My name is Allison Olfelt and I am not a Mormon.
However, apparently I was a speaker at a Mormon Blogging Conference last week.
I know, it was news to me too. Literal news, in fact, when I read an article in the Desert News titled Mormon moms connect through blogs about the “bloggers, specifically the Mormon mommy variety [that] met in Sandy this weekend for the first-ever Casual Blogger Conference.”
Really? Is that what that was?
Looking back, I can see why Amelia Nielson-Stowell, the journalist that covered the story, was confused. There were Primary Class (the Latter-Day Saint Church’s name for Sunday School) curriculum and “Family Home Evening” kits being raffled off four feet past the registration desk. I was asked by another attendee if, having grown up in Tualatin, Oregon, I knew “Brother so-n-so” from the neighboring town’s ward.
And most glaringly, an eight-minute evangelistic video produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was aired in front of the entire conference.
(I’ll give you a moment to process that.)
Yes, I saw what Ms. Nielson-Stowell saw, and it confused me too.
When I was asked by the creators of the Casual Blogger Conference if I would be interested in speaking on the Faith in Blogging Panel I was above all else, excited. It was not alarming to me that Mormon Mommy Blogs was one of the sponsors or that its co-creators were also co-founders of the conference. This was not because I have attended the Mormon church for a period of my past (surprise!), but because it was specifically communicated to me that even on the faith panel I was a part of, this conference would not be about religion. I answered with confidence when asked by friends and family if that conference I was speaking at in Utah was “for Mormons”. It was not, I had been assured, so I prepared mentally to discuss spirituality on the internet without getting into specific tenants of my religious practices (as I had been asked).
But then, sitting at a table meeting the other members of the ‘faith panel’, many for the first time, I was shocked to hear the plan to air the LDS Church-produced video during our 1 hour session. I swallowed my shock for a moment, but then it bubbled over. I said it. I said that after all the clear communication by the CBC creators that this panel was. not. about. religion., I would have never in a million years felt appropriate playing a promotional video explicitly produced about my religion containing scripture being read by a high ranking authority in my church.
I just wouldn’t.
It was discussed in some detail, and an hour before the session was to start, the creator of the movie (a full-time employee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and I were told by a CBC co-founder to ‘just decide’ if it would be shown or not. Because it is not my place to tell someone else what to do, I went no further than to inform him of my own discomfort with the notion, whether it were my religion or someone else’s being advertised. It didn’t seem to fit with what I had been told was the purpose and message of the panel.
Ultimately though, I conceded that the choice was his.
And there I was a short time later along with the 300+ attendees, watching all eight minutes of what I will admit is an incredibly beautiful video about how a woman’s Mormon beliefs and her blog intersect. At a ‘non-religious’ conference.
After the movie, the creator shared that he and the church hoped that its members would share it with their non-member friends.
I was confused, too.
I still am.