“Lead Out in Abandoning Attitudes and Actions of Prejudice”

Note: between when I drafted this post and when I scheduled it to go live, Bro. Wilcox apologized for his statement. And it’s a real-deal kind of apology, not a squishy avoiding-blame one; in fact, it’s a model for one step of precisely what I hoped for. I’m still going to posting for two reasons. First, while apology is a critical part of repenting, it is not the only step. And second, I don’t think this was primarily an individual problem–there is an underlying institutional problem that his comments highlighted and his apology didn’t and couldn’t change. But I’m making some changes to what I previously wrote in light of his apology.

Last weekend, Bradley Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men’s general presidency and associate teaching professor of ancient scripture at BYU-Provo, gave a youth fireside in Alpine, UT. Somewhere in the fireside he asked, rhetorically, why Black church members didn’t get the priesthood until 1978. (To be clear, his framing of the question is wrong: in the first decades of the church, a number of Black men received the priesthood; it wasn’t until 1852 that Brigham Young imposed the priesthood-and-temple ban on Black members.)

He responded to the question like this:

What? Brigham Young was a jerk? Members of the church were prejudiced? Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of asking, “Why did the Blacks [sic] have to wait until 1978?” maybe what we should be asking is, “Why did the whites (and other races) have to wait until 1829?” One thousand eight hundred twenty-nine years they waited.

That statement is, well, not good. As in, it’s terribly, terribly bad and reflects some fundamentally racist ideas. Which, to his credit, he recognized, owned, and apologized for.

But while he is truly apologetic–and while he didn’t mean to cause harm—it still matters. Because he’s a church authority. And his statement about the priesthood and temple ban reflects both bad history and a racism that we have yet to root out from the church.

Look, to respond directly to him: the fact that the church withheld the priesthood and temple blessing from Black members between 1852 and 1978 was racist. The estimable Oxford English Dictionary tells us that “racist” means:

Prejudiced, antagonistic, or discriminatory towards a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized; expressing or characterized by racism. Also (esp. in early use): prejudiced, antagonistic, or discriminatory towards a person or people of another nationality.

Black members were not allowed to hold the priesthood or attend the temple during those 126 years because of their membership in a marginalized racial group.

And the fact that the priesthood had been removed from the earth for everybody for nearly two millennia is not a cogent analogy to the priesthood and temple ban. The exclusion from priesthood for those two thousand years was not based on individuals’ race (or nationality or gender or sexuality or any other personal characteristic). It was withheld from everybody.

In 1829, that changed. The priesthood was restored. And in 1829, there was only one restriction on holding the priesthood: gender. In 1852, as I said above, Brigham Young added another: race (or, rather, his 19th-century conception of race). Suddenly, priesthood was theoretically available, but because of race and gender, certain people were still excluded.

Add to that the fact that Wilcox’s statement minimizes the harm to Black individuals and instead focuses on the (not-) harm to white individuals.

But honestly, in the scheme of things, an individual church member trying to minimize past racism is bad, but wouldn’t warrant a blog post. There are, unfortunately but undeniably, full-blown racists among us.

But Wilcox is different: he’s a general officer of the church. And more than that: as a member of the Young Men’s general presidency, he’s directly responsible for what our teenage boys are learning and doing at church. And yet he instinctively fell back on racist ideas to protect a certain vision of prophetic infallibility.

So what should the church do? I originally wrote: “It absolutely, unquestionably, and immediately needs to apologize for his remarks and clarify that those are not the church’s beliefs. Wilcox, too, needs to apologize and repudiate what he said.”

And it looks like Wilcox did it! (And honestly, it’s not easy being publicly apologetic; look how many of those apologies are framed as, “I’m sorry if you took me the wrong way.” This apology doesn’t even hint at that direction at all.)

But here’s the thing: a sincere apology is a start, but it’s not enough. On a personal level, Wilcox has “committed to do better.” And I believe he will. But his statement wasn’t just a personal thing; it reflects the institution he represents and serves it. 1978 was 44 years ago, and while we abandoned the race-based ban on priesthood and temple, we very clearly haven’t abandoned the mythology of white superiority. And we haven’t taken to hear McConkie’s acknowledgement that church leaders were, in fact, wrong about Black people before and we should discard what they said. As recently as a decade ago, the church had to condemn racism in response to BYU professor Randy Bott digging up racist justifications for the same priesthood and temple ban.

And it’s not enough, apparently, for general authorities to decry racism. Hinckley did. Elder Cook did. President Nelson did. And yet even high-ranking church leaders are still falling short.

I suspect we can trace this failure to two sources. The first is, while the church decries racism in the present and the future, it does not recognize or repent of its past racism. And I frankly don’t know why; rhetorically we admit that our leaders are fallible. But church leaders are loathe to recognize actual fallibility in past leaders.

And that leads to the second source: I think many members don’t understand what racism is. Because we’re not actively excluding Black people, because we’re not hurling epithets at them, because we’re not physically assaulting them (or, at least, because most of us aren’t), we reason, we can’t be doing a racism. And because Brigham Young and John Taylor and all of the prophets up through Harold B. Lee were good people, and because racists are bad people, they couldn’t have been racist.

And that failure to recognize racism, both individually and institutionally, means we can’t even begin to root it out, to repent of the wrongs we’ve done.

It’s a problem that we can, and must, fix. But it’s one we actually need to confront. Periodic statements by church leaders that racism is bad are insufficient. The “Race and the Priesthood” Gospel Topics essay is great but it’s not enough. Wilcox’s fireside statements make clear that we need more, from top to bottom.

