The pres­i­dent of the Mor­mon Church calls for women to drop so­cial me­dia.

‘Prophetic plea’ for 10-day break made just be­fore midterm elec­tions

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY JULIE ZAUZMER

For more than a year since the #MeToo move­ment be­gan, women have turned to so­cial me­dia with sto­ries of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and calls for re­form that have pow­er­fully re­shaped our so­ci­ety. In re­cent weeks, women have flooded Face­book and Twit­ter and In­sta­gram with pleas to #BelieveWomen, as Brett M. Ka­vanaugh gained a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court amid tur­moil over ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault. With just weeks to go be­fore the Nov. 6 midterms, women are sure to make their pres­ence known on­line in an elec­tion largely cen­tered on fe­male can­di­dates’ surg­ing cam­paigns and fe­male vot­ers’ in­ten­si­fy­ing anger.

At this time, the pres­i­dent of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints is­sued an un­usual de­mand: Women, get off so­cial me­dia.

Rus­sell M. Nel­son, the 94-yearold who be­came pres­i­dent of the church in Jan­uary, pro­claimed Satur­day that all Mor­mon women should try a 10-day “fast” from so­cial me­dia.

His call for a fast has noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics, many Mor­mons say. Still, the tim­ing is a cause of con­ster­na­tion to some.

“I in­vite you to par­tic­i­pate in a 10-day fast from so­cial me­dia and from any other me­dia that bring neg­a­tive and im­pure thoughts to your mind,” Nel­son said as he ad­dressed the women-only ses­sion at the church’s Gen­eral Con­fer­ence on Satur­day. “Pray to know which in­flu­ences to re­move dur­ing your 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? Have any of your pri­or­i­ties shifted just a lit­tle?”

Many women who find that their pri­or­i­ties do call for them to be on so­cial me­dia right now — whether for ac­tivism, for com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fam­ily or for their ca­reers — are grap­pling with how to heed Nel­son’s call while still pur­su­ing their goals.

“I pan­icked,” Salt Lake County Coun­cil can­di­date Michelle Quist told the Salt Lake Tri­bune. “What am I go­ing to do? So­cial me­dia is such a big part of cam­paigns, es­pe­cially lo­cal cam­paigns for can­di­dates who don’t have a lot of money. So ob­vi­ously I want to fol­low my church leader’s direc­tions or re­quest, but I don’t want to hurt my cam­paign.”

Quist de­cided to fast from per­sonal so­cial me­dia but keep up her cam­paign post­ings, an ap­proach that at least one other fe­male can­di­date told the news­pa­per she shares. An­other fe­male can­di­date told the news­pa­per that she would limit her so­cial me­dia use to 30 min­utes a day.

Oth­ers said they would post­pone their 10-day fasts un­til af­ter the elec­tions are over next month — but they wor­ried that their fe­male vot­ers will be off­line for 10 days, rob­bing the can­di­dates of valu­able op­por­tu­ni­ties to mo­ti­vate them.

Thir­teen mem­bers of the U.S. Congress iden­tify them­selves as Mor­mon, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, but only one of them is fe­male and, thus, sub­ject to Nel­son’s re­quest. Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) is run­ning for re­elec­tion, and cam­paign em­ployee Dana Goff said Love had de­cided not to par­tic­i­pate in the so­cial me­dia fast at any point, ei­ther be­fore or af­ter the elec­tion.

Since Nel­son called for the fast on Satur­day, Love has not tweeted from her con­gres­sional ac­count. She has tweeted once from her cam­paign ac­count, on Tues­day: “Wrap­ping up the day af­ter re­view­ing leg­is­la­tion and at­tend­ing an event to dis­cuss tax re­form with my con­stituents. I love rep­re­sent­ing Utah’s 4th dis­trict.”

Sharlee Mullins Glenn, a founder of Mor­mon Women for Eth­i­cal Gov­ern­ment, a group that is en­gaged in po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism lead­ing up to the midterm elec­tions, said she thinks Nel­son did not in­tend to dis­rupt the cam­paign sea­son. “I see ab­so­lutely no in­sid­i­ous ul­te­rior mo­tives in Pres­i­dent Nel­son’s in­vi­ta­tion to women of the Church to par­tic­i­pate in a ten-day ‘fast’ from so­cial me­dia. I agree that the tim­ing is un­for­tu­nate and could look sus­pi­cious to those pre­dis­posed to cyn­i­cism, but the truth is that these Gen­eral Con­fer­ence talks are pre­pared weeks and some­times months in ad­vance,” Glenn said in an email to The Washington Post.

