To Be on Facebook But Not of Facebook: A Mormon Dilemma

Imagine inviting all of your friends over for your birthday party.

And by friends, I mean just about everyone you knew in high school, your college friends, people from your ward(s), people from work, relatives, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends. In other words, this is a BIG party.

Imagine, furthermore, that everyone is interested in what you say and what you do. It’s your party after all. You can’t simply have a hundred private conversations.

This is a dilemma. You likely have very different ways of interacting with your very different friends. You’d say some things to certain friends that you wouldn’t be caught dead saying to others. Around some friends, you’re more expressive; around others, more reserved. With some you’ll chat about politics or religion  (in fact that seems to be all you do), but with others this is out of bounds. And imagine all of the people that you hope don’t talk to each other.

This, of course, is a hypothetical situation, but it probably rings true to most people on a smaller scale. We might think we know someone, but then we see them around a different crowd of people and we’re surprised. Sometimes disappointed.

Enter Facebook. And now the situation is not so hypothetical. Well, what do you say? You might think you’re awful clever with that last status update, but some of your friends are certainly thinking, “Wow, Sue’s a little different than I thought.” You might think, “Well, this is the way I am, and if somebody doesn’t like it, then that’s their problem.” But this is an awfully anti-relational way to be. Surely even the most individualist people among us act differently with different people.

So, what does all of this mean in terms of being Mormon on Facebook? Certainly, we can do things like say what our religion is, and we can also say we’re a fan of this or that. But in terms of things like status updates, shared links, etc., it is difficult sometimes. I’d like to post links to posts from this blog, for example, but the reality is that many of my friends are not LDS and this site would be weird for them. There’s a world that I share here that, frankly, I don’t wish to share with everyone. So I keep it quiet and I don’t even include my blog at all on Facebook.

Another issue: Many of my friends are “fans” with Thomas S. Monson, the Church, even Jesus Christ. But this strikes me as odd. It seems to equate my religious beliefs with my media preferences. I would wonder what my LDS and non-LDS friends would think.

Anyway, what are your thoughts? How do you “be Mormon” on Facebook and yet also respect the differences of all of your many “friends”? I really hope this can turn into a good discussion and perhaps help to revive this (sorry) somewhat dead blog.

UPDATE May 19: Be sure to look at my comment, about ten comments down, for a clarification of what I’m trying to explore with this post.

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23 Responses

  1. My membership in the Church is so big a part of who I am as a person that I can’t imagine not including that in such things as Facebook (and I do). Granted, being a full-time homemaker, most of my social interactions are with Church members, but even when I’ve been working outside my home, I do slip in where appropriate that I’m LDS and anyone who can’t accept how much that means to me, well, that’s their choice. I won’t hide something that important just to placate another person’s lack of willingness to accept beliefs differing from theirs.

  2. I’m listed on my facebook as LDS. Other than that, I don’t have anything particularly Mormon. I don’t list the Book of Mormon as one of my favorite books or have general authority quotes under favorite quotes. I just don’t feel like that’s the forum for it since religion is something I hold as very personal. I don’t know if I’m hiding under a bushel, but I hope I present my basic demeanor on facebook. I think the absence of drunk party pictures says a lot about my lifestyle for facebook users of my age range. And like most anything about me, you can get to know my beliefs better in person anyway.

  3. I pretty much do what Kelsy does. I list my religion, and I may occasionally mention in my status update that I’m on my way to church or something, but generally that’s it.

  4. Facebook is useful to me primarily as a surrogate for LinkedIn (since most of my friends aren’t business professionals). It’s a great way to keep loose tabs on what other people are doing and to contact them if needed. For me it’s been great to reconnect with people I last saw five or more years ago, to see that they’re usually doing better now than they were then, and resume that “friendship” even if it’s little more than a digital acquaintance now.

    I do extremely little on Facebook other than update my status every few days. I don’t monitor it like a hawk or get into all the silly games and quizzes I’m perpetually being invited to. I have a link on the site to my personal blog, which is how I prefer that people who really want to be my friends stay in touch with me.