So what would I propose? Two things: first, the church needs to actively and deliberately teach church leaders (down to bishops, I’d argue, but at the very least anybody who qualifies to speak in Conference) how to recognize racism and avoid it. Not just in other people, but in themselves. After that, the church could provide leaders with anti-racist tools unique to our theology; it can teach them how to read the Book of Mormon as an anti-racist text. It can assign them to give a talk using those tools. It can otherwise help them understand the practice and theology of fighting racism.

It can’t do any of those things effectively, though, if it doesn’t first teach them to recognize racism, in even its sneakiest, most plausibly-deniable form. It won’t help to understand our additional, and critical, theology against racism if they assume that racism is only physical (and maybe verbal) violence perpetrated by objectively bad people.

And for the general membership? In 2023, rather than talking about Conference talks, the church should develop a “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself” manual. We’re failing at the second great commandment. And we shouldn’t be. The year wouldn’t have to be devoted solely to rooting out racism, but confronting the church’s past and current institutional racism and weeding it out both of our church culture and our individual selves should be a significant part of it. (It turns out that I’ve had this idea before. And where it was pressing then and is even more pressing now.)

To the extent we claim to be God’s only true and living church, to ensure that He is well-pleased with us, we need to do better as a people and as an institution. We need to have faith that our members can handle the truth and can stay faithful in light of personal and institutional repentance. But above all, we need to repent. And to do that, we need to confront our past and our present and learn from it.

Back to Wilcox’s statement: was Brigham Young a jerk? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter in this context. One can be a jerk but not be racist. Similarly, one can be an entirely pleasant person an a virulent racist. But his second question matters: were church members, including Young, prejudiced? Without doubt. Did they do racist things? Absolutely.

I also have no doubt that by now Brigham Young has repented of his racism. And he needs the institutional church to allow that repentance to happen, to let him let go of it, rather than excusing and denying it and prolonging the process. I have no doubt he has regrets, and I have no doubt that the temple and priesthood ban is one of those regrets. So let’s follow Bro. Wilcox’s example and professed goal and move past the racism of our past and present (both individually and collectively) by recognizing it, repenting of it, and leaving it behind.

And while it would have been better if Bro. Wilcox had chosen in advance not to make the statement he did, I’m truly grateful that he’s setting a public example both of the need to repent of racism and how to approach that repentance.

Photo by Liz Falconer on Unsplash

Comments

  1. In addition to the horribly racist things he said, his comments disparaging women were disgusting too. “Nervous” about his daughter pretending to bless the sacrament, accusing women of not knowing what the priesthood means or the difference between authority and keys, benevolent patriarchy manifested in some premortal pedestal, and angry feminism mischaracterization- all gross.

  2. Laura, he absolutely should apologize for and repent of other bad statements he made; to be clear, this ~40 seconds is all I saw of the fireside so it’s all I feel the ability to comment on.

  3. The racism in the talk was problematic. The misogyny in the talk was problematic. The making light of sacred things for other people’s religious beliefs and traditions was problematic. He apologized for the racism in the “it didn’t come out right” kind of way that most racists who are called out will do. But this isn’t enough. I believe Brad Wilcox should be forgiven, but he should not be in a position of youth leadership in the church. He needs to be released from the Young Men’s General Presidency, yesterday. The message he gave to teach and inspire youth was actively harmful to kids. I say this with some seriousness, this year my kids (twins) turn eight. I keep thinking about what membership in this church has to offer them. My kids are instinctively kind and care about being like Jesus. They are so sincere. But do I want them to be a part of an organization where someone like Brad Wilcox is a leader who is attempting them to inspire them with a series of hurtful, condescending jibes at other people who aren’t in the position of power that he is in as a white male, priesthood leader in the church? He punched down at EVERYONE in his talk. What do my kids have to learn from a person who comfortably says the things that Brad Wilcox said in his fireside?

    I understand people are imperfect and I am really quite forgiving of people in ward settings who say wrong things, because it is a part of being a community where we all are trying to be better. I grew up routinely coming home from Young Women’s lessons disturbed about something and my mom saying, “It’s okay. That is just that person’s opinion. We are all different and I don’t agree with that.” But if the church is going to choose Brad Wilcox to lead youth, then the church on the whole is accountable for the terrible things that he said.

    His apology was only to the people he offended on his racist statement. He said his point about God’s timing came out wrong and he made a mistake. I don’t understand how we think that is enough. The priesthood ban was about racism, not about “God’s timing.” His underlying point was wrong, and until the church says that, it isn’t enough anymore.

  4. Thanks, Sam. I really appreciate you posting this and the apology.

    His comments about other churches “playing church” were offensive too. Acceptance of all faiths attempting to provide their members faith, community, and love should be encouraged not mocked.

  5. Bro. Jones says:

    Zanzibarannie: exactly. Covid more or less put my family out the door of the church, but things like this make us want to close that door permanently. I could live with explaining to my kids (who are of African descent) how people from a precious century got things wrong about. I can’t accept having to explain why *current leadership* is getting the same things wrong.

  6. Zanzibarannie (and Laura and others), absolutely misogynistic comments and comments that denigrate other religions are unacceptable and it makes me sad to hear that those were in his talk to. Again, though, for these purposes I’m going to limit myself to what I heard.

