Using Social Media for Gospel Purposes
Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
Earlier this year, Gibran Calderon, a Church member from Mexico, organized a Facebook event for April 6, 2011, to celebrate the birth the Savior and the 181st anniversary of the organization of the Church.
Inspired by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s April conference talk on using media to share the gospel, “Waiting on the Road to Damascus,” Brother Calderon created “Comparte Tu Testimonio,” inviting all Spanish-speaking members throughout the world to share their testimonies online that day.
With all the advances in technology and the proliferation of the Internet, Church leaders have made several statements on the topic of social media.
“I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration,” Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during a commencement address at Brigham Young University–Hawaii in 2007.
Brother Calderon wrote in the event information, “We can share our testimonies about our Savior and His work in gratitude for all He has done for us.” With just over 300 guests at the online event, he suggested each take a few minutes and invite at least 10 more members to share their testimonies.
The response was far greater than he ever imagined—more than 50,000 people were invited to the event, and over several days a total of 23,428 people wrote their testimonies of the Church, the Book of Mormon, and Jesus Christ on the event wall. Brother Calderon plans to repeat the event next year.
Even before the advent of the Internet, Elder LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled members to exercise caution in using technology.
“The Lord has inspired men to invent these great tools,” he said. “Now if we don’t use them to teach His gospel, Satan will use them to lead the people astray” (quoted in Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple , 239).
Elder Ballard has also warned that Satan is quick to exploit the negative power of new inventions and to neutralize any effect they could have for good. “Make sure that the choices you make in the use of new media are choices that expand your mind, increase your opportunities, and feed your soul,” he counseled.
He said social networks in particular can be used to expand healthy friendships as easily as they can be used by predators trying to trap the unwary.
In Church Educational System fireside address delivered at Brigham Young University–Idaho on May 3, 2009, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles related a story from the Wall Street Journal that told of a 53-year-old man who spent six hours a night, and sometimes 14 hours at a time on weekends, as a cyber-self, interacting with his virtual wife—a woman who lives in Canada. His real-life wife said it was devastating.
“I am not suggesting all technology is inherently bad; it is not,” Elder Bednar said. “Nor am I saying we should not use its many capabilities in appropriate ways to learn, to communicate, to lift and brighten lives, and to build and strengthen the Church; of course we should. But I am raising a warning voice that we should not squander and damage authentic relationships by obsessing over contrived ones.”
The new Handbook 2: Administering the Church also addresses social media use: “Members are encouraged to be examples of their faith at all times and in all places, including on the Internet,” section 21 reads. “They are encouraged to strengthen others and help them become aware of that which is useful, good, and praiseworthy. When appropriate, members are encouraged to mention the Church and to link to and share approved Church materials.”
Supporting the Gospel Online
Blogs are a popular form of social media that can be turned to gospel usage. Stephanie Nielson is a Church member who survived a near-fatal plane accident and now reaches millions of people each month through her blog, on which she shares stories about family, life, and the gospel. (See a video about her here.)
Social media can also be a useful alternative form of communication during times of crisis. A day after the earthquake in Christchurch New Zealand, February 23, 2011, a local stake technology specialist set up a temporary Facebook page as a way of communicating with stake members and loved ones who were deeply concerned and wanted to know what was happening on a daily basis.
Three days after the quake, Church member Tui Smith wrote on Facebook, “I was so glad I found this page. I've contacted people inside and outside [Christchurch] to let them know so they too will be comforted by the messages here.”
Just days after Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011, Church members used various social media outlets to locate missing people.
On LDS.org’s Sharing the Gospel Online Page, there are suggestions as to how Church members can appropriately use social media to share the gospel such as filling out a mormon.org profile, adding an “I’m a Mormon” badge to his or her blog, or “liking” the Church’s official Facebook page.
Regardless of the forms of social media used, as members share the gospel online they should “focus on fruitful relationships that bring you closer to Jesus Christ. Anything unfruitful and unfulfilling—anything that drives away the Spirit—should be avoided,” the page reads.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has counseled members to ask themselves two questions regarding their media usage:
- 1. Does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life?
- 2. Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?
“I made a commitment to myself to value the time I have and to use it wisely,” she wrote.
Church leaders have emphasized that while technology is not inherently good or evil, it can be used to further good or evil purposes. “Let your voice be heard in this great cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Elder Ballard said.
During the April 2011 general conference, President Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said, “With the blessings of modern technology, we can express gratitude and joy about God’s great plan for His children in a way that can be heard not only around our workplace but around the world. Sometimes a single phrase of testimony can set events in motion that affect someone’s life for eternity.”
Imagine what 23,428 testimonies can do.