Lord, Is It I?

This morning, as I read my Twitter feed, I came to Jack Jenkins, a religion reporter for Think Progress, asking for examples of sermons addressing racism.  As of when I’m writing this, he tweeted out eight examples of sermons representing an array of Christian denominations.

Meanwhile, Guthrie Graves-Fitzgerald tweeted a photo of Charlottesville clergy marching, united, against the racism that invaded—and tried to infect—their city.

And how about the Mormon church? Our leaders, too, issued a statement condemning racism and expressing sympathy for those in Charlottesville.[fn1]

Why, we might ask, should our church respond to and condemn these Nazis and white supremacists? After all, there’s not indication that any of the protestors were Mormon; I’d be unsurprised to learn that none were.

There’s a danger inherent to looking at and condemning racism; it’s too, too easy to believe that it belongs somewhere else. After all, we all know that the South is racist. But I don’t live in the South; ergo, I can’t be racist, and those around me can’t, either.

Or we all know that racism existed before the Civil War, or before Brown v. Board in 1954, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or President Kimball’s 1978 revelation. But not today; today, racism is some other time.

And those are both true statements: racism exists in the South, and it existed before whatever transformative year we choose. But if we relegate it only to the South, or only to before, we lose the ability to confront it, because it also exists where we are and when we are.[fn2]

Charlottesville made that clear; certainly some of the racist protestors were homegrown, but not all were. James Fields, who murdered one woman and injured several others, went to Virginia from Ohio. Peter Cvjetanovic went to Virginia from Reno. There are reports that one person was there from Berkeley, CA.

In fact, the SPLC’s map of hate groups shows as many in the Northeast and Midwest as in the South, and no state is free from them.

Instead, then, of saying, There are racists in Virginia, or, There are racists in Alabama, we’d do good to follow the Apostles’ examples. When Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him, they didn’t ask, Is it Judas? They asked, Lord, is it I?

I am convinced that none of the preachers who preached against racism and hatred today approves—or even countenances—the racist ideologies that brought white supremacists to Charlottesville. But they didn’t use the fact that it wasn’t them as an excuse to sit by, silent and complicit. Instead, they followed the Apostles’ example; they looked internally at themselves, they looked at their congregations, they asked, Could it possibly be us, and they moved to condemn racism. They moved unequivocally to say that racism doesn’t belong in the body of Christ.

And, Southern or not, modern or not, that’s a sermon we all need to hear and internalize. And, since the church has unlocked the door, I hope we can fully pass through on the local level, reiterating the Savior’s command to love our neighbor, and unequivocally condemning racism, out loud and in our meetings.

[fn1] Let me note here that we’re far from angels on issues of race; while we’ve started to confront that racism that has been part of our history, we’re far from where we need to be. That said, this statement is certainly a step—an insufficient and perhaps not-entirely-satisfying step, but a step nonetheless—in the direction we need to go.

[fn2] In fact, my wife suggested that I title this post, “Racism Doesn’t Only Speak With a Southern Accent.” And frankly, that’s a way better title. But she agreed that, for a Mormon blog, it probably made sense to go with something more scriptural.


  1. One of the organizers/speakers of the alt-right white supremacist rally is LDS. Ayla Stewart, aka Wife With A Purpose. She was there but bailed on her speech when things got violent. She claims she was speaking about families and women in the “alt-right.” Since then, she has only doubled down and highlighted her membership in the church. It is so disheartening.

  2. P.S. She is from Ivins, UT.

  3. Erika is right. “A Wife With a Purpose” is a Mormon alt-right figurehead with verified Twitter account. She was scheduled to speak at the white supremicism march in Virginia.

  4. Ok. So shift that sentence to: “Assume that no Mormons participated …” It takes me to the exact same place, which is, whether or not Mormons participated, it is both our and the church’s responsibility to condemn racism, which has no place either in the church or in our society, but needs to be actively rooted from both,

  5. Great post, Sam.

  6. Excellent.

  7. I agree with everything you said. One of the challenges is that the alt-right don’t think they are racist. So to me the message of ‘racism is evil/sinful/wrong’ allows the alt-right (and members like Ayla Stewart) to claim that the message isn’t directed at them. It’s a hard barrier to circumvent and right now we (the nation nor the church) seem to be doing it well.

  8. Following along with ReTx – You have to clearly define racism in order to get buy-in.

    What is racism? I once worked with HR departments to hire diversity candidates (blacks and women) for software and electrical engineer positions. I found there is a lot of different opinions of what defines racism.

  9. It’s a hard barrier to circumvent and right now we (the nation nor the church) DON’T seem to be doing it well.

    I imagine y’all got original point without the typo fix, but just in case…

  10. Sam, we both live in Chicago and we both know that racism thrives here in many perverse but often subtle elements. A year after my wife and I were married we moved into a nice Cook County suburban starter neighborhood of homes built in the 1960’s. Just down the street was a predominantly black Baptist church so I figured this was a fairly diverse neighborhood even though all of my immediate neighbors were white. Then one Sunday we came home from church and I suddenly noticed for sale signs on the lawns of 4 out of the 10 homes along our little street. My stomach began churning acid as I contemplated the possibility that we were living on the next Love Canal. Our next door neighbor was outside so I asked her if she knew what was going on. She whispered to me, “Joe down the street is selling his house and it turns out he’s sold it to an Indian couple. When Jim across the street found out, he went over and got all irate asking how dare he allow them into our neighborhood.” As my Dad exclaimed to me later, “Well now you know which part of town you live in and your good fortune is it’s probably now less racist than it used to be.”

    I grew up in the South, the difference there was that often people were more transparent in their attitudes. Here in the Midwest, we still have some work to do too. I don’t generally encounter such attitudes at Church but the question, “Is it I?” is still worth asking.

  11. Absolutely, Alain. My wife grew up in the South, and comments on the same thing. We’re fooling ourselves if we say our community is free from racism, because racism is something that exists somewhere else. Though it’s extremely sad, thanks for that example.

  12. “One of the challenges is that the alt-right don’t think they are racist.”

    I don’t think that’s right. People like Ayla Stewart know that they are racists. When they deny it, they are lying. These lies are part of their attempt to redefine something evil so it appears to be good. They will have succeeded if their views—their lies—come to be accepted as a legitimate part of the discourse on racism.

  13. John Jacob says:

    We are rightly concerned about Mormon’s on the alt-right side. But much more critical to me–were any of our bishops marching with that group of Charlottesville clergy pictured above? If not, why not? There are at least 3 wards in Charlottesville, part of the Waynesboro stake. If we were missing in action on this,that would be highly disturbing.
    John Jacob
    Bishop in the greater Houston area

  14. John Jacob,
    Remember that the Church largely utilizes lay clergy. My guess is that the three LDS Bishops were at work. Also professional clergy tend to know each other, given the rapidity of the organization of this event, unless one of the organizers happened to know an LDS Bishop, it is likely that LDS leaders were not invited.

    But this should not deter any Latter-day Saint from voicing support for peace and civility.

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