    And Zanzibarannie, I agree that it’s deeply problematic that someone who expresses these kinds of racist ideas is in charge of the program for teenagers; that’s absolutely not acceptable to them or to me (as a parent and as a church member). I’m just afraid that treating this like a purely Wilcox thing won’t solve the problem. Given the underlying systemic problems in the church, without institutional introspection and change, it’s supremely possible that the next leader will hold the same ideas (though may be more savvy than to express them). At this point, we’ve proven for far too long that simply saying, “Don’t be racist” is insufficient. There’s something there that needs to be rooted out.

  7. Bro Jones: Exactly! I don’t know why church leaders cannot just say that being imperfect humans, prior church leaders had issues with racism. American society was enmeshed with white supremacy. Mortal human beings were flawed. We recognize this now, because we have more light and truth. We believe the church progresses in a positive direction with continuing revelation. Not acknowledging this is what makes current leadership more problematic. The problem with the whole “God’s timing” is that in effect, people like Brad Wilcox are saying that God was the racist, not the imperfect human beings. Isn’t that entirely more problematic?

  8. Totally agree, zanzibarannie and Bro. Jones. My children are well insulated from this toxicity because of Covid and their age but it won’t always be that way and I’m struggling with deciding what to do.

  9. I understand that he was trying to make some strong arguments for why the youth should stay in the church and trust in the Lord, at a time when this is a real challenge. But unfortunately, I think talks like this have the opposite effect. Those quotes and clips get all over social media and it’s embarrassing for the youth. Like always, they need Christ-centered support, love, inclusion, community, and empathy, and not fired-up religious punditry with a dose of racism that is analogous to what is on Fox news every night.

  10. Sam – I agree with you that it isn’t just a Wilcox problem and is a wider institutional problem. But by removing Wilcox from his leadership position, the Church could send a statement that the expression of racist viewpoints is not acceptable from people in churchwide leadership positions. If we don’t hold leaders accountable for the expression of these problematic views, then we cannot make any sort of institutional improvement. I agree with you on your prescriptions – the church has to make more of an effort across the institution to root out racism, but leaders who say these things are causing real harm, and allowing them to continue in positions of authority is compounding that harm.

  11. Zanzibarannie and Bro. Jones, completely agree. My kids are insulated from this toxicity because of Covid and their age but they won’t always be and I’m struggling to know what to do.
    Sam, yes! The need for this to be rooted out is great. You’re exactly right about it manifesting itself in some future ugliness unless there’s institutional introspection and change.

  12. Re: “In 2023, rather than talking about Conference talks, the church should develop a “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself” manual. We’re failing at the second great commandment. And we shouldn’t be. The year wouldn’t have to be devoted solely to rooting out racism, but confronting the church’s past and current institutional racism and weeding it out both of our church culture and our individual selves should be a significant part of it.” — I think this is a good idea. I wonder if it can be done sensitively and meaningfully in our church? If General Conference would have a strong and authentic focus on the problem, that could also offer the same opportunity to study racism and anti-racism in the church. If the message doesn’t originate at the top, it won’t be effective enough.

    I agree that Wilcox needs to be removed, based on the quotations in the blog post. The apology will not be heard by all the same people who heard the talk; an apology is not a sufficient anti-dote and remedy for undoing the damage — and unfortunately, Wilcox’s original statements will be heard or read as normal, not abnormal. Some people will adopt the stance for themselves (white people had to wait).

    Covid has allowed all of us to avoid the discomfort that our community often causes because of racism, sexism, and bias against anyone who identifies other than straight and cisgendered. A lot of people are learning that life does not fall apart when they don’t attend church, and in fact, that they feel better when they are not dealing with the cognitive dissonance of the gospel vs. church culture. I wish our leaders would meaningfully address these problems. Statements about how we and are demeaning and anti-productive when actions show otherwise.

  13. “But by removing Wilcox from his leadership position, the Church could send a statement that the expression of racist viewpoints is not acceptable from people in churchwide leadership positions.”

    I would sorely rather that we Christians return to compassion and forgiveness, accept Elder Wilcox’s sincere apology, and set an example of what true understanding, patience, and love look like.

  14. I have a hard time with this, personally, because Brother Wilcox has done a LOT to help me in my faith journey. From mentoring my wife at BYU and helping her love teaching, to giving his BYU speech on grace and Atonement that’s changed my relationship with Jesus for the better, and to expanding on those ideas in his books and conference talks (including this most recent one), that I’ve read and passed forward: I’ve really benefited from his ministry.

    But: he’s clearly wrong here, awfully so. I don’t want my kids to absorb that.

    So he’s a sinner, who’s taught others here in a way that might lead them to leave the Church in disgust (not unlike, say, Corianton); *and* he’s had a solid ministry that’s blessed many people, and there’s (partially fulfilled) potential for apology and genuine change for him. (At its best, It seems to be a D&C 1.24-28 situation, where “inasmuch as [Church leaders] erred it might be made known… and inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent.”) The question I’m asking myself here is, when it comes to the path forward, is the only way for him to resign or be released from his calling? Or are there other valid ways forward that would model accountability, personal and institutional? (And is the apology alone enough?)

  15. And zanzibarannie, to your second comment, I do wish we would come out and just say “Brigham Young was a prophet and he was racist.” It’s hard to read recent scholarship (like Paul Reeves’ work), or Brigham Young’s 1852 address to the state legislature, and honestly avoid any other conclusion; I recently taught a seminary lesson on this and I came as close I could to saying that, drawing from D&C 1.24-28, to model that prophets are people and they/the church make mistakes, while still being prophets and capable of leading us forward. It would help everyone (Brother Wilcox and the rest of us) move forward much more easily.

