A Latter Day Saint Speaks Out Against Racism

Collectively we LDS lament our plight and trauma, we praise our historical feats, we’re proud of our White religious history, we pride ourselves in preserving and retelling our history, writes Keri Bartlett Bullock. However, collectively we’ve been taught, and continue to model the non-reckoning of severe racism that harmed – and still harms – Black individuals, Black dignity and Black heritage and Black community.

The above is from a letter by Ms. Bullock, written in response to the controversy surrounding statements by Brad Wilcox.

The letter was addressed to:

Cottage Lake Ward: Bishopric, Youth Leaders,  Sunday School Teachers, Relief Society Leaders; Bothell WA Stake: Presidency, Youth Leaders and Seminary Teachers; and Bothell, WA Stake Diversity Council.

Here is the full letter:

I’m writing to address the speeches and/or presentations on an LDS youth fireside tour orchestrated by Brother Brad R. Wilcox, 2nd Counselor of the Young Men General Presidency. His presentations to LDS teens during the past several months, most recently on Sunday, February 6th at a tri-stake fireside in Alpine, Utah, illustrate why the topic of racism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an urgent & current topic, and not just a thing of the past with residual today.

Some youth fireside presentations between 2020 – 2022  by LDS youth leader Brad  R. Wilcox are one example of public delivery of portions of bias, prejudice and racism which undermine the plight of Black people while comparing, centering and elevating sacrifices of White LDS pioneers.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, collectively we are keen to every historical detail of the unfairness, lies, misrepresentation and mistreatment to pioneers of the church beginning with Joseph Smith and his witnesses. We lament it through talks, lessons and music in one way or another nearly every Sunday. We lament and honor it through LDS church-sanctioned lesson manuals, books, stage productions, movies, devotionals and trek reenactments. We celebrate their survival. We honor achievements of White pioneers with grand parades and “Pioneer Day” weekend celebrations every July in UT, and wouldn’t miss planning some sort of celebratory event in Mormon stakes nationwide, and often international Mormon branches which hold a predominantly BIPOC racial demographic.

Collectively we LDS lament our plight and trauma, we praise our historical feats, we’re proud of our White religious history, we pride ourselves in preserving and retelling our history. However, collectively we’ve been taught, and continue to model the non-reckoning of severe racism that harmed – and still harms – Black individuals, Black dignity and Black heritage and Black community.

I typically avoid bringing our Black teen sons into my activism to root out racism, because I get worn out by responses such as,  “Of course you are sensitive because of your kids.”  True, I’m  heavy laden.  I’m sure everyone in this discussion group can imagine the gravity it is for a family with Black LDS young men to hear brash, flippant racial insensitivity spoken by a youth leader who is an officially-sustained representative of The LDS Church on behalf of young men. However, this isn’t just about the children who are being raised in the Keri and Scott Bullock home.

All people can become healthier through a transparent, humble, educated, look at racism and where it shows up.  Anti-racism isn’t just for the cause of protecting Black LDS youth or Black people any age, everywhere. It is for the cause of truth, health and Christianity in our lives as members of a Christian denomination.  ‘Gotta name it to tame it’  is one of the best reasons for bringing awareness to the content, context and delivery of Wilcox’s recent LDS youth firesides.

This is a confusing, disturbing season for me as a member of the church we share. On the one hand we have First Presidency who suggests in a 2020 General Conference  to “lead out in abandoning all attitudes & actions of prejudice” and “root out racism.” On the other hand we have an officer of The General Board Young Men’s Presidency who speaks with attitudes which seem to me are a  million (or something) steps the opposite direction of the First Presidency. Yet, the First Presidency is silent about it. I know contradiction & confusion are common experiences of congregants in all religions, and even the same topics as ours.

If you haven’t listened to a recent youth speech by Brother Brad R. Wilcox, and especially if you’ve thought that racism is a thing of the past, please listen to his 40-minute presentation in the link below. You’ll notice the length of the first clip is 50+ minutes, but to save time, you can skip the songs, announcements and prayers that are typical of a youth fireside.

Other aspects  I oppose in Brad R. Wilcox’s presentations to youth are my take on his disparagement of the faith identity and beliefs of people who aren’t members of LDS church, including former members. The manner he addresses it  is why I define his approach as religious narcissism. There’s a sacred line of respect between relaying testimony of convictions and slamming the faith of people different than self. His youth firesides are a good time to contemplate some traits of religious pride that Jesus spoke against at the Pools of Bethesda on Shabbat, and other locations. Religious pride alerts:
Vainglory, Belittling, Dichotomous Thinking, Agency Undermining, Manipulation Tactics, Demands of Submission, Public Performance, Power Trips, Labeling and Sarcasm as a Method to Critique Religions or Churches.