    A “somewhat dead blog”? Maybe it’s time to light a fire under some of your contributors to help pick up the slack. This is still my favorite of the LDS-oriented blogs I read, and it make s me sad to think it might be going away anytime soon.

  5. Some of my Facebook friends certainly don’t hesitate to make it clear that they DON’T hold to Mormon standards. I’m okay with that. I don’t expect them to live standards that they haven’t accepted and I try not to judge them by my own lights.

    I don’t post a lot of status updates or notes on Facebook, and they are usually not religious. But I certainly felt comfortable to share the Easter Message YouTube video that the church posted of Elder Holland’s talk. I figure my friends won’t hate me for being who I am. If they do, they can hide my status updates. No harm done.

  6. I agree with Kelsy. I show my religion as LDS and my friends know I am. I believe my actions show it also, or at lease I hope they do. It is personal to me.

  7. I agree with Seanette, and Bradley… certainly it’s hard at first to share your beliefs with others, but we’ve been told that we’re supposed to be missionaries. I could understand not posting certain blog posts that have LDS members as a target audience, but if your beliefs are part of your life, there is no reason to suppress them when you interact with others. What’s most hard is deciding all of a sudden to talk about religious stuff, when you’ve kept it under curtains with certain people.

    Probably about half of my friends on Facebook are LDS, but none of my non-LDS friends have deleted me because I share what I believe: scripture quotes that have inspired me, Mormon Messages videos, even religious news and blog posts.

    Again, it can be hard to switch from hidden-religion-in-public mode to religious-person-in-general mode. But Facebook is such a great tool for missionarywork – for bringing people closer to Christ! I haven’t always been religiously engaged in public, but now I consider myself to be. The Gospel brings me such happiness, and it defines me so much that it would be strange for me to try and hide it.

  8. I think the best way you can present yourself online whether it be Facebook, MySpace, a blog or whatever medium you find yourself is to do it the way you live your life. If you don’t hide your true identity from neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, etc., why should you do it on Facebook? After all, it’s just a social networking site than expands your communication circle beyond your neighborhood and work place. Just be genuine and be your normal self.

    Personally, I don’t hesitate to be a fan of the Book of Mormon or other LDS themes or people any more than I hesitate to be a fan of Jack Canfield, Jim Rohn, a particular sports team, the Tea Party, or other groups, individuals or themes that I find interesting. I practice that same philosophy with my blog.

    Although, living genuinely in cyberspace hasn’t sparked a lot of questions about the church through e-mail, I have had people approach me with a burning question from time to time about the gospel. I think the fact that I don’t throw my beliefs in their face, but I am not afraid to live genuinely according to them has helped them feel safe in approaching me and getting the true facts about the LDS church without fear of being preached to. I rarely announce my religious affiliation, but there are very few people that I interact with on a regular basis that do not know who I am, what I stand for and what church I belong to.

    There’s no reason to be a Dr. Jeckyl / Mr. Hyde Latter-Day Saint. Just be genuine. Just be you.

  9. I think you’re looking way too far into this. I blend in my church stuff all the time. Most of my friends aren’t Mormon. If I put I’m a “fan” of Thomas Monson or anybody else I wouldn’t care if any of my friends thought it was weird. It’s me. Take me or leave me. On the other side of the story, if I saw someone was a “fan” of the Pope, or some such person. I wouldn’t bat an eye. It may even make me curious enough to ask them about their beliefs ;)

  10. It’s hard to find the balance between sharing your beliefs and being overt about it, especially with a medium like Facebook.

    I think it depends on the person, what you feel comfortable sharing, and what you know will be comfortable for the friends who may be viewing your profile. Personally, I found the religiously-oriented notes sparked more negative arguments than positive exposure, but again, it is probably different for every person.

    I’ve found much more positivity in sharing the gospel with people I interact with regularly, rather than posting a manifesto to the something-hundred list of people I’ve met once or twice. I’d rather be a more quiet example who shares when situation permits than risk being preachy, overbearing, etc., and perpetuate the ugly labels those things sometimes generate. But hey, that’s just my personal philosophy.