  16. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    This was a horrible attempt at “rescue”, which should have been trying to soothe rather than denigrate. Neither God nor the Church needs our lame excuses. “The Truth will set you Free”.
    We should be leaning heavily into that McConkie quote (less into some of his other stuff), and, as you said, actively work to root out these issues, not depend on a single statement or GC talk to do the work for us.

  17. Sam: nope. You needed to watch the whole thing before writing this. Sorry.

  18. arete: It is incorrect to posit that Christian forgiveness means that we accept Brad Wilcox as a leader. I can have compassion for Brad Wilcox and also firmly believe that he shouldn’t be in a position of authority over children in the church.

    What is deeply problematic is the expectation that marginalized people in the church have to keep doing the work of forgiveness when people like Brad Wilcox express deeply racist or misogynistic ideas but they get to remain in the positions of power that enabled them to cause the harm in the first place.

    Brad Wilcox did not apologize for the harmful ideas he expressed in his talk to children. He apologized for his “mistake” in the words that he used in one section. I am not going to minimize that, even though I believe that we are called to forgive everyone. Forgiveness doesn’t mean glossing over downplaying harm.

  19. Steve, I have neither time nor inclination to do that. And there’s nothing that would contextualize his racist statement in a way that would make it anything else.

    Did he do other bad things in the talk? Apparently. Did he do other good things? I certainly hope so. But I absolutely reserve the right to blog about a specific, targeted thing, especially when that specific targeted thing has a long and unaddressed history in our church. If there are other things to talk about, I absolute welcome other voices in this conversation, and I appreciate the people who have brought up other problems in his address. They also need to be addressed, perhaps in similar ways and perhaps not. But failing to get past racist ideas is absolutely a personal and institutional failing that needs to be addressed independent of other issues.

  20. nobody, really says:

    In “Church”, we have a big database with all sorts of people listed in it. Some of those people have done such horrible things that their record in the database gets “flagged”. Any leader reading the database records of certain people will see the flag that says “This person has, or is strongly suspected to have, done something so horrible to other people, that he or she should never be called to work with children or youth.” It doesn’t matter if they have apologized, if they have done time, if they have gone to therapy, if their spouse says they have repented and would never do anything like that again. They have been found as “unfit to serve The Kingdom in some capacities”.

    I’d suggest that some leaders, somewhere, sit down and decide if Wilcox is “unfit to serve The Kingdom” in *any* capacity. He stood at the pulpit of a consecrated building, and while speaking in his position as a general officer of the Church, he ripped into the minds and hearts of those who he clams to serve, and then he did it in Christ’s name.

  21. Shuthedor says:

    To me Wilcox’s whole talk smacks of priestcraft.

  22. Steve Evans says:

    “failing to get past racist ideas is absolutely a personal and institutional failing that needs to be addressed independent of other issues.”

    That’s the point, his casual racism is not independent of the misogyny or the insults he hurls at other religions. It is a package deal, just as those trends are package deals institutionally.

    You of course have the right to blog about a specific, targeted thing, but in doing so you ignore a context that is vital to understanding him and the paucity of his apology.

  23. Steve, a couple things. First, casual racism can absolutely be independent of misogyny and religious bigotry. You and others have pointed out that his apparently isn’t, and I appreciate the context. It absolutely does diminish his apology.

    But second, in church culture, we absolutely need to get rid of the misogyny. And the bigotry. And the racism. and the homophobia. But we need to actively address and eliminate each one independently and separately, whether or not they’re connect. And I’ve blogged in the past about each of those issue (well, maybe not the religious bigotry). Absolutely they can and should all be addressed, and all be addressed together. But they also need to be teased apart and dealt with separately. Because the misogyny has different institutional roots than the racism. Both are objectively, theologically, and morally wrong, of course, but both deserve individual consideration and repentance.

  24. Let’s not give credit for a non-apology. He focuses on the tone and wording of his talk rather than the substance. Always about prioritizing avoiding the appearance of evil, not actual evil.

  25. Maple Mom says:

    I think the fundamental problem here is that the church is trying to repent without confessing any wrongdoing. I believe the general authorities are sincere in their desire to move beyond our racist past and to make the church a welcoming place for people of all races. I also believe they are trying to make restitution, at least in some extent – as their relationships with the NAACP and their work on genealogy projects for Black Americans would seem to indicate. But until the church unequivocally condemns the priesthood ban and acknowledges past errors and ongoing harm, repentance will be incomplete – and racists within the church will continue to manufacture damaging justifications for their hateful beliefs. Unfortunately, there’s no halfway road to repentance and the church will not be healed and whole until we purge all traces of racism from our institution and culture.

  26. Sam, I very much enjoyed your post and many of the comments (especially those of Bryan S, which were the most nuanced).

    I wrote an essay on a related subject about 18 months ago, though I took a different tack. Instead of focusing primarily on racial attitudes in the church over time (though I do discuss these), I pose, and attempt to answer, the question: What is the Color of God? https://thewellexaminedlife.com/the-color-of-god/

  27. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    @Maple Mom – “But until the church unequivocally condemns the priesthood ban and acknowledges past errors and ongoing harm, repentance will be incomplete . . . ”

    I’d say not only do this, but keep doing this for quite some time. Making a single excuse for an institutional wrong is never enough. Doing just a single condemnation/admission of guilt lets people fall into “I said I’m sorry, isn’t that enough?”

    Efforts to repent for past sins should take at least as long as the sins were committed, then used as a reminder of what we should be careful not to do again.

