As I have tried to formulate my thoughts about recent events, I have gained new appreciation for the guy with the shovel whose job it is to follow behind the circus parade after the horses and elephants have passed through. There is certainly a lot of raw material to work with. While there is much to regret, the really interesting question we need to answer is how this even happened in the first place.
I am surprised to see reactions which claim Randy Bott was some kind of rogue actor, or a man whose views are so far out-of-bounds that we are all shocked, SHOCKED, to hear them. He didn’t just accidentally come up with his opinions 5 minutes before he was interviewed by the Washington Post. He has been saying and teaching these things for years, decades even, and very few of us cared. He has published them on an open blog which he, apparently without any sense of irony, called Know Your Religion. The uncomfortable reality is that Br. Bott is one of us. Although his opinions are in the minority, they are certainly not unusual, and many of us know people who share them.
How did we get to the point where a man can be a bishop, a stake president, a mission president, and the most popular professor at BYU while simultaneously and openly expressing retrograde opinions? I suggest that maybe the reason is an unintended and unfortunate consequence of correlation. Years ago, I wrote a post called Two Cheers for Correlation in which I offered a limited defense of it and reasoned that in spite of a few downsides, it was necessary in order to help us reduce the promulgation of false doctrine and fringe views. I now withdraw that defense, because this recent business has demonstrated conclusively that false teachings continue to thrive among us. Correlation has managed to lower the boom on heterodoxy, but it has also caused a bull market in false ideas and false doctrines which are able to cloak themselves in orthodoxy. A woman who wears a pantsuit while teaching a Relief Society lesson on The Heavenly Parents is doing something transgressive, and she knows it. It is by no means implausible to think she might be on the carpet in the stake president’s office before the weekend. Meanwhile, a man who wears a white shirt and suit while talking about the ten tribes living under the polar ice cap, or quoting Rush Limbaugh (with attribution), or making racial jokes or homosexual jokes, is just another Sunday in priesthood meeting. Consider the following examples:
- Within 24 hours of representative Gabrielle Giffords being shot, a high priest, in the lesson part of priesthood meeting, jokes that she was lucky to have been shot in the head because “Dimocraps don’t have brains there anyway”. Yes, he got lots of laughs.
- A mission president exhorts the missionaries in zone conference to make sure that when they return home, they only date women who are comfortable with polygamy, since that is going to be the way things are done in the celestial kingdom.
- A professor at a church university uses the word “fag” multiple times in one class period.
All this is shocking, but not really surprising, and we could go on for pages with other examples. None of these people has been sanctioned, admonished, or even contradicted. The high priest teacher is still teaching, the mission president is still considered a spiritual giant by his missionaries, and the professor is still professing. I suggest that the reason is because they have adopted the protective coloration of correlation. I am firmly convinced that the biggest sources of false teaching in the church today are mission presidents and CES teachers, because they already have authority, and an automatic audience. Once, J. Golden Kimball was speaking at a meeting where there was a lot of concern about the wild ways of the younger generation. Kimball put everything in perspective. He said “Brothers and Sisters, we don’t need to worry about the youth. They will be fine. It’s these bald-headed bastards here on the front row you need to worry about.” And he was absolutely right.
The saddest part of the last two days has been to see Br. Bott’s behavior excoriated, not for the content of what he said, but because he didn’t follow Standard Operating Procedure. Apparently, the worst thing you can do these days is say something that hasn’t been correlated. And yet, I have personal knowledge that he has justified himself in the past by saying that his views had been vetted by correlation! I don’t blame him if he is feeling a sense of betrayal.
Ultimately, we all bear part of his shame. He did this for years — YEARS — and we only cared when it became a PR mess. The reporter from the Post held a mirror up to our faces, and we didn’t like what we saw. I have no idea where we’ll go from here, but I know that putting some lambsblood on Randy Bott and sending him out into the wilderness isn’t going to expiate our sins.