Systems as pervasive as white supremacy do not just transform quietly: they must be recognized, investigated, understood, and intentionally
abandoned or dismantled. The global growth of the LDS Church and
generational turnover in its leadership have certainly created conditions
that are more favorable to change. But given the critical role of the possessive investment in whiteness in the formation of key LDS institutions
and the continuing power of its cultural sequel, the possessive investment
in rightness, this change must be intentional. Recent Mormon history
provides three models for intentional change in Mormonism.
Movement from the Top
The first model would involve change effected “vertically” through
statements and institutional changes made by LDS Church leaders. In
the matter of racism, we see the following:
In 2006, President Hinckley personally apologized First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles leader Cecil Murray and spoke
out against racism in general conference.54
In 2012, after BYU professor Randy Bott offered racist justifications for
the priesthood ban to The Washington Post, the Mormon Newsroom
issued a statement indicating that such justifications did not represent
In 2013, the LDS Church published a new Gospel Topics essay entitled
“Race and the Priesthood” that offered a correct and fuller version of
the histories behind the ban and the revelation.56
In 2017, the Mormon Newsroom issued clear and strong denunciations
of the violence in Charlottesville, racism, and white supremacy.
In 2018, the LDS Church hosted “Be One” commemorations of the
fortieth anniversary of Official Declaration 2, centering around the
testimonies and experiences of Black LDS people and featuring as well
remarks by LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson and apostle Dallin
H. Oaks modeling a more welcoming, reflective approach to race relations within the Church.
In June 2017, Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack
published a list compiled by Black LDS Church members of additional
changes the LDS Church could make to effect “movement from the top”:
Cast a Black Adam and Eve (or an interracial couple) in the film shown
to faithful members in LDS temples.
Use more African American faces in Church art and manuals and
display more artwork depicting Christ as he would appear: as a Middle
Eastern Jewish man.
Pick more Blacks for highly visible leadership positions—if not an
apostle, at least in the First Quorum of the Seventy (members of which
are General Authorities) or in the general auxiliary presidencies.
Repudiate and apologize for the faith’s past priesthood and temple ban
on Blacks, which the Church lifted in 1978.
Show the documentary film Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black
Mormons to every all-male priesthood quorum, women’s Relief Society
class, and Young Men and Young Women groups.
Quote from the Church’s Gospel Topics essay “Race and the Priesthood”
regularly at LDS general conference and translate it into all the languages
that the Church uses to communicate with its global membership.
Direct that the essay be read from the pulpit in every Mormon congregation and mission in the world.
Have the Book of Mormon scripture found in 2 Nephi 26:33—“all are
alike unto God”—be a yearlong Young Women or Primary theme and
make it part of the curriculum to talk about the sin of racism.
Bring more Blacks to LDS Church–owned Brigham Young University as
students and faculty, while providing sensitivity training for all students
about racial issues and interactions with people of color.
Teach children about heroic Black Mormon lives, such as LDS pioneers
Jane Manning James and Elijah Abel.
Expand the LDS hymnbook to include more diverse songs and styles.
Enlist more people of color in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Invite the choir from the Genesis Group—a longtime Utah-based
support organization for Black Mormons and their families—to sing
at general conference.
Use the Genesis Group to assist in improving relationships with the
African American community.
Give the Genesis Group greater authority to exist in all states and to visit
wards and assist lay bishoprics in how to avoid and overcome racism
in their congregations.
Create a Church-sponsored Mormon and Black website akin to the one
found at mormonandgay.org.
Treat the members of the Genesis Group’s presidency as an auxiliary,
seating them on the stand with other high-ranking authorities during
general conference—and invite at least one of them to speak during
Provide training on racial issues for newly-called mission presidents.
Include a mandatory class at missionary training centers that teach the
“Race and the Priesthood” essay so missionaries are better prepared
when they go out to preach.