  28. I was a participant in a Church History zoom broadcast for church leaders in the Pacific Northwest last summer, and the topic of the temple/priesthood ban came up. The question was whether or not there was a revelation that started the ban, as apparently many members of the Church still believe (or else how could it have happened?). Keith Erekson, from the Church History department, was on the call and he answered it by saying that if there was a revelation, you would expect to find some evidence of it. He said they have looked in the minutes of 1st Presidency and Q12 minutes, and found nothing there, He said that they next looked at the journals and then the personal correspondence of anyone involved in those meetings in the time frame, and there are no references to any such revelation. Referencing the Joseph Smith Papers Project, he said that if the ban had originated with Joseph Smith, the many years and tens of thousands of documents that have been collected and curated have shown no evidence of any such revelation. He was quick to point out that the absence of evidence is not necessarily conclusive, but that the available evidence points to human origins for the ban.

    The problem is that this kind of information is not generally published or acknowledged publicly by the church, and allows such dangerous folklore to persist. I believe that the church leadership may be torn between acknowledging once and for all that the ban was wrong, and that leaders made a mistake, and the fear that such an acknowledgment would serve as a catalyst for the defection and inactivity of a great many members of the church.

    I appreciate that Wilcox made a sincere apology, but that is just one person, and doesn’t address the other issues that apparently were included in his talk. Something needs to be said in a clear, unequivocal manner directly from the President of the Church in General Conference, so we don’t continue to have these kinds of issues regarding the temple/priesthood ban.

  29. Maple Mom, I totally agree. Individual apologies and repentance are good and necessary. But that doesn’t absolve the institutional church from its need to apologize and repent (and to Alma’s point, repeatedly if necessary).

    And thanks for that insight, kevinf. I think you’re probably right that a not-insignificant portion of church membership believes that the ban has some sort of revelatory origin. The church needs to make sure people know that there is absolutely no evidence of such a divine origin.

    And I get that it’s hard to own your mistakes and that it risks people asking, If church leaders were fallible about that, what else were they fallible about? Ultimately, though, I think that acknowledgment needs to be made, both because they were (and are and we were and are) fallible and that we can’t move beyond the mistakes we’ve made until we recognize and acknowledge them.

  30. Recent official statements by the church, the essay on race and priesthood, and the updated scriptures have improved things a lot, but they all (if I recall correctly) still try to leave open the possibility for an explanation other than human error for the priesthood ban. Dallin Oaks in his speech at the 2018 commemoration said he couldn’t get a spiritual confirmation for the reasons offered for the ban, but he didn’t say the ban was a mistake. It’s time to drop the pretense that there’s a yet-to-be-revealed reason why and make it an official church position that the ban was a mistake. An official apology while we’re at it would do a lot of good as well, but that apparently is too much to ask for certain decision makers. If at least there was an official policy, it should in theory have the effect of constraining the wild speculations of people in lower level leadership positions and working for CES.

  31. Not a Cougar says:

    At the risk of stating the obvious, I want to piggyback on Quentin’s comments and respond to zanzibarannie’s point about why is it so hard for Church leaders to apologize for institutional racism. I think it really boils down to the concern that doing so cuts against the current leadership’s perceived authority. If Brigham Young, a giant of Church history could be so wrong on such a fundamental issue, and Church leaders admit that, it quickly becomes open season on second-guessing leader decisions. I personally think open debate and disagreement are healthy for an organization, but I seriously doubt anyone in the First Presidency and Q12 would agree with me.

  32. Alma Frances Pellett, agreed. We are reminded so often about various ideas, principles, and teachings on the church teaching ledgers. This one should be one of those scheduled repetitions that goes perfectly well in any number of contexts.

  33. This will not get better until church leaders stop pinning the blame for the racist policy on the Lord. I hate hate hate the claim that we just don’t know why the Lord withheld priesthood blessings from black people. He didn’t! It wasn’t him! It was our racism! We need to own it instead of blaspheming the name of the Lord!

  34. This is such a Latter-day Saint solution… we are proposing dealing with racism with a manual or lesson?

    No, if we want to solve it, then solve it. Multiple General Authorities need to speak… loudly and passionately. A question needs to be added to the temple recommend interview. Racist leaders need to be released. A black apostle needs to be called. An OD #3 needs to be added to scripture declaring that racist thinking is against the commands of God. People of color need to be added to every committee at the church-wide level. Then talk lessons and manuals. You know… solve it.

  35. Old Man, a couple things. First, I didn’t propose just a lesson or a manual. I talked about a full-year class engaging with these ideas.

    And second, I’m pretty convinced that the Man Speaking From On High doesn’t actually change hearts and minds. A concerted effort by church leaders to speak on the topic would be great, and it would affect priorities. But if we don’t personalize the message and engaged with it ourselves—rather than letting it wash over us and passively absorbing it—I don’t believe we will change as a people.

    And the change will require both institutional and personal action. And you’re right that without the institutional repentance and change, the personal probably won’t happen.

  36. Wilcox’s talk puts the parents of the youth who attended the fireside in a difficult situation — they now need to sit down with their children and explain that this high-level church leader was wrong in his racist and misogynistic remarks, and that the tone and content of his remarks towards other religions was un-Christlike. All this while the presiding officer attending the fireside (presumably the stake president), and all of the other leaders on the stand, stood by without any objections. I’ve seen presiding officers correct members for saying much lesser things, and shame on the Alpine stake president for not having the courage to correct, or at least to clarify, the mistaken things that Wilcox fed to their youth. I get that this would be uncomfortable and highly unusual (but absolutely possible since Wilcox is not a general authority and not presiding), but that’s why we need real leaders in the Church and not yes-men.

