Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Most Mormon apostles’ Twitter accounts miss the “social” part of soc …

Elder Nelson has a Twitter account with over 13,000 followers, yet has never sent a tweet.

Nearly two years ago I read with interest that all of the LDS apostles would be getting official Twitter accounts. This was touted as a new way to share the gospel. I thought it was a terrific idea.

However, the verdict since then has been mixed. Some church leaders have taken well to social media, while others have used it ineffectively or not at all. Here’s how the fifteen members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve can be sorted on Twitter.

Celestial Twitter Kingdom: 5 apostles

To qualify for the Celestial Twitter Kingdom, the bar is pretty low. You just have to have posted at least one piece of never-recycled, Twitter-specific content in the last year. Just one. Yet only five of the fifteen accounts met that criterion.

Here are tweets of good report.

Elder Uchtdorf uses a video to wish followers a merry Christmas in both English and German:

Elder Christofferson wins the “most recent Twitter activity” award (February 19) and earns bonus points for including photos of his church-related travels:

Elder Holland has kind of fallen off the Twitter wagon. After a terrific start in 2014, his posts now are infrequent (none since January 1) and rehashed. But his early beginnings show that he took some care in understanding the medium, posting photos of his family and of his travels in Jamaica and Brazil. Hope he can get back to it.

Elder Oaks also used to post more interesting content but has recently relied on canned inspirational statements. We should still let him in the CTK. We’ve got a lot of grace to extend here, people.

If there is a standout, it’s newbie Q12 member Elder Rasband, who came on board in October. He wins the “highest level of the Celestial Kingdom” award for being the only apostle to show any actual human interaction with followers in his Twitterfeed. Remember: in this religion no one reaches exaltation alone.

AND Elder Rasband has retweeted a comment from a follower at least once, in conjunction with that same “#LDSFace2Face” initiative:

Terrestrial Twitter Kingdom: 4 apostles

Folks in the Terrestrial Kingdom had good intentions but just didn’t try very hard. This is for those who tweet inspirational but impersonal snippets from old Conference talks.

Elder Bednar may, at age 63, be youthful by the standards of the octogenarian Q12, but he’s not exactly hip to the Twitterverse. His posts are infrequent and detached. Most of them could be written by anyone and situated anywhere.

The above line taken from the 2004 talk “In the Strength of the Lord,” found here in its entirety.

Elder Eyring and President Monson post more frequently than Elder Bednar, but none of it is new content.

And here’s M. Russell Ballard’s most recent tweet, dated two months ago today:

This is verbatim from his autumn 2015 speech on traditional marriage to the World Congress of Families; see here for the transcript.

Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with harvesting morsels from old talks for the occasional tweet. Some of those talks were great and continue to inspire. But to only use the medium for this, and not invite any interaction, is not social media but broadcast media. It’s a missed opportunity.

Telestial Twitter Kingdom: 6 apostles

This is for those who have accounts but are not tweeting at all, ever: Elders Nelson, Stevenson, Renlund, Andersen, Cook, and Hales. Why even have a Twitter profile?

What would the apostles’ Twitter feeds need in order to become more engaging to the people who follow them?

  • At least a little human interaction. Ask followers to contribute content on occasion. Did they just re-read a talk from you that touched them? RT their comment and link to it with your thanks. They photographed their family reading their scriptures per your suggestion? Tweet the pic out with your good wishes for other LDS families to go and do likewise. Or ask YW and YW groups around the world to help name your new puppy, etc. Whatever. There are a million ways to interact creatively and lovingly with people on Twitter. To stand so totally aloof signals that you don’t trust your followers or care what they think.*
  • Context, please. If you must recycle old content it helps to reveal why it’s important to you again NOW. Tell followers why you care and are thinking about these themes.
  • Humor! Do we all have to be so darn somber? Keep it real.
  • Be more personal. Young Women’s President Bonnie Oscarson is a great example of how to do this effectively. She broke the news on Facebook last summer about women auxiliary leaders being invited to serve on three of the Church’s most important committees. She not only made the announcement but told people sincerely how she felt about the change. Gold star.

Being less personal does have advantages. We have enough hero worship and “cult of celebrity” problems with the apostles as it is. If they tweeted out what cereal they ate for breakfast, thousands of Mormons would be lining up to buy unholy quantities of it at Costco. So I appreciate the fact that they aren’t promoting their new books or how they will vote in the next election.

Still, these near-empty Twitter feeds represent a missed opportunity for church members who would like to see what goes on in the lives of the people we sustain as our leaders.




*Yes, of course doing this takes time, and the apostles are busy. This is why God created interns, who can carry much of the load. In fact, they already are. I’m sure it’s not the apostles themselves who are pasting fragments of their conference talks into Twitter. These interns and employees just need to be empowered to do their jobs better.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • In my opinion, the lack of communication and lack of interaction (especially unscripted interaction) comes down to fear.

    Church leaders, the church PR department, and even interns are paralyzed by fear they’ll make a mistake. Why is that? It’s because of a weird cultural expectation that church leaders speak for God and, therefore, must be perfect.

