By DONALD LUDLO
The future role of homepages created by alumni of LDS missions on the Internet is uncertain until the church completes its official webpage and releases an official policy concerning the Internet, say web experts.
Homepage maintainers say more than 100 mission homepages provide return missionaries and others with communication links and information about mission areas, but they are controversial pieces in the expanding network of church-related sites.
Dean Derhak, the founder and maintainer of the Spain Barcelona Mission homepage, and Craig Harman, founder of the France Paris Mission homepage, said when the church establishes an official policy concerning the Internet, the pages could be in jeopardy.
“There is an emerging issue regarding the ‘official’ nature of our pages,” said Derhak. “Some maintainers are concerned that once the church gets its official site going, they may ask us all to step aside.”
Leslie D. Fife, a graduate research fellow of computer science at the University of Oklahoma, says he will take his homepage off the Internet if the church asks mission homepage maintainers to step aside.
“If the church says ‘close them down,’ mine will cease to exist,” Fife said.
According to David Bowie, Germany Munich Mission homepage maintainer, LDS Church Public Communications might be concerned with the increasing number of LDS sites because there is a lot of misinformation.
“On the other hand, the proliferation of such websites helps drown out the voice from anti-Mormon websites,” Bowie said.
Church spokesman Don LeFevre said, “The church has no policy on it. The First Presidency has said nothing concerning the homepages.”
Because the church has no official policy regarding mission alumni homepages, some homepages include a disclaimer on their sites.
“I have a disclaimer because I created the page and accept full responsibility for it,” Fife said. “However, because the topic of this particular page is an LDS mission, it could be perceived by some, accidentally, to be affiliated more closely with the church than it is.”
Other maintainers, such as Lorin Thwaits, creator of the Canada Toronto East Mission homepage, feel disclaimers are not necessary. “The pages are a virtual mission reunion on the web,” Thwaits said. “Do you see any reunion flyers posting disclaimers?”
Harman, who maintains a master list of mission homepages, says the main problem with the web pages is the unauthorized use of the church logo.
“The logos of the church (old and new) are registered trademarks and use of them without permission (even by members) is illegal,” Harman said.
Harman said the actions taken toward logo infringements will depend on the position the church takes toward the pages. “I personally think the maintainers who use the logo will simply be asked to remove it.”
Harman said it is very important for the maintainers to explicitly express the purpose of their homepages.
“Sometimes people don’t know what the page is. Recently, the Micronesia Guam page had an ex-Peace Corps volunteer try to add his name to the RM listings and, early on, I had a few French nonmembers try to do the same,” Harman said.
“It is important for the maintainers to remember that their audience is the world, not just RMs,” Fife said.
Even though some non-LDS people are exposed to the mission homepages, the main focus of the pages is to facilitate contact between returned missionaries, said Alex Baugh, BYU professor of church history and doctrine.
“Hundreds of thousands of members have very fond memories of serving the Lord and want to get back to the purity of the spirit they felt while in the field,” Thwaits said. “If they’re up on the page that will be one more reminder of a very spiritual time of their lives.”
There are currently 106 mission pages covering about a third of the church’s missions. “That’s triple the number of pages we had in November,” Harmon said.
For those interested in locating their mission homepages, Harman suggests checking out his up-to-date mission homepage list at: .