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Foundation explaining polygamy via the Net

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PROVO — Jim Engebretsen has never met a polygamist, but as a Mormon who has spent most of his life outside Utah, he knows people expect him to be an expert on the subject.

Or be a polygamist himself.

So he became one — an expert, not a polygamist — and started the nonprofit More Good Foundation to combat misconceptions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the Internet.

Engebretsen's effort hit a snag last week as he began his attempt to explain that Mormons are not polygamists while explaining their polygamist past.

He launched a Web page — polygamy.byu.edu — but took it down Monday after Brigham Young University administrators told him it violated school policy.

"Some people apparently interpreted that it might be the church making a statement," Engebretsen said. "It's not, it's completely independent. It's me on my own and my foundation."

The university's Web site — byu.edu — hosts dozens of links about polygamy, including answers to frequently asked questions about a practice officially disavowed by the LDS Church more than 116 years ago.

The difference is that Engebretsen's project is personal, not the product of academic work, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said.

The Web page was clearly marked as Engebretsen's work.

"Information contained on the byu.edu domain needs to be information and applications provided by BYU or its colleges or departments," Jenkins said. "If the More Good Foundation had proposed another topic, we would not have been able to accept it, either."

Engebretsen found a new home for the page on Tuesday — www.mormon-polygamy.org — and plans future projects, including one on LDS temples and another on Mormon missionaries.

"The principal aim is to get better LDS content on the Web," he said. "Unfortunately right now, if you type in anything with the word Mormon in it into a search engine, you get sites devoted to giving what I consider pretty slanderous interpretations of LDS doctrine and LDS theology.

"This is an attempt to put up a Web site on polygamy that provided accurate information from prophets."

As a former LDS mission president, Engebretsen saw missionaries grow frustrated by dealing with people they taught about the church asking questions about inaccurate information they found on the Internet.

Robert Millet is a BYU Religious Education professor who has experienced the same problem when he has represented the university and the church around the country in interfaith settings.

"Any effort to try to answer questions that people pose about the church, whether from sincere seekers or critics, is welcome," Millet said. "But we do need to be able to state our position, our doctrine, carefully, or it adds to the confusion."

Millet instructs Mormons and others alike — if a teaching can be found in scriptures, church curriculum and LDS general conference talks, it can be considered doctrine. If one or a few church leaders expressed opinions on a subject but it doesn't meet the former criteria, it does not represent the church's position.

The foundation has a Web site — www.moregoodfoundation.org — but part of Engebretsen's cause is to create multiple Internet sources with accurate information. For example, his Web site urges church members to start blogs that avoid Mormon jargon so people of other faiths will understand the content.

"We're just trying to teach people how to put good content on the Web," he said.

His polygamy Web site quotes LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley at length and provides links to eight articles and texts on the subject.

Engebretsen said BYU did not reprimand him.

"As far as I know, it's not any big deal. We were happy to take it off and happy to find another home for it."

Jenkins said BYU is reviewing the incident. She said an information technology staff worker incorrectly assumed that Engebretsen's submission had been approved.

A Google cache, or snapshot, of a text-only version of the Web site could still be found Tuesday on byu.edu by clicking on the search link and typing the word polygamy into the search box, then clicking on cached under the correct search result.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com