    I hope that the stake president, or regional authority, issues a correction to the youth of that stake and clearly states that the tone and content of the talk are not examples to be emulated.

  37. Why didn’t he apologize for his sexist remarks and why doesn’t anyone care about that?
    Oh, and PS women STILL don’t hold the priesthood.

  38. Lily, those are absolutely fair questions. I can’t speak to why he didn’t apologize; I can say that people care intensely about the sexist treatment of women in the church—it’s a regular topic of posts here and elsewhere.

    I can answer why this post doesn’t speak to sexist remarks though; it’s because I was unaware of them until the comments section (which was long after I drafted the post). I became aware of his remarks on Twitter and the clip that was going around in my Twitter circles was the statement I transcribed in the OP.

  39. “ … in church culture, we absolutely need to get rid of the misogyny. And the bigotry. And the racism. and the homophobia. But we need to actively address and eliminate each one independently and separately, whether or not they’re connect. “

    I disagree about addressing these separately and independently, teasing them apart is a waste of effort. Just to restate a few of the rather thoroughly deconstructed governing principles of repairing oppression, people who are oppressed by more than one of these discriminatory practices will let you know that all oppressions intersect. And if you tease them apart to pinpoint and analyze their “differing” sources, you’ll eventually converge back together at white, male, hetero- (and whatever) supremacy.

    I didn’t listen to the entire address either, only enough that I can see another flaming, intersected mess of multiple oppressive beliefs and practices, rampaging through the china shop of people’s feelings and welfare, doing all kinds of multiple damage. It should all be acknowledged and apologized for, if we really want to meet the standard of accountability for sin as an essential part of repentance and repair. We all have homework that we must do.

  40. Between Elder Holland’s August 2021 remarks about muskets and marginalized communities, Elder Gong asking his son not to share a photo of a dinner that included his son and his son’s boyfriend, and now this talk, I’m just so unbelievably devastated at how much hurt the institutional church is causing. And I say this as someone who was born with privilege. I can’t even begin to fathom the hurt this must be causing to people who are actually and personally impacted by these men’s words and actions.

    We have to do better. If we can’t, then I suggest it might be time to put our collective time and talents to better use elsewhere.

  41. MDearest, I’m going to simultaneously agree and disagree. You’re absolutely right that, in many cases, issues of oppressing the marginalized arise out of the same impulse and the same milieu. And in a lot of cases, addressing them as one thing will help ameliorate the problem.

    That said, racism and sexism and homophobia and other types of oppression also stem from different things and manifest in different ways. So, for instance, addressing and dealing with misogyny (even successfully) will probably do little to counteract the impulse toward outlawing discussions of race in classrooms or banning Maus. And if we just lump everything in together into the category of “bad actions,” we miss the opportunity to root out truly evil things.

    So absolutely we should address all forms of oppression. But also, we should tease them apart and deal with the differences between them.

  42. Anonymous in SoCal says:

    Here’s the problem I have with this “apology”. Keeping in mind that he wrote this talk and seriously thought it was okay. He didn’t review it until he got criticism. He said exactly what he meant to say. Apologizing for his poor choice of words instead of actual racist policies is avoiding the problem. That’s not even getting started on the other issues with this talk.

  43. Sam, I think you’re wrong about focusing on racism to the exclusion of the other problems. Yes it’s a big deal and Wilcox was wrong and no, his apology is not anywhere near an adequate response. But the very nature of his argument–the what aboutism regarding white men–speaks to an overarching concern (I have) that LDS religious apologetics is very often about enforcing and reinforcing white het men in charge, white het men running things, a vision of heaven with white het men in the center. It isn’t the only argument and it doesn’t always have to be the argument, but keeping that context in mind, it seems to me Brad Wilcox was buying into and reinforcing that theme.

    I believe the intersectionality of the problem requires that we recognize and address it head on. In a sense our history paints Brigham Young as the model to which we, the Church, aspire. At least aspirational for (too many) white het men. That has all sorts of problems. I do not accept Brigham Young as a role model in any respect.

  44. What @christiankimball said.

    The talk isn’t that long. Listen on double speed. The entire thing matters. The tone (yes I’ll tone police you Wilcox when you’re speaking to children.) The anger. The sarcasm and snark. The belittling of other religions and people. The angry-woman stereotyping. The threats. The racism. The folklore explanations for racism *and* why women don’t hold the priesthood. (CES just can’t give up the folklore.)

    Is it fine to focus on racism in a post? Sure. But absolutely the entire thing is related in the way that Chris points out. It’s about fearful white men in power who think they speak for God with unpunity. It’s about hierarchies and privilege and a failure to appreciate feedback or differing perspectives or have compassion or, good grief, be like Jesus.

    It’s white male privilege. The white matters. The male matters. The privilege (here, church position among other things) matters.

  45. Do you remember a few years ago when Dallin Oaks said that the church doesn’t “seek apologies,” and “we don’t give them.”? This is disgusting, despicable, atrocious, reprehensible, harmful, hurtful, arrogant, prideful, ignorant, un-Christian, and hypocritical. I cannot respect any person with that opinion. The church needs to absolutely, completely, sincerely, comprehensively, directly, forcefully, humbly, and repeatedly apologize and beg forgiveness for its grievous errors, mistakes, and sins.

  46. “You leave this church, you miss everything.” – Brad Wilcox
    Yes, you leave this church and you miss the racism and sexism and arrogant self-righteousness. Got it.

