SALT LAKE CITY — At least one person wondered Sunday night if the new Twitter account @M_RBallard was a fake, mimicking the name of an LDS Church leader.
Elder M. Russell Ballard became the first member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to send a tweet, after he spoke Sunday night in San Diego at a Church Educational System devotional broadcast globally.
Thank you to all who tuned in to the devotional. It was a joy to be with you, both those in San Diego and throughout the world. #CESDevo— M. Russell Ballard (@M_RBallard) May 5, 2014
Some LDS Church leaders already are on Facebook and Google+. Church President Thomas S. Monson's Facebook page went live more than two years ago, for example.
The church's official Twitter feed, @LDSChurch, retweeted Elder Ballard's tweet, the first confirmation it was authentic.
"In addition to the official Facebook and Google+ pages for church leaders that the church has maintained on their behalf for some time now, these senior leaders have begun using Twitter to share their words, thoughts and teachings," LDS Church spokeswoman Jessica Moody said in a statement. "Elder Ballard’s tweet is the first to be shared, but other church leaders will also be using Twitter in the near future."
Elder Ballard is well known among Mormons for asking church members seven years ago to share their faith online in blogs and on comment boards. So it seemed fitting to some that he would be the first to tweet.
"This is another step church leaders are taking," Moody said, "to use social media to share the gospel and communicate with the world."
That the tweet came after the subject matter of Elder Ballard's talk also was fitting. He spoke about embracing technology, including social media, while at the same time managing its use wisely.
"Handheld devices such as smartphones are a blessing, but they can also distract us from hearing the still, small voice," he said. "They need to be our servants, not our masters. For example, if later tonight you share inspiring thoughts from this devotional on social media, your smartphone is a servant. If you randomly surf the Internet, your smartphone is a master."
He also suggested that despite the age of many general church leaders, they are in touch with millenials and people around the world.
"I've heard that some people think that church leaders live in a bubble," Elder Ballard said. "What they forget is that we are men and women of experience, and we have lived our lives in so many places, worked with many people from different backgrounds. Our current assignments literally take us around the globe, where we meet the political, religious, business and humanitarian leaders of the world. Although we have visited the White House in Washington, D.C., and leaders of nations throughout the world, we have also visited the most humble homes on Earth, where we have met and ministered to the poor.
"When you have thoughtfully considered our lives and ministry, you'll most likely agree that we see and we experience the world in ways few others do. We live less in a bubble than most people. Others say we're too old. Well, it's true that nine of us are over 80 years of age. I'm 85. However, ... the combined wisdom of the Brethren that should provide you some comfort. We have experienced it all. ... We're not out of touch with your lives."
He joked about how he has kept up with developments in social media since encouraging church members to get involved in online conversations about the church and faith through blogs back in 2007 and 2008.
"Since then, I've been introduced to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, Instagram," he said, "and then my secretary told me just as I was leaving something about Snapchat. Wow, seems like the world of technology cannot stand still even for a few minutes."
Elder Ballard has 6,000 followers on Twitter.
One other LDS leader has a live Twitter account so far, Elder L. Tom Perry, also of the Twelve. His Twitter handle is @L_Tom_Perry. He has yet to tweet, but had 60 followers as of Tuesday morning.
The LDS Church's official Twitter feed — 118,000 followers — posted updates from Elder Ballard's talk throughout the evening.
"We cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. http://t.co/IVlJbjIfFE— The LDS Church (@LDSchurch) May 5, 2014
In all, @LDSChurch posted 11 Twitter-size summaries from the talk, like this one:
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- Hamblin & Peterson: Constantine's... 24
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- 66,511 volunteers set FamilySearch... 17
- What life was like for the Mormon... 16
- Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: Reba McEntire... 13
- Provo's waffle truck started by a... 9
- Thirty countries require leaders to... 4
- Having trouble understanding the Bible?... 4