    That’s why church statements and social media exchanges are so generic, sterile, legalistic, and humorless–as if every word were first vetted by legal, public relations, and correlation committees. Keeping things vague and non-specific makes it hard for anybody to find fault.

    Unfortunately, this lack of fire (for want of a better term) makes the LDS church increasingly bland, boring, and… invisible. I think it further explains the church’s fragmentation. There are more and more folks forming their own congregations prompted by a longing for the spiritual roots of Mormonism.

  • I don’t know. I think, given the ages of these 15 people, getting the level you get may be typical. Pick the oldest 15 out of any group, male or female, many of whom may not be on line generally, or have someone who does the actual posting for them. My mother, in her mid 80s was online…barely; she knew how to email her list of friends and family, but anything unexpected was something I would have to solve for her. I think that’s probably typical of almost any group of people…many seniors have jumped online, but when I worked at Borders part-time, I sold computer books to seniors just getting on-line…and they were hugely apprehensive. It depends on the generation you are in, the ways you typically interact with other people generally, whether you can type, and a whole lot of other things.

    The men you talk about, as a group, are probably typical of any group of men in their age range, educational background, etc.

    Pr Chris

  • Roger, what I meant was “Why have a Twitter account if you’re not going to use it?” I have found lots of satisfactory reasons to have an account — and it’s not just the major or world-changing things, like fighting oppressive regimes in Egypt and Iran etc. I admire that very much for that’s not why I am generally on Twitter. (I wish I could say it were.) For me the appeal is more about the day-to-day window it provides into news and lives in real time. Some of that can be shallow, but you can easily steer away from that to more thought-provoking people and conversations. And good laughter.

  • PR Chris,

    Yes, I think that’s true. There was an interesting study from Pew a couple of years ago about generational cohorts and social media. Basically, the upshot was that fewer than half of the over-65 crowd is on SM (and that’s ALL social media, including Facebook, not just Twitter which is of course smaller). But around 90% of the 18-29 age group uses SM regularly.

    My feeling is that, if for no other reason, the Church needs to invest in meeting young adults where they are spending their time. There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the LDS Church right now about our poor retention of young adults (which is a whole lot better than their retention in other religious groups, to be fair, but demographically, this is not a generation that is falling over themselves to ally with organized religion). Twitter is an easy way to connect. But the key is just that — it has to be connection, not mere broadcasting. What Mormons call “sharing” is too often actually “instructing.”

  • What Mormons call “sharing” is too often actually “instructing.”

    Oh come on Jana. I seem to remember ONE talk in the last 4 or 5 years where some GA in conference admitted that his FHE’s were often a train wreck. That should be good enough for at least a decade to “connect” us to all the general authorities!


  • Or they could have the problem that I have. I can read tweets but can’t figure out how to send tweets. LOL! But they do have interns, so that’s not really a good excuse for them. I need an intern.

  • We also have a blog where you can not respond to the blogs.

    Yes the fact that there is no way for a member to communicate with anyone higher than a Stake President who can not affact policy is a big problem. We can not even ask for an explanation, or question an assertion.

  • If anyone believes that any of the Q15 actually tweet, I have some land in Florida (oops, can’t use that anymore ha ha) they might be interested in purchasing.

    These tweets (and facebook posts) are done my some PR hack.

    President Monson some years ago in a meeting about the Family History system interrupted the discussion to ask: What is a google?

    They are stuck in 1950, and it manifests itself in many more ways than social media.

  • Posting and responding on Twitter now constitutes “human interaction” and being “personal.”

    We are through the looking glass.

  • Some of the brethren have FB pages that accept comments – although I suspect that they sometimes wish that they had not allowed comments.

  • I would add that they are very busy men. And, at their age (some of them) they probably want to just relax or sleep when not ‘working’

  • Folks–
    Many of us have parents in their 70s and 80s. A good portion of them actually have a strong desire to keep up with technology and to to try social media. And yet, in so many cases, the vicissitudes and strains of growing more mature make it quite difficult to really acquire any meaningful capability. It wasn’t that many years ago I would periodically walk in on my subordinates trying to work an EXCEL spreadsheet with one of their kids coaching then on the speakerphone.

    On the other hand, the maturity of advanced years may have persuaded them of the wisdom of not electronically memorializing every damfool thought that occurs to them.

  • “President Monson some years ago in a meeting about the Family History system interrupted the discussion to ask: What is a google?”

    Do you have any evidence for this?

  • The only issue with assuming in 2 generations when the leaders finally figure out facebook, everyone will move moved on to things other than today’s social media. Heck – my kids already say, “facebook is for old people, I only occasionally look there.”

  • “Yes the fact that there is no way for a member to communicate with anyone higher than a Stake President who can not affact policy is a big problem. We can not even ask for an explanation, or question an assertion.”

    Yes, so true. You can email church leaders in SLC but don’t expect a response. Pressure them for a reply, Kirton McConkie will email you a cease and desist letter. It happened to me.