  47. Chris, I respect your reading skilz, so I must be miscommunicating: I’m not suggesting that we focus on race at the exclusion of everything else. I’m saying that this particular post is on the racism inherent in his discourse, and that I’m perfectly comfortable for a blog post to focus on one thing. I’m saying that I disagree with the idea that we have to lump all problems together and address all of them at the same time in the same manner; I think that we need to address racism with antiracist behavior and theology. We need to address misogyny by attacking misogyny. And sometimes, those responses overlap and sometimes they don’t.

    I don’t mean to suggest that we look at racism at the expense of all other kinds of problematic behavior. But I do mean that I am perfectly comfortable in a blog post focusing on one particular problematic paragraph (especially since I was unaware of the rest when I wrote the post).

  48. Shuthedor, Brad Wilcox’s entire career smacks of Priestcraft, and I honestly find it shameful that he is a general authority (Officer?) of the church.

  49. “If you walk away from this religion you lose everything, you lose everything, everything that truly matters most.” – Brad Wilcox
    That is one more piece of evidence that tells me he lives in a bubble, and does not associate, truly know other people unlike himself. He is blinded by his own religious pride. So many people are simply fed up with religious superiority and walk away, and then walk toward true and fulfilling love.

  50. (I will say, though, that in this moment, I think issues of racism have an especially pressing demand on all of us, again, not to the exclusion of all other forms of oppression, but because racism and harm to Black people and other people of color have been particularly dire over the past several years.)

  51. Sam, I’ve done it myself—put up a thoughtful post on one aspect of a problem without paying close attention to the big picture. And been roundly criticized for doing so. I’m sorry if my comments repeat the effect for you.

    My concern in this case is that I view perpetuation of the white man in charge mode of church government as the historical and current raison d’être of the Young Men’s program. Given Brad Wilcox’s current Church calling and position, I think we should pay attention to that big picture. It’s all about what we’re teaching the next generation of young men.

  52. Given the entirety of the talk and all the problematic things said, I have to agree with MDearest on this that it’s not an example of different root causes for his dismissive attitude toward women and people of color. This is 100% one person holding all these attitudes at once that are all really common (if more politely stated) in the Church, by people at all levels, and the core problem for all of it is white male supremacy / patriarchy. I’m just glad he didn’t go down the homophobic rabbit hole.

    The only caveat I will add that his arrogant remarks toward other faiths (truly shocking) were more of a Mormon supremacy specifically. It was insulting to other religions in a way that I would think would make Bruce R. McConkie blush.

    This talk is particularly interesting in light of the recent racism study at BYU which revealed these exact same attitudes. Apparently not all faculty took the results of that study to heart. You don’t have to be out committing hate crimes to espouse racist ideologies.

  53. “And because Brigham Young and John Taylor and all of the prophets up through Harold B. Lee were good people, and because racists are bad people, they couldn’t have been racist.”

    This entire post is great, but this particular line nails perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to more complete institutional action to “root out racism.” If good people can’t be racist, and church leaders are always good people since God calls and inspires them, then recognizing anything racist in their actions or beliefs calls into question prophetic authority itself. Since we can’t compromise on prophetic authority, the racism charges have to be false (so the thinking goes).

    People are more complex than that. As you say, it’s possible to be a jerk and not be racist, or to be guilty of racism and be an otherwise good person (albeit with great need to repent). If we can become more comfortable with that, then we’ll see that it’s not prophetic authority that’s challenged by rooting out racism, but prophetic infallibility, which we need to be rid of anyway.

  54. Allan Garber says:

    I wish everyone would extend a little more charity to Brother Wilcox. He has been and is a blessing to so many people in the church.

  55. Sue Bergin says:

    Thanks for all of this. The specifics about HOW to root out racism are super important. In my opinion (which should be taken with many grains of salt since I am a Caucasian person), the church needs a specific and public plan to root out racism. It should include a huge budget with BIPOC members plus outside BIPOC consultants creating the plan, overseeing measurement of progress, and providing regular candid and public updates.

  56. “I wish everyone would extend a little more charity to Brother Wilcox.” Yes, and I wish Brother Wilcox would have an iota of charity toward all the people he arrogantly insulted and sneered at in his talk that he has now given in multiple cities, but we don’t always get what we wish for.

    How many talks from general leadership in the Church do we have to hear with this same tone before we actually do something about it? I suspect the answer is that until the underlying attitudes toward race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and people who aren’t members of our Church change, we will still have a few people like Bro. Wilcox who naively speak (or in this case shout) the quiet parts out loud.

  57. He is a product of the CES. The CES is a cesspit of misogyny, racism, and fundamentalism. It seems like it just gets worse and worse.

  58. Brad Wilcox’s entire talk is so bad it’s shocking and deeply depressing. I struggled to suffer through it. Like someone clawing their fingernails down a chalkboard, it makes you want to run out of the room. I’m relieved my youngest wasn’t exposed to Wilcox’s horrific representations, racism and just plain bad thinking.

    While I mostly agree with your characterization of his apology, Sam, this statement from the church’s website concerns me: “[H]e was hoping to teach a lesson in trusting in Heavenly Father’s timing that ‘did NOT come through as I intended.'” I can’t buy this was a sophomoric mistake. He is a professional and has spoken, taught and written for too many years. This is the only part of his apology that concerns and disappointments me. It may be an honest reflection, but it is not a transparent admission of the breadth of his faulty thinking and the harm it does. It is clear that Wilcox harbors several false narratives and beliefs, and he either lacks self-awareness or refuses to acknowledge the totality of his offenses. As a church general officer, he must be held to a higher standard and his apology comes up short.