  11. OTOH, BYU Women’s Services, I’m seeing people in this discussion who basically say they won’t admit they’re LDS in public lest they offend non-members, which doesn’t sit well with me. I take the view that we need to hold up that light to hopefully draw in those looking for it. My blog probably does include some discussion of Gospel topics, and readers who don’t like that are free to skip those posts. I refuse to hide or compromise such a major part of myself to please the world.

  12. I appreciate this discussion so far. But I’d like to pry a little deeper.

    The major issue, for me, is not an issue of WHETHER someone shares LDS-related stuff on Facebook, it is an issue of HOW to be LDS on Facebook.

    In response to Seanette and perhaps others, no one in this discussion won’t admit to being LDS on Facebook. A couple people say they don’t say much about being LDS, but they do list themselves as such. From my experience, nearly all of my LDS friends (who are very diverse in terms of politics, behavior, philosophies, etc.) do so.

    What I wish to explore is that there may be a true dilemma here. There may be a problem both for the I’m-not-afraid-of-my-religion-and-if-you-don’t-like-it-that’s-your-problem person AND the I-keep-religion-out-of-things-because-it’s-private-and-potentially-offensive-thing person. The problem with both positions is that they do not consider the particular contexts of individual relationships. It is likely, for example, that a person’s being a fan of all things LDS is a turn off for some people and an intriguing attraction for others. Now, when I say “turn off,” I don’t mean the person is turned off to one’s beliefs, they are, rather, turned off to the WAY they are being LDS.

    All of this is to say, I think, that Facebook encourages a highly individualistic way of relating to others.

    What I wish to stress is that it may be that there may be big problems in terms of what it means to be Mormon (including sharing the gospel) ala a Facebook interface. I would be curious to hear how others reconcile this problem, but I’m skeptical with the “I’m-the-way-I-am-and-that’s-all” arguments. Unless you really are exactly the same to all of your friends (I doubt it).

    Of course, none of this is to say that there’s not something that stays the same in all of our relationships. I am always LDS, and I hope that my beliefs are reflected in everything I do. However, the WAY they are reflected varies, sometimes considerably, from time to time, place to place, and person to person.

    The problem with Facebook, I think, is that time, place, and relationship are all flattened, creating an artificial interface for sharing the gospel that might be problematic, or at least not easily resolved.

    Your thoughts?

  13. Dennis, I’m quite sure most people would not appreciate your implication of being two-faced or hypocritical, as your post suggests (yes, being a different person to different friends would qualify). Yes, who and what I am (of which the Church is a VERY important part) is the same for everyone I interact with. I don’t put on a false face for some while being my true self with others. I don’t dodge the important truths we’re called on to exemplify and proclaim just so someone doesn’t have to face the uncomfortable reality that I hold beliefs they don’t. Playing the “oh, I’d better not mention the Gospel or I’ll offend someone” bit is giving in to pressure to be ashamed of that Gospel.

  14. Seanette,

    I appreciate your last comment because it allows me to clarify.

    I’m not at all intending to imply that being different in different contexts means being two-faced or hypocritical. Surely, surely, Seanette, who you are varies in different contexts. This doesn’t mean you RADICALLY vary or you are hypocritical, but surely you are at least somewhat different around your parents than you are around your spouse (if married) or children (if applicable) or best friend or grocery store clerk or random person from high school. Surely who THEY are makes a difference as well. Your conversations with a sibling who has bitterly left the church, for example, surely would be different than your conversations with a sibling who is happily active. No?

    So, to clarify, yes, as you say, who you are is likely the same for every person you interact with. But the WAY you are who you are surely differs.

    And these differences certainly do not — necessarily — amount to being ashamed of the gospel.

  15. Before commenting I took a quick look at my Facebook profile. Apparently, I’m a fan of “Mormons,” listed my religion as Christian – Latter-Day Saints, and have pictures outside of the Provo temple from my wedding, outside of Manti temple, and a picture of my starring role as “Lamanite warrior w/ spear” from the Hill Cumorah pageant posted.

