Amid criticism, 'Ponderize' apparel website removed after LDS general conference
UPDATE: Brother Devin Durrant has issued a full statement apologizing for the website. Read that story here.
KUTV) A controversial website has been taken down after critics alleged it appeared designed to profit on a talk given Sunday at LDS general conference.
That website - ponderize.us - disappeared Sunday night after online backlash and accusations of using a religious occasion for personal gain.
"At best it was cheap and empty consumerism," said Casey Walrath, 30, a graduate student and active Mormon in Salt Lake City. "At worst it looked like a General Authority's family had planned to use a meme-worthy conference talk to make some money on the side."
The LDS church leader in question - Devin Durrant, first counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency - spoke to Mormon faithful during the Sunday afternoon session about the need to "ponderize" the scriptures.
"The word 'ponderize' is not found in the dictionary but it has found a place in my heart," Durrant said in his talk. He explained that "ponderizing" involved choosing a verse of scripture, putting it in a visible location, and pondering its meanings throughout the week.
Later Sunday, online users noticed a new website - ponderize.us - selling t-shirts and wristbands with the words "Ponderize" and "What's Your Verse?" printed on them. The creators of the website were identified as Durrant's son and daughter-in-law, Ryan and Valerie Durrant.
The website was registered just one week earlier, according to Whois.net.
This didn't sit well with some people who quickly voiced their disgust on a Facebook page called "Ponderize Weekly" that appeared to be set up by the same creators of the website.
"Hey fellow #ponderizers!" wrote Emmett O. Rabs. "This week make sure you take the time to #ponderize how a General Authority's family felt it would be super neat to cash in on a captive audience at General Conference."
At first, the website creators defended their idea in a post on the Facebook page.
"We thought it would be fun to create a simple reminder for ponderizers with T-shirts and wristbands," the post said. "To ensure that the wrong impression is not portrayed, all profits will go to the missionary fund."
But by 10:45 p.m. Sunday, the page ponderize.us was taken down.
"We ensure you that we only had good intentions and continue to believe that this would have been a great way to remember to Ponderize," the creators wrote on Facebook, "but we would rather shut down the site than let a wonderful message be tainted."
Some Facebook commenters weren't so forgiving.
"This is egregious," wrote Van Aston. "You had an idea to make some money. People saw through the ploy and rightfully called you out."
"Complete innocence would have warranted a simple explanation and continuation of the website," added Shane McCormick. "Glad you took it down... Very fishy."
Other commenters supported the original intent of the website.
"I thought it was a great idea," wrote Holly Richardson.
"If you have a problem with this page or merchandise then don't support it by 'un-liking' it," added Rachael Smith who identified herself as a cousin of one of the website's founders. "You don't have to publicly rebuke people and assume you know their intentions."
Brad Kramer, 36, a LDS anthropologist who teaches at Utah Valley University, told 2News he doubts Devin Durrant himself was trying to use his conference talk to market for the website, but he said "the optics are just terrible" nonetheless.
"Despite Mormons' happy embrace of capitalist consumer culture, there's always been a sense that making money off of the gospel has certain limits," Kramer said. "This whole thing looked a lot like trading on privileged information, like 'insider priestcraft.'"
Walrath, the graduate student, said he's happy the site is down.
"I doubt they had evil or greedy motives," he said, "but I do think that selling t-shirts based on a conference talk was a bad idea from the start."
2News did not immediately hear back from Devin Durrant or the creators of the website requesting comment on this story.
Durrant, a former NBA player, began serving in the LDS Sunday School general presidency in April 2014.
Cimaron Neugebauer contributed to this article.