if news is too sensationalist and in terms of network or media corporation’s oversight; they aren’t obligated to publish you if they don’t like what you write. It’s one reason government-owned newspapers (and church owned Deseret News) are criticized–their lack of objectivity (lack of gravitas & credibility) and undue control of speech (censorship). Whoever pays for content ultimately dictates content.
Jesus taught that those who teach the gospel should do so without purse or scrip (money). The church touts a lack of paid clergy as an important part of the gospel (although top leaders do receive a living stipend, and this draws criticism for some of the same reasons) . Isaiah said “come buy wine and milk without money and without price,” and this sentiment is repeated throughout the Book of Mormon. As implied, at least how I interpret it, the quest for truth is supposed to be a side gig, not your day job. Once your finances are tied up in a thing, it changes your perspective. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Likewise, a person can’t explore wisdom and seek truth objectively when paying his or her bills is tied up in one specific way of thinking about wisdom and truth. And blogging, to those of us who are idealistic (and I hope that’s most of us) is really about having a conversation about wisdom, perspective and values, all of which are suspect when they become a commodity.
Unfortunately, but typically of humans, readers usually don’t want what they need. They won’t pay you to tell them what they don’t want to hear or what they find disagreeable, at least over the long haul.  If you take their money, they can (to some extent) dictate what you say, at least if you want them to continue to donate. There are boundaries, at least, in that you can’t insult or criticize your audience. If you bore them, they go away. The medium makes it difficult to change people’s minds.
Even in psychology and therapy this can be a problem. One criticism of psychology is that people never leave therapy, and that most therapists are neurotic and in therapy. One is not paying to be cured, and perhaps there isn’t a cure. One is paying to be heard. A good therapist can give tough messages that help people improve their lives, but it’s a delicate balance between telling people what they want to hear to get them to keep coming, telling people what they can handle (a mix of what they want to hear and what they feel they can improve), and telling people what they really need to do that they may not yet be ready to hear.
What is interesting is the trend in disciplining individuals who profit from an alternate message about the church. As I read Peggy’s article, I thought about Chad Hardy, one of the business owners behind the shirtless missionary calendar (and the Mormon MILFs) who was excommunicated when he was asked to stop publishing the calendars, and he refused. Part of his defense was that he was preventing a worse outcome because his business partner wanted to go further with things, and he had held that person in check. He was profiting from a byproduct of the church, one that is distinctly off-message, namely that 19 year old missionaries can be a sex symbol as can clean-living, muffin-baking Mormon moms. Selling the Mormon image as a sex symbol is an example of a byproduct of the church. It’s not the product the church is selling, charming sister missionaries aside. It’s a variation on that, one that runs counter to the church’s brand. Likewise, Denver Snuffer was excommunicated for his interpretation of the restoration that he sold via books and lectures . His message was that the church was off track, that we’d lost the way, and that he was pointing out the real path. It’s a compelling message, but necessarily at odds with the church’s message.
Are these types of Mormon-related businesses symbiotic or parasitic? Their proponents posit that the church thrives by having both the “on-script” message and having some alternate forums as well, and that being too controlling is what hurts church growth and health. Free press, free speech, freedom to think and do as our conscience dictates are vital to the health of the organization, or as Joseph Smith put it:
“I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”
If these ventures are parasitic, they destroy the thing that feeds them. If they are symbiotic, they are necessary to the health and survival of the church, and vice-versa. One could argue that this is priestcraft, if an actual dictionary definition for priestcraft existed. But you could likewise argue (as I would, vociferously) that selling any religious book is a version of priestcraft, that EFY and Time Out for Women speakers and those who claim they can cure homosexuality are practicing priestcraft, especially if it is their primary source of income.  If there’s a Faith Crisis Biz, there’s also a Faith Biz.
I should clarify that I don’t think the church is targeting these individuals specifically for making money from disaffection. My hope is that the local disciplinary council acts from a position of real regard for John and his spiritual well-being. I assume both John and they are acting in good faith in this process. Regardless, when your product is a byproduct of the church’s, ideologically as well as organizationally, it creates a conflict. You can’t bring a Diet Coke into the PepsiCo boardroom unless the PepsiCo execs are pretty open-minded. Since the church is the one that owns the original product, however they define it, they have the rights to it. The church doesn’t have literal intellectual property rights–this isn’t a lawsuit–but they can excommunicate someone for garnering a following on the basis of an alternate message. Money only makes it easier to quantify a person’s following, the relevance of that person’s “brand.”