Other steps to address past wrongs committed by LDS people could
plausibly follow the model of the Church’s response after 2007 to the
Mountain Meadows Massacre, which included collaborative efforts
with descendants of massacre victims and local Paiute tribes blamed
for the massacre, an explicit statement of responsibility and regret, and
a physical memorialization of the wrongs at the massacre site, later
designated a National Historic Landmark.57 It is possible to imagine
similar efforts including reparations to descendants of slaves owned
and traded by LDS Church leaders and an incorporation of materials directly exploring the racist human origins of the ban and calling
members to take responsibility for divesting from justifications for it
in Church curricula and in general conference talks. It is also possible
to imagine a rigorous, scholarship-supported conversation about
LDS Church–owned institutional commemorations of individuals
like Abraham Smoot who owned slaves and decisively and intentionally obscured truth to maintain the supremacy of white over black in
Mormonism and exclude generations of Black people from what LDS
people would understand as the blessings of temple rite participation,
including ritual “sealings” that would have secured Black family relationships in the eternities. LDS Church–owned institutions like BYU could
enter the national conversation about their history of institutionalized
racism, privilege, accountability, responsibility, and restitution that can
serve as a powerful learning experience for the thousands of future
LDS Church leaders guided by trained historians who are committed
Latter-day Saints. This might start by considering the way the institution honors men who were slaveholders or promoted racist views. For
example, Brigham Young University has a building named after Smoot
(the administration building) and Joseph F. Smith (the College of
Family, Home, and Social Sciences), who also obscured truth to secure
Black priesthood exclusion, as well as other LDS Church leaders like J.
Reuben Clark (law school), Harold B. Lee (library), David O. McKay
(School of Education) and George Albert Smith (fieldhouse) who are
on record as advocates of anti-Black racial segregation, along with
Ezra Taft Benson (chemistry building) and Ernest Wilkinson (student
center), who opposed the civil rights movement and sought to evade
responsibility for institutional segregation. It would also place Brigham
Young University among leading educational institutions who have
elected to undertake productive scrutiny of their institutions’ formative
historical intersections with slavery and white supremacy.
Movement from the Margins
The second model involves efforts by LDS scholars, activists, and nonLDS groups and individuals to organize small, specifically dedicated
advocacy efforts to persuade LDS Church leaders to pursue theological
and institutional change. Past examples include spiritual and political efforts in the 1960s and 1970s by Genesis Group founder Ruffin
Bridgeforth, Darius Gray, and Eugene Orr; scholarship in the 1960s and
1970s by Armand Mauss and Lester Bush; subsequent writing by Gray,
Margaret Young, Newell Bringhurst, Darron T. Smith, Janan GrahamRussell, and others; and ongoing advocacy and education efforts by
Tamu Smith, Zandra Vranes, and many others. It is possible to imagine
a stronger role for direct activism on the model of Ordain Women to
pursue specific institutional changes around race, but this has not been
the chosen approach.
Movement from the Middle
Third, there is the possibility of movement from the middle, wherein
rank-and-file Mormons organize to change not just the thinking of the
people at the “top” but work directly with other rank-and-file Mormons
to improve understanding and change conduct. Social media facilitates
an unprecedented level of this “horizontal” communication among
Mormons, and recent years have seen groups like Feminist Mormon
Housewives and Mormons Building Bridges (a grassroots network
focused on promoting love and acceptance for LGBTQI+ people) work
diligently and effectively through online content, public gatherings, and
retreats to support changemakers. Can grassroots organized “movement
from the middle” work to change perspectives and conduct among LDS
Church members? It seems important to consider that a key factor in
driving Mormon LGBTQ+ ally “movements from the middle” has been
the Mormon emphasis on family togetherness. Some—but not all—of
the strongest voices in these movements emerged because a child, sibling, or other loved one came out as LGBTQ+. Because they refused
to choose between their family and their faith, LDS LGBTQ+ allies
organized to set the faith community right at the grassroots, persisting
despite daunting theological and political initiatives from LDS Church
leadership, such as the November 2015 ban on baptism of the children of
LGBTQ+ families. It may be that white Mormons will move into action
only when they feel that dismantling white supremacy is as critical to
their own spiritual wholeness as losing a family member.
Mormons will have to choose to acknowledge the pivotal and pervasive role of white supremacy in the founding of LDS institutions and
the growth of the Mormon movement. White LDS people will have to
choose to see the possessive investment in whiteness and the possessive
investment in rightness as a harm to spiritual wholeness and as corrosive
to the faith—individual, collective, and institutional. Among the many
fruits of this work may be a faith that is more resilient when confronted
with its own enormous and inevitable humanness, a faith that need
not be protected from its own history—a faith capable of surviving its
failures and recognizing, renouncing, and repairing its wrongs.https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/di ... b_contents