In many ways, Lisa Butterworth is the very image of Mormon devotion; she lives in Boise, Idaho, with her husband and their three children younger than 4, faithfully attending church and teaching Sunday school.
But then there is her Web log, or blog, FeministMormonHousewives.blogspot.com. Unlike the more mainstream Mormon blogs – known collectively as the Bloggernacle – that by and large promote the faith, this online diary focuses on the universal challenges of mothering young children and on frustration with the limited roles women have in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I was getting really frustrated at church because I couldn’t talk about a lot of things that were bothering me about history, about feminism,” said the 30-year-old Ms. Butterworth, who started the blog last August with four friends. “I wasn’t interested in bashing the church; I wanted to find something that could be faithful, liberal and feminist. I didn’t find that, so I created it.”
Like the best religion-driven blogs, hers offers a peek into lives that many are curious about but that relatively few lead.
It is also one of a growing number of religion-oriented blogs, many of them irreverent and contrarian, and all serving as a meeting point for the like-minded.
To some bloggers of faith, the medium provides a vehicle for evangelism. For others, it is an opportunity to educate. For many, it is a way to get their beliefs into the public square and, with people who comment on their postings, wrestle with the issues of the day. In some blogs, particularly those of conservative Christians, political and religious beliefs are intertwined.
But whether conservative or liberal, most religion-based blogs seem to be created by people on the extremes of the religious spectrum.
“People who blog tend to be the kind who already have firm opinions and a certain world-view,” said Kathy Shaidle, a self-described “conservative Catholic Gen-Xer” and founder of RelapsedCatholic.com.
While the Internet addresses of many blogs look much like those of other Web sites, blogs are fluid and interactive and create conversation and debate, rather than simply present information.
No one knows precisely how many blogs there are, but a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that roughly eight million American adults have created them. Lee Rainie, director of the project, estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of those are related to religion. “There are blogs for Wiccans, blogs on the Talmud, and blogs for mainstream and nonmainstream denominations,” Mr. Rainie said. “They run a very broad spectrum of institutional connection.”
There are also blogs by Christians of every denomination, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. One hub, Blogs4God.com, lists 1,230 Christian blogs. Jeff Sharlet, editor of The Revealer, a daily online review of religion in the news, said there had even been an Amish blog.
Though most religion-related blogs have been content to talk theology and church politics, religious bloggers are starting to realize the potential of their collective power.
Christian God bloggers are planning to gather, for the first time, at a GodBlogCon at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., Oct. 13 to 15. Planned workshops include “Blogging Pastors” and “Using Blogs for Online Activism and Evangelism.” More information is available on the blog SmartChristian.com.
Religious blogs give a public voice to people who otherwise might not have one, like Fatima Mohammed, a recent college graduate in Milwaukee. Ms. Mohammed, 24, is an observant Muslim who prays five times a day, dresses modestly and wears hijab to cover her hair.
In her blog, LoveThyUmmah.com – Ummah means “the Muslim community” – “I’m speaking from the perspective of a young Muslim woman in America. It’s a unique outlet,” Ms. Mohammed said. “The blog lets me get my voice out there.”
Many blogs, particularly those by the most fervently religious, are anonymous.
Aidel Maidel, whose nom-de-blog means “Nice Jewish Girl” (aidelmaidel.blogspot.com), posts about the ups and downs of being a working religious mother who is fairly new to Hasidic life.
She guards her anonymity because it lets her write things that some in her community might perceive as less than flattering, which could potentially compromise her daughters’ ability to marry well, she said, though they are now respectively an infant and a toddler.
She started it in August 2003, at a time when “I had a lot of things going on in my life and I didn’t feel like I had an outlet anywhere else.”
“It was a place for me to vent,” she said. “Blogging provided me with a real space where I could say what I wanted and nobody would judge me.”
For a few religious bloggers, online endeavors have become more than an outlet.
For Gordon Atkinson, a Baptist minister, it has led to a book. Mr. Atkinson, the spiritual leader of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, has an unconventional religious blog, RealLivePreacher.com. In occasionally salty language, he relates his theological struggles, ideas for sermon titles and car-pooling experiences.
He began blogging in December 2002 because it provided a place to write, but kept it anonymous so as not to hurt his parishioners’ feelings. After being identified, he decided to continue it anyway. A Christian publisher, Eerdman’s, soon invited him to assemble his essays in book form, and in October it published RealLivePreacher.com, the book.
Mr. Atkinson is one of a swelling pool of pastors entering the blogosphere. With more than one million reader visits since his blog began, he is also one of the most successful. His writing is “about how faith and life meet in nonreligious ways,” he said, adding, “I hope not to be very churchy.”
For Joe Carter of Fort Worth, blogging has led to a new career. Mr. Carter is moving, with his wife and daughter, to Chicago, where he is about to begin work in a newly created position as manager of Internet development at the evangelical Christian Center for Bio-Ethics and Human Dignity.
After 16 years in the Marines, he posted on his blog, EvangelicalOutpost.com, that he was trying to figure out what to do next. Dozens of people quickly wrote with suggestions; one was a job at the center.
“Blogging really opened up a new world for me,” Mr. Carter said.
In addition to the job, “it generated a new sense of community that I didn’t otherwise have” he said. “In newspapers you don’t have the same interconnection with readers.”
Between unpacking boxes and posting on his blog, Mr. Carter is getting ready for his new job, which starts Monday. The center’s new Internet development plan for outreach, he said, “may possibly even include blogs.”
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