Glenn said she would do her own fast af­ter the midterms, over the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. And while some mem­bers of her ac­tivist group started the 10-day fast right when Nel­son an­nounced it, they’re still reg­is­ter­ing vot­ers in per­son. “Much as the de­trac­tors would like to in­sin­u­ate oth­er­wise, I am con­vinced that the in­tent here is not to si­lence women,” Glenn said.

Nel­son said in his 16-minute speech to the women-only meet­ing at the Gen­eral Con­fer­ence that he has nine daugh­ters and one son, and that he thinks women play a unique role. “No one else can do what a right­eous woman can do,” he said. “Women see things dif­fer­ently than men do, and, oh, how we need your per­spec­tive.”

But he did not ex­plain why his so­cial me­dia di­rec­tive — which was the first of four items he de­scribed as “in­vi­ta­tions” and as a “prophetic plea,” in­clud­ing read­ing the Book of Mor­mon by the end of the year, go­ing to a Mor­mon tem­ple more of­ten, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Re­lief So­ci­ety, the church’s arm for women’s com­mu­nal en­deav­ors — was de­liv­ered only to women.

In June, Nel­son is­sued the same call for a 10-day so­cial me­dia fast to youth mem­bers of the church.

When he spoke to the full gath­er­ing of men and women at the Gen­eral Con­fer­ence over the week­end, he fo­cused on other top­ics, in­clud­ing the name of the church, which has been a point of fo­cus for Nel­son since Au­gust. He wants peo­ple to drop the short terms “Mor­mon” and “LDS” for church mem­bers and in­stead to use the full name, “Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints.” Us­ing the word “Mor­mon” as a sub­sti­tute, Nel­son said, is “a ma­jor vic­tory for Satan.”

As pres­i­dent, Nel­son is be­lieved by church mem­bers to be the re­cip­i­ent of di­rect rev­e­la­tions from God. Still, many have shrugged at his com­ments about the name, say­ing they don’t mind the term Mor­mon. Many church mem­bers con­tinue to use it, in­ad­ver­tently or not, in their own speeches.

A church spokesman said he would let Nel­son’s speeches speak for them­selves and did not re­spond to ques­tions about why Nel­son’s call to get off so­cial me­dia was di­rected only to women, not all church mem­bers.

Kath­leen Flake, a pro­fes­sor of Mor­mon stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia, said she does not think Nel­son meant to re­buke the #MeToo move­ment or sub­due women’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism. She pointed to signs that the church has sup­ported women’s con­cerns about sex­ual ha­rass­ment, in­clud­ing an un­usu­ally strongly worded ed­i­to­rial in the church-owned De­seret News news­pa­per that called upon then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump to drop out of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion be­cause of his com­ments about as­sault­ing women cap­tured on the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” video. “What oozes from this au­dio is evil,” the ed­i­tors wrote.

“I don’t think this is telling Mor­mon women not to be po­lit­i­cal on sex­ual virtue. I think that would be the last thing you would hear from these guys,” Flake said. “I don’t think he’s talk­ing about pol­i­tics. I don’t think he’s talk­ing about sex. I think he’s talk­ing about fo­cus — re­cal­i­brate your pri­or­i­ties; know what mat­ters; and just detox.”

For her own part, Flake said, she has de­cided as a church mem­ber to avoid email for most of the day dur­ing these 10 days. She has been so up­set about Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion, and what she views as “misog­yny” that led him to be con­firmed to the high court, that read­ing the news be­fore work in the morn­ing had been mak­ing her blood boil any­way.

“I don’t think this is telling Mor­mon women not to be po­lit­i­cal on sex­ual virtue.” Kath­leen Flake, pro­fes­sor of Mor­mon stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia

RICK BOWMER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rus­sell M. Nel­son prays dur­ing the Gen­eral Con­fer­ence of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Oct. 6. That same day, Nel­son — who is the church’s pres­i­dent — is­sued women his de­mand to cleanse “neg­a­tive and im­pure thoughts.”

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