The Professor is Wrong

It’s not my day to post, but I have to get this out there — so I know my co-bloggers will forgive me.  Today, the Washington Post published an article on race and the Mormon Church that gets a lot right and has some good interviews with the likes of Darius Gray.

And then there is a jaw-dropping set of remarks from a popular religion teacher at BYU named Randy Bott.  You can read them yourself — I will not honor them by copying and pasting here.  His perpetuation of racist folklore pseudo-doctrine is ugly, dangerous, and wrong.  It’s long past time for a public, clear repudiation of such folk doctrine from the Church . . . but at the very least we have this discussion from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, which I will paste below.

The only possible silver lining of Botts public remarks would be a clearer statement from the leadership, found at LDS.org, not PBS.org.  Until we do, I’m afraid such damaging beliefs will continue to fester on the soul of our church.

Question: I’ve talked to many blacks and many whites as well about the lingering folklore [about why blacks couldn’t have the priesthood]. These are faithful Mormons who are delighted about this revelation, and yet who feel something more should be said about the folklore and even possibly about the mysterious reasons for the ban itself, which was not a revelation; it was a practice. So if you could, briefly address the concerns Mormons have about this folklore and what should be done.

Holland: One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ... I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …

It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.

Question: What is the folklore, quite specifically?

Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …

We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic. …

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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52 Responses

  1. Lorraine says:

    UGH! Now I am wishing that I hadn’t gone to the Washington Post link and read it. I can’t believe anyone with a high school education could liken discrimination of a race of people to taking “dad’s car keys” before you’re old enough. Especially someone who supposedly considers themselves a disciple of Christ. Thank you all the same, Deborah. And here’s hoping not too many people I know read the Washington Post.

  2. Remlap says:

    “Bott points to the Mormon holy text the Book of Abraham as suggesting that all of the descendants of Ham and Egyptus were thus black and barred from the priesthood…”

    There is part of the problem right there, Randy Bott still thinks the Book of Abraham is a holy text.

  3. Alisa says:

    Are you posting this on a feminist website because Randy Bott’s reasoning has a lot to do with a lot of peoples’ current reasoning for why the priesthood is withheld from women? Because I think it’s a total fit. When I have expressed my concerns to women closest to me–women of my own generation (early adults)–they often say, “I would never want that responsibility.” My friend most guilty of saying this has been an ordinance worker in the temple, went on a mission, and has three graduate degrees. But she is afraid of the responsibility of a 12 year old boy, for some reason.

    The reasoning that black people were protected from spiritual responsibility by not having the priesthood is just as ridiculous as saying that the women are protected from the responsibility of the priesthood. It’s very infantilizing to both groups.

    • Deborah says:

      I posted because I was sick to my stomach after reading this article and had to say *something.*

      [But yes, in lieu of real answers, our speculative theology (“Why the ban? Why no priesthood for women? Why no prayer to Mother in Heaven) tends to move toward the the basest common denominator — either a group is less worthy or so worthy they are in need of extra protection.]

  4. Wow. Just wow. Did the Lord change His mind about Black people, or did we not ask the right questions until the 1970’s? I know we don’t know either way . . . but one notion makes a lot more sense to me than another . . . I have a good friend who once said, “a God who is racist and sexist is not one who deserves your worship.” I do not believe God actually approves of racist or sexist policies.

  5. Orwell says:

    I’ll paste some of Bott’s comments because some people may not want to register at the Washington Post just to get past the first page of the article:

    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.”

    I am speechless before such spectacularly embarrassing, clueless, and incompetent remarks.

    • valeriejean says:

      I am reading Sundown Towns by Richard Leowen, (check it out, its great!) It chronicles the systematic expulsion of blacks from towns, counties, and neighborhoods from the 1890’s through today. The justification for discrimination against blacks in housing sounds strikingly similar to this terrible racist justification for denying the priesthood to black men. We live in a racist society, but I wish that the church would raise the bar for itself.

  6. Jessica says:

    I am just shocked. Too bad he won’t be fired for it. I cannot believe that he works at BYU. But that they excommunicate people who are a voice for change.

  7. Bridgette says:

    What vile, vile, stupid things to say. I am so sad his views were chosen to represent LDS ones in a public forum.

    But…maybe this will get some more attention to the BYU religion department? I had a good time at BYU with a lot of wonderful professors that changed my life, etc., but I would have classes with certain professors that just the most unbelievable garbage would be taught, and accepted.

    It’s weird for me this article came out today–I just this afternoon concluded a ridiculous and appalling process with a complaint against misogynist crap a religion professor would say and do.

    Maybe with more negative attention, religion teachers could learn to be more circumspect?

