Thursday, March 01, 2012

Owning One's History

I'm sure some of you have read the latest hoopla in regards to BYU professor Randy Bott's remarks to the Washington Post that come off as racist.

Bott was quoted in the article as having said the following:

"'God has always been discriminatory' when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, says Bott... Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood.

"'What is discrimination?'” Bott asks. 'I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?' Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth—although not in the afterlife—protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. 'You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.'"

Now some are accusing the very popular professor of being racist, and perhaps he is, but in my research of the situation, it appears that the man is only propagating the same speculations that have reared their heads (and often been taught as fact) in the LDS Church's past. The LDS Church claims that none of these "opinions" were actual doctrine and that we don't really know why blacks were denied the priesthood for so many years. Their official statement is as follows:

"The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said.

"The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form.

"For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

"We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."

Bott says he has been misquoted and misrepresented, which may, in fact, be true, but I don't think Bott is the root of the problem; I think the problem is that the LDS Church refuses to acknowledge or own its history. Whether it's the Mountain Meadows Massacre, polygamy, blacks, Mark Hoffman, whatever, it seems the LDS Church is more interested in white-washing or rewriting its history rather than just owning it and admitting its mistakes, and time and time again it gets the Church into trouble. I wonder if the same thing will happen when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.

The LDS Church may NOW condemn racism. The remarks that Professor Bott made may not NOW represent the teachings and doctrines of the LDS Church, but they did at one time. I've read apologists' remarks such as this which puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of Professor Bott's head rather than on the LDS Church and its past leaders, who are largely responsible for encouraging the ideas that came out of Professor Bott's mouth, whether they intended them to or not.

Some of the blog posts I've read that somewhat reinforce how I feel about this subject, but say it better than I can include this post at Boys Meets Blog, Jana Riess' statements here, and Joanna Brook's statements here.

It doesn't matter that the LDS Church no longer teaches this stuff. One only need read past remarks by Brighman Young, Mark E. Peterson, Bruce R. McConkie, Ezra Taft Benson, Delbert Stapley, Spencer W. Kimball, Joseph Fielding Smith, and George Albert Smith, for example, that would definitely be considered racist by today's standards, and whether the LDS Church likes it or not, those statements are a part of its history. Whether the LDS Church likes it or not, those words came out of prophets' and apostles' mouths. Whether they like it or not, members of the Church heard and read those statements and took them to heart and taught them in classes and over pulpits to other members and created generations of individuals who used those words and beliefs as rationalization and support for racism and prejudice.

Bruce R. McConkie's book Mormon Doctrine contains some racist ideas and even though the First Presidency wasn't happy with its publication, it nevertheless was published and remained in LDS bookstores and in LDS homes for years. And with a name like Mormon Doctrine, did the Church not think that members of the Church would accept the ideas in the book as actual doctrine? Did they not think people would revere the words of a man who is largely responsible for the footnotes, topical guide, and Bible dictionary in our own Mormon quads? Heck, this naive return missionary bought his copy of Mormon Doctrinein the MTC and used it regularly.

And even if Bruce R. McConkie himself said something like, "Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world" (which he did), did LDS Church leaders really expect everyone to just forget all that.

With the ease of the Internet, anyone in a matter of seconds can find any past statements LDS Church leaders have said concerning this issue, and those things can't just be swept under the rug or ignored just because current revelation says otherwise. Look how many people continued to practice polygamy even after revelation banned it.

Yes, the LDS Church no longer teaches or practices racist policies. Yes, now the Chuch says they don't know why the Priesthood ban occurred or why it was lifted except that it was God's will. Yes, now the Church condemns racism. And yes, Professor Bott shouldn't teach speculation as fact (which I'm not sure he was even doing), but don't blame Professor Bott for being a child of that speculation, which for many years was taught and bandied about as if it was fact by men in authority who, even if they were just spouting their opinions, should have known that as prophets and apostles, their words would be heeded and adhered to by many in the Church.

The LDS Church can't pretend that what once existed never existed because it did, in fact, exist. Own your history! Apologize for any mistakes or misunderstandings or misconceptions that arose due to your history. And move on and hopefully learn from your mistakes and correct misguided behaviors (it won't be surprising to me at all if these same mistakes are repeated concerning homosexuality, but that's probably many years down the road long after I'm dead).

Anyway, that's my two cents.

1 comment:

LCannon said...

I'm happy that McKonkie never made it to Prophet as I would really have a hard time sustaining him. Bott just happened to find himself in light of the press - and probably working for the "Mormon BYU" college made the words that flowed from his mouth gospel truth to some. And so does each of us. We are all examples on a day to day basis- to our next door neighbors who don't know any other LDS members. For our coworker that might think our opinion represents the entire church. Kind of goes with your last post a little bit. We just never know who is watching and how our words may influence others.