Even if the church deems that holding dissenting views is fine (as we’ve been assured recently and repeatedly), the threat exists based on size of influence and the church’s lack of control over the message. The more concerted and organized dissenting views are, the more pressure the church has to address the issues that they raise. Given the conservative bent among top church leaders, applying time pressure, even when one believes there is a moral imperative, results in slowdown and retrenchment, at least in the short term. Since these are matters than affect many people, I’d rather get a late inspired answer than a hasty uninspired one. 
 As I’ve pointed out, it would be interesting to see how these living stipends would shake out if each apostle had their own donate button.
 The people who do like to hear people say disagreeable things like those disagreeable things to be directed at others. For example, anyone named [Doctor First Name].
 Passing the Heavenly Grift, as it were.
 My first exposure to this industry was when I was 15 and Lynn Bryson spoke at our Youth Conference in the 1980s. After freaking us out that Satan was entering our bedrooms through our record players, he revealed that his own non-Satanic CDs were for sale in the lobby after his speech. Shocker.
 I was reminded of this issue when I was reading Tony Blair’s autobiography yesterday. He was asked if he had regrets about the Iraq war, and he was hesitant to answer. You can imagine this same thinking at play in how the church answers questions about women’s issues and LGBT rights. In his words:
“It was a headline question. It had to have a headline answer. Answer “yes” and I knew the outcome: “BLAIR APOLOGIZES FOR WAR,” “AT LAST HE SAYS SORRY.” Choose a variant. The impact would be the same. Those who had opposed the war would rejoice; those who had supported it would be dismayed, imagining their support and in some cases their sacrifice had been in vain. Answer “no” and you seem like some callous brute, indifferent to the suffering or perhaps worse, stubbornly resistant, not because of strength but because you know nothing else to do.”
Interesting thoughts. I do like the point of “If there’s a Faith Crisis Biz, there’s also a Faith Biz.” I was thinking about this as I read it, but as usual hawkgrrrl already thought about it.
It will be interesting to watch this over time.
It appears we now live in a “gofundme” world, where everyone has a chance to plead their case as to why someone should send them money. We do live in a free market world to some extent. People ask for money in exchange for a number of different goods and services and we decide which are worth it to use to purchase.
That’s kind of the basics. Most time, we only find out afterward whether it was really worth it or not.
I suppose it is proper that we can choose to support a blog or blog-like activity if we feel strongly about it.
my only issue here is whether or not someone is hiding behind a “charity” or “non-profit” in which one personally profits and was, in fact, set up solely for that purpose.
And don’t come at me with the Red Cross or some other “commercialized” charity. Those pretty much disgust me with their high salaried executives and real lack of accountability.
Great article! I think the dilemma is well laid out here.
I encounter the problem in the psychology model where a relatively new technique is so potent that it is now threatening to quickly cut psych practices down to a fraction of the size needed to support the therapist creating a sizable ethical dilemma for them. Do they get a day job? Do they need to turn their practices into some kind of marketing organization to keep enough people in front of them to make a living? Do they ignore the new potent method in order to continue their livelihood at the expense of the patient?
I think the church knows the answer, support yourself with a separate career and then donate time to run the church, too bad it isn’t applied to the brethren as well since compromising the top has compromised the entire church.
I’m also involved in a part of the charity world were the participants actually pay to join (work in) the charity allowing 100% of outside donations to flow to the cause. Generally these are well to do retired people.
Finally there is the question of the service being fully valued by it’s users when it’s offered free. In the psych world it’s apparent that some at least token (co-payment sized) or barter contribution helps invest the client in the process.
I doubt token donations aimed at covering the organization’s non-salary out of pocket expenses acts as much of a conflict of interest for the service provider but it probably changes the character of the audience. A two tiered free/token pay content seems to be used by many online products. A popular political commentator offers his real time radio show free but charges $5/month for the more convenient access to the podcast archive of past shows which is a great solution for busy people, of course this requires content quality worthy of the inconvenience of signing up for the small monthly payments.