    I think I get what Dennis is asking though, because right alongside that I’m a fan of “pancakes,” list my politics as “other,” and have pictures of me in my Wolverine halloween costume. So you can see the things that make me into me, and arguably can get a sense of what I value, but there isn’t much of a distinction or demarcation between what really matters, and say, how much I like Jim Gaffigan’s comedy. Should the things reflecting my belief in the Savior stand out more? That’s a fair question – Facebook may not be the place for that. On the other hand, shouldn’t every place be a place to witness of the Savior?

    Maybe that’s the beauty of Facebook. It’s a mixed bag, and what people see and what people take away isn’t up to us so much. The best thing might be to just have a true representation of self, whatever combination of things that may be, and see what takes place. I’m actually not a fan of President Monson on Facebook because I don’t feel he belongs right next to Canada Dry ginger ale – choosing to not be a fan in this case is a different type of statement.

    One other quick thing – representation of self can be an odd thing in the church. Recently my wife and I were asked to do a little get to know you in our ward. The question I was given was “What do you value most in life?” Well, I’m at church, and I’m with my wife – obviously that’s the answe. However, that only represents a part of me, so I stumbled through an answer mentioning my wife and family, and saying that I enjoy the variety of things to be engaged in while we’re on earth. It didn’t make sense.

    The point is, what I really wanted to say was that I like recreational activities, and one that I really enjoy is cooking, but I held back because it didn’t seem like that was the “right” thing to admit in a church setting.

    Which reminds me, I should become a fan of “cooking” on Facebook.

  16. I’m amazed by this whole topic. Isn’t this admitting that you (for some value of ‘you’) are ashamed of the Church? Very interesting.

  17. djinn,

    I don’t see how this topic is admitting being ashamed at the Church at all. Please explain.

  18. How is being on facebook any different than living life at school and work? You have friends who are members and non-members. Do you treat them different because facebook is being used? If so, you probably should not be in contact at all. I don’t use Facebook or anything like it, but if I did, I would be having the same conversations face to face or on-line. This seems like a silly question to me.

  19. I completely understand where you are coming from Dennis. First of all, I’m LDS, proud of it, and I don’t feel like I “hide” it from anyone, nor is it my style to shove it down anyone’s throat. I just live my life–and that includes living my standards, serving others, fulfilling my callings, etc…and when you do that, others just know you are LDS.

    Getting to your “deeper” question–I think facebook (and even blogs for that matter) are “tough” things. I feel like I am a pretty consistent person–true to who I am. However, anyone who says they do not change with the people they are interacting with are lying to themselves. No one can say they act the same with their spouse as they do with their mother (or best friend or acquaintance). That is wherein the problem lies…I am “friends” on FB with people ranging from my mother-in-law (not a member), friends I have met through my husband’s career in the Army, church friends, high school friends (most of which are not members), BYU friends, DC singles scene friends, etc. etc. All of which I know on different levels and connect with for different reasons. Those of whom I know not as well, if I had all the time in the world and they did too–we could become better friends and they would know me as well as anyone else; however, there isn’t time to connect with all 400 friends–or whatever amount you may have–all on the same level where you feel you can be “the same” with all of them. It isn’t that your standards change or who you are fundamentally changes, it is all about boundaries people. It isn’t appropriate to tell people you don’t know very well really personal things. What I would feel comfortable posting as my status would change if my only friend was my husband, or if each friend was an immediate family member, or whatever other scenario. I trust different people with different things I feel they can identify with me on. So–religion–is that something you have can/need to have boundaries–yes. I believe it is. Whether it be very personal experiences that are not appropriate to share with those you barley know, yet you would share them with immediate family and close friends OR delicate political issues that stem from your religious beliefs–these are examples of where you may have difficulty knowing what to say–or if you wanted to say anything at all.

    I guess a good example to illustrate what I mean is this: I am a huge supporter of traditional marriage. I’m trained as a marriage and family therapist and I simply have a huge passion surrounding studying the family and supporting it. News of California’s courts deciding to keep Prop 8 in place is HUGE to me. However, I find it difficult to head straight to my FB account and write, “Bless the heavens…marriage in California is still between a man and a woman!” You ask why? Although I am 100% not ashamed of my beliefs, when I have friends on FB who are gay and I have not had the opportunity to discuss with them in person my beliefs specific to why that institution should only be between man and woman so they see where I am coming from, it would be very possible to alienate them without them knowing all of my reasons. It isn’t that I wouldn’t have that discussion with them, it isn’t that I am ashamed of my beliefs, it isn’t that I’m afraid to offend, and it isn’t that I don’t want them to know where I stand. However, I do not feel it is appropriate for my high school friends, with whom I have recently re-connected with on FB who have “come out” since we last saw each other, to learn my feelings through a simple status without any background and explanation.

