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Ponder this: An online kerfuffle has broken out across the Internet regarding an issue of profiting from religious teachings.
The fuss began shortly after an address that Devin G. Durrant, the first counselor in the LDS Church's Sunday School general presidency, gave Sunday afternoon during the faith's General Conference.
During his sermon, Durrant, a former Brigham Young University basketball star, frequently used the word "ponderize," which he defined as a method for learning verses from the church's signature scripture, the Book of Mormon first thinking deeply about what a passage means, then memorizing it as a way to get closer to God, a portmanteau of "ponder" and "memorize."
"If an effort is made to think about the same scripture many times a day over a week," Durrant said, "you will feel an increase in spirituality. You will also be able to teach and lift those you love in more meaningful ways."
But after Durrant's talk, word began circulating about the existence of a website, ponderize.us, that was selling T-shirts ($17.99) and rubber wristbands ($2.99) emblazoned with the words "What's Your Verse?" a phrase Durrant also used during his address. KUTV reported that the site had been set up by Durrant's son and daughter-in-law, Ryan and Valerie Durrant, and that the domain name had been purchased just a week earlier.
A huge backlash ensued, with accusations that the Durrants were attempting to brand and monetize "ponderize."
"Not a good idea to try to make money from a General Conference talk and from a member of your family," posted Douglas Barr on the Ponderize Weekly Facebook page. "Shameful at best … conniving and priestcrafts at the worst. This will go down as the worst moment of General Conference history. I hate the term 'ponderize' now."
"Even if the intentions were a million percent pure, there are people who have now found reason to doubt the structure of General Conference," posted Becca Gunyan. "Believing that people are called of God to speak is one thing. Seeing someone immediately profiting on a talk which they had prior knowledge about puts a bad spin on it."
Others defended the merchandising.
"The fools who take offense and criticize the work of spreading the word of the Lord should just be ignored," posted Richard Michelson. "They won't stop me from ponderizing and sharing the words of the prophets."
"Regardless of whether the family will profit from it, we can say we know it was a good idea, supported by the prophet, and suggested in General Conference," posted Julie Tucker Shaw. "The original idea is wonderful and inspired and should be supported."
Apparently taken aback, the Durrants first announced that the items would be discounted, with T-shirts and wristbands reduced to $9.99 and $1.99, respectively. Prices were raised again with it being made clear that any profits would go to the General Missionary Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But the attempt at cooling tempers proved unsuccessful. KUTV reported that by 10:45 p.m. Sunday, the ponderize.us site had been taken down.
On Monday afternoon, Devin G. Durrant weighed in on the controversy via a posting of his own on the Ponderize Weekly Facebook page, offering an apology and alluding to "negative feedback."
"A week before my address, my son obtained the ponderize.us domain name and subsequently created a website to offer T-shirts and wristbands to highlight and extend the ponderize message, which we have long talked about in our family," Durrant posted. "Because of the backlash he received in associating a commercial venture with a General Conference talk, he initially lowered his prices to cover his costs and then decided to keep prices as originally set and to donate the profits to the missionary fund of the LDS Church. Ultimately, he decided to take down the website last night. The site will remain down.
"I was aware that my son was creating a website related to the topic of my talk. I should have stopped the process. I did not. That was poor judgment on my part. Of course, none of the church leaders were aware of the site. I offer a sincere apology to any person who was offended in any way by the site."
As of Monday evening, the Ponderize Weekly Facebook page had also been removed from public view.