    I couldn’t agree more with your idea here: “So what would I propose? Two things: first, the church needs to actively and deliberately teach church leaders (down to bishops, I’d argue, but at the very least anybody who qualifies to speak in Conference) how to recognize racism and avoid it. Not just in other people, but in themselves.”

    For those who may be unaware, according to the SLTrib, Deseret Book had contracted with James Jones to create an anti-racism master class that would be marketed to LDS members. (I would assert especially its leaders.) The top exec of Deseret Book effusively praised Jones’ skills, ideas and developed content. But alas, Jones publicly criticized Jeffrey Holland’s infamous Musket Fire talk and DesBook had to withdraw the masterclass. Recognizing its unparalleled value, DesBook gave the content back to Jones (despite owning it) and encouraged him to seek out self-publication. What discourages me is that the content apparently isn’t worth more than Holland’s ego–and this is one reason why I have little hope the church will do anything material to remedy its deeply entrenched problem with racism.

    For anyone interested in learning more about Jones’ master class, it can be found here: https://btbacademy.thinkific.com/courses/lds-anti-racism-101-abandoning-attitudes-and-actions-of-prejudice

  59. Considering that he gave the same talk in Georgia a year ago, it seems that the apology is “I’m sorry I got caught” apology. Also, it’s been shown that the similar ideas, even words are contained in John Bytheway’s book, so there’s a deep rot in the YM organization.

  60. Geoff - Aus says:

    If members are not racist, sexists and homophobes who will vote for trump, or if they weren’t already bigots perhaps they wouldn’t vote for him? The church is grooming members to be trumpers.

  61. The only way the church can recover from Wilcox’s disgusting comments is to release him from his calling and accept his resignation from BYU. Otherwise, how can Pres. Nelson look any of the NAACP leaders in the eye and claim we are doing everything we can in the church to root out institutional racism?

  62. Good for him that he apologized for his racist statement— but the entire talk was a throwback to manipulations and rhetoric of the past that we should have truly left behind us as a church. He uses shame and fearmongering. He tears down other Christians, his hubris in his mockery of legitimate pain others feel is the exact opposite of what we should be modeling for our youth. He has more to apologize for than racism.

  63. DoubtingTom says:

    I am skeptical of his apology being sincere when he has been saying the exact same thing for years. Maybe no one called him out on it before, or maybe it just never went viral, but he was saying the same things to youth.

    Here is a talk from almost exactly 2 years ago in Georgia. Minute 26 is when he disparages other religions for “playing church.” Minute 30 when he shares his ideas about the priesthood ban, and a couple minutes after that when he tells the girls in the room that asking why they are not ordained to the priesthood is the wrong question – that they should be asking why they don’t need to be.

    I just have a hard time that these ideas he has been spreading in firesides across the country for years are not deeply ingrained. What is he actually sorry for? I think just that he got called out publicly and offended many.

  64. Anonymous says:

    My apologies for commenting anonymously, but I can’t remember what screen name I’ve used. I’m puzzled by people talking about this guy’s “sincere apology.“ It is clearly produced by or with a professional PR person or team. That doesn’t mean it’s not sincere, but it does strongly suggest that there were some highly trained professionals involved in the apology.

  65. Wow. Who will be the next to throw another stone.

  66. Brad Wilcox threw a lot of stones, Sandy. A lot of people are also wondering who’s going to be next throwing stones at Black people, women, other religions, LGBTQ people, etc. Good of you to raise the question.

  67. Sam – you’re giving WAY too much credit for Wilcox’s apology. That was not an apology. It was blame shifting. Let’s be real about what an apology really looks like, and this ain’t it!

  68. Sam, I was initially impressed that he apologized because that’s so rare from church leaders. But then I saw his apology was vague. He said the problem was an insensitive “illustration” he used. So his underlying point, that God instituted the ban, along with his sexist remarks and disparagement of other religious traditions, were not apologized for.

  69. Sam – You’ve said multiple times in this thread that you only listened to about 40 seconds of the video, so you won’t comment on other things. Do you not have time to listen to the rest of the video? Maybe before you write posts on these sorts of things, you could watch…more than one minute of a video? But, seriously, thank you for your virtue content-lite virtue signaling. #Responsibility

  70. purple_flurp says:

    I also think the apology was more of a ‘I’m sorry you got offended’ kind of thing, rather than an actual apology.

    Also, in case anyone is curious, Wilcox had another fireside, just a couple hours ago, in fact.
    link to the recording: https://youtu.be/2uOsg64cK8U

    He brought up the controversy immediately then turned the time over to Ahmad Corbitt, first counsellor in the general young men’s presidency, who, incidentally, is a black man. Corbitt repeated the usual stuff about ‘the Lord’s timing’ in regards to the priesthood ban.

    I imagine that the fireside was scheduled before the controversy, what I don’t know is if Corbitt’s presence was scheduled prior to the controversy. It’s tempting to look at this as a sort of damage control episode with Wilcox getting ‘a black friend’ to run interference for him.

  71. I haven’t been here for quite a while. I am today reminded why I didn’t miss it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] member Brad Wilcox making a tremendously racist assertion in a youth fireplace. I posted about it yesterday and, within the feedback, individuals instructed me it wasn’t simply racism. There was misogyny […]

  2. […] I’d do one final put up on Brad Wilcox’s now-infamous youth hearth. Tuesday I wrote about his offensive take on race and the priesthood (for which he has since apologized, although on the query of its […]

  3. […] evil we are still dealing with today (including within our own church, as the recent fracas with Brad Wilcox and the haunting spectre of 1978 reminds us). That was definitely a context that the white […]

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