Salt Lake City — (KUTV) A LDS church leader is apologizing for a controversial website that went up - and quickly came down - that critics alleged appeared designed to profit on his general conference talk.
The website -- ponderize.us -- advertised t-shirts and wristbands that displayed a phrase used during conference by Devin Durrant, first counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The site disappeared Sunday night after online backlash and accusations of using a religious occasion for personal gain.
In a Facebook post Monday afternoon, Durrant acknowledged the site - created by his son - was not a good idea.
"I should have stopped the process," Durrant said. "I did not. That was poor judgment on my part."
Durrant, a former NBA player who has been serving in the Sunday School General Presidency since April 2014, 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."
Devin Durrant elaborated on that Monday in his Facebook post.
"The site will remain down," he wrote. "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."
Many Facebook commenters seemed to give Durrant a pass.
"Thanks for your humility in trying to make peace!" wrote Nancy Jones Knowlton. "Loved the talk! Loved the message and the push to action so many felt!"
Others weren't so forgiving.
"My heart just sank reading this statement," wrote Blake Paullin. "You knew you were trying to capitalize on your 'unique' usage of the term 'ponderize', and yet you're not apologizing for that- you're apologizing to 'any person who was offended in any way.'"
Brad Kramer, 36, a LDS anthropologist who teaches at Utah Valley University, told 2News he doubts Durrant 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.'"
There are still unanswered questions about how involved Durrant was in the venture. According to Whois.net, an website domain lookup tool, Durrant himself registered two other domains in September - ponderize.org and ponderize.net.
In a text message, Durrant told 2News he bought the domains "to protect them." He did not elaborate nor respond to follow-up questions.
Casey Walrath, 30, a graduate student and active Mormon in Salt Lake City, said he's happy the site is down.
"At best it was cheap and empty consumerism," said Walrath. "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 creators of the website have not responded to requests from 2News for further comment.
Here is the full statement from Devin Durrant:
Yesterday, I had the wonderful privilege to speak in General Conference about a topic that is near and dear to my heart - the pondering of God's word in an extended and deeper manner on a weekly basis. I have been touched at the outpouring of support for my message. Please know of my heartfelt gratitude for the positive responses I have received from so many!
However, I have also received some 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 wrist bands to highlight and extend the ponderize message, which we have long talked about in our family. Although we didn't invent the term, as far as we know our use of it is unique. 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 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.
My message remains the same - overcome evil by choosing to elevate your thoughts by ponderizing God's word every day.
Thank you, again, to so many of you for your kind messages of support and your willingness to accept the invitations given yesterday.