I do think JD has generally offered content quality worthy of a donation. For example the collation and summary of some 3,000 informal exit interviews exceeded anything the church or any other blog has contributed to the problem.
For those of you interested, John Dehlin is speaking on the radio today at 11 am MT. You can listen on the internet at http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/john-dehlin-and-lds-church
It will be replayed at 7 pm MT, and there should be an audio archive there as well.
I suspect the definition of priestcraft is far narrower than most believe it to be.
The concept that “the laborer is worthy of his hire” is repeated in the Book of Mormon, the D&C, and the Old and New Testaments (see also “muzzling the ox that treadeth the corn”)
For much of the first 100 years of Mormonism, we accepted a broader definition. Patriarchs charged for blessings (and to a lesser extent, so did those that gave blessings of healing). Too busy or far away to attend a temple? You can pay a senior to attend on your behalf and do your ancestors work. Bishops and other local leaders received a stipend. Spencer W. Kimball received a stipend as stake clerk in the 1930s.
It’s interesting that you mention the “purse or scrip” reference because I’ve always interpreted that as an expectation that those sent out would be supported (financially, with food, shelter, etc.) by those they minister to, thus not having to take their own money.
I think the Didache would support this interpretation of early Christian ministry as well. I remember a reference in that book in which there was an expectation to give traveling ministers a place to stay and food to eat for a time, but that if they overstayed their welcome or ate all your food then you can know they’re not true ministers.
I am not sure where Mormonism got this super-aversion to making any money from ministry at all. It’s also strange to consider that CES instructors, General Authorities, writers for Deseret Book, LDS musicians, professional fireside speakers, etc. all make money for what they do. So what exactly are Mormons objecting to? Seems like an objection to an idea more than a reality.
I think when it comes to defining priestcraft, intent is part of it. At the beginning, the intention might simply be to offset costs, and I wouldn’t consider that priestcraft. But as described in the article, defraying costs creeps almost immedately into something else, because the intent inevitably changes.
Brilliant. I’m stealing that Upton Sinclair quote.
I think that this part is really something to talk more about:
That there has to be a faith biz to have a faith crisis biz. In some sense, the a lot of disaffection (and a lot of the “market” for reaching out to disaffected Mormons) arises precisely because of the sorts of things that come from the market for faith — for example, correlation is a big target for a lot of people, but couldn’t we say that correlation basically includes the marketing/commoditization of faith? If there wasn’t as much as a “business” of faith (e.g., standardized message, script, etc.,), would there be as much need for a “business” of faith crisis?
Non critical belief and it’s abuse is what creates a Faith Crisis Biz.
I think both you and Andrew make a good point.
I’ve always been more than a bit put off by the whole faith biz stuff – fluffy books, jewellery (CTR rings, Moroni pins etc.) etc., long before the faith crisis biz hit the scene. Oftentimes it seems to be the cultural stuff that is so heavily pushed in that faith biz marketplace.
It always felt uncomfortably like priestcraft to me. Possibly the whole lay clergy, voluntary service was emphasised so much to me growing up, that any making money out of religion feels icky.
“couldn’t we say that correlation basically includes the marketing/commoditization of faith?”
I think we could, yes.
I don’t know about the Priestcraft thing, but there has always been this weird double standard standard in many areas associated with the Church.
We are consistently told that the scriptures are all we need when it comes to written materials, but then multiple other things are pushed on us: Church magazines, Church News, videos, websites, GA books, etc.
At least they don’t promote their books at General Conference.
I’ve been pondering further on why I may feel as I do about the Faith Biz. It occurs to me that another factor is that participating in the Faith Biz culture requires the financial wherewithal to do so. That wasn’t something my family had, and probably colours my experience.
It seems to me to create a two-tier church culture, and many who do participate appear to be wholly unaware of this. It doesn’t help build Zion, from that perspective.
Returning to correlation for a moment, the teachings of the presidents manuals have been heavily criticised, and are far from perfect, but it perhaps ought to be remembered that the reason given behind their introduction was to provide gospel books containing teachings of latter-day church leaders for those without that resource, for those who didn’t have access, either be that financial or because of language to the publications of Deseret book.