    There are obvious status updates I feel comfortable with saying to everyone–on Easter I posted something about, “May we all remember the true reason for this holiday–that our Savior, Jesus Christ, truly rose on the third day so that we may too have that blessing.” However, usually my status updates are pretty surface–not false, always honest and 100% me, but nothing deep. You can’t “speak deep” with everyone you know.

  20. Sorry, I didn’t realize I wrote so much…

  21. I think you have to give your “friends” credit for being generally tolerant, understanding, intelligent people.

    Of course we act differently around different people, because social context dictates different behavior. I don’t treat my children like adults and I don’t treat my parents like children. People generally realize that Facebook is a place where we interact with lots of different people, and as a result expect to see different sides of people. I think that’s one of the allure’s of Facebook.

    Just as with real life, I think there’s no need to be overbearing or obsessive about your religion, but there’s no need to refrain from speaking about it or showing that it’s important to you. You may offend someone. But almost anything you could say/do/write will offend someone. That’s just the way life is; people sometimes take offense where none is intended. Showing that your religion is important to you will by and large not offend people, and may spark some interest in the Church.

    And–I have to say it–are people who would be angry at you for posting something religious really the type of “friends” you want? Facebook should mirror the real world in this; don’t “hang out” with people who will drag you down.

  22. This is something I’ve pondered often since joining Facebook. As a convert who was initially turned off to the gospel because of overbearance, I’m cautious of that when it comes to missionary work, and I’m aware that sincere love and friendship (along with the Spirit) are much more successful than political/religious posturing, and while my profile makes it clear that I am LDS (religious affiliation listed, membership in my full-time mission alumni group, LDS Institute and Performing Arts alumni groups, current ward visiting teaching group, pics of my son’s baptism, etc.), I struggle with how much else to share in that realm. Perhaps it’s not enough– I do find it surprising that my pre-conversion friends with whom I’ve reconnected via FB haven’t mentioned my Church membership—perhaps they’re just being “polite.”

    Like others here, I have several friends who are homosexual, whom I love dearly—including some who have only recently come out, and so I do tread cautiously on certain subjects. I appreciate that I need to “take a stand” and not hide my light under a bushel, but I also believe there’s a proper time, place and spirit.

    From another perspective, one of the concerns I have about the LDS Facebook community is the potential misuse of so many LDS-centered apps/groups/fansites. I’m less concerned about the alumni and discussion groups, but I am wary of all the “fan” things—I’m concerned that they are being used as merely “status symbols” that Latter-day Saints are pressured to join out of fear that they will be seen as “less faithful,” “ashamed of the gospel,” “worldly,” or somehow otherwise not “True Mormons” if they choose not to become a fan of every general authority/former prophet/church auxiliary/green jello recipe.

    I appreciate that the intent of these is likely honorable—showing the world President Monson is a TRUE role model (as opposed to all those celebrities!), an easy introduction to the Church, a way to identify as LDS—but I’m afraid they may be used as a way to judge/divide/negatively pressure (I also have some concerns about idolatry, though I did become a fan of LDS Temples, and I would be curious if any GA has a legit blog or FB page that he, personally, contributes to).
    Does this make sense? Have any of you had similar thoughts? How does the presence/absence of “certain” info on someone’s FB page affect the way you see them? And, of course, the most important question: Can I be a follower of Jesus Christ without subscribing to his (fictional) Twitter feed?

  23. Cardil,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You’ve expressed well some of the tensions I’ve been thinking about.

    I like, in particular, the question:

    How does the presence/absence of “certain” info on someone’s FB page affect the way you see them?

    We need to realize that this is not simply a matter of being seen as LDS or not. It’s a matter of HOW one displays being LDS.

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