Upon logging onto Twitter for the first time a faithful member of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ is faced with a world of decisions. You have almost direct access to anyone in the world provided they also have a Twitter account. You might follow some of your favorite sports teams, your favorite actors, maybe some political leaders you side with, and of course, you’d follow the official Twitter account of Russell M. Nelson, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then as you begin on this journey through social media you notice hashtags that fellow saints use to make their thoughts and opinions more accessible.
Twitter’s algorithm accounts for the tweets you “like” and retweet and begins to make suggestions for new people you could follow. You like being part of a worldwide community of Saints, so you follow them. But then you notice something: not all of the voices you hear online in the church are saying the same thing. Some are disagreeing, and even worse, some are attacking the church and its leaders. Politics has been infused with the religious and devotional conversation on Latter-day Saint Twitter. People are taking stances against the doctrine and the Brethren leading the church, and murmuring is creeping in everywhere. You think to yourself, “Is this what everyone else thinks? Am I alone in my devotion to the principles of the gospel? Why are those most vocal against the Church getting the most likes and retweets?” You are then faced with a choice: you either adjust your testimony to fit in with the great and spacious criticism of the church online or you give up on that part of social media forever as lost to the Enemy. To the faithful still on Twitter, you were the reinforcements that never arrived.
I was at that very crossroads in August of 2018. Something had to be done or I had to leave Twitter. As is usually the case sometimes we have to look backward to go forward. Deseret was the answer. When the Saints fled Nauvoo and eventually found their way to the Salt Lake Valley, they established a government and political boundary. They called it Deseret and used the beehive as its symbol. Their bid to become a state was rejected multiple times and the name Utah was given to them. Deseret was what could have been if the federal government had left the church, lead by Brigham Young, to rule themselves. It was to be a safe haven for members of the church and fellow believers in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. All were welcome as long as they recognized God’s authority and were willing to work together to build the Kingdom of God. This was my inspiration to start a new hashtag that would be welcoming to all who were willing to build the kingdom and defend the church and its leaders online.
Before Twitter expanded the length of its tweets to 240 characters, hashtags had to be compact and succinct. Deseret Nation was shortened to “Dez,” as we all pronounce the “s” in Deseret as a “z,” and “Nat” for Nation. I was proud of my own pioneer heritage and wanted to honor them building a civilization in a difficult part of the national geography just as those who use the tag today are building an online community in a very hostile environment.
So, in August 2018, I began simply by sharing quotes, scriptures, pictures, and opinions supportive of the church, its leaders, and the Family Proclamation. It started slow, but as more and more noticed that I was supportive of the church and not backing down from defending it, #DezNat started to catch on and I was noticed not only by other faithful members but by some of the Church’s largest detractors.
A major part of #DezNat is being unapologetic about supporting the church and following the prophets. This means supporting and sustaining even past prophets who may not be seen as politically correct looking through our modern lenses, most notably applying to Brigham Young. Much has been written and said about Brother Brigham to discredit him, and thereby, the Church. #DezNat would stand firm on supporting him and all of Joseph Smith’s successors in this dispensation. One particularly famous speech Brigham Young gave involved him reportedly unsheathing a large Bowie knife and placing it on the pulpit, theatrically threatening all apostates who were harassing the church and its members to leave the territory or be driven out. This story is often used by church opponents to show how Brigham Young was “a terrible man bent on violently enforcing his dictatorial power in his oppressive theocratic regime.” Some users of the hashtag, including me, used this story in memes and jokes in order to show how absurd the church’s detractors were and how unafraid we were to embrace our history, even the ugly parts. The Bowie knife became a symbol of #DezNat. Those harassing the church and its members on Twitter would not be met with weakness and apologies. Memes have become a common language on a platform where words are limited, so this has been a tactic employed to quickly and boldly state our positions. Not all memes are funny and not all memes are to be taken seriously.
One of the biggest opponents to the new hashtag are those who have self-identified as “Progressive Mormons” (ProgMo for Twitter utility). These are individuals who seem to have placed a greater emphasis on changing the church to fit their political ideology rather than framing their politics according to their religious beliefs. These are individuals who think The Family: A Proclamation to the World is a hateful and harmful document. ProgMos preach that the Church is racist, sexist, and homophobic and should “get on the right side of history.” ProgMos want the worthiness standards for temple attendance relaxed and desire the doctrine be shifted to allow for abortion. They often claim to have received revelation contrary to what the church currently teaches in order to justify their doctrinal heresies.
Seeing all this as a believing Latter-day Saint and Twitter user is shocking and disheartening, doubly so when it’s done by popular blogs and local lay church leaders looking for a larger “flock” on Twitter. Rather than building each other up and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to us through His prophets they are tearing down the Church and creating one in their own permissive political image.
Following the Prophet
#DezNat may not be to everyone’s taste. Those who use the hashtag can be combative, rude, crass, aggressive, even mean. However, one thing you will never have to worry about with #DezNat is that when the prophet speaks, we listen, and when he directs, we obey. We’ve been called Danites (this topic deserves its own blog post) and worse, but the truth of the matter is if we were asked to cease, we would do so immediately. There are many ways to use the tag. I still post quotes and scriptures that have fortified my faith and strengthened my testimony and I invite all who want to use the tag to support the Church and the Brethren to use it to share their faith on Twitter and elsewhere.
More than anything, #DezNat is a banner waving in the midst of a battle. The battlefield is Twitter and beyond and #DezNat was created for the purpose of being a rallying point and a symbol to the faithful and unapologetic and for those who are firm in the faith and are still out there fighting for what we believe to be right.
#DezNat is not a movement, it is not political (especially not alt-right), racial, national, or sexual. It is simply a hashtag used by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are unapologetic about their belief in the restored Gospel, Christ as our Savior, Joseph Smith as the prophet of the Restoration, and Russell M Nelson as God’s current prophet, seer, and revelator on the earth today.
- We do not agitate for change within the Church but anxiously seek to submit our wills to that of the Lord — as revealed through His proper channels and authorities.
- We believe in and support The Family: A Proclamation to the World and recognize the family as the foundation of both earthly and celestial civilization.
- We are not limited by a one-dimensional, overly simplistic view of a Christ who teaches that only unconditional acceptance is true love. We know that Christ was both the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the “meek and lowly lamb” of the New. When He returns, we will see and know Him in all His power and glory.
- Those who use the hashtag will and do vary in our personalities, countries of origin, views of the world, family situations, goals, and ambitions — and we all gladly place any other desire or belief at the feet of the Lord.
While the questions, conditions, and problems of the world may be myriad, our response is simple — we follow the prophet.
- “Defenders of the Family Proclamation” -Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, April 2015.
- “A Defense and a Refuge” -President Boyd K. Packer, October 2006.
- “Yes, We Can and Will Win!” -Elder Ulisses Soares, April 2015
- “Where Do We Stand?” -Elder Mark E. Peterson, April 1980
JP Bellum is the founder of the #DezNat hashtag and is a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can follow him on Twitter @jpbellum.