Acknowledging the apology this week by Brad R. Wilcox is important in all my processing & discouragement. Apologies happen next-to-never by LDS leaders. Apologies are needed, wanted, important reckoning to me. I’m thankful he refers to his communication about pre-1978 priesthood ban as a mistake. However, his apology is as if it was one speech –  a solo mistake. Yet the presentations contain memorized portions that have been delivered many times. Just as important to me, and I want it to be important to LDS Church at large, is that he neglects to acknowledge his wrongful disparagement of other churches in his apology.

As usual, it also doesn’t make sense to me why we don’t have an official statement from First Presidency to address Brad R. Wilcox’s diatribe on the priesthood ban, and the insensitive questions he tells LDS teenagers we should be asking as members of the church.


We need to work together to find a healthy balance between forgiveness, and  defining racism and vainglory moments when it is delivered by our LDS leadership.  Admitting  our history of racism and history of some vainglory by prophets & apostles  does not remove their good and strong sides. Admitting this does this does turn us into unforgivers. Admitting this is just the right and humble thing to do, I believe.
Philippians 2:3 / KJV: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

Thanks to Amazing Grace, we’re all  more than the worst thing we’ve done. “Each of us  is more than the worst thing we’ve done.”  [ Bryan Stevenson / Equal Justice Initiative ]  Note I include this as a way to say that grace in learning together is really important,  not meant to say that Brad R. Wilcox has done the worst.

Please listen and handle with care, and I hope we can work together to empathize, repair, uplift and help to infuse dignity to people who  are closest to the harm when we speak about the racial identity and faith identity of others. Awareness can help us avoid being complicit. Awareness of racism should help us root out racism.

All feedback and discussion welcome, especially if anyone’s perspective is different than mine,  if it is hard for anyone to understand why I define it as racism, or why I define it as  disparagement after listening to these presentations by Brother Wilcox. The first link is a full presentation. The second link is a 60-second clip from a different stake. There are many videos of youth firesides with the same content by Brad R. Wilcox.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqB8UmnNcqk&t=1362s

LDS Discussions – Here is Mormon leader Brad Wilcox giving… (facebook.com)

Last month I sent a link to access an Anti-Racism course written by James C. Jones. I appreciate the way he both extended grace to Brother Wilcox, as well as spoke to how to bring apologies and reckoning full circle on the topic of racism, the church’s historical role in racism and how harmful  it is to incite God’s plan, God’s will or God’s timing when attempting to explain 125 years of anti-Black restrictions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

Brother Wilcox / Author, former member of Sunday School General Board, Current 2nd Counselor in Young Men General Presidency / LDS Speaker-Circuit, e.g. FSY, Youth Firesides, Time Out For Women.

My dear friends, I made a serious mistake last night, and I am truly sorry. The illustration I attempted to use about the timing of the revelation on the priesthood for Black members was wrong. I’ve reviewed what I said and I recognize that what I hoped to express about trusting God’s timing did NOT come through as I intended. To those I offended, especially my dear Black friends, I offer my sincere apologies, and ask for your forgiveness. I am committed to do better.”

 

Brother Jones / Author, Public Speaker, Longtime Black LDS Member,  Bishopric in Manhattan, NY

Thank you for the apology, acknowledgement of wrong, and commitment to do better. I’m hesitant to express gratitude for people doing the right thing, but I do feel like what you did in the context of how this church has responded to its racial past needs to be acknowledged as something the church could do.

As has been said, though the apology is appreciated, you haven’t demonstrated a knowledge of why your words hurt Black folks and we, therefore, can’t take confidence in your commitment to do better. At the very least, doing better means “abandoning the attitudes and actions of prejudice” that “God’s timing” had anything to do with the priesthood and temple restrictions. I believe a proper repentance means, at the very least, a proactive and public disavowal of this idea in your own speech and in others.

That said, you’ve done a lot of good and I have every confidence this won’t define you, especially if your repentance is genuine. Your work has blessed me as a youth and young adult, I’ve actually quoted you in work I’ve done on Official Declaration 2, and will probably quote you again in the future. I’ve used your “marble egg” metaphor from The Continuous Atonement more times than I can count because it had that profound of an impact on me. Our imperfections truly can make us both unique and beautiful.

You said in your last conference address something to the effect of “flawlessness isn’t a requirement, but honesty is” and I believe that to be true. I hope you deal both graciously and honestly with yourself during these growing pains. I sustain you in that effort.”


 

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