  8. clank says:

    holy toledo. I felt so hurt reading that. I just did something I almost never do- I posted it to my facebook, called it out and then linked to the q&a Holland.

  9. Holly says:

    I’m heart-stricken to see that anyone still thinks this is okay. Elder Holland’s interview answer is a step, but I believe a larger-scale repudiation is necessary to take this false doctrine out for good — let’s hope for this General Conference. Please, please, please.

    Bro. Bott’s assertion that holding the priesthood is required to be a son of perdition is something I haven’t heard before. Does that mean we women not having the priesthood is the greatest blessing God could give us? We can’t fall off the top of the ladder, because we aren’t on the top of the ladder? I see in this idea an admission that there is a ladder, and women are at the bottom. If having the priesthood means you can fall further, it follows that there are accompanying privileges and knowledge when one holds the priesthood.

    • I really, really dislike all the excuses people give for why Black men didn’t have the priesthood or why women don’t have the priesthood . . . they are always so thin and condescending. I would prefer a simple, frank, “we just don’t know,” so much better.

    • Emmaline says:

      “I see in this idea an admission that there is a ladder, and women are at the bottom.”

      YES! To this. Not glad that it’s true, but I absolutely agree that there is a hierarchy, and that women are systematically excluded from participating fully in the church.

      And the church needs to own up to it.

  10. RachelJL says:

    I am not sure why they decided to quote Brother Bott on this. Blacks and the Priesthood is clearly not his expertise. While I absolutely do *NOT* agree with him on this issue (and I’m so glad to see someone put Elder Holland’s words out there!), I am familiar with Brother Bott and he is a good man. He is a popular teacher for Mission Prep and I think Joseph Smith is one of his areas of expertise, as is Marriage and Family therapy.

    • Bro. Jones says:

      If he’s an expert on Joseph Smith, then how does Bro. Bott explain Joseph’s ordination of Black men to the priesthood? Did the Prophet drop the car keys or accidentally leave the ladder out of the shed?

      • valeriejean says:

        There are a lot of sincere people out there who are nice to their kids and their dogs, who also somehow manage to be be racist bigots. The racism is part of the lds culture. We need to change that culture, and that is a big task. Most LDS people believe something like this, but just don’t put it into words. The church needs to do more to fix this, or, to paraphrase the BOM; ‘the racism of the members of the church will continue to be a great stumbling block to the unbelievers’.

    • DefyGravity says:

      He also teaches Mission Prep. If this is what he’s sending missionaries out with, they’re hosed.

  11. Thank you for posting this, Deborah. I especially like seeing comments that say Bott’s comments hurt them or make them heart-stricken. For me, that’s the right response. Sure, there’s also some outrage, but this is a heart issue, and Bott violates every good thing our loving natures (“our” being inclusive of men and women) should intuit and embrace.
    Bless you, Deborah, for taking the time to do this. I got a call this morning telling me there would be a public response from the Church. We’ll see what the day brings.

  12. EM says:

    Wow! – what incredible ignorance on the part of Bott. Unfortunately racism is a live and well in the church and something needs to be said worldwide from GA’s and at the local level.

    • Good. I’m glad they said something.

    • Holly says:

      Don’t miss this other statement. I think it’s slightly stronger. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church

    • April says:

      I appreciate that today’s statement from the church says that we do not know precisely why this policy was in place and that the modern church condemns both past and present racism. I discussed the priesthood ban in a xII post just last month and linked to a statement from lds.org that I find very troubling. That statement (which remains there today) implies that God implemented the ban. It is inapropriate and even blasphemous to blame God for this policy. Doing so only encourages church members (including BYU professors) to “defend God” by justifying this sad event from our past. I hope the church will learn from this experience and remove that statement.

  13. Orwell says:

    If anyone is wondering if Bott was misquoted, he wrote a blog post in 2008 about the subject. The WP article reflects it very accurately.

    Predictably, the blog has been taken down — but here is the relevant cached page.

  14. Kirsten says:

    Nate Oman had a great response in the Deseret News as well…

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765555343/Race-folklore-and-Mormon-doctrine.html

  15. Steve says:

    Bott was pretty wacky.

    I searched his blog (now deleted). I found this gem cached on Google: I scanned his blog (since deleted but available as a Google cache).

    Here’s this gem: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:sanp1e8bBnYJ:ldskyr.blogspot.com/2008/04/evolution.html+&cd=38&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    I’m embarrassed this guy was teaching anyone anything.

  16. E says:

    It blows my mind that these kind of statements could be made by a Professor. of. Religion. at. BYU. Good grief.

