A recent Washington Post article that discussed the origins and history of Mormonism’s racialized teachings and policies has caused quite a stir, launching important conversations. The article’s most controversial element was the inclusion of comments from BYU religion professor Randy Bott in which he denied that the former LDS ban on black persons holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances was racist, as God’s actions were for their benefit. They weren’t ready. Through these restrictions, God was acting as a loving parent, keeping them from having to live at a higher level than they were capable of doing. Church reaction was swift–a news release the next day completely distancing the Church’s position from the justification attempts of Professor Bott, and stating unequivocally that no one knows the reasons for the ban and the church does not sanction any attempts at explaining or justifying it.
Many see the Church’s reaction as a step in the right direction. But is it enough, as it still falls short of disavowing the ban? It does not admit it was a mistake all along. Many claim that to repudiate the ban would come at too high a cost, undermining prophetic authority and calling into question how seriously Latter-day Saints should hold other teachings or policies. Others claim that it’s essential if we are ever going to truly root out racism and racialized thinking in the Church and truly develop mature attitudes toward God and how God works in the world and through prophets. Their sense is that the Church could indeed shift its rhetoric about the nature of the prophetic call to emphasize it as a calling to exhort us to believe in Christ and place our trust in God and eternal principles. They believe that church leaders could still be honored as prophets and apostles even were they to be more open about the difficulties involved in hearing God’s call through the din of culture and inherited, unexamined ideas, allowing that mistakes have and can always be made in these more temporal areas.
Mormon Mattes host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Marguerite Driessen, Gina Colvin, and Brad Kramer discuss all of these ideas and more. None find the present moment of controversy as pleasant (no one really “likes” having less attractive parts of one’s tradition held up for scrutiny, even ridicule), but all still welcome the chance these developments have given for renewed discussion–and hopefully deep soul-searching and self-examination. Are they seeing this go on? What are the stumblingblocks to this process? What do they see as important elements in paving a way ahead for true repentance and change?
We invite you to listen and share your ideas! This is a vital conversation. We’d love your voice to be involved.