Amy Roberts: LDS Church’s call for a social media fast is suspiciously timed
One of the challenges of writing a weekly column is catching the news cycle just right.
If something major breaks on a Sunday or Monday, chances are it misses my commentary the following Wednesday. That’s because this column is due each Monday morning, which means I usually try to have it at least outlined by Sunday night. Often, a story can shift dramatically between my submission deadline and when papers hit porches; so I try to avoid the extra-fresh news in favor of waiting for a few more facts to trickle out. That, however, sets me up for eliminating the topic entirely. Waiting until the following week to opine on a topic is pretty much the equivalent of writing about something that happened in 1982. News cycles are every 20 minutes now. For the most part, there’s no sense in commenting on anything that happened more than a few days ago.
But this week, I’m making an exception. The topic still deserves attention.
During The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ semiannual General Conference the weekend of Oct. 6 and 7, church President Russell M. Nelson challenged Mormon women to take a 10-day fast from social media. The timing of this suggestion is, at best, tone deaf.
Each scandal, misogynistic comment, and wave of dismissal from current political leaders has helped create a powerful wave of social engagement from women around the country. And while there are numerous ways to stay informed and involved, social media remains one of the quickest and most effective channels for sharing a message and getting involved in causes.
Nelson’s request for women to fast from social media less than one month before the midterm elections — and just days before ballots were mailed — was seen by many as a passive aggressive way to remove women from the political discussion. Notably, men were not asked to abstain.
“Pray to know which influences to remove during your fast,” he instructed during his speech to the ladies.
Which begs the question: what if, during this fast, women begin to consider the church’s influence is actually what they need to remove from their lives? What if God whispers to them, “You have my permission to smash the patriarchy,” in response to their prayers?
Nelson didn’t limit the fast to social media. He also said to fast “from any other media that bring negative and impure thoughts to your mind.”
If we are to believe a 94-year old truly has a solid understanding of the power of social media, then why not put the concern where it should be? Why not suggest President Trump stay off Twitter for 10 days? If you think it’s beneficial to fast from all media that creates negative thoughts, then why not ask all Mormon men to give up Fox News?
Without question, social media has the ability to foster a toxic environment. And if someone wants to take a break from it for their own mental health reasons, that’s both understandable and admirable. But the desire to do so should be their own. There is nothing liberating about blind obedience.
During his speech, Nelson also pondered what might come from the fast. “The effect of your 10-day fast may surprise you. What do you notice after taking a break from perspectives of the world that have been wounding your spirit? Is there a change in where you now want to spend your time and energy?”
If there is a God, I hope she responds with some badass unintended consequences — like a slew of Utah women realizing their time and energy might be better spent running for office, or voting for candidates that best represent them, rather than sitting in church being told what to do.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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