My friend Michelle wrote a great post asking for thoughts about social media and how to keep a balance with it all. I thought I’d share my thoughts here, since this is one of the places where I am trying to be more authentic about my faith (even while, yes, I also try to share content that is more generic/general here).
With unprecedented urgency and from voices of those we sustain as prophets of God, we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been asked to flood the earth with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and what our faith means to us. We’ve also been warned with similar urgency to beware the dangers of the internet and social media.
Interestingly, I was just talking with a social media expert friend this week about Elder Bednar’s talk, and how it was so masterfully balanced…inviting us to share while also warning of the potential pitfalls of too much social media and/or engaging with media that is harmful.
The words from his talk can be read by anyone. I wanted to just share some feelings I have had as I have thought about his talk, and they center around a two-word phrase from the scriptures that intrigues me:
I’m particularly drawn to this phrase and how and where it is used in the Book of Mormon (although the one instance in the Old Testament also catches my attention).
It wasn’t until I went back to the scriptures tonight that I noticed some patterns that seem to appear around this phrase. At the moment, I interpret the patterns as appearing in essentially three situations:
1) When covenant people are gathered around a cause, calling together upon God for protection and/or in a spirit of commitment to taking a stand for truth and liberty, to defend family, faith, country (as in Alma 43 and 3 Nephi 4)
2) When covenant people are gathered as families around a prophet of God speak about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and to give counsel for their lives (as in Mosiah 2-5). The people then, with one voice, respond to the prophet’s teachings with their collective plea for salvation and their declaration of desire to be true to their covenants and to receive the blessings of the Atonement that come by so doing. (A similar pattern also appears in Exodus 24.)
3) When covenant people are gathered around the Savior, both when receiving the personal and collective ministering of the Savior, Jesus Christ (3 Nephi 11), and after they receive the sacrament from His authorized disciples. With one voice, the multitude gives glory to Jesus (3 Nephi 20).
What does this have to do with my feelings about Elder Bednar’s talk?
This may seem shallow compared to the above, but I was interested in his focus on, of all things, hashtags. (Doesn’t seem very prophetic at the outset, right?)
On one hand, the I think hashtags can be overused, to the point of being annoying. They can also be hijacked by people who have opposing voices, to the point of sometimes making them feel meaningless.
I can’t help but feel that perhaps there is something Elder Bednar’s trying to tell us here. Is is possible that the deliberate, authentic, focused use of tools like hashtags is a way to come together as followers of Christ with one voice?
Looking at the scriptures tonight, I can’t help but wonder if there is some possible instruction about how, when, and why to use such tools.
Pattern #1 actually made me nervous to write about. The notion of war-cries in today’s politicized, polarized, sound-byte-driven world (to borrow the thought from one of the commenters on Michelle’s post) is admittedly wrought with potential problems. In truth, we have been told by prophets of God that the adversary is at war against God’s plan, against family, against faith, against liberty. But — and I think this is a big but — to use social media with a heart at war is to, I believe, violate the commandments of the Savior.
Scriptures that weigh on my mind in this regard include, for example, 3 Nephi 11:29 (warning that “contention…is of the devil), Doctrine and Covenants 19 (which contains an injunction to avoid talking of tenets but rather invites us to declare the good news and basic principles of the gospel), and 2 Timothy 2 (warning us to avoid questions that can engender strife all while inviting us to share instruction where people “oppose themselves”). Doctrines and scriptures around agency (e.g., 2 Nephi 2, Alma 29:1-4) also press on my soul.
Lest I wither in fear too much about this pattern, though, I’m sobered to see something akin to the Hosanna shout in 3 Nephi 4 (which only appears two other times in the Book of Mormon, once in 1 Nephi 11 and once in 3 Nephi 11). The cry to God in praise for protection and help in defending the “cause of Christians” (Alma 48) is striking. I cannot help but think of the recent meeting of various religious leaders at the Vatican and the rallying cry we have received to defend the doctrine found in the Proclamation to the World on the Family.)
But I think we each simply have to decide what it means for us to “stand for truth and righteousness.” My feelings about what that means for me are complex and often conflicted, and they have changed in some ways over the years.
Pattern #2, to me, captures a lot of what happens on social media when devoted Mormons want to share about their (our) faith. Or at least what I see most on my Facebook wall is people enthusiastically sharing videos and memes that capture sound bytes of prophetic teachings, official Church content, and so on. I think there is a deeper meaning to the concept of “one voice” in Mosiah (many scholars see it as a cry tied to religious rite), but for purposes here I will just focus on the pattern of rejoicing with one voice in prophetic teachings (which is a great reason to rejoice!).
Pattern #3 to me transcends them all. Reading these passages tonight, I wonder: when we #sharegoodness, are we sharing what it means to truly feel the Savior’s influence in our lives? (Do we feel the Savior’s influence in our lives? What does that look like?) I ask that parenthetical question because I look back on my own social media sharing over the years and I have found myself often sharing about causes, and sharing prophetic teachings. But how often have *I* shared about my faith in the Savior? Truth be told, I feel like my own faith in the Savior has taken on a new level in recent years. How, where, and when to share that is something I wonder about.
I also absolutely love the cry from the people in Mosiah 5, praying for help applying Christ’s atoning blood. The how of applying the Atonement is, in my feeling, perhaps the most important message we can share. It’s one thing to know the doctrine of the Atonement. It’s another thing to have experienced the Atonement.
What happens in 3 Nephi is very sacred, so it’s not like this kind of sharing would necessarily be everyday Facebook or Twitter material (or could it be?). I ask the question thinking of counsel we have received along the way to be simple, natural, and everyday-ish in our sharing as well.
And yet. If we are to always remember Him, can we glory too much in Him?
(So many questions about how to use these tools!)
The bottom line for me is this: I do wonder if our careful use of hashtags could perhaps bring us together more with one voice around the Savior so people can know without question that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints truly are Christian. Christ is our everything. Do people feel that in what and how we share on social media?
I use the “we” here, but these are questions I am asking myself. I do not want to overuse social media with regard to my faith. I imagine friends of mine whom I may know from work or other settings may grow weary of what I do share. And even though I use social media for personal and professional reasons, when all is said and done, my faith really is everything to me. That is authentic. It does permeate my daily thoughts, actions, and decisions. Even though my professional work has been and is of a secular nature, my faith is still my foundation for why I care about my work. My choice to be married and have children is rooted in my faith.
I don’t believe there are easy answers. How much social media use is too much? When and how should it be used? How often? (As timestamps of my posts show, I often write in the wee hours of the night. Besides the fact that I’ve had sleep issues basically my whole life, nighttime after kiddos (now teens) are in bed is when I’ve usually felt most able to connect with heaven and myself. And yet, I have wondered whether I need to make some changes in spite of both of those facts.)
As I said before, I think for each person, the if, when, where, why, what, and how of social media is so, so personal.
My social media expert friend noted that it will take years for us, collectively and individually, to learn how to effectively use these tools (and, I hope, learn to measure the impact of it all). I think conversations like the one Michelle initiated can help. I’ve closed comments here to encourage people to contribute to the discussion over there.
What are your thoughts? What do you see as the positives of social media (whether for the purpose of sharing faith or for other reasons)? What do you see as negatives? How do you find balance in your own use of social media? What do you like to share on social media? Why? What do you like to see on social media? Please share your thoughts over on Michelle’s post.