The Mormon Church (or whatever it’s called these days) has been under fire recently for its mishandling of sexual abuse allegations. Like in the case of a woman said she had been raped by the head of the Church’s main Missionary Training Center in 1984, only to have her complaints ignored by other LDS leaders. When she went public with the story this year and filed a lawsuit against the bishop in question, the Church said the statute of limitations had expired so her claims were moot.
Meanwhile, the Church excommunicated a man who had publicly condemned the faith over its “Mormon Masturbation Interviews” in which bishops asked children intimate questions about their sex lives. There’s also the Mormon woman who was denied a Temple Recommend because she was breastfeeding during a service.
The point is that there are a lot of reasons for Mormon women to speak their minds right now. There are a lot of reasons women may want to criticize the Church and speak out in defense of women’s rights. There are a lot of reasons Mormon women may want to be politically active in support of progressive policies that champion their equality.
So what did LDS President Russell M. Nelson do?
He told Mormon women over the weekend that they should go on a 10-day “fast” from social media.
“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?”
That’s… convenient. The Mormon leader is telling women in the Church to effectively remain silent for more than a week just before the midterms. Even if it was a coincidence, and even if you view his suggestion in the best possible light, the consequences were evidence to many women, including devout believers.
“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.”
Some Mormon women are choosing to observe the fast later in the year or finding workarounds for campaign work, but it’s telling that the 94-year-old Nelson has only made this suggestion to women and children (whom he addressed earlier in the year).
It’s not like he’s telling Mitt Romney to get off social media weeks before the midterms.
This wouldn’t happen, I suspect, if more women left the Church for good. It’s something they should seriously consider given their treatment by Church leaders. It’s not like things are perfect outside the bubble, but at least there’s no one to tell you to stop speaking your mind on Twitter or Facebook if you have something to say. The last thing anyone should be telling women right now is to remain silent.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Jon for the link)