I am not a huge fan of the Teachings of the President’s series. I do like the historical information, but I find it to be a bit forced. In other words, the writers decide on the lessons and then ellipse their way to make it conform. I’d rather have complete sermons and comments and derive a lesson from the President’s actual sermons and topics.
I understand that some older sermons may contain ideas that are no longer acceptable. But most of the teachings are probably of value.
Hawkgirl, great column, I’ve thought this as well. It’s nice you have put it into words so well. There is definitely a difference, as you become beholden to your funding.
Well, yeah Jeff, I think we can separate how it was done (poorly) from the stated situation that prompted the project – apparently a desire to improve access to the material for all members.
I have my questions about ‘certain’ podcasts and the fact that they are for employment (and may or may not really be “non-profit”), but I keep wondering how this also affects those like the picture included above of John Bytheway. Does the “faith biz” have the same issues to deal with (just with less criticisms)? What about those that make money selling books to counter those that have a faith crisis due to the faith crisis biz? OK – where did I put my Dramamine?
Building on what Hedgehog said, I’ve increasingly become disappoinnted with the faith biz. Everyone just LOVES that there’s a TOFW, right? But there are quite a few women who can’t afford to go. If we’re creating a culture these day’s that women need these “extra” things to be uplifted, why isn’t the church organizing them on a regional level and not charging $? Same goes with books churned out by the 12 – my husband’s hobby is collecting these books from the 12/FP. I know plenty of people who can’t afford all of these books, so again – why wouldn’t an apostle release their teachings for free online? Why can’t Holland’s “For Times of Trouble: Spiritual Solace from the Psalms” be available for all?
The other point I wanted to make is that the faith crisis biz wouldn’t be a thing IF the church had provided the resources needed for those people in the first place; or created the circumstances that required them. It would be nice if they would step up and provide it, in whatever form. And I suppose the essays could be seen as a part of that . . . although they ensure you can’t find the essay unless you’re looking for it (“the essays that must not be named”).
“apparently a desire to improve access to the material for all members.”
The spirit is willing, the flesh is …ellipsed.
Kristine: “the faith crisis biz wouldn’t be a thing IF the church had provided the resources needed for those people in the first place; or created the circumstances that required them.” Well, to paraphrase Einstein, the thinking that got us into this mess isn’t going to get us out of it.
hawkgirrl ; What resources should the Church provided and what circumstances did they create that caused the faith crisis biz and specifically who in the Church should be held accountable? And what should the Church do different and who in the Church should take the lead to get us out of this mess.
robert60, Kristine is the one who said the first part of that. My statement is just an answer to her, so I can’t answer on her behalf. If I were to say what the church has done that has contributed to people having faith crises, I would list a few things:
– black & white statements about needing to know rather than acknowledging that doubt is part of faith.
– CES instructors who know next to nothing about the thorny areas of church history.
– correlation committee members who lack biblical scholarship and sometimes inaccurately interpret gospel messages (proof texting) in manuals.
– too much emphasis on obedience, including to human leaders, and not enough on giving correct principles & letting them govern themselves.
– the focus on outward appearance and conformity and cultural expectations being mixed in with the gospel far too freely.
– overtly political posturing being mixed with church to the point that those who vote democrat believe they are not welcome and many church members agree and consider them unworthy, openly deriding them in church meetings.
– a lack of awareness of how our messages often sound to those not living in Utah and not raised in the church.
– lack of transparency.
– lack of understanding of female, LGBT, and other minority viewpoints that results in statements that are dismissive and inherently derogatory. Many messages clearly come from a very white male privileged viewpoint.
– don’t hide the new topic essays! brief bishops on these topics. Help them to know how to help those who have doubts or different political views.
– quit rewarding tattling. It’s so bad in the church in some areas, and BYU is frankly the absolute worst. We should quit teaching people that it’s good to be a busybody and that such behavior will be rewarded with confidentiality and an assumption that their gossip is valid and worth taking people to task over. What happened to the D&C counsel to pull someone aside one on one who has offended you. The D&C doesn’t say you should tattle like a chicken to someone in authority, which amounts really to gossip and passive aggression.
Kristine can clarify her own statement, but those are a few thoughts.
hawkgrrrl, that last comment was spot on.