  17. Thanks for posting the quote by Elder Holland in linking to the article on the Washington Post. Elder Holland’s response appears both candid and well reasoned. IIRC Clean Cut had an excellent post on his blog about Pres. David O. McKay’s struggle with this practice. Very well written.

  18. merle says:

    Today both the local paper, The Daily Herald, and the Salt LakeTribune made it abundantly clear that the comments of Randy Bott were out of line and did not represent the LDS Church in any way.

  19. Melanie says:

    Women already have such a huge role in being mothers..why would you want the responsibility of having the priesthood? Relief Society gives us more than enough to help in the gospel….I really wouldn’t want the priesthood.

    Heavenly Father and Jesus’ names are used in vain, they are cursed and talked badly about and to. I think it is protection that we wouldn’t pray to Heavenly Mother.

    What difference does it make? Everyone has roles and responsibilities. Every one cannot have the same responsibility.

    You may think I am stupid or what not, but I have 5 children and I am so thankful for my husband who has the priesthood and to preside over our home. The burden of that is upon his shoulders…I have enough to think about and enough to do, that I am satisfied not having the priesthood.

    • Emmaline says:

      I’m intrigued by the idea of “protecting” Heavenly Mother. One of the god-like attributes that I strive for is the ability to be secure enough in myself that it doesn’t matter what falsities people say about/to me….I can control my reaction. Some days I am better at this than others. (I mean, really, with His power, if God couldn’t handle people talking trash about him, there’d be a lot more lightning bolts flying around.) I think that in all likelihood She is perfect in that element, and can handle it. Which makes me wonder what the real reason is that in officialdom we don’t talk about/to Her.

      It makes me sad that we relegate any group of God’s children to a restricted gospel role based on any characteristic (gender, race, whatever) that 1) they can’t control and 2) doesn’t have any bearing on their ability to fulfill the unrestricted role.

      • Amen to both parts of your comment, Emmaline. Concerning the first part of your comment, I also never understood the notion that we don’t speak of Heavenly Mother in order to protect Her. I don’t have a very clear idea of Her, but the picture that always come to mind is a sort of Athena. Heavenly Mother is a GODDESS for goodness sake. I’d like to think she can take care of Herself.

        Also, I think of my own relationship with my husband–I would be incensed if my husband told me I couldn’t go outside because he wanted to “protect” me from the possible censure of others. Sure, you want to protect your loved ones, but you certainly don’t want to infantilize them.

        Anyhow . . . sorry for the rambling response. Just wanted to put in my two cent.

    • @Melanie

      I also want to add that I do not think you are stupid. I see things a little differently, but it’s great that you live your life the way you feel is best. There’s nothing wrong or stupid about that.

      • I realized that my previous comment (the response to Emmaline’s comment) might come across a bit strong, so I just want to emphasize that it is merely my opinion is in no way meant to belittle the opinions of others.

  20. Melanie says:

    I do not like that professor’s remarks and I don’t want to belittle what this post was really about. It was about black’s not having the priesthood, not about women. I just wanted to comment on some of the other comments here about women and the priesthood.

    so glad they made it clear that his remarks didn’t represent the church in any way…

    • spunky says:

      Melanie,
      I think it is great that you are content (and busy) with your five children. But I would really like to do more service. If I had priesthood keys, I could do more temple work, more church callings and overall serve Christ more. I love Jesus Christ, with all of my heart. It breaks my heart that because of my gender and the policies of men on earth, that I am being forbidden from serving Him outside of domestic duties.

      Certainly the children come first to both a father and a mother. Period. Beyond that, I want to be a Mary, but I am assigned to be a Martha. Martha was chided for her narrow attention to domesticity rather than to service and listeing to Christ. Yet that is where the church assigns me– domesticity. If I am not being domestic for my family- then I am always assigned to be cleaning/baking for someone else. I do not understand or agree with this. Christ chided Martha for this very thing, and I want to serve Christ. I do not think Christ’s commands changed from Martha to me, but the church does?

      • John says:

        @Spunky,

        So, I’m a guy, and so I don’t think my opinion counts that in this thread here, but here are my two cents anyway (if you don’t mind).

        My wife is a wonderful example of understanding that women don’t need priesthood to serve more. She thrives on participating in and organizing humanitarian service project, regardless of age, creed or color. She has traveled the world to help as well as serving in our neighborhood. She was also a temple worker for a while too. You do not need priesthood to “serve more.”

        Why are priesthood callings in the Church necessary to serve? Priesthood is not necessary to serve- it’s just something you do. I totally understand and feel sorry that you and many other women feel left out in the organization of the Church. I totally understand and I do not depreciate your feelings. Maybe you can look outside the realm of the Church and just see how you can serve the world. God will still be happy and will guide you in those efforts. That is still service.

