The Facebook of Mormon

by Rachel Baker on February 8, 2014

Mormons have been conducting their own experiment to figure out what happens when missionaries use the Internet for their work.

The woman that he was trying to reach almost never picked up her phone, and she lived more than 50 miles away. Plus, he had to watch his gas mileage. So Brandon Gonzales, a then-20-year-old missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints, stationed in Slatington, Pa., looked her up on Facebook. The young Mormon found that she was almost always free to chat online in the mornings, and soon they were chatting every day. He would send her links to church videos and sermons that explained aspects of Mormon faith, family life, or church theology.

This was 2010, and, as far as most Mormons knew, what he was doing was completely forbidden.

Restrictions on technology have long been a defining feature of life during the Mormon mission, a full-time proselytizing effort that typically lasts two years for men and 18 months for women. Missionaries don’t use personal cell phones, browse the Internet, or even watch movies, excluding certain church-produced films. They read nothing outside of the Mormon scriptures and missionary-relevant texts. They call home only twice a year: on Mother’s Day and on Christmas. Up until April 2013, these missionaries kept in touch with friends via handwritten letters. Today they have access to email on a church-operated server for a limited time once a week. The lifestyle is constructed to minimize worldly distractions, and focus missionaries on the task of preaching their gospel. Which is why it was a pretty big deal that Brandon Gonzales was on Facebook.

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