        Spunky, you are not bound to only domestic duties. That is only in your mind. Seek interests outside of the home. My mother said the same to my sister: seek what interests you and then SERVE. You don’t need priesthood to serve.

        Besides, as a priesthood holder myself, it’s just a bunch of meetings and trying to get others guys to get out the door to do something. And the priesthood session is always about how much we suck. Hahahaha.

      • Spunky says:

        John,

        I am saddened and surprised that would would refer to priesthood as “something you do.” In cases where someone suggested that, I would recommend the listen to the Priesthood Session in order to better understand Priesthood (largely because I love the Priesthood sessions at conference), but you seem to mock the prophetic counsel in them, “hahahaha” (?). I think you greatly misunderstand the priesthood. Greatly.

        In regard to your wife, I appreciate that she is happy, but would prefer to hear it from her.

        As for my desire to serve, this is a post I wrote about it, and why I felt like I needed priesthood ordinance keys to better the work of Christ on earth:
        http://www.the-exponent.com/2011/03/19/the-global-need-for-priesthood-keys/

      • Emmaline says:

        Spunky, I love this comment. You said what I wanted to with my response above, but better….should have read yours first.

      • spunky says:

        Emmaline, your comment is beautiful. I am grateful to you for adding it. Thank you.

  21. Jules says:

    I agree, this is one of the parts of church history that upsets people the most and not having a clear understanding to the ‘why’ makes it more hurtful to some. Sometimes people who have no authority speak on controversial topics and it gets understood as authoritative by those who do not know the difference. It is sad that the official church response will not reach as many ears as the Washington Post article… Just thought I would throw this on here, there was an article on KSL today describing the article and the church’s official response. http://www.ksl.com/index.php?sid=19414666&nid=1016&title=lds-church-we-do-not-tolerate-racism-in-any-form.

  22. Erin says:

    Out here in “the mission field,” no one really reads Mormon News Room articles. No one reads the Utah papers, so no one here really knows about Bottgate (I wish I could claim credit for that term!). I want to hear that Mormon News Room article read over the pulpit in every church building. Until then, the folklore will continue.

    • X2 Dora says:

      I’ve never thought before about missionaries not getting updates in the field. That would seem to put them at a disadvantage with knowledgeable, prospective investigators, especially as you can be relatively certain that investigators and/or their friends will be aware of this particular development.

  23. Concerned says:

    Brother Bott’s condescention is not limited to racial issues. He apparently has little regard for women.

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://ldskyr.blogspot.com/2010/03/men-and-women.html

    “I keep asking myself why we focus on the immorality of young men knowing that if the young women were not participating or willing, the young men would not be immoral. In Jacob 2:27-29 the Lord states that He “delights in the chastity of women”—that always made me wonder why He didn’t say He delighted in the “chastity of men” until it dawned on me that if all women were chaste, men would be also. So I don’t think God is favoring the chastity of one sex over the other, He just chose to mention the gender who is really in control.”

    It makes me very sad to think of girls who were abused or assaulted receieving counsel from him as a bishop or mission president.

    • Christopher Taylor says:

      I don’t really have anything to add here, but this just makes me sick and I feel like I need to express that. There is so much wrong with this attitude and these statements that I cannot even begin to critique it. My only response is a sad, mournful “Wow.” How can someone say these things and not realize how unfair and simplistic they’re being to both sexes? I reiterate, “Wow.” I really don’t know what else to say. I’ll just sit here and shake my head and feel angry and abused, and hopefully soon something will happen in Brother Bott’s life that will help him realize how awful he’s being. I don’t mean that something bad should happen to him. I just hope he realizes that his attitude is wrong and hope that he’s a good person who will recognize his mistake and be a better person. Finally, “Wow,” again.

    • Emmaline says:

      Absolutely, just wow! As awful as it is that Brother Bott is teaching things like this, he’s not the only one. The whole “women are the gatekeepers of chastity” and “you turn yourself into pornography with the clothes you wear” stuff is all over church rhetoric.

      I think this series of posts from a religion professor demonstrates the connection between race and gender inequality issues in the church quite nicely – men speaking from a position of privilege creating hierarchies and discriminate based on them.

  24. Deborah, thank you for starting this conversation on Exp. II. We need to be having it EVERYWHERE!

  1. March 1, 2012

    […] As I linked above, I think that a lot of Mormons do want to dissociate from Bott’s thinking. There are (albeit rumored) planned protests from BYU students. The FAIR blog posts a longer apologetic response. Members are sure to call it what it is: folklore doctrine. And to point